Bradley Birzer: Neil Peart: Cultural Repercussions

Brief, partial yet engaging biog of prog’s ultimate drummer/lyricist.

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The drummer and lyricist of Rush has long been a walking riposte to the dumb drummer joke.

Clearly a highly intelligent and well-read man, as well as contributing the enduring lyrical themes of his band’s work, Neil Peart’s artistic achievements are well worth celebrating, and a book focusing solely on him rather than Rush as a three-headed whole is perhaps overdue. But author Bradley Birzer does go a little over the top in his gushing praise of his subject. When an intro mentions Peart in the same sentence as Socrates and Cicero, and pronounces him not only one of the world’s best drummers but ‘one of the best living essayists in the English language’, you may wonder if a touch of objectivity might have come in handy here. But as a book by a Rush superfan for Rush superfans, there’s a lot to get stuck into, despite the volume only comprising 137 pages. It also includes some of the strongest analysis of Peart’s lyrics that you’ll find, and does a rigorous job of nailing down the tenets of Peart’s ever-evolving philosophy, scotching the long-standing myth that Rush are slavish followers of the individualist author Ayn Rand and/or rabid Nietzschean right-wingers. It concludes that, as Peart himself has agreed, he is more of a ‘bleeding heart libertarian’ whose devotion to individualism is as much liberal as it is purportedly self-centred. While Birzer doesn’t include any first-hand original interviews with his subject or his bandmates, his research is extensive, seeking out insightful quotes and stories from the band’s four-decade existence as he successfully divides their work into distinct eras (Rush 2.0, 2.1, 3.0, etc). No doubt Peart himself would initially scoff at the idea of such an in-depth analysis of his work. But secretly, I think he’ll feel Birzer has done him proud here.

Johnny is a regular contributor to Prog and Classic Rock magazines, both online and in print. Johnny is a highly experienced and versatile music writer whose tastes range from prog and hard rock to R’n’B, funk, folk and blues. He has written about music professionally for 30 years, surviving the Britpop wars at the NME in the 90s (under the hard-to-shake teenage nickname Johnny Cigarettes) before branching out to newspapers such as The Guardian and The Independent and magazines such as Uncut, Record Collector and, of course, Prog and Classic Rock