Tuesday, 14 January 2020

RIP Neil Peart

RIP Neil Peart, and thank you for all the pleasure your recorded music, your live shows with Rush and your travel writing have brought me for nearly 40 years since I first discovered the band via Permanent Waves. How dreadful to find myself writing these words about an all time musical hero who has cruelly succumbed to cancer at the age of only 67.

What else can I add to the thousands of tributes that already have been written? Here goes: a musical anecdote, a travel anecdote upon which I was able to expand, and a lyrical excerpt.

The appearance of Rush in 2003 at the Toronto open air SARS benefit concert, headlined by the Rolling Stones, was a rare exception to their aversion to stadium shows. All the more so when they had to play a curtailed set, and when the constant message running through Neil’s mind when faced with the band’s home town audience was “just don’t suck”. Let’s take up the story from “Traveling Music” when Neil is only too aware of the attention of strangers and the pointing of cameras when they are waiting to take to the stage…

‘Normally that would have driven me mental, but under the circumstances I hardly noticed.

‘A short, older man stepped up to me, sticking out his hand and saying something I couldn’t hear. Thinking “now who’s this?”, I took out one of my ear monitors and said “Sorry, I couldn’t hear you.”

‘He spoke again, smiling. “Hello, I’m Charlie Watts.”

‘”Oh”, I said, taken aback. “Hello”, and I shook his hand.

‘He asked if we were going on soon, and I said yes, any minute, and he said, with a twinkle, “I’m going to watch you!”

‘I suppose if I could have felt more pressured, that might have done it, but I was already at maximum intensity – there was no time to think of Charlie Watts and the Rolling Stones, watching them on The T.A.M.I Show or on “Ed Sullivan” when I was twelve and a half, hearing “Satisfaction” snarling down the midway at Lakeside Park, Gimme Shelter at the cinema in London, listening to Charlie’s beautiful solo album Warm and Tenderso many times late at night in Quebec, or any of the other million times Charlie Watts and his band had been part of my life.

‘Geddy emailed me later and mentioned that scene: “BTW, I will never forget that moment before we went onstage when Charlie Watts came over to shake your hand (at the worst possible moment!) and watching your face go through all the motions of …a. who is this old guy? b. what does he want? c. oh, for god’s sakes it’s Charlie Watts!

Now for travel. In 2013, the US National Parks were subjected to a shutdown in consequence of a political squabble when the government ran out of money. Neil was part way through a motorcycle trip in Utah. Having narrowly avoided the worst of the shutdown, he takes up the story via his daily journals, speaking for every foreign tourist who was similarly put at risk of having a Parks visit ruined: -

But what did these foreigners think of a country in which a few mean-spirited creeps could hold the entire country hostage—all for the principle of denying mercy to the suffering (because it might be “their own fault”—hardly a Christian objection), while also denying its citizens (and “resident aliens,” as this Canadian is classified) access to their property? (A flashing sign inside Bryce Canyon National Park put it nicely: “Welcome to Bryce. Enjoy Your Park.”) These foreign visitors, like the American seniors who also visit the national parks outside the summer months, might have waited all their lives for this one opportunity. And there are tens of thousands of Americans, especially in the West, whose livelihoods are tied to the national parks.”

As I went on to describe in one of my own blog entries from late 2013: -

Expanding his theme, NP goes on to suggest that those “few, miserable damaged egos” who caused the Parks shutdown and displayed such disregard for its consequential effect on intending visitors ought to wear T-shirts bearing a slogan otherwise only fit for renegade bikers and surly rednecks, namely “Do I Look Like I Give A Fornication?” How neat to see this “expression of pure evil” producing the eminently pronounceable acronym “DILLIGAF”.

So as I think back to how my own recent USA trip was almost ruined, and then reflect in turn on the way that we are governed here in the UK by a political class and an administrative machine that all too often appears to have little regard to the practical impact of its conduct on those who have to pay for it, may I suggest that the acronym is upgraded to a noun?

“Dilligaf”: a politician or official who, having acted quite unreasonably, reacts with deliberate indifference or hostility to the plight of someone suffering materially as a result of that act.

Finally, to lyrics. Having posted an excerpt from “The Garden” on my Facebook page, consciously choosing the last song on Clockwork Angels, the last Rush studio album, I will end with an excerpt from “Anthem”, the first song on Fly By Night, Neil’s first album with the band: -

“Know your place in life is where you want to be
Don't let them tell you that you owe it all to me
Keep on looking forward, no use in looking round
Hold your head above the crowd and they won't bring you down
Anthem of the heart and anthem of the mind
A funeral dirge for eyes gone blind
We marvel after those who sought
The wonders in the world, wonders in the world
Wonders in the world they wrought…”

Neil Peart, 12.9.52 – 7.1.20.

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