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October 7, 2020

In Memoriam: Neil Peart and Edward Van Halen

By Brian Heaton

The deaths of Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart and Van Halen guitarist Edward Van Halen have left gaping holes not just in the music world, but in the fabric of humanity's artistic history. Every musician pulls something from those who came before them, but Peart and Van Halen were innovators along the lines of da Vinci, Tesla, Beethoven, and Hendrix—iconic figures of mankind.

Peart took percussion to an entirely new level that influenced a generation of rock drummers who were much more than timekeepers. On Neil's watch, drumming became an art form, a method of storytelling that the listener could dial in to and be captivated by. His drum solos didn't fill time—they were timeless expressions of art. Similarly, the fretboard work of Eddie Van Halen helped shape the genre of heavy metal, specifically, what a guitar could contribute to rock music. His tapping style (no, contrary to popular belief, he didn't invent it, just used it in a way that was very flamboyant) and showmanship paved the way for the likes of Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and just about any hopeful guitarist learning how to play the instrument in the late-1970s through the 1980s. While Black Sabbath and Deep Purple may be credited with “inventing” heavy metal, it was Edward Van Halen who defined it.

I'm not going to lie and claim I was a fan of both Rush and Van Halen from an early age, I wasn't. I was obsessed with bands that followed and were influenced by them in some form or another, namely Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Fifth Angel and of course, Queensryche. Growing up, I wasn't permitted to go to concerts. But in 1995, at the age of 19, I finally could and secured my tickets for both Bon Jovi (supporting These Days) and Queensryche (supporting Promised Land) at Jones Beach Amphitheater on Long Island. But I was also a poor college student, working full-time, paycheck to paycheck, trying to make sure my car worked, and tuition was paid. So, when friends came up to me saying they had a ticket to Van Halen's Balance tour (also at Jones Beach), the decision was simple: I passed. I couldn't justify another concert for a band that I didn't grow up listening to. I really liked Balance, Live: Right Here, Right Now, and For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. But I figured I'd catch them next time. Huge mistake.

I didn't get another opportunity to see Van Halen until 2004. My wife and I got our tickets, walked into the venue and sat down for a solid opening set by a band called Shinedown. They had a great song, “Fly from the Inside” that they performed well that evening. Sadly, that would prove to be the highlight of the night. When Van Halen took the stage, it was clear that Eddie Van Halen was not in a good place. He was playing very sloppy, and at points even the wrong songs. He and Sammy Hagar didn't even look at one another, but you could tell how angry Sammy was. At the end of the show, we walked out, disgusted. My wife assured me that's not the Eddie Van Halen I should remember.

Years passed, and finally, Van Halen reunited again. This time with original singer David Lee Roth. Truth be told, I wasn't as big of a fan of the band with DLR fronting them. I had seen DLR as a solo act in a tiny club on Long Island back in the late 1990s. But I got into Van Halen with Sammy Hagar. Sure, I liked some of the tunes from the DLR-led Van Halen, but it wasn't the same. Still, I wanted to go—until it was announced that bassist Michael Anthony was being replaced by Edward's son, Wolfgang. That was just…wrong. Michael Anthony was a crucial part of Van Halen's live sound. I absolutely understand Eddie and Alex Van Halen wanting to play with Wolfie. But I felt (as I am sure many others did) that was a small part of why they weren't including Michael Anthony. They felt he had taken Sammy Hagar's side and were denying him his rightful part of the Van Halen legacy (which we found out later, they forced Michael Anthony to sign his rights away to be part of the 2004 reunion). So, I skipped my local shows for both A Different Kind of Truth and the subsequent tour in support of Van Halen's live album with DLR. I'd never get a chance to see Van Halen again.

With Rush it was a similar story. I was familiar with “Tom Sawyer” and some other Rush hits like “Limelight,” but I never got into the band until 1996's Test for Echo. I dug it and when Rush came through Long Island in support of the album, my friends wanted me to go, but I passed. Again, I was a poor college kid at the time, struggling to make ends meet. Life happens. I could have gone and sacrificed a few things, but I just didn't think it was a big deal. Talk about a colossal error.

As everyone knows. Neil Peart's wife and young daughter subsequently died and he basically “retired” from the band. But when Neil was finally ready to resume playing music five years later, and Rush did Vapor Trails and their 2002 tour in support of that album, my friends were not letting me miss it. At this point, I was still a struggling student—this time in law school. But with Hartford, Conn., an easy drive from where I was living and going to school at the time, there I was, on June 28, 2002, at the ctnow.com Meadows Music Centre. I still wasn't an uber fan of the band. I had Vapor Trails and liked it a lot. But while I can't remember much about the show except for my vantage point, it was overwhelming enough that I became a huge fan of Rush after that experience.

Unlike missing Van Halen all those times, I ended up seeing Rush twice more, in 2004 at the Chronicle Pavilion in Concord, Calif., and in 2010 at the White River Amphitheater in Auburn, Wash. I bought the catalog and became a diehard. Sadly, however, I missed their shows in support of Clockwork Angels and the final R40 tour. They played weeknights in an area not very close, tickets were very expensive, and I chose to skip the shows. Apparently, I didn't learn my lesson entirely, and ultimately with Neil's passing, there won't be another opportunity.

I got into these two great bands, Van Halen and Rush, far too late. Bringing this blog in line with AnybodyListening.net's focus, the reason both bands finally clicked for me was Queensryche. Specifically, my research in the late-1990s (once Chris Degarmo left the band) to start diving into the influences of Queensryche and focus on what bands helped mold Queensryche's sound. And while Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Pink Floyd were three big ones, Rush and Van Halen were also significant.

For example, one listen to Scott Rockenfield's drumming on Empire calls to mind Neil Peart. Just the feel and swing of what Scott does was shaped by Peart's style. And while DeGarmo and Michael Wilton, as a duo, carved their own niche after emulating the tandems of Dave Murray/Adrian Smith and Glenn Tipton/K.K. Downing from Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, respectively, the solos they wrote, particularly Wilton's, drew heavily from what Eddie Van Halen was doing. “NM 156” from The Warning is a great example, particularly the tapping used in it.

Countless bands that followed in the footsteps of Van Halen and Rush have elements of what Neil Peart and Eddie Van Halen did. Queensryche is not unique in that regard. But losing these two titans of human art is monumental. If you're reading this, you're a rock music fan. Everything you listen to that was created post-1978 has been influenced in some way by Eddie Van Halen and Neil Peart. With them gone, music as we know it will never quite be the same.

Thank you, Neil. Thank you, Edward. May you both rest in peace and your families and friends find comfort in how you touched the lives of millions and left an indelible mark on the world.

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