“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