In the Summer of 2017, hard rock DJ Eddie Trunk set off an unintentional firestorm of speculation when discussing the future of Rush. Essentially, in a stream of consciousness dissertation about the future of Rush, Eddie Trunk speculated on the possibility of Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson and his long time best friend and four decade plus bandmate, bassists, vocalist, keyboardist Geddy Lee striking out on their own with the apparent retirement of Rush drummer Neil Peart. As it turned out, there was nothing to the story but it got such publicity that Alex Lifeson himself had to go public and shoot the rumors down.
As much as I hate to admit it, Rush is done. I am as big of a Rush fanboy as exists (see my love letter to Rush in the form of the When It Was Cool article 100 Greatest Rush Songs) but I also have to grasp reality. The few times that Neil Peart has poked his head into the public limelight (see what I did there?) since Rush exited stage left a few years ago, he has referred to himself as "retired" or "former" Rush drummer. As much as I hate to face the reality of life after Rush there is every indication that Neil has put down his drum sticks indefinitely.
But one likes to believe in the freedom of music and of Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee to continue making modern music. In fact, Alex Lifeson recently laid down new guitar riffs on a studio album from the California band Fu Manchu on their track Il Mostro Atomico. Could... should (?) Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee continue on without Neil Peart? Let me introduce you to Dead & Company...
I Will Get By. I Will Survive.
In 2016 I took my wife Tonya to see one of her favorite bands, sort of. She was a long time fan of the Grateful Dead but as we all know, sadly, Jerry Garcia died in 1995. Since then, however, Bob Weir has toured with a variety of "sort of" Grateful Dead tribute bands the latest of which features John Mayer on guitar called Dead & Company. I was shocked by how great an experience it was. I personally was never big into the whole Deadhead scene and knew little of the Grateful Dead beyond the few radio friendly hits they had. I also checked out of current popular music scene a little before John Mayer became a thing and honestly, his type of soft melodic rockish music didn't really appeal to me but boy could he play guitar. John Mayer and the remains of the Grateful Dead jelled perfectly and I was exceptionally impressed with the concert we saw in St. Louis, MO. Since then, Dead & Company has become a successful touring band in it's own right.
Few popular culture figures loom as large as Jerry Garcia. Even if you don't know the music of the Grateful Dead you probably know Jerry Garcia by sight. Musically, the Grateful Dead and Rush are as dissimilar as any two bands can be but they do share one thing in common- a religiously passionate fan base. If this reinvention worked for the Grateful Dead could a similar transformation work for Rush?
It's Really Just a Question of Your Honesty.
Dead & Company did not try to replace Jerry Garcia. The best thing Bob Weir and company did was not even trying to pretend they could replace Jerry Garcia and just move on. It would have been insulting to fans, it wouldn't have been honest. How many wanna-be replacement bands are touring today as essentially glorified tribute bands? Sadly, many. So just don't do it. There is no replacing Neil Peart. He was the beat of Rush. He was the words of Rush. Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee were the heart and soul of Rush and Neil Peart was the brain and you need all those components to make a living breathing thing.
For a Lee-Lifeson Experience to work they need to pay tribute to Neil not replace him. One drummer can't and shouldn't do it. If Lee and Lifeson attempted to tour or record with one new drummer then it is going to insult fans and look like Rush-Lite. Ideally, you have a revolving "celebrity" drummer for a Lee-Lifeson tour. There should be no shortage of drummers dreaming to play onstage with Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee. Think of names like Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Winery Dogs, etc), Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters), or Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers) as your featured drummers accompanied by session percussionists. What better way to pay tribute to Neil Peart than have two or more drummers on stage with Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart front and center?
For a Lee-Lifeson Experience to work they need the public blessing of Neil Peart. Would this be possible? I'm not sure, one would hope that if Neil Peart is truly retired and has no plans to record or tour again that he would give his public blessing to Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee to continue on as something other than Rush but still playing the music of Rush as well. If Peart gave his public blessing then fans would almost certainly be more accepting and who knows, hope against all hope, on a swing through California maybe Peart might even join them onstage if not to play with them one more time then at least to give a smile and a nod. The band has always worn their comedy for all to see, would Neil Peart perhaps record a funny sort of "Hey... what are you guys doing?" video to be played at Lee-Lifeson Experience Shows? Maybe. One would hope Neil could set them free if, in fact, he is retired.
Finally, for a Lee-Lifeson Experience to work there needs to be new music. Again, I believe this would work best by using multiple drummers, perhaps celebrity drummers, so no one would be "replacing" Neil Peart. With music being mostly consumed digitally now and following in the footsteps of how Rush released a couple of songs from Clockwork Angels over a year before the album dropped, new Lee-Lifeson music wouldn't have to be a full album. Maybe just two or three new songs.
In this one of many possible worlds...
Maybe the dream of a Lee-Lifeson Experience is too far fetched. Perhaps I should just accept that this band which I have loved through most of my life is finally just finished. But I can dream can't I? Is the fantasy of someday in the future traveling to one of my favorite arenas and hearing my favorite Rush songs sang again by Geddy Lee too much to ask? Is seeing the fun, friendly, honest chemistry between Alex Lifeson and his friend since grade school Geddy Lee again rocking out on stage just a pipe dream? Possibly. But I'll again refer you to the Grateful Dead who figured out a way to keep on truckin' without Jerry Garcia- "If you get confused just listen to the music play..."
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