Movies: Neil Peart – Anatomy of a Drum Solo (2005)

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It was either a TDK-SA 90 or a Maxell XLII (not the XLII-S; we were ‘poor’ back then). It had a handmade j-card insert, with the song titles hammered out by a typewriter. That tape was with me all summer. During those hot three months after my freshman year in college, I hung around my Aunt Rose’s house on Cape Cod, brooded (about gawd knows what) and listened to Rush’s All The World’s A Stage.

That tape was made by my best friend Tyler. We were going through this phase where we were trying to figure out if we actually liked Rush or not. Certainly we loved the loud guitars, slamming drums, and hyperactive bass. But the voice? Ty wasn’t so sure. Neither was I. After giving that tape a daily (sometimes twice!) listen for almost all of June through August, the ebb and flow of the songs became internalized. And… I decided that I liked Geddy Lee’s high and squeaky voice.

But of course this is about Neil Peart. And drumming. And the strangeness of the passage of time.

But mostly: drumming.

Since the summer of 1980, Rush has produced a host of studio and live records, videos and concert DVDs, all of it anchored by the athletic and masterful drum work of Neil Peart. Peart himself has put out a video collection on drumming (A Work In Progress) and several books, the most amazing of which is Ghost Rider, chronicling Peart’s struggle with life after the death of his daughter and wife, both in the same year.

2005 brought the arrival of a new Peart drumming video, Anatomy of a Drum Solo. On this two-disc set, we are treated to a complete deconstruction of the solo performed during the Rush 30th anniversary tour.

Now, maybe this stuff is for drum wonks only, but I found it fascinating. Not just for the crazy amount of technique the man possesses. No, what makes this different is the sheer musicality woven through the solo. Neil is well-versed in the history of music and drops little bits of it into his work, from the earliest tribal rhythms up through modern jazz and rock.

Take modern jazz. Inspired by a solo from Max Roach, Peart starts with a simple waltz-time pattern (count to yourself “1-2-3, 1-2-3”) and improvises in various time signatures on top of it. Speaking as a person who manages to play a simple rock shuffle (with the accents on the 1 and the 3 where, as Jerry Garcia used to say, even a white person can find ’em), this stuff seems impossible.

There is plenty of bonus material to go around here, including some extended improvisations, full in-concert Rush tunes presented from the drums-only camera, the “O Baterista” solo from Rush In Rio, and a previously unreleased solo from the Counterparts tour. For pure drum wonks, there is an interview with Rush engineer and co-producer Paul Northfield and drum tech Lorne Wheaton. The last bit of drum porn is a video segment of Wheaton constructing Peart’s 30th anniversary kit.

So now, all of these years later, none of us are the same. Peart has surely been through some of the worst of life’s experiences. It amazes me, as an example of the sheer strength of the human spirit, that his creativity survived, however altered.

Me and Ty, yeah … we’re still friends. We’ve also had our share of life’s ugliness, but plenty of beauty as well. We even played in a band together for a few years, with his drumming going far beyond my pre-Ringo thumping. Every time a birthday comes around, forcing me to think about how many years have gone by, I’m just amazed at the clarity of my memories of that old cassette (it was the TDK, I’ve decided). That and how the music has in my mind formed an invisible bond linking together two old friends from central Maine and a rock musician from Toronto.

So this DVD and this review are my belated Christmas presents to Ty. I figure that after 25 years, all of that great music, and three months of that TDK tape … it’s the least I can do.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to, and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at
Mark Saleski
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