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The Introverted Drummer and Philosopher of Progressive Rock: Neil Peart Was His Own Hero

The Introverted Drummer and Philosopher of Progressive Rock: Neil Peart Was His Own Hero

6 Mins
January 24, 2020

As written in the January 1st Poetic Justice Warrior Year in Review,

Supremely independent, he was able to integrate his sense of the human condition, both heavenly and terrestrially inspired, into magnificent compositions that inspire human flourishing.

Six days later, on January 7th, we lost an exemplar of individualism’s virtues, the inspiring rock and jazz drummer, author, poet, and Poetic Justice Warrior Neil Peart. He is most widely known as the rhythm master and wordsmith for the classic Canadian rock band Rush, and as a principled champion of hard rock as a unique art form,

It’s about being your own hero. I set out to never betray the values that 16-year-old had, to never sell out, to never bow to the man. A compromise is what I can never accept.”

In the micro sense, Peart honored the musical innovators that preceded him. In the macro sense, he understood that we stand on the shoulders of civilization’s giants. He found his own inspiration in the philosophical principles of natural and humanistic beauty,

Art gives a spiritual depth to existence. I can find deeper worlds in music, paintings, and books. I can bow before the works of Man, from buildings to babies, and that fulfills my need for wonder. I can live my life as it should be, not as I’m told to by self-appointed guides.


Dirk, Lerxst and Pratt

Rush was the quintessential power trio manned by Geddy (Dirk) Lee on vocals, bass guitar and keyboards, Alex (Lerxst) Lifeson on lead guitars, and Neil (pronounced Peert, not Pratt) Peart on a prodigious drum kit. Prior to joining the band, Rush was best known in America on Donna Halper’s radio broadcasts at WMMS in Cleveland. With their rising popularity, Mercury Records gave Rush an advance on their self-titled first album and American tour in 1974.

As poetic justice would have it, Rush’s drummer was averse to touring, and Peart had just returned to Toronto from a failed music career attempt in England. He auditioned for Geddy and Alex eight years after launching his mission at age 13 with two sticks, a pad, and drum recordings to learn on his own.  Apparently they saw something in the 22 year old drummer whose performance belied his attitude, “What is a master but a master student? And if that’s true, then there’s a responsibility on you to keep getting better and to explore avenues of your profession.” With his cut of the advance, Peart bought his first Slingerland touring drum kit.

Peart’s first master instructor was the legendary jazz drummer Gene Krupa; their introduction was The Gene Krupa Story,

The opening sequence is a beautiful overhead shot of Gene actually playing. Sal Mineo mimics it so well that it really works and that was the inspiration. ‘Wow! Being a drummer is romantic and dangerous and glamorous.’ That got me curious.

Over the next 40 years, Rush’s musical style evolved from blues-inspired hard rock, to progressive rock’s composition and instrumentation, including synthesizers in the late 1970s and 80s, and back to their guitar driven roots in the 1990s. What never changed was their musicianship, complexity, and eclectic use of lyrics. In particular, the mythical folklore of Xanadu, the science fiction in The Temples of Syrinx, and the individualist philosophy of Tom Sawyer that belied Peart’s introverted nature,

Though his mind is not for rent

Don’t put him down as arrogant

His reserve a quiet defense                                      

Riding out the day’s events.

No, his mind is not for rent

To any god or government

Always hopeful, yet discontent

He knows changes aren’t permanent.

Accordingly, another principle of Peart’s philosophy was that “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

The Professor

Sometimes referred to as Mr. P by Geddy Lee, the moniker evolved into the Professor – his commitment to personal and professional excellence had blossomed into the international standard for drummers. According to Rolling Stone, he was considered the world’s best rock drummer by the 1990s, decided to reinvent his style, and engaged the services of jazz drumming guru Freddie Gruber.

Peart’s dedication to self-creation is entirely consistent with Rush’s 1980 hit Freewill,

There are those who think that life          

Has nothing left to chance                        

A host of holy horrors                                  

To direct our aimless dance.


You can choose from phantom fears

And kindness that can kill

I will choose a path that’s clear

I will choose free will.

Because he couldn’t afford to replace broken sticks as a teenager, Peart developed physical methods using their heavier blunt end. After spending time in the recording studio and using click tracks to perfect his timing, he believed his artistic methods had become too stiff, too metronomic. Gruber was able to prescribe training that altered Peart’s physical and artistic methods, “He’s not the kind of teacher who teaches you how to play the drums, he teaches you how to dance on the drums.”

While preparing for the Buddy Rich Memorial Concert in 1989, Peart knew that “To play the songs exactly the way Buddy did, to learn the way he played was not the point. I had to learn the way he thought.” Like a great artist integrates some of their highest values into a philosophical theme, Peart integrated power with precision, complexity with showmanship, and earned the love and respect that he holds dear, and that he writes about for us in his books.

In the world of musical aesthetics, he took the best he could learn from The Who’s Keith Moon, Krupa, Gruber and Rich. From the world of individualist ethics, he took the best he could learn from the hero in Ayn Rand‘s novel The Fountainhead, “I think everything I do has Howard Roark in it. As much as anything, the person I write for is Howard Roark.” Even Peart’s attitude about live performances, “We just have a certain standard to get to. If you don’t get that, no matter how wonderful the audience was to you, you still know it,” was similar to Roark’s motivations, “I don’t build in order to have clients. I have clients in order to build.”

Closer to the Heart

“Playing a three hour Rush show is like running a marathon while solving equations.” In his quiet time, Neil Peart also wrote several travelogues describing his dozens of adventures astride a bicycle or motorcycle, greeting strangers, managing grief, and living the one life he had to the fullest. He was only following only his own advice, “Be your own hero.” While this may sound daunting, Peart had discovered some basic precepts for being his own hero, such as Aristotle’s Law of Identity – existence exists,

Why are we here, why does it happen, are the wrong questions. Its what can we do about it. We’re only immortal for a limited time. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.

“To be a good drummer is more than being a good timekeeper. You have to control it, not just for yourself, also the guys in the band.” Poetic Justice Warrior Neil Peart also kept time for family, friends, fans, and fellow travelers, creating value, as it should be, Closer to the Heart,

The blacksmith and the artist                  

Reflect it in their art                                    

They forge their creativity                          

Closer to the heart.                                        

Philosophers and plowmen

Each must know his part

To sow a new mentality

Closer to the heart.

Reprinted with permission from the Poetic Justice blog at Center for Individualism.


Mark Shupe

Mark Shupe is a contributing author at Center for Individualism. He is also an investment strategy advisor and fitness instructor. Mark studied economics and finance at the University of Notre Dame. His writing passion includes history of Western Civilization, the moral case for Capitalism, and the promise of Individualism.

Mark Shupe
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