Former DREAM THEATER and current SONS OF APOLLO drummer Mike Portnoy spoke to World Prog-Nation about the passing of Neil Peart, who died on January 7 in Santa Monica, California after a three-year battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. The iconic RUSH drummer was 67 years old. Asked when the first time was that he heard RUSH's music and saw them live, Portnoy said (see video below): "The first time I saw them live was December 9th, 1982, on the 'Signals' tour at Nassau Coliseum. And at that point, I had been a fan for about a year or so. I really dug into 'em and then got obsessed around when 'Moving Pictures' came out, and 'Signals', and then worked my way backwards. All my favorite albums were the ones that preceded those, like 'Hemispheres', 'A Farewell To Kings' and 'Permanent Waves'. Those are my favorites, but I didn't really discover them till a few years after those albums [came out], and it turned my world upside down."
He continued: "It was the right band at the right time for me. 'Cause before that, I was starting out on drums, and I was learning from John Bonham and Keith Moon and Peter Criss and Marky Ramone — more simple, straight-ahead stuff — and that was good for me to learn how to get around the kit. But then, when I was around 13 or 14, in the early '80s, that's when I discovered RUSH and Neil, and at that point, I wanted to grow and learn more and learn how to build a giant big kit and play more complex music. So, it was the right band at the right time for me, and I got completely obsessed. I also discovered other progressive music, like YES and GENESIS and [KING] CRIMSON, and those drummer — Bill Bruford, Phil Collins, Terry Bozzio; all those guys — but Neil and RUSH were always number one for me."
Speaking about how Peart influenced him on a musical and personal level, Portnoy said: "I spent 20, 30 years idolizing him and being his biggest fan. And all those years, it was mainly the drum kit — the drum kit was such a fascination for me. He always built such amazing kits and put so much thought into it. I'd always get the tour programs where he'd write about the kit and what the new things were on it, and I would just look at those photos. Most other kids were looking at Playboy centerfolds; I was looking at Neil Peart drum kits. And then, obviously, his playing — it goes without saying. I learned how to really develop parts and orchestrate drum parts to build and change and develop within the song. So that was the biggest stuff for me as a fan. And then later on, once I got to know him, I was so inspired by what a gracious person he was."
Mike added: "He had this reputation that he was sort of quiet and isolated and private, and he was, and it was very important for him to guard that. But once you were somehow allowed into that inner cicle, he was always so sweet and kind and generous. He'd always send me holiday e-mails and he would always send me his new books and stuff like that. It was a relationship that I'll always cherish and I was honored to have."
RUSH announced Peart's passing on January 10, setting off shockwaves and an outpouring of grief from fans and musicians all over the world.
RUSH's final show took place at the Forum in Los Angeles on August 1, 2015. Peart indicated at the time that he wanted to retire while he was still able to play well, along with a desire to spend more time at home with his young daughter.