RIP Neil Peart – traveling invisible highways
The news came through first at 7:12 pm; a voice message from friend Chip Stern, driving his taxi in Brooklyn, N.Y. But I hadn’t checked my phone.
At 9:30 p.m. Eileen received a text message from her daughter, Leanne: “Tell Scott I’m sorry to hear about Neil Peart.”
“What happened to Neil?” Eileen asked.
“I don’t know,” I said.
Using my iPhone I found the news headline.
“Neil died,” I told Eileen.
Neil Peart and I first met in 1982. He was a famous drummer and lyricist with the rock band Rush. I was Managing Editor of the world’s most popular magazine for drummers, Modern Drummer (MD).
I liked Neil as a person, a human being. Had we met first in a diner, striking up conversation knowing nothing about each other, we would still have clicked. We remained friends much less because of what we did for a living, and much more because of our common interests in drumming, writing, politics, and life’s run-of-the-mill moments.
In 1982 Neil asked if MD was interested in coordinating a “Neil Peart Drum Giveaway” contest. I worked with Neil on the contest. Neil’s Tama Superstar drumset was beautiful and well-known. Neil gave away those 15 drums, seven cymbals, hardware, and drum cases delivered to the contest winner.
I was impressed Neil chose an essay contest. Contestants had to print or type 100 words or less on “Why I Would Like to Win Neil Peart’s Drums.”
The winner was announced through Neil’s “Dear Readers” letter, which began:
“Whose idea was this, anyway? Why didn’t somebody tell me how long it takes to read 4,625 letters [and choose] one winner?
“There were letters from every corner of the U.S., Alaska and Hawaii, every province of Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Sweden, Norway, Finland, France, Germany, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and even a girl in Borneo!”
I interviewed Neil several times for MD cover stories and MD’s 10th Anniversary issue.
Starting in the mid-1980s my life twisted 180-degrees. I was no longer part of the drumming world as writer or performer. I moved to Connecticut, then Maine. It was sometimes years between letters, but Neil and I kept in touch.
He was so methodical. When obsessed about something — “hopefully in less than a psychological disturbing way,” Neil told one interviewer — he went all in. Touring with Rush was time spent mostly traveling and waiting to perform. Neil filled his time reading — a voracious reader and student of classic and contemporary writers.
Neil started riding his bicycle from show to show, filling pocket notebooks along the way with ideas, observations; discovering enthusiasm and talent for travel writing.
The bike became a red BMW touring motorcycle. Neil published six travel journals. “Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road” is his most popular. It’s about an awful time in Neil’s life, a time when we were not in touch. Within one year, Neil’s 19-year-old daughter, Selena, was killed in a car crash; his wife, Jackie, died from cancer.
I first heard about Selena and Jackie three years after the fact. Stunned, among all my emotions I felt regret over not reaching out to Neil at the time. If he still thought of me at all, he must think very poorly of a so-called friend who was MIA during this unimaginable time.
I spent years trying to reconnect with an on-the-move Neil. No one, not even Modern Drummer, could help me get a letter to Neil. Finally, in the year 2014, a woman at Rush’s management office helped me. Soon I had an email from Neil himself. That was a happy day.
My last note to Neil, unanswered, was August 18, 2018: “You’ve been on my mind recently. No special reason. Hope you and your family are enjoying life. All’s well here.”
January 10 I learned Neil was struggling in 2018 with the brain cancer that took his life.
Prayers for Neil’s daughter and wife. And prayers for Neil who, I’m sure, is taking notes traveling invisible highways.
Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited AsMaineGoes.com and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections. He now works in the private sector.