Its been a few weeks since learning about Neil Peart. Still in shock to know that my drum hero is gone. Yet he wasn’t just a drum hero, he was also the person who inspired me to start traveling by motorcycle. I had always rode motorcycles but never actually traveled on one. Around 2008 I had purchased his book Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road and was blown away by his story. I knew some things about him but never really that much of his personal life. Discovering that he lost his daughter Selena in a car accident on her way to college and then months later his wife. He would later lose the family dog and then his best friend Brutus was pretty much banned from coming into the States. He felt so alone and isolated but not as a rockstar; more as a human.
That book was just a book at one point. Then in May 2010 I lost a good friend and colleague. A friend that helped get me into the music industry. He was more like a brother than a friend. I felt in many ways the same as Neil did. “Consider me retired….” I had told my colleagues. I began drinking much more until I was plastered and would just fall asleep from being drunk. I would endlessly find myself feeling upset over shit. I had no where to turn. No one to really talk to. I felt as Neil described in Limelight….Isolated. I would lay in bed for hours after waking up. Never really getting out of bed. I’d get up and get myself a drink of water and sit out on the patio looking out to the Pacific Ocean. The silence was grand. Well except for the sound of the ocean which I loved to hear. I was able to bask in my thoughts for what seemed like forever. Still feeling sorry for myself. I had a motorcycle in my garage just yearning to be rode. That just sounds wrong doesn’t it? lol.
One evening I decided to pick up my copy of Ghost Rider and I read through about 140 pages before deciding to call it a night. I tend to read books a few times as I always end up picking up things I didn’t on the last read. The next day was basically the same. I got up and got a soda and went out to the deck with my book and finished the book. As I closed the book and put it down I started thinking……Now what! A phrase Neil mentioned in a past book. A reference to his daughter Selena who would all sleek as a seal jump out of the water and say now what? That began to make me think about things. Now what? What if I got on my bike and just rode off to wherever? So that next day I grabbed some clothes and other necessary items and started packing my bike. I quickly looked up some routes and decided to head to Lake Tahoe. It seemed like a nice little trip.
I remembered something I had read in the book. Neil talked about the Loneliest Road in America aka Hwy 50. I thought why not go that way? I headed towards Lake Tahoe and then onto Reno to Hwy 50. Went straight across that 287 mile stretch of desolation. Well there’s the occasional town and hotel/store. Eventually making it to Ely and Baker before heading farther east into Utah and up to Salt Lake City. Then off to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. It was worth the time I spent with my ass hurting forever on that seat. I’d do other trips like heading into Canada and the Yukon as Neil did. I could see why he felt so relaxed and healed on that trip. It really was relaxing and healing.
I guess I strayed off the point of this post but I did try to make the references to Neil as needed. I grew up listening to RUSH and discovering Neil. I was more into Neil than Alex or Geddy in the beginning and I ended up being a guitarist! As years went by I began learning their guitar and bass parts as well. Fully appreciating the music that was RUSH. I’d listen to them in an endless loop. Air drumming as probably every other fan had done. Thinking back to reading Ghost Rider after my own depression something amazing happened one day. While on my motorcycle heading east to Texas I decided to stop and grab a bite to eat. While inside I spied something I couldn’t believe. It was Neil Peart wearing a cap and drinking coffee while reading a book. Obviously I wasn’t going to approach him because he hated all that. So I wrote a little note on a napkin which simply said, “thanks for the soundtrack of my life and times….safe travels Shunpiker…” I asked the waitress to give it to him after awhile which she did. I never made eye contact or stared for a reaction. I just kept eating my meal and was thinking of how cool it was to see the man behind the music and lyrics I’ve adored for so long. The man who inspired me to start traveling by two wheels and of course I went out and bought a BMW motorcycle as well. How cliché huh? lol. I finished my meal and gathered my things as I headed outside to my bike. I had no idea I parked my bike next to THE bike of THE Professor of drums. I was very nervous and felt odd as fuck. Like what if he came out and said get the fuck away from my bike. Only I doubted that because I was sitting on my own. I was grabbing my gloves and just getting myself set up for the next leg of the trip. During this trip I was reading Ghost Rider again. I just thought why not? I had the book sitting on top of my tank bag as I was rearranging things and suddenly I heard that voice! “Thats a nice bicycle you got there!” It was Neil. The man! The legend! Right there in front of me talking to me about my bike! I tried not to look shocked but I couldn’t help it. After a quick moment all I could get out was “thank you sir.” He saw my book and said “hmmmm what you reading there? Ahhh I’ve heard of that guy. Let me see that.” So I handed him my book and he turned a few pages in and signed his name to it and also wrote safe travels shunpiker. He had truly seen my note. I won’t go into all of it but after a short conversation and some laughs we shook hands and wished each other well on our journeys. He was heading west back home. I’d later read that around that same time he was in Texas staying at a place near the lake he enjoyed so much with his family. As I was heading to Texas myself.
I like to think of myself as blessed for that moment. Its one thing to grow up admiring a music artist but to one day meet them was truly amazing. So when I learned that Neil passed away after his health issues I couldn’t help but just grab my bike keys and ride off into the sunset. Losing my father in 2017 brought many changes to things I thought about. Places we’d go to, rides we would take in his car and of course the music my father sang that I get the ultimate pleasure of hearing on his records. Hearing his voice forever etched on vinyl and playing on the radio for the world to hear is epic. I thought about the day I met Neil and the music I loved listening to. Only now that music has new meaning and new feelings. I once could listen to a song and enjoy it. Now it brings me to tears. Watching the RUSH DVD Time Stand Still chronicles their last tour, the R40 tour. That last bit of the movie shows Neil putting his sticks down on his snare and walking past the “prime meridian” as he called it to take a final bow with the guys at work. The prime meridian was the imaginary line in front of his drums. He vowed he’d never walk in front of it after a show. He always struggled with his own demons when it came to fame. He didn’t understand the fascination with people and rockstars. So he strayed from it with respect to the fans and their adoration for him and the band. He always made sure fans knew he was thankful for them. Anyways, he walked past that line to Alex then to Geddy and they took a bow together in front of that Los Angeles crowd for one last time. Then he ran off the stage for good….At the end of the movie the song The Garden plays. The song fitting to an end of their tour and to their run. Only now that song The Garden holds a different vibe for fans. It made fans tear up because it was really the last time to ever see Neil Peart on a stage again even if they felt he would still come back….one day. Now that song brings tears to fans because Neil is gone.
He always told stories with his lyrics. Some called him the worst lyricist of all-time. Whatever. His lyrics and his books full of stories are truly his memoir that he chose to share with everyone willing to take the time to pay attention. The world lost a great one and this time this loss truly hurts. If you’re reading this and don’t know who Neil Peart is thats ok. Think of it this way. Whomever your favorite artist is, they probably were inspired at one point by Neil and RUSH. That drummer of your favorite band would probably say that one of their favorite drummers was Neil Peart.
Im thankful that I had the opportunity to tell Neil thank you personally for the music. I was able to tell Alex and Geddy as well. I know that for a years to come they will be thanked for everything they gave us and for their loss of a great friend and brother. For Carrie and Olivia, Neil’s wife and daughter, they’ll have a lifetime of amazing memories although cut short. Olivia once introducing her class to her dad the retired drummer lol. I’m sure at her age now she knows just how famous her father was. Carrie an amazing photographer caught many amazing photos of Neil in her book Rhythm and Light. Sometimes I wish I could have ran into Neil again on the road but ill always cherish that first meeting. Neil is gone but his memory will live on forever. So thanks again Neil for all the inspiration….for taking that moment to speak to me when you so dreaded talking to people. Thanks for the music and the memories…..
“Suddenly, you were gone from all the lives you left your mark upon…..” – Afterimage