Rush’s Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson have spoken for the first time about their grief over Neil Peart’s passing, and their admiration for the way in which the virtuoso drummer faced up to death in his final years.
In a candid and emotional interview with Rolling Stone writer Brian Hiatt, vocalist/bassist Lee and guitarist Lifeson share warm memories of their five decade friendship with Peart, and their heartbreak upon hearing that their long-time musical partner had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer.
In August 2016, following an MRI, Peart was diagnosed with glioblastoma, and informed that he would have just 12-18 months to live. He shared the news with his bandmates Lee and Lifeson in an email a couple of weeks later.
“He basically blurted it out,” Geddy Lee tells Rolling Stone. “ ‘I have a brain tumor. I’m not joking.’ ”
Guitarist Lifeson was on a golf course when he received the message. “I think I started crying right there,” he says.
The duo say that Peart handled his illness with strength, courage and grace.
“He was a tough man,” says Geddy Lee. “He was nothing if not stoic, that man. … He was pissed off, obviously. But he had to accept so much horrible shit. He got very good at accepting shitty news. And he was OK with it. He was going to do his best to stick around as long as he could, for the sake of his family. And he did unbelievably well. … He accepted his fate, certainly more gracefully than I would.”
Neil Peart passed away on January 7, 2020, more than three years after his initial diagnosis. He was 67.
“Three and a half years later,” says Lee, “he was still having a smoke on the porch. So he said a big ‘Fuck you’ to the Big C as long as he could.”
Following Peart’s death, his surviving bandmates thanked fans and fellow musicians for the emotional tributes sent their way.
“Our most heartfelt thanks go out to family, friends, musicians, writers and fans from around the globe for the incredible outpouring of love and respect for Neil since his passing,” their social media post read. “These touching tributes help to lessen the pain of this terrible loss and remind us all to celebrate his remarkable life and our connections to it.”
Lee and Lifeson admit now that, since their friend’s passing, they have had little inclination to play music. “After he died,” says Lifeson, “it just didn’t seem important.”
“For the longest time,” says Geddy Lee, “I didn’t have any heart to play. … I still feel there’s music in me and there’s music in Big Al, but there’s no hurry to do any of that.”
“I don’t know what I will do again in music. And I’m sure Al doesn’t, whether it’s together, apart, or whatever. But the music of Rush is always part of us. And I would never hesitate to play one of those songs in the right context. But at the same time, you have to give respect to what the three of us with Neil did together.”
“I still am very proud of what we did.”
For the full interview with Lee, Lifeson and Neil Peart’s wife Carrie Nuttall, go to Rolling Stone’s website.