Yesterday was Neil Peart's birthday. For those who are not Rush fans, Neil spent more than four decades as their drummer. He was an amazing and talented musician, and I don't say that as just some fan-- his own peers in the music industry have spoken with great admiration about his skill. He was also a respected songwriter, who helped Rush to go from being just another bar band in Toronto to becoming a well-known rock band with millions of loyal fans all over the world, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well.
Drumming was a large part of Neil's identity, and he took great pride in it; he studied the work of other drummers, past and present, and he always gave 100% every time he performed. If you ever saw Rush in concert, you know that few bands put on a more dynamic and energetic performance-- no opening act, just Alex, Geddy, and Neil, onstage doing what they loved, entertaining their fans.
And then, one day in late 2015, it all came to an end. Yes, bands break up, but it's usually due to animosity among the members. That was not the case here-- the guys were friends and they remain so to this day. But Neil announced he would no longer tour, and in fact he was retiring. One major factor in his decision was health: he had severe tendonitis, and drumming was just aggravating it over and over again. Another factor was his desire to spend more time with his wife and their little daughter. As he told Drumhead magazine, he accepted the fact that it was time to "take [himself] out of the game."
At a certain point in life, many of us have to reinvent ourselves, or see what the next thing is for us. Sometimes, it's voluntary-- some folks hate their job, even if it pays well, and they're eager to make a change. But for others, it's a difficult decision-- they love what they have been doing, but they realize they cannot continue on with it. Athletes often confront this dilemma: as they get older and their skills begin to diminish, they gradually have to accept that it's time to retire. Veteran politicians also encounter this same problem: they may have served for years, but now they must agree to step aside and let the next generation onto the stage. If you've ever been in the situation of wanting to stay but knowing it's time to go, it's not an easy place to be.
I know it well. In my own life, I had to accept the fact that the broadcasting industry had changed and my skill set was no longer in demand; the most difficult decision I ever made was deciding to go back to school and study for my PhD so that I could become a professor. I miss radio every day, but there were no jobs, and it was time for some other way to make a living. I'm fine about being a professor, but I can't deny I wish I could have stayed in broadcasting. I imagine many athletes and politicians know exactly how I feel, since they too wish they didn't have to walk away from what they loved.
But Neil doesn't seem to fit into any of those categories-- he wasn't unhappy playing drums for a living (in fact he was devoted to it); his skills were not diminishing (although he was increasingly in pain each time he played); and he probably could have continued on for a while longer, if that's what he wanted to do. But he knew it was time, and he wanted to leave on his own terms. And so he did. I would be lying if I said I've talked with him recently, but I do know several friends of his, and I am told he is very happy with his decision. He and Alex and Geddy still keep in touch, but by all accounts, he has no regrets about being a "retired drummer." Fans desperately want him to return to drumming (and return to Rush) but that is not what he wants, nor what's best for his health. It's a wise person who understands when it's time for a change. And whether the change is voluntary or not, it's a wise person who embraces whatever the next phase in their life happens to be.