Wednesday
Feb012012

« Neil Peart Drives Me Nuts Sometimes »

He was godlike to the drummers, particularly of the age close to 16-20. Maybe not so much now, but when I was passing through that age range in the early 90s, Neil Peart, drummer for Rush, was a god among men. Or at least a man among boys. Or a boy among girls. Or something like that. Worshiping at the altar of Neil Peart was a musician's rite of passage (or a drummer's rite of passage anyway). You were no one at high school if you played the drums but had not somehow tackled YYZ, La Villa Strangiato, 2112, Tom Sawyer, and others of their hit songs. By the time I was listening, all that was deemed "classic rock" but Neil's name still loomed large and I still had to be initated in the cult of Peart. 

1990-91?When I was just getting caught up in the cult of Peart-son-ality, I had three posters on my wall, all featuring Neil's kits from a few tours in the mid 80s. My friend Shelby used to give me absolute hell about that. She was listening to the Beatles, to Michelle Shocked, to other, more minimal and less pretentious stuff. So she was unsparing in her mockery! I laugh now, but it was a bit of a test hearing that from her since not too long before, she seemed to be the one who let me be me when no one else did. Years later, when she wanted to get a good jab in, she could just mention Neil Peart and the posters. With friends like that...

Neil is a consumate practitioner of every damned thing he does. Drumming? He's stupendously meticulous in his preparation and execution. Prose writing? He's extremely well read and is able to subtly amuse with wit and an erudite tone that isn't afraid to quote old cartoons if needed. Lyric writing? He's masterfully keen at turning big concepts into concise and vivid mini-movies or documentaries or epics. More recently I've read his stuff that suggests his passion for motorcycling has also been one of impeccable preparation and presence, and even he astounded himself at his newfound love of cooking. All well and fine. He meets every challenge with conviction. 

About a decade and a half ago, his life got turned upside down when his only daughter was killed in a car wreck at the age of 19, and his wife died of cancer less than a year later. Whoever this could happen to surely knows the feeling of woe and every conflicting feeling under the sun. No one deserves such a thing, and hardly anyone could know what to do in the face of a dual tragedy like that. For Neil, he basically did a Forrest Gump-by-BMW motorcycle tour of all of North America. He rode 55,000 miles to do all he could do to process the grief. He was ready to quit Rush, the only band he was ever really known for. About a decade ago I read his autobiographical account of that era, Ghost Rider. I liked it—in part.

What irks me is his dogged and just about childish athiestic/secular humanist streak. It made sense in the old days when the band was needing to pump up on Ayn Rand and other free-mind kinds of lit and philosophy, just so they could soldier on against some fierce rejections. It helped them bond and create their world, their thing to look after. Okay, that shit works when you're less than 30. Now he's 60 and there's still some jabs in his writings that just seem juvenile now. Sometimes I think he seems like a real uptight character, at least visually speaking. Maybe it's the stick up his ass when it comes to this topic. It's as if he's promised himself he's not going to breathe until God is ushered out of his life.

In the realm of male sprituality where I find myself able to interpret and learn from and integrate the harsh and painful things in life, there is plenty of language of descent, into helplessness, into darkness. It isn't so that one stays there; it's so one owns it as part of a complete life and its power to shape a man for better or for worse. In this world of looking at male spirituality there is more talk about archetypes and mythology that help narrate the path in life. Even something as venerable and great as Christianity still has the archetypes as its basis, and the story of all the biblical figures draw on those archetypes to greater or lesser extent. The story about Jesus has a good deal of that, and the story (mythology) narrates how one must live a human life. It's a great story. Not the only one out there, but a great one that obviously has some power, else who would now be living within it, calling themselves a Christian?

Neil loves to avoid goopy sentimentality. The first thing that even resembled a love song within Rush's canon was done in 1991, a good decade and a half after he joined. And it wasn't even mushy. A bit mystical, maybe. It still smacked of an incredulity about such ideas as fate and coincidence. On the next album in 1993 he tried a bit more, but again it was at arm's length. While he seems to be able to quote just about anything that has ever been written, he's rather hard on the "Judeo-Christian sky god" (something he said in a recent post on his site). That's a rather narrow understanding of God, even for practicing Jews and Christians. The whole "old man in the sky" thing is not really language that holds too well these days. Theology is far more advanced than that. I would think he's maybe read something along those lines. Whatever God image he was raised with in the 50s surely has been supplanted since then.

But the hitch here is that Neil, while being a bit cagey about his private life (he did write the song Limelight, after all—a song about the boundaries the band needed to erect to stay sane after they finally hit the big time), has been increasingly open. It's been refreshing for the most part to see the humanity of this man who was known for his machine-perfect and quite powerful drumming style and his keen lyrics that could take on any of a number of topics. He has lived an interesting life, not just because he's a famous rock star, but because he's well traveled, super literate, has had some utterly tragic times, and perhaps best of all, has been renewed with a remarriage, a new passion for playing drums, a new baby, learning to cook, even more extensive travels up and down and across all the backroads of North America and beyond, and all that. He won't say it, but that's death and resurrection there. That's being swallowed by the great fish, kept in darkness for some time, and being coughed up on a different shore with renewed purpose. Whether he wants to admit it or not, but that is quite what the Christian path is. But moreso, the Christian path is the human path. Jesus just happened to be the first teacher in the tradition. 

Neil himself makes nods to spiritual language. It isn't fluffy language. But it shows he's not treating these parts of his life as pedestrian events. But he goes out of his way to not let them be described in terms that smack of traditional expressions of the spiritual paths known to the Western world. I sort of just want to smack him some for just being so damned difficult. But at the same time, I wish I could head out for a ride with him too. Never mind the drums or the band or the lyrics. I'd like the chance to trade stories about family loss. Or to bask in nature. Or to shoot the shit about why lower/appropriate technology is better. Maybe I could learn something about cooking from him. One of the biggest breakthroughs I've read of his was when he was processing why certain folks he knew (Alex in the band among them) would cook a huge meal for the band or family and friends. Careful Neil! —you used the "L word"! Love. He wrote about how it was just apparent that they felt (and he did too when he went along the same path) the love flowing when cooking for others, when supporting other humans at such a fundamental level. He wrote that the first times he had to cook was for his wife, when he was the caretaker in that time before she died. So much for Ayn Rand objectivism, eh? (Reading that charming, domestic story reminded me of a decade ago when Kelli's accident started to draw me in a similar direction of needing to take care of someone for the first time.)

But in more religious terms, that was God remolding him. Preparing him for another life that he neither wanted nor saw coming. It isn't that his wife deserved to die. No such thing. But another life awaited Neil, you might reason. One that perhaps was built on other things. One that might put the challenge to all the shit in his head, and that might drive him to a place of living from his heart. It happens in life. But as I read his post-crisis material, it's apparent he's reborn. He gushes about his new wife (as of 2000 or so), his baby daughter, his love for nature and travel, cooking, friends, and all this other stuff that shows a lot more passion and soul than anything prior to his "conversion." It's clear he's been remade into something that is more alive. Good for him. Now could he just shut up about some of the inane anti-religious type stuff? It's not like anyone's asking him to become a bible thumping Evangelical. Just fess up that you're living the life that the sages and prophets have talked about, eh Neil

In some ways, even without the overtly religious language, Neil's life has some of the makings of a great religious story of life, death, and resurrection into something greater than what came before. Read the Bible and there are plenty of stories of ordinary people who became extraordinary when their former "false" selves were taken down a notch, and they were refashioned into something else by something outside their own power and resources, outside of their own ability to self-design. It's in losing control that all the great stuff happens. And since people don't do that willingly, sometimes it seems the ante is upped and one's hands get pried off the controls. It never seems a good thing going in. It's mysterious. It comes in the form of painful disappointment, humiliation, and tragedy. In Richard Rohr's literature, you might read that about the age of 30 these types of things happen. It did for me. Or, it's like Parker Palmer's example where God is a quiet figure following you on the street, trying to get your attention by whispering your name, then tossing pebbles at you, then shouting, then throwing rocks, and then finally bludgeoning you if you don't turn around. Some people come willingly at the tug to a new life. Others not so willingly. What does it take to get one's attention? Job loss? Relationship failure? Death? 

It's not my place to say Neil deserved any of that because no one does. The problem, if there was any at all, isn't that he's a perfectionist. But maybe he's a perfectionist for reasons that don't really matter. Maybe there is a purpose for his perfectionism, and it is to serve others somehow, and more joyfully? Who knows? But one can never estimate what is ahead. One could only look back at these transforming experiences and reflect on what new insights turn up, and how one gets drawn deeper and deeper into life. The value of the spiritual mythologies and their associated archetypes is to help people know that their struggle is not theirs alone; that it's all been done, and the great teachers have mapped the way in broad terms. They've also shown how the universal pattern is death and rebirth into new life, and the wise human doesn't fight it, but lets that endless flow go to work in life. 

Anyway, it's good to read his post-tragedy stuff, and whatever he might say, it's filled with more spirit and life passion than I remember from before. More like he's in the drama rather than observing it.

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