Peart: The Beat Goes On

Peart

By GORDON GLANTZ

GORDONVILLE — My high school, Northeast High, is perhaps best known in popular culture for the 1968 Frederick Wiseman documentary “High School” and for B-actor Tony Danza starring in a “Teach: Tony Danza,” where he taught an English class for the 2009-10 school year.

In between, particularly in the late 1970s through the early to mid-1980s, was the era that housed my unique generation.

Tuning in, turning on and dropping out (well, at least cutting class and hanging in the cafeteria) was more the norm than in Wiseman’s critically acclaimed documentary during the actual Age of Aquarius.

We were the hippies, albeit on tape delay.

The boys had longer hair than a lot of the girls, almost everyone smoked something to some extent and the standard mode of dress was naturally worn jeans and a concert shirt with three-quarters sleeves.

And when you think of generic Hollywood portrayals of high schools, where the so-called “cool” kids named the tune that everyone else had to dance to, this world – our world — was the polar opposite.

Those who posed themselves as “cool” – with their rugby shirts and turned up collars — were generally mocked for it.

More kids of the approximate 1,000 in my grade (not the whole school, but just my grade) didn’t go to the prom than those who did (I did not).

On Friday nights, when the football team was playing, there were more of us roaming the Roosevelt Mall – in search of whatever — than in the bleachers.

There was a penance to be paid for bending and breaking the rules, but the lure of the side wall of the neighboring convenience store, which was more like a Turkish marketplace, was too alluring.

The reason for this trip down memory lane is not for laughs, however.

It is to set a backdrop, culturally, for context. Madonna and Michael Jackson may have been topping the charts and selling zillions of records, but not at our school (MTV was not even available within the city limits yet).

Those acts may have been for the outnumbered “cool” kids.

Don’t know. Don’t care.

Aside from the Classic Rock from a decade earlier, one of the major groups for the great unwashed masses of the “uncool” was Rush.

There had been other groups as supremely talented: Yes, Genesis, Kansas, Supertramp, etc.

For reasons best left to sociologists, Rush was the ideal band for our school, circa that era.

If there was a soundtrack for Fast Times at Northeast High, I’d put “Spirit of the Radio” on it for 10th grade, “Limelight” and/or “Tom Sawyer” for 11th and “Subdivisions” for my senior year.

In fact, Rush was so big in this time window that it spawned a bit of a Canadian invasion (Triumph, Bryan Adams, April Wine, Chilliwack, Red Rider, Saga, Prism, etc.).

Rush was still occupying so much space in my head in 1984, the year after graduation, that I still swear I had a dream about hearing the song “Distant Early Warning” before I actually heard it for real.

Rush was a three-piece band. Alex Lifeson was stellar on guitar, while Geddy Lee was the ultimate juggler. He played both bass and keyboards while handling lead vocals.

And then there was Neil Peart on drums.

Man, was there Neil Peart on drums.

I’ve been listening to music my whole life.

There were no nursery rhymes with me; no latency period (hence, being half-deaf and working on the other half).

Peart was the best drummer I ever heard on record, and the best I ever saw in concert.

And this is not meant to disparage any of the surreal drummers who came before or after. The list of incredible timekeepers is long, luminous and still growing.

But he tops it.

That, in and of itself, is enough to make Peart legendary.

But it is only part of the story.

In those days, I began finding myself by writing song lyrics. I look back at those notebooks now, and it’s easy to see I wasn’t quite there yet.

At all.

I had set a high bar for myself, and was clearly swimming in the deep end of the pool with a life vest.

That can largely be attributed to a vain attempt to come within the same hemisphere as the lyrics I was hearing from Rush, my favorite band/artist for a good stretch of time (before getting bumped, permanently, by some Springsteen guy).

Suffice it to say that Peart was my primary English teacher in high school. I learned more from him than any of those who took next to zero interest in me combined.

Not only was he the greatest rock drummer that ever lived, bar none, but also one of the genres greatest lyricists.

That’s quite a legacy.

Peart was just 67 when he passed away last week, and it was not a real surprise, as there were murmurings of a brain tumor for a while.

I didn’t mourn the way I did when, say, Tom Petty died suddenly.

Perhaps I didn’t mourn at all.

I listened to a lot of Rush instead.

I reflected.

And I remembered.

I remembered an amazing talent – and person – who helped me walk proud among the uncool.

This column ran in The Times Herald on Jan. 19, 2020

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