Spawn of Mars
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Close to the Heart
On the Occasion of Neil Peart's Death
Thursday, February 6, 2020 3:26 pm
While it is not unreasonable to wonder about the life of an artist — or even to admire an artist's everyday conduct — I am of the mind that the artist does not matter (beyond his getting the proper credit and payment). To be sure, his life is relevant insofar as it clarifies his work; but other than that...

Most artists are scum. Beethoven was a bitter bastard. Shostakovich was a pathetic collaborator. As men, neither merits celebration. Celebrity for artists should be rejected. Go ahead and admire Haydn because he was kind, pious, and hard-working; then pity and decry him because he was adulterous; but remember that there were many kind, pious, hard-working, and adulterous men in the world. It was not Haydn's life that distinguished him; and it is not his life that should concern us.

Which is all to say, that callous as it may sound, the death of Neil Peart does not move me at all. And I say that as a guy who has loved Rush since the release of A Farewell to Kings.

In 1977 I was a kid working in a bagel shop, mixing and baking bagels. We were allowed to work with the radio on. I actually remember one of the times I heard Closer to the Heart, which was in rotation then. I can see the fluorescent light, the white walls, and the chrome trim on the portable. And I remember being enchanted by the bells in this rocking song. It was percussion quite distinctive. I had no idea who was striking those bells. But it didn't matter. I was only glad he had thought to do it.

No, I am not saying that art is more important than the man. Any man is worth more than any work of art. I've even said art itself doesn't matter (see, for example, this post). But the artist matters even less. It is rightly sad for some people that Neil Peart — friend, bandmate, husband, and father — has died. It should be sad for no one that the drummer of Rush has died.

Except, I suppose, inasmuch as one might be sad because there will never be another album by Rush. But really — if I may double-down on my tactlessness — Rush haven't made a good album since the mid-1980s.

So. There's that.

A few years ago, roundabout the release of Rush's final album, I saw a listicle of the "Top Ten" Rush albums. It was immediately apparent that the listmaker was an idiot. There were nineteen albums to choose from. He chose ten of those. More than half, in other words.

His list included Counterparts.

It did not include A Farewell to Kings.

Idiot. QED.

It was clear he was a Johnny-come-lately. His list was heavily weighted to the later albums. He had a certain taste; and the fact is, the later albums do have a certain flavor. There was a transition in Rush's music that began with 1982's Signals and finished with 1989's Presto. Some people have said that Rush were a little protean, a little reactive to the times, trying this, trying that, becoming something fresh; but really, they just stopped being good.

Oh, I kept buying their albums. It was RUSH, for God's sake! I liked the albums at the time. I was genuinely thrilled by 2002's Vapor Trails, and not only because it had been six years since the last. But you know what? None of them stayed with me. Indeed, years later, when I'd try to listen to something like Counterparts, I'd not even finish listening. It was all so meh.

I had become clear-eyed enough about the mehhing of my favorite band, that when their final album came out in 2012, I prudently sampled it on Amazon, winced, and didn't even buy it.

So what is the correct Top Ten? Well, simply enough, it's the first ten albums. The final nine are genuinely disposable. I know that this is a cruel thing to say — especially on the occasion of Neil Peart's death — but it's true. You can argue there's good songs on the final nine and I'll not throw my drink in your face; but those are from a different Rush. A Rush that I, in my sober old age, do not like.

Now, although I love their debut album, it does not include Peart, who joined Rush with the second album. Even the band marks their true foundation with Peart's arrival. There was certainly a change in tone. So we'll instead go with a Top Nine.

1. A Farewell to Kings
2. 2112
3. Moving Pictures
4. Hemispheres
5. Grace Under Pressure
6. Permanent Waves
7. Fly By Night
8. Caress of Steel
9. Signals

Depending on the day of the week and my mood, #4, #5, and #6 would be switched around. And I know there are those who probably boggle at my putting Signals below Caress of Steel, but honestly, Signals is relatively weak, Analog Kid and Subdivisions notwithstanding. Besides, this is not a list of best to worst; it's a list of descending best.

And much as I consider the final nine albums "disposable," I confess to a weird affection for 1987's Hold Your Fire. This one I can finish when I put it on. So, without granting it a place on the best list, I'll still give it an honorary #10, next to 1974's debut Rush.

I have said before that there's something misaligned about me. I'll concede that my indifference to Neil Peart's death, art versus artist aside, might just be unnatural. I don't think I was given sufficient training to mix with you humans when I was sent here from Proxima Centauri.

As it is, I still wish Neil a good place in the Heaven he disbelieved in, and meanwhile I'll enjoy the enduring work he made with Alex and Geddy. Perhaps it is suspicious that my favorite Rush is also my first Rush, but Closer to the Heart epitomizes their goodness, and it's a comfortable thing, really, that a band once so important to me remains, in its best music, close to my heart.
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