by Chris Tobias
Here is how I’ll always remember hearing that the world had lost a superb writer, the greatest drummer in music history and an intelligent, inspiring human being who, by his own admission in the lyrics of the 2010 Rush song “Caravan,” could never stop thinking big…
I came home to an empty house Friday. My wife was still at work, and my son had stayed after school to work out with some of his teammates. I fed the cats, poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down to unwind from the work day. I was watching the second half of the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham United and Sheffield United when I heard the familiar line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail that is my text tone: “Message for you, sir!”
It was my brother Randy (whom some of you may have met at Take Back the Sky’s outreach tables at Pittsburgh sci-fi and comics conventions over the years). His message instantly ruined my weekend.
“My day had really sucked already, so I didn’t think it could get worse. But, in case you haven’t heard, Neil Peart died this morning from brain cancer.”
I suddenly felt that odd tingling sensation and emptiness that come with a real shock. I had hardly finished typing my response when his second text arrived.
“I read the news release. He actually died on Tuesday, but the family did not release the information until today. Even at the end, the man wanted his life, and death, to be kept private.”
I doubt I have to tell you much about Neil Peart. A lot of people in the space community, and most self-professed geeks as well, have a high degree of reverence for the Canadian rock band Rush. Neil Peart, who joined the band in 1974, was regarded by many as the greatest modern rock-and-roll drummer, though he often infused Rush’s songs with elements of jazz, reggae and big band music as well. What really endeared him to lovers of science and science-fiction, however, were his lyrics. Peart took over the lyric-writing duties for the band starting with Rush’s second album, and his lyrics, as sung by the band’s bassist and lead vocalist Geddy Lee, immediately set Rush apart from the other rock groups of the day who only seemed to know how to sing about booze, women and decadent social rebellion. Over the years, Peart’s lyrics would draw inspiration from the writing of Ayn Rand and J.R.R. Tolkien as well as numerous works of science-fiction and philosophy, and it was this that made him a favorite of many fans of progressive rock, myself included.
Throughout his career with Rush, Peart often wrote about space and space travel. Some of the most well-known examples are “Cygnus X-1” from the 1977 album A Farewell to Kings, “Cygnus X-1: Book II” from the following year’s LP Hemispheres, and “Countdown,” the band’s tribute to the maiden launch of Space Shuttle Columbia, which appears on the 1982 album Signals.