Rush's "Patron Saint" And "Big Sister", Donna Halper, Talks About The Death Of Drummer Neil Peart

January 13, 2020

If you have listened to WAAF over the past 20 years since I’ve started working here you know what the band Rush means to me.  I have declared them “The Greatest Band In North America” many times.  I have often defended my fanaticism to many haters and deniers of there greatness.  So when I received the news of drummer and lyricist Neil Peart’s passing last Friday it’s fair to say I was devastated.  And not just me but his death showed his vast influence and respect in the world of music as shown by these tributes.

While I didn’t know the man, his music has given me much joy and connected with me emotionally since I first heard them on WAAF almost 40 years ago.  The song was “Freewill” from "Permanent Waves" and at first it was Geddy Lee’s penetrating soprano that got my attention.  After that it was the ace musicianship that grabbed me for good.  I have been a fanboy ever since.  Not missing a tour starting with “Signals" and ending with the bittersweet “R40” career finale.  That “Signals” album is still the one that I go back to often.  Peart’s lyrics about being an outsider trying to find you’re identity as a teenager in the suburbs definitely spoke to me growing up in Natick, Massachusetts.  As well as his prophetic lyrics for “Digital Man” which ring more true today than when they first were heard back in 1982:

My love for this band may not have happened if it wasn’t for the efforts of what some call the “Patron Saint” of Rush, Donna Halper.  The Dorchester native who took a chance on the band and spun “Working Man”(with original drummer John Rutsey) from their first album on the legendary WMMS in Cleveland back in 1974.  The phone lines blew up and soon other stations were finding their listeners wanted more of this new Canadian power trio.  Halper helped the band navigate the radio and music industry and also assisted in gettin g them a record deal in the U.S.  Despite leaving the music industry behind and becoming and educator at Leslie University, she has remained close friends with the band ever since.  I would see her every time I weaseled my way backstage at a Boston area show.  She was also a speaker when Rush received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.

Needless to say she was also devastated by the news.  As she says in the interview below, she was not as close to Neil as she was to his band mates Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, but they shared a love for literature and music.  She gifted Peart a copy of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” in the early days of their careers and he had kept it through the years.

In the interview below Halper not only talks about Peart’s amazing skill and dedication to his craft, his dedication to remaining true to himself, but also his kindness which was not often spoken of due to his intense privacy.

Travel well Neil.