I never had much time for drummers back when I was a regular musician. They’re so loud and irritating, always bashing sticks into things or tapping out beats on any available surface. The only time I really appreciated the drum was in jazz band, when they’d use brushes instead of sticks, making for a much more pleasant backdrop to the real instruments, like saxophone.
Then I started losing my hearing. For a musician, this is basically the universe’s way of saying, “hahaha choose another career path, asshole. We already have a Beethoven.” So, while losing my hearing wasn’t the only reason why I abandoned music, it was and is a factor in why I don’t really play anymore.
I do still listen, though. The volume in my car and in my house is usually jacked up to the sky, but my hearing is no excuse for that, really. I was raised that way and if the music is too loud, it’s your fault, not mine. Get some earmuffs.
Losing the top third (more or less) of my hearing range has given me a much better appreciation for the work that drummers do. Along with the bass, the drums are the backbone of the band; they’re the creators of the framework that allows the more melodic instruments to do their thing. And there is nobody on earth better at this than Neil Peart of Rush. We can argue about who is a better drummer alllll day long, and you can give me examples and justifications until your voice is completely gone and you start to cry and hate life and contemplate ways to kill me and make it look like an accident, and you’ll still be wrong. Nobody on earth does it like The Professor does.
Take, for example, the isolated drum track to one of Rush’s best-known songs, Tom Sawyer:
Now, I’ve spent a great deal of time and money going to concerts, but I never got to see Keith Moon or John Bonham play live. I’m not THAT old. Many people argue that either or both of them are the “greatest” drummers ever, but I disagree. Both of these guys created and honed their own style (especially in Bonham’s case, which can be summed up as “1/16th behind the beat at all times because why not, also Jack Daniels”), and Neil Peart was influenced by both of them, but he has also looked to swing and jazz drummers to create a style that’s all his own. The Tom Sawyer track owes quite a bit to Led Zeppelin and Bonham, but the timing is absolutely impeccable. Peart is not only on the beat, he IS the beat.
Peart’s drumming took Rush to a completely different level, musically. They might have stayed a reasonably-competent, hard-rockin’ bar band, playing bars and clubs in the suburbs of Toronto – if not for the wildly uncontrolled diabetes of original drummer John Rutsey (not to mention the euphemistic “musical differences” that really meant “John has a drinking problem”). All apologies to the late Mr Rutsey, but the world is a better place because of the addition of Neil Peart to Rush.
I don’t think Rutsey, on his very best day, would have been able to tackle something like “The Trees.” This track starts in 6/8 time, spends a couple of measures in 3/4, then goes to 4/4, back to 6/8 (in 2 this time), pops to 2/4 for one measure (why the hell not), back to 4/4, then to 5/4 to give the other guys something to do. One more time to 3/4 and it ends in 4/4. There aren’t many rock drummers out there messing with the time signatures so flawlessly. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am. My favorite jazz track is Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” which is in 5/4 and that is a pain in the ass to pay attention to, much less play. Sometimes you see it arranged in 4/4 to make it “easier” and you can tell because it just seems wrong. Playing in an odd time signature is no joke and not always the easiest thing to do.
And then there’s this:
YYZ is an instrumental track that showcases Neil Peart’s drums. His legendary kit is put to good use here, showing not only his drum skills but also the early days of his ever-growing collection of doodads which he uses to make all sorts of fantastic noises.
I’ve seen Rush in concert quite a few times now. I’m nowhere near being a super-fan, but I have a deep love and appreciation for The Gods of The North. The three of them are all virtuoso musicians and Neil Peart is the base on which they build. I can’t imagine what Rush would be, or rock & roll would be, had he not auditioned for Geddy and Alex way back in 1974. If there is a God, then Rush is proof that she is listening.