Drums of heaven

Updated: Jan 19, 2020, 07:24 IST | Rahul da Cunha | Mumbai

An intricate song called Tom Sawyer was my calling card in college - the lyrics were a portrait of a modern-day rebel, a free-spirited individualist striding through the world with intent

Illustration/ Uday Mohite
Illustration/ Uday Mohite

picI'm a rock disciple—one of a fanatical bunch for whom musical influences from one's formative years haven't been tarnished by time or iTunes. Mere adulthood hasn't tamed the beast.

An intricate song called Tom Sawyer was my calling card in college—the lyrics were a portrait of a modern-day rebel, a free-spirited individualist striding through the world with intent. It's everything my 18-year-old self wanted to be. Forty years later, the words and the riffs still resonate:

"Today's Tom Sawyer he gets high on you And the space he invades, he gets by on you

No his mind is not for rent

To any God or government

Always hopeful yet discontent

He knows changes aren't permanent

But change is"

The writer of that song, Neil Peart (drummer and principal songwriter of the three-member Canadian rock band Rush) died last week of brain cancer, aged just 67.

Till he passed, Peart was regarded as the greatest living drummer, by his fans and much of the fraternity.

The term 'legend' is a debatable one. It can sometimes imply someone deserves to be eulogised, but is way past his best. Peart was a legend, but his inventiveness was constantly evolving.

To most of us rock disciples, the loss of a music hero, is layered. For me, there are three aspects to it.

1. For starters, there's obviously the man as the musician—master of his craft, Neil Peart was the drummer of drummers. As his friend, fellow percussionist of that other great trio, The Police, said famously, "he's the most air-drummed to drummer of all time".

2. Then, there's the man as a songwriter.

In the 70s/80s while some rock bands were creating songs about women and speeding on highways, others were pondering about alienation and depression. Neil Peart, the "professor of progressive rock" derived his inspiration from literature. His lyrics were about sci-fi epics, and the Holocaust and fantasy fiction and Lord of the Rings and Ayn Rand's Objectivism and Coleridge's Kubla Khan and Greek Tragedy and religious thought and the pressures of fame and dystopian futures and big corporations interfering with an artiste's individuality:

"One likes to believe in the freedom of music

But glittering prizes

And endless compromises

Shatter the illusion of integrity"

3. Finally, there's the man as the influencer. Is a musician judged solely by his immediate era or by timelessness, across genres and generations?

Does his work conjure up mere nostalgia or does his sound have a sense of now-ness? And, do today's percussionists respect and revere him for what he brought to the instrument? Mike Portnoy of the definitive progressive metal band Dream Theater and Danny Carey of Tool, two of today's best, looked up to and learned from this showman cum scholar.

The man believed in two critical axioms:

Never betray the values of his sixteen-year-old self. Because finally, he believed, "You're only immortal for a limited time."
"The future disappears into memory

With only a moment in between

Forever dwells in that moment

Hope is what remains to be seen".

Rahul daCunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at rahul.dacunha@mid-day.com

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