The city of St. Catharines, Ont., announced on Tuesday the commissioning of an original work of public art to recognize the percussive and poetic contributions of one of its favourite sons, virtuoso Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart. Interested Canadian artists and creative teams are invited to submit proposals to honour the musician who died of brain cancer last year at age 67.
Peart spent his formative years in Port Dalhousie, a St. Catharines community of historical significance and waterfront appeal. The scenic spot is immortalized in the 1975 Rush song Lakeside Park, with wistful lyrics written by Peart about the days of barefoot freedom, the merriment of midway rides and “shining stars on summer nights.”
A pavilion at Port Dalhousie’s Lakeside Park has already been named in honour of the drummer, one of the handful of musicians with memberships in both the Order of Canada and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
“We’re quite certain the park and the art piece is going to become a mecca for Rush fans around the world,” said David DeRocco, head of the task force soliciting the artwork. “From the get-go, the committee has said, ‘Let’s think big here.’”
According to DeRocco, who estimates he saw Rush in concert some 30 times over the years, the “loose budget” for the commission, which will be funded through donations, is $1.5-million.
Seeking benefactors, DeRocco and the task force might wish to track down the anonymous individual who in December plunked down US$500,312 for a set of chrome-coloured drums once owned by Peart. The Slingerland kit, sold as part of a sale of music memorabilia by Bonhams Auctioneers, was used by Peart for the first concert he ever played with Rush, at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena on Aug. 14, 1974.
The progressive power trio released their final studio album, Clockwork Angels, in 2012 and stopped touring after 2015. In 2016, guitarist Alex Lifeson and singer-bassist Geddy Lee were immortalized in the form of Lee-Lifeson Art Park, a music-themed green space in the suburban Toronto neighbourhood of Willowdale where the two Rush members spent their childhood.
In addition to his musicianship, Peart was a motorcycle enthusiast who authored numerous books of fiction and non-fiction. His thoughtful, far-out Rush lyrics testified to an enthusiasm for science fiction and the philosophies of Ayn Rand. Last week Simon & Schuster published Neil Peart: The Illustrated Quotes, by David Calcano and Lindsay Lee.
Among the artists expected to compete for the Peart memorial commission is Morgan MacDonald, a well-known Newfoundland sculptor who has made it his business to immortalize heroes. Among his works is A Time, a bronze sculpture of the beloved Newfoundland folk singer-songwriter Ron Hynes that stands near the YellowBelly Brewery on George Street in St. John’s.
This summer, MacDonald posted photos on social media of a clay maquette of Peart and his drums.
“It would be a huge honour if I were selected to create a sculpture of Neil,” says MacDonald, a fan of Rush since childhood who had already put in more than 1,000 hours into the sculpture’s design before the commission was announced. “After his death, to think that Rush was not going to be making music as a trio ever again, it hurt me to the core. You realize things don’t last forever.”
Music does last forever – and, conceivably, so does art. Hopefuls have until March 29 to submit their proposal for the commemorative piece. A selection panel will then shortlist six finalists to participate in the design process. Organizers hope to see shovels in the ground for the project as early as next year.
“That might be aggressive, given the realities of COVID-19 and the difficulties of putting on fundraising concerts,” DeRocco said, “but that’s our hope.”
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