Editor’s Note: I’m pleased to share the following guest post by a friend and colleague I met through the International Thomas Merton Society. Based in New York City, Douglas Hertler is an actor, retreat leader, and, perhaps above all, a spiritual pilgrim, who I am very blessed to know. Here he writes about a topic close to my heart — the spirituality implicit in the music of legendary Canadian rock band Rush, and in particular, their late drummer, Neil Peart. Links to select classic performances and an interview embedded in the highlighted (colored) text below.
On January 7, 2020 A Most Holy Trinity was irreversibly severed as the Ghost Rider Neil Peart, legendary drummer of the band RUSH, picked up his sticks, hopped on his BMW R1200GS motorcycle, and traveled Across the Styx, leaving Permanent Waves of sadness and gratitude, mourning and celebration in his wake.
For tens of millions of fans, RUSH was indeed just that, a RUSH of dynamic, pulsing tones and Mystic Rhythms that leapt into the very fiber of one’s being creating The Body Electric, often penetrating Closer to the Heart of one’s soul than any “religious experience” ever could. And yet, to witness this band live WAS to have a religious experience. “For where two or more are gathered in my name…” And gather they did indeed, by the thousands, by the tens of thousands, joined together in a spirit of communal love to celebrate life, through music and song, and the Word. Make no mistake, Neil Peart WAS in fact a god, ask anyone who has ever played the drums. His percussion skills were super human. His discipline and stamina and creativity left you breathless. Night after night, year after year, he emptied himself on the stage so that we too might Fly By Night with him, Making Memories that could never be forgotten.
And then there was his lyrical prowess, his gift with the Word. “And the men who hold high places must be the one’s who start, to mold a new reality…” “You can be the captain and I will hold the chart, sailing into destiny…” “If love remains, though everything is lost, we will pay the price, but we will not count the cost.”
Neil Peart was Apollo: Bringer of Wisdom. He was Dionysus: Bringer of Love. But even gods suffer, and he too experienced the tumult of interior Armageddon: The Battle of Heart and Mind which takes place in the desert of our soul. But he had the courage to share this battle with us, to offer it up as a sacrifice, so that the story of his own raging Cold Fire would remind us that we are never alone. And he enabled us to taste and see the other side of this battle, where Cygnus: Bringer of Balance is waiting to enter our hearts and minds and give us rest, to reassure us that there is indeed a Peaceable Kingdom that lies within, if only we could believe that such a Sweet Miracle was possible, if only we could trust the Good News First.
Neil Peart was the foundation upon which the Church of RUSH was built, enabling an unlikely trio of young, humble and gifted Canadian musicians to slowly transform the global musical landscape, even while exercising their Freewill to create authentic music that inspired their own hearts and minds first, and their respected, loyal fanbase second. The members of RUSH sought to avoid the allure of the Limelight and all the inevitable trappings that come from being at the center of The Camera Eye. They were not interested in Bravado and the curse of Malignant Narcissism that permeates our culture today. Rather, they sung about The Working Man, and life’s Lessons, and Tears. They consciously sought to live lives of simplicity and integrity, even though they were rightly worshipped as the gods they were.
It was known in recent years that RUSH would likely never perform together again. The Grand Finale had occurred in 2015, and Sir Neil Peart announced his retirement, wishing to go out on top before the pain of tendonitis and other creeping ailments diminished his skills, before his quality of life suffered any further. He had a new Overture to perform now, one Driven by the love he felt for his family and friends, to relax amongst The Trees and reflect on the Before and After of a long and fruitful career that spanned Half the World.
Tragically, The Enemy Within stole that time from him, forcing an Epilogue that had not yet been written. It was not supposed to happen this way… And so The Clockwork Angels made their way to the Temples of Syrinx where they arranged for Mr. Peart to arrive “atop a spiral stair” (a small joke to break the ice they said) “We’ve taken care of everything…,” they inform him. “Thank you,” Neil says politely, “But I am capable of Finding My Way.” The angels smile at his Grace Under Pressure, and then suddenly realize that he is in fact feeling no pressure. His Bravest Face is his only true face. He seems to already know How It Is, yet how could he know… He looks down below and sees the Earthshine. He looks above and sees the Ceiling Unlimited.
And then suddenly a Red Barchetta lights up the sky! Gene and Buddy and Ginger arrive. Keith and Carl and Freddie too! An Anthem plays, it is The Spirit of Radio, A Hymn of Triumph. Neil laughs out loud with childlike delight and tosses his drumsticks to them. He will explore these new Hemispheres on his own terms, no sticks, no obligations! He knows he’ll see the Barchetta again, they share the same time and space in Everyday Glory now. The great masters of percussion salute the “Professor” by painting the letters YYZ in the air as they disappear into The Garden, accelerating at the Speed of Love.
Neil smiles warmly and looks below. He feels a distant vibration emanating from Alex’s guitar, it is the song of Hope. He hears Geddy echoing words which once came to life in his own soul… “Clear head, new life ahead, it’s time I was King now, not just one more pawn… Fly by night away from here… Goodbye my dear Neil…”
“I Wish Them Well,” he says, “But I must now travel The Way the Wind Blows.”
The Ghost Rider mounts his beloved BMW one last time. The engine fires and his Vapor Trails begin to flash across the cosmos, making Time Stand Still once more, just as Rush’s music did for over 40 years.
Farewell Neil Peart, you are a New World Man now…
Douglas Hertler, aka Doug Lory, is a professional actor, playwright, tour guide and retreat leader based in NYC. He is currently performing in an autobiographical one-man play titled “Merton and Me, A Living Trinity.” More information can be found at MertonandMe.com