When legendary Rush drummer Neil Peart died last January, I wanted to write about the significance of his life, but couldn’t. His death was a blow that surpassed the passing of any other stranger.
Of course, Peart was no stranger to millions of fans. We were his long-awaited friends. We grew up on Peart’s lyrics, and we grew old with them.
I also didn’t write because others were already saying everything that could be said. You cannot overstate the role that Peart played shaping a generation of liberty-inclined thought. Others covered his influence on music and drumming. You don’t need me for that.
Let’s fix the record on one point. Rush was not rock by nerds for nerds, as Bret Stephens mistakenly wrote. Not in my hometown. Rush fans were the cool tough kids, young boys bearing arms on Pennsylvania’s state holiday – the opening of deer season. Rush fans had a proud swagger wearing their raglan Rush shirts in the schoolyard the morning after the concert. A real Rush fan in my hometown was more likely to pop the “treasurer of the math club,” than be the treasurer, as Stephens described the typical fan.
But now comes a tribute to Neil Peart that captures what no other tribute quite captured. Pershing’s Own, the United States Army Band, has this touching arrangement of, fittingly, “Time Stand Still” from 1987’s Hold Your Fire. If you thought Rush was all loud progressive rock with glass-cracking vocals, you haven’t heard Time Stand Still, originally backed by Aimee Mann.
The U.S. Army Arrangement by Sgt. First Class Tim Whalen distills out the most beautiful elements of the 1987 track. The arrangement is sparse, and all percussion is notably absent. It is a song about time, and lives, and experiences passing.
Summers going fast, nights growing colder, children growing up, old friends growing older
When the song was released in 1987, I was all of nineteen. Hearing it then on crisp September nights, I knew I wasn’t entitled to those lyrics. But one day, if I was blessed, I would be.
And the years rolled by. Not-yet old friends wandered the face of the earth, following the band to post-graduation shows in places like the Capital Center and across New England. We blew out pair after pair of tweeters as Cygnus brought balance, the Snow Dog sent By-Tor back to hell, and all planets of the Solar Federation lost control.
Old friends grew older. Then we found each other again. In the days following Peart’s death, a prolific Fox News guest and writer told me his daughter had made him a CD full of Rush songs.
And now the United States Army Band has the tribute to top them all.
The first of thousands of sometimes tearful comments at the United States Army Band YouTube post of “Time Stand Still” comes from Christine Rettig, who notes her “soldier son is the vocalist wearing glasses.” Why? “They know how much great musicians have influenced the music they perform.”
How did the tribute happen? From the Army notes:
When SFC Tim Whalen heard the news, he was shocked and saddened. As a lifelong RUSH fan, he felt compelled to do something to honor Neil and the band that has meant so much in his own life. He immediately knew the song “Time Stand Still” would be the perfect choice. SFC Whalen reflects, “The lyrics to this song have always resonated deeply with me, and they show Neil’s heart. I wanted to showcase the deep humanity he had in his writing. The song is about life moving too fast, due to both things we can control and things we can’t, and the desire to hold onto something just a little longer. This is such a universal message, whether it be children growing up too fast, a loved one dying, or a soldier leaving home wondering if they’ll ever see their family again.”
The depths of Peart’s writing went far beyond the arena anthems familiar to AOR formats of the 1980s. Nothing was off-limits – the fall of communism, the Manhattan Project’s transformative success, the space shuttle, the awe of London and Manhattan, the end of the End of History after 9/11.
Rush certainly wasn’t all current events either. They are the blazing, windows-down, air drums, rock-and-roll emotion of “Earthshine,” “Cold Fire,” “Bravado,” “Prime Mover,” “Cut to the Chase,” “Natural Science,” “Vital Signs,” and “Kid Gloves.”
To many of us, above all, it was Peart’s sense of life that drew many to the band. It’s that sense of life that Sgt. First Class Tim Whalen captures in his “Time Stand Still” arrangement. It shows up so many other places – “Anthem,” “Mission,” “Marathon,” “Chain Lightning,” and “Dreamline.”
We have so much to be thankful for from Army soldiers. Now there is one more. Thank you to the United States Army Band for this treasure.