Remembering Neil Peart, 1952-2020

“When I heard that you were gone
I felt a shadow cross my heart”
— “Nobody’s Hero”

We at ECW are deeply saddened by the recent passing of Neil Peart, one of the world’s great musicians. We knew him best as a gifted writer whose books reveal a nuanced humanity and a deep engagement with the world around him. We will remember him for his devotion to his craft, his eloquence, his curiosity, his humour, his love of adventure, and his hard-won wisdom.

I was his editor for over a decade. And while I didn’t share his passions for drumming, songwriting, motorcycles, or the Macallan, we both cared deeply about books, about learning, about the natural world, about the art of living well. I cared about Neil as a person, as a pen pal, as a fellow explorer.
I love that he collected national park stamps, learned to draw his daughter’s favourite cartoon characters, read voraciously, travelled extensively, wrote eloquent letters, prioritized time for quiet and reflection. I love that he learned the names of birds and plants, the curious histories of the places he passed through. He knew that details matter.

He also knew that life wasn’t fair. He’d seen the extremes of good and bad fortune, and Ghost Rider, his 2002 memoir of grief and healing, has reached countless people on similar journeys, many of whom would write emotional letters of thanks. His final sickness was not his first trip down a hard road. “It’s okay, and I’m okay,” he wrote to me after receiving his diagnosis. It was a sign of his character, his stoicism, and also of a life lived well.

Even before he was diagnosed with brain cancer, Neil lived as we all imagine we would with a death sentence. Each day, he asked himself, “What is the most excellent thing I can do today?” and then he gave his full attention to whatever it was — drumming, writing, reading, rowing, hiking, spending time with loved ones, riding the backroads of the world. “No matter where I travel, or what I choose to write about, there is the joy of doing, and the joy of sharing,” he wrote in Far and Away.

He worked and lived with care and attention. In Far and Near, he writes,

The underlying quality I would like [the audience] to sense in a Rush song, a concert, or one of my stories is simply that “Care has been taken here.”
     That could be a decent metaphor for life—investing your time with care, selectively, to the work, play, and people sharing your life. Also investing that time with care emotionally—doing those things, living those things, as well as you can, for yourself or for others.

The other theme that emerged in his later works was the importance of love and respect. It’s the final lesson in his novelization of Clockwork Angels and the conclusion of Far and Away.

Love and respect, love and respect—I have been carrying those words around with me for two years, daring to consider that perhaps they convey the real meaning of life. Beyond basic survival needs, everybody wants to be loved and respected. And neither is any good without the other. Love without respect can be cold as pity; respect without love can be as grim as fear.
     Love and respect are the values in life that most contribute to “the pursuit of happiness”—and after, they are the greatest legacy we can leave behind. It’s an elegy you’d like to hear with your own ears: “You were loved and respected.”  

Neil, you were loved and respected by all of us at ECW. Thanks for bringing us along on so many journeys.

 Jen Knoch, Senior Editor

Photo by John Arrowsmith

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  • Fantastic farewell to a legend. Thank you

    Denis Seibert on
  • This is a lovely tribute to an extraordinary human. Thank you.

    michael shew on
  • Dear Mrs. Knoch,
    Thanks for your sincere thoughts about Neil Peart.
    I have read about you in Neil Peart’s book Far and Near where Neil writes about taking care. Being a Rush fan since 1977, I later on became to know Neil Peart’s excellent and entertaining writing. In Far and Near he writes that the Snake and Arrow tour was filmed in Rotterdam (I attended one of the two concerts Rush played there) and that the drummer was called in Dutch “Die Slagwerker”. That’s a little mistake and a mixture of German and Dutch. I am sure this excellent books will need a reprint soon, and I would suggest the following to even take more care in the philosophy of Neil and change “Die Slagweker” into “De slagwerker”. “Die” is German for “the” and also in German they write nouns with capital letters. But not in Dutch.
    And hereby I also want to express my condolences for you and EXW Press because you have lost a very special writer. I am feeling sad no new book of Neil Peart will be published. So for me I will start rereading them and smile about Neil’s humor et cetera.
    Anyway, life goes on. Keep up the good work, yours sincerely, Wabe K. Fokkens, Hillegom, The Netherlands

    Wabe K. Fokkens on
  • Thank you for sharing Neil’s eloquence with those of us who got to experience adventure through his eyes. Although I too am a drummer and motorcycle rider, it would be unfair to call me a Rush “fan.” Of course I respected his technical prowess but it was his literary works that made me love and respect him as a man. I cannot even explain the depth of my emotion or why I have so many tears. It is as if I have lost a brother, a lifelong friend and someone who inspired me. Godspeed Neil.

    Jet Taylor on
  • Thank you for this brilliant tribute!

    Brett Stark on

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