Neil Peart

On this date in 1952, Canadian musician Neil Ellwood Peart (pronounced peert) was born in Hamilton, Ontario. He had a happy childhood and started playing drums when he was 13 and played in local bands before moving to England to further his musical career.

As a child, he said he was “merely ambivalent” about religion after his parents enrolled him in Sunday school. He felt validated about his doubt after reading The Passover Plot, in which someone else, i.e., skeptical author Hugh Schonfield, had “dared to disbelieve.” (The Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa, 1996.) Later in that memoir, Peart wrote, “I’m a linear thinking agnostic, but not an atheist, folks.”

After returning to Canada from London, Peart signed on as the drummer for the six-year-old, Toronto-based band Rush in July 1974, two weeks before the group’s first U.S. tour. Before long he was the band’s primary lyricist and went on to record 18 Rush albums and perform as many as 300 gigs a year before his 2018 retirement after being diagnosed with glioblastoma, a brain tumor. 

In annual polls of readers conducted by Modern Drummer magazine, Peart was voted best rock drummer nine times. He also incorporated jazz and swing elements into his style, which furthered his renown as one of the world’s premier percussionists. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.

Peart wrote seven nonfiction books focused on his wide-ranging travels and personal stories. His lyrics for Rush included secular, humanitarian and libertarian themes. “Roll the Bones” (1991) says “Faith is cold as ice/Why are little ones born only to suffer/For the want of immunity, or a bowl of rice?”

In “Freewill” (1980) he wrote: “You can choose from phantom fears/And kindness that can kill/I will choose a path that’s clear/I will choose free will.” In “Faithless” (2007) he wrote: “I don’t have faith in faith/I don’t believe in belief/You can call me faithless/I still cling to hope/And I believe in love/And that’s faith enough for me.”

Peart and his common-law wife Jacqueline Taylor had a daughter named Selena who died in a car accident in 1997 at age 19. Taylor died of cancer 10 months later. He married photographer Carrie Nuttall in 2000. Their daughter Olivia Louise was born in 2009. Peart died at age 67 of glioblastoma on Jan. 7, 2020. He had become a U.S. citizen and was living with his wife in Santa Monica, Calif. D. 2020.

Freedom From Religion Foundation