Don’t be scared off. This is not a post just about a rock star. It could be, and it would be warranted, but I would rather focus on something I learned from a particular rock star. Give it a read, and hopefully you will find something of value.
Neil Peart was the drummer for the rock band Rush for 40 years. (Yes, FORTY.) He is widely regarded as one of the best drummers the world has ever seen. Many people, (myself included) consider him THE BEST drummer to have ever picked up the sticks.
Oh, and Neil was also the lyricist for the band, writing over 19 albums worth of lyrics. Some of them are remarkable: Literate, insightful, even beautiful at times.
I remember one time, back in 1979, that I went to a fireside at the Scera Theater in Orem to hear a man teach about Satanic influence in music. I remember he showed us slides of bands that he claimed were influenced by the devil. He showed pictures of Black Sabbath, Kiss, Alice Cooper….and Rush.
My friend and I almost burst out laughing and promptly left the fireside. As soon as this well-intentioned brother brought Rush into the realm of devil bands, he lost all credibility in our eyes. It was obvious he had not done his homework and actually listened to the music, or read the lyrics. Love and relationships? Sure. Politics? Yes. Social issues? Often. Neil wrote about all of them. Evil? Nope. Rush was one of my favorites, and I would not be dissuaded.
So, when I learned that Neil Peart passed away last Tuesday after a three-year battle with brain cancer, it hit me hard. Much harder than I expected. Rush had been part of the soundtrack of my life – especially in my college years, and even now as I’m passing my Rush playlist on to my sons on Spotify.
Here’s the part that makes Neil important beyond his music: When he was in his mid-forties, and had been playing drums for over thirty years, he was lauded and known for being the best of the best.
So what did he do? He took a year and a half off from playing with the band. Why? He wanted to learn how to play the drums in a different way than what he was used to. He was not content to play at the same level he had attained. He wanted to play better, and that would require a teacher, changes, dedication, and a lot of practice. He would have to change how he had been doing things for thirty years. In his words:
“At that time, around ’95 or so, I’d been playing for 30 years. ‘Am I really going to stop now, practise everyday with these exercises he’s giving me, go back to traditional grip, the right end of the sticks?”
“I had to say, ‘Can I go down to the basement every day and practise again like I did when I was 13? If I can commit myself to that, will I be rewarded?’ I decided it was worth a try and did that for about a year and a half.”
Who does that?
Neil did that. And he did it again in 2007, when, at 55 years old, he felt he could still improve his technique. He spent six months working on flicking his wrist to improve timekeeping. Seriously.
What I admire about this is not just the sheer dedication and work ethic, (Which are remarkable) but the fact that someone considered to be “The Best” felt he could and should continue to improve. Not only for himself, but he felt he owed it to his bandmates and his fans.
Right now a lot of us are at a stage where there is more mortal life behind us that ahead of us. It is really easy to settle into a groove and contently stay there. Things are okay, I’m okay, the way I have done things works pretty well – why invest the time, effort and sacrifice to change?
Are we introspective enough to find those things that we need to change about ourselves and our lives? Are we strong enough to actually effectuate such changes?
You know who is all about constant change? President Nelson. Through him, the Lord has brought about all kinds of change. It has been nothing short of spectacular.
The accelerated pace of the changes in the Church have necessitated an accelerated pace of change in us personally – just to keep up. Some of those changes are harder than others. Sometimes change is slow. Sometimes it is even painful. Sometimes we would rather just avoid it.
President Nelson said, “…we need to do better and be better because we are in a battle. The battle with sin is real. The adversary is quadrupling his efforts to disrupt testimonies and impede the work of the Lord. He is arming his minions with potent weapons to keep us from partaking of the joy and love of the Lord.” (link)
But we can be better. But to be better, we have to first recognize where there is room for improvement.
A few years ago, Elder Larry Lawerence gave a talk entitled “What Lack I Yet,” that touched on this idea. Wait – it more that “touched on it” – it blew me away!
Jesus taught about eternal progression in the Bible. He said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
“I have been a member of the Church now for over 40 years, and whenever I read this verse of scripture, I am reminded of our purpose here on earth. We came to learn and improve until we gradually become sanctified or perfected in Christ.
The journey of discipleship is not an easy one. It has been called a “course of steady improvement.”2 As we travel along that strait and narrow path, the Spirit continually challenges us to be better and to climb higher. The Holy Ghost makes an ideal traveling companion. If we are humble and teachable, He will take us by the hand and lead us home.
However, we need to ask the Lord for directions along the way. We have to ask some difficult questions, like “What do I need to change?” “How can I improve?” “What weakness needs strengthening?”
He quoted Joseph Fielding Smith, saying, “It is our duty to be better today than we were yesterday, and better tomorrow than we are today.”
Strangely, a drummer from a rock band helped me understand this.
RIP Neil Peart.
“I want to look at life
In the available light” (Lyrics to Presto)