Lessons From The Professor
It has been a month now since I heard of the passing of Neil Peart. I was at work when I got the news and it hit me hard. While I’d never met him, his music and writings have been with me most of my life. His work was brilliant and always inspirational to me. I’ve never been one to idolize celebrities and I certainly didn’t think of him as a “rock star”. I’d love to have had the chance to meet him – not for the sake of shaking hands with a famous musician, getting an autograph, or any of that stuff. I’d simply have loved to chat or maybe share a bit of road by motorcycle with this talented and interesting character.
My friends know how much Neil meant to me. I started getting messages of sympathy from friends the day his passing was announced, including some folks from way back in my high school days who I hadn’t heard from in years! Some would say he was a hero of mine, but that’s not quite right. Saying I was a huge fan doesn’t cut it either (fan, deriving from fanatic, carried a negative connotation to Neil). Really, I just admired what he did and appreciated the things I learned over the years through his words and example.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been listening to a lot of Rush and reflecting back on what it was about Neil that I respected so much. There are a number of lessons I’ve learned from The Professor over the years, gleaned from his books, interviews, and instructional videos. Here are a few that stick out the most.
Be genuine. One thing that was clear to me in everything I’ve heard or read by Neil is that he never pretended. What you saw was what you got. Rush wasn’t exactly hitting things off as a commercially successful band in the early days. Neil and his bandmates stuck to doing things their way and it eventually they did quite well while by being true to themselves.
Your only obligation is to be your best. Neil may have seemed off-putting to Rush fans in his reluctance to do the usual rock star meet & greet thing and sign autographs after a show. As an introvert myself, I can certainly relate to Neil’s shying away from the masses. “I can’t pretend a stranger is a long awaited friend.” (Limelight) A band needs followers to succeed, but Neil made it clear that his only obligation to fans was to write and perform the best he could. Being a people pleaser is something I struggle with and I always admired Neil’s example of keeping boundaries.
Do something excellent. If you’ve read any of his books, you know that Neil was quite an adventurer. Always moving and doing. Carpe Diem. He sought to fill his free time with enriching experiences. I remember hearing him comment in an interview, “What’s the most excellent thing I can do today?” He dreamed big and his passionate efforts turned dreams into realities.
Take the road less traveled. Neil blazed his own path, both in his travels and his work. Charting out paths to travel by motorcycle between Rush shows, he’d find the most obscure routes to get away from the pack and find his own adventure. Creatively, his music was known to meander into new directions.
Never stop learning. I was a little taken back the first time I heard about Neil taking some time off from Rush to take drum lessons. The guy is worshipped by virtually every drummer on the planet…and he took lessons. In his mind, he never arrived. Always pushing forward, always something new to be learned.
Be humble. On one of his drumming instructional videos, Neil made the comment (and I’m quoting from memory, so it may be a bit of a paraphrase), “The apprentice takes something easy and makes it seem difficult. The master takes the impossible and makes it look easy.” He went on to state, by the way, that he considered himself an apprentice. If you know anything about his skill as a drummer…wow, just wow.
Be your own hero. This one is perhaps the greatest lesson from Neil (and the most difficult) to take to heart. I read an account by Jeff Hayden of a chance meeting with Neil on a motorcycle ride. After a pleasant conversation over lunch, Neil offered some parting advise, “Never follow anyone. Be your own hero.” Between being a people pleaser most of my life and struggling with the internal enemy of depression, this is not easy advice to follow. It is something I have made some great strides in lately. If Neil was a hero to me, he is gone now. The only hero I can count on being with me the remainder of my days is myself.
“We’re only immortal for a limited time.”
Thanks Neil. For everything.