On January 10th, a little before midnight, I was ready to go to bed when a friend messaged me, lamenting “the news.” Not sure what she was referring to, I asked her to elaborate, and that’s when she dropped the bomb: Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist of Canada’s iconic progressive rockers Rush, had passed away. Rush is my favorite band; needless to say, it took a couple of hours until I could sleep after that.
While “The Garden” – the closing track on Rush’s final album, Clockwork Angels (2012) – was the very first song I listened to after hearing the news, as it felt most appropriate for the occasion, it’s “Time Stand Still” from 1987’s Hold Your Fire that has gained a new significance in my eyes in the past week. The song is about appreciating the good times and wishing you could hold on to them (“Freeze this moment a little bit longer / Make each sensation a little bit stronger”), while acknowledging that it’s not possible, as time speeds by regardless of your will (“Summer’s going fast, nights growing colder / Children growing up, old friends growing older”). Peart opened up the theme of the song to Boston Globe upon its release as follows:
“All through the ’70s our lives were flying by; we spent so much time on the road that it became like a dark tunnel. You start to think about the people you’re neglecting, friends and family. So the song is about stopping to enjoy that; with a warning against too much looking back. Instead of getting nostalgic about the past, it’s more a plea for the present.”
In the wake of Peart’s passing, this quote becomes somewhat poignant, as just a year after he’d retired from music following Rush’s R40 Live Tour in 2015, he was diagnosed with brain cancer, which he would battle for the remaining 3½ years of his life. It’s tragic to think that after the band was done, Peart didn’t get to spend more time with his wife and young daughter without the cloud of the illness hanging over their heads, especially considering that he’d already lost his first wife and daughter in the late 1990s. However, I’d like to think that he truly had “learn[ed] to live as if each step was the end” and made the best out of the time he had left.
What makes “Time Stand Still” such a great song is that the music complements the lyrics perfectly and manages to hit the sweet spot between joy and melancholy that I’m a sucker for: it’s in major key and fairly uptempo, but it also has a slightly wistful aura and a certain fragility, thanks to ‘Til Tuesday singer Aimee Mann’s guest vocals and Alex Lifeson’s gorgeous clean guitars. Also, while the tune is one of Rush’s poppiest and comes from the band’s so-called synth era, Geddy Lee throws in some tasty bass fills and there’s a time signature shift in the middle, so the trio’s signature prog sound is still present, even if the song seems deceptively simple on the surface. Last but not least, there’s the silly music video that’s most definitely a product of its time: even if you’re not watching it, it’s impossible not to smile while listening to the song, as it always evokes images of the band members flying and spinning around in the air, not to mention Lee’s infamous raccoon hair. It doesn’t get much more 80s than this!
“Time Stand Still” has always been one of my favorite Rush songs, but right now I’d dare say it’s my personal #1 and possibly even my favorite song of all time. It’s still hard to accept that Neil Peart is gone, but I suppose the right thing to do is to take note of the song’s lyrics: instead of dwelling on the fact that he is no longer with us, we should focus on enjoying Rush’s music, which is still there to give us comfort and happiness in the present moment.