Bob Bryar (ex-My Chemical Romance) on Neil Peart, joking with Rush
The former My Chemical Romance drummer recalls sneaking into a meet-and-greet for Rush and ending up beginning a friendship with the band's iconic drummer.January 13, 2020
These days, Bryar spends his time away from music. You’ll find him doing everything from flying helicopters to racing cars to training service dogs. But one music thing he truly cherishes is his friendship with Rush‘s esteemed drummer/lyricist Neil Peart, who died this past Tuesday.
Bryar has a personal mythology of coming out of the scene and living and (almost) dying for it. (Not to mention helping save more than a few unwanted animals.) We asked him if he’d like to contribute a remembrance about Neil Peart, from his teenage obsession to actually becoming friends with the drumming legend.
Read more: Rush drummer Neil Peart dies at age 67
Man… Neil Peart. Since he has passed, I have attempted writing about him at least 10 times. I have erased everything every time for two reasons. The first is that what I’m writing is nowhere close to what he deserves. He was one of the smartest, most well-spoken and (obviously) one of the best drummers in history. The second thing is that his passing still doesn’t feel real. We didn’t hang out or talk on the phone every day, but he has been a very important part of my life since I was a little kid.
When I first started playing the drums, I was taught that jazz drummers are all that matters. I was taught that there were basically three categories of drummers: good drummers who had crazy chops and played jazz or jazz fusion; marching drummers; and then rock drummers. I had it drilled into my head that rock drummers just hit everything as hard as they could, then they smash the kit, piss their pants and throw up on everyone. That was a rock drummer to me at that time. I didn’t think a rock drummer could be musical.
Then I saw Rush. Holy shit. Neil Peart was playing rock music but playing it musically. Neil wasn’t spitting on everyone and smashing everything as hard as he could, but he was still playing rock music. It was a life-changing moment for me. I realized that I could be in a rock band and still work to become a better drummer at the same time. From that day forward, I always had him “with me.”
Read more: Ex-My Chemical Romance drummer Bob Bryar shares his memories of recording ‘The Black Parade.’
When I started to dive deep into practicing on a full kit, naturally, I blasted Rush through headphones and tried to keep up. I learned more from playing along with him on headphones than I ever learned from a drum teacher or lessons. Eventually, I was tasked with learning every Rush song, and I did it. It was a major accomplishment for me, which continued through my drumming days.
The first time I got to see Rush was when I was in grade school in Chicago. It was the first time that I had ever seen a band leave the stage and leave all focus to the drummer live. It was the first of the many, many Neil Peart solos that I have watched. I was in awe. He didn’t use his solo time to bash everything as fast as he could: Instead, he essentially created his own song. Then his entire rig spun 180 degrees, and he jumped onto the electronic kit, which had even more musicality. He was playing marimba parts during a drum solo. WTF, mind blowing. Even after seeing Rush live a billion times, I still would think, “When is the solo, when is the solo, when is the solo?”
I remember the first time meeting Neil. I snuck backstage by myself thinking I could get into a meet-and-greet, thanks to some friends who knew them. It was just Geddy [Lee, bassist] and Alex [Lifeson, guitarist] which was still awesome. Later, I saw [Peart] in a hallway and I almost lost my mind.
I was walking down the hallway to his practice room, opened the door, and there he was, jamming on his kit. I couldn’t believe I was talking to Neil Peart—and he was listening and talking back! Eventually, I calmed down and realized just how much of a good person he really was. He didn’t have to let me in or hang out—but he did. He seemed like he actually cared what we were talking about and even gave me some tips! It was a truly life-changing moment.Eventually, when I got to the point where I started using more gear and needed to really dial in my setup. Neil had just come out with his own line of cymbals. And I was allowed to be a part of that: He personally gave me the nod to play his line. I went from selling my cymbals for money to buy drumsticks to talking to Chris Stankee at Sabian–one of Neil’s closest friends–about Neil’s line. For a while, it was only Neil and myself playing the Paragons. I felt like I won the drum lottery: I was walking into music stores and seeing my picture next to Neil’s in huge displays. To be honest, I teared up the first time I walked into a store and saw that. I still smile every time I look at one of those cymbals.
One of the best memories I have happened during a Rush show. Geddy Lee has his bass cabinets offstage because they use in-ear monitors, and he didn’t need them to be close to him. For a very long time, as a joke, Geddy had washers and dryers in place of his bass cabinets onstage. The crew would do their laundry during the show. It was amazing! Then Geddy changed it up and replaced the washers and dryers with 6-foot tall chicken rotisseries. They were lit up like they would be while cooking, but all of the chickens inside were fake.During the intermission, I got summoned to the stage by Neil. My friend and super-pyro man John Arrowsmith met me at the front of the stage and pulled me up. I was then handed a chef’s uniform, a bowl and a brush. They told me when the band comes back out and starts playing, to go out onstage—in front of 20,000 people—and brush each chicken, then Neil’s kit, then the snake at the monitor board. I was more nervous walking onto that stage than I had ever been in my life. I will never forget when Neil, my hero, looked up at me and started laughing as they began playing “The Spirit Of Radio.” Again, WTF? That was crazy and a highlight of my life that I will never forget.
I went on to learn more about Neil and learned a lot about being humble and a good human. Neil wanted to just be a good person and live life, even after working through some very hard times. I would not have had any of the opportunities that I have had if Neil Peart wasn’t Neil Peart. I don’t know if there will ever be another musician or person like him. I will miss him, along with millions of others that he has touched.
Thank you, Neil.