It has been a devastating week for music fans (not just rock music fans) with the sudden passing of Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist for Canadian band, Rush. Arguably one of the greatest drummers in the world (of any genre) has passed, and while his friends and family no doubt hold the heaviest hearts, as fans too there is a period of grief as well. For me personally, the first cassettes I ever bought may have been Led Zeppelin but the first CDs I ever bought at the age of 11 were Rush’s ‘Permanent Waves‘ and ‘Farewell To Kings‘ (talk about progressive rock).
Rush were definitely a more sophisticated rock band: constantly shaping and pushing rock music’s limits and broadening the definition of what constitutes rock music with their rhythms, their lyrics, their robes (ha). Rock could be a big ugly beast like “By-tor” but it can also be something “Closer To The Heart” (and mind as it were). So, Rush stand as a big influence in my musical life and I am sure many others.
So, in a very special Bands In the Woods Wednesday, we pay tribute to our modern day warrior, Neil Peart.
Here, Neil Peart is seen floating on a raft with a cherry-red drum kit on a lake in the great outdoors. Now, if you have cottaged or have camped in Ontario / Quebec it’s natural setting should feel very familiar. That’s because this was taken in Quebec near Le Studio, the famous (now derelict) recording studio made famous by Rush, David Bowie and April Wine to name a few. Located in the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec, this isolated shot could almost be ‘anywhere in the woods’ of Canada: the colour and stillness of the lake, the trees close to the shore (I think I am seeing birch trees).
So, it’s definitely an enduring image, particularly to us at cottagemixtape.com as lovers of Canadian Rock and the great outdoors. However, if you were a drummer during the 1980’s then this image is probably enduring for another reason. These shots were done specifically to show off Neil Peart’s new kit, a custom Tama kit for a promotional ad. The resulting banner (shown below) is much coveted by drummers, collectors and Rush fans alike. The photos themselves were taken during Rush’s “Signals” sessions at Le Studio. If you want to know more about the kit, there is a fan website that goes in great detail. The idea though, setting up a drum kit on a raft, so you can float it on a lake, seems like a totally impractical, totally Canadian thing to do. Neil Peart wrote:
“I dreamed up the idea of doing a photo shoot in the middle of the lake—setting up the drums on a swimming raft that was moored offshore from the studio. With our band crew and the studio guys helping, each piece of the four drum boards on which the stands were mounted was ferried out by rowboat, followed by each of the drums and cymbals. I canoed out there, then sat and played while microphones were recording from shore (interesting experiment, but never used for anything). Art director Hugh Syme and photographer Deborah Samuel floated around me in a pedal-boat while Deborah snapped away, and the resulting image was used by Tama on a large fabric advertising banner.” -from Neil Peart’s (now defunct) website: neilpeart.com.
So, Neil Peart was many things (musician, drummer, lyricist, professor, author) and more. This is becoming more apparent the more the tributes pour in, but he also was an avid outdoorsman. It makes perfect sense if you consider his reserved sensibilities, preferring instead the solace of nature. It is something that reoccurs throughout his lyrics for Rush, including “The Trees“, “Xanadu“, “Red Barchetta“, “Lakeside Park“. In these songs, nature is one of these fantastical places both living and breathing, where magical and supernatural things happen (like Neil Peart playing drums on a raft on a lake, ha).
In all seriousness though, I would highly recommend checking Neil Peart’s blog, and reading his post that includes his recollections of this photo shoot and other outdoor adventures stories from Le Studio and beyond. Sadly his last post was in 2014, which almost coincides with the time of his diagnosis. Who knows how long the site will stay up but I hope it is preserved for fans. It gives thoughtful insights into his love of nature and the great outdoors. Particularly touching is his conversation with his young daughter as she asks question about nature and his responses. Also, he discusses at length…. loons and loon calls! Well, here at 93.5, the Loon! We salute you Neil Peart. Float on, Neil. Float on.
[Update: Neil Peart’s website neilpeart.com and blog have sadly been taken down Summer 2020, leaving only a picture in tribute. However, it looks as though the content from site has been thoughfully preserved and archived at Rush Fan Site: Cygnus X-1]
Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” appears on Cottage Country Mix Vol.5: