Back in January of this year, my longtime pal Isorski posted a blog about how Neil Peart, the drummer and lyricist for Rush, wrote him in 1984, returning a bit of fan mail. At the time of his blog post, Isorski had recently submitted his postcard to the Postcards from Neil section of Andy Olson’s website The AndyO Experience. Isorski knew that I had also received a card from Neil and encouraged me to contact Andy and have it included in the slowly growing catalogue of other fans who have received (and kept!) their letters. Well, after hunting around in my garage I finally found the postcard and sent a scan of it to Andy. My postcard is also displayed here for the 6 non-spammer people who occasionally visit my blog.
I wrote Neil Peart back in the spring of 1985 for a high school term paper on the topic of careers. The assignment was to pick a career, explore why we wanted to pursue this trade, and research practical details about that line of work. I picked the career of “musician.” At the time I was heavily into music and played bass in the garage-metal (“slop rock”) band Osiris. As a band, we had met with very (very) modest local success and I was starting to imagine seriously pursuing that career path. Part of the assignment involved interviewing and contacting actual working professionals in the field of choice. If I recall correctly, I interviewed my then-bass instructor, Mark Leslie, while writing bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Peart for career advice. Unbeknownst to me, during that period of his career, Peart really made a strong effort to personally write every fan who wrote him (which must have been numbering in the thousands per year). The music of Rush and Peart’s lyrics really did form a huge part of the soundtrack of my life (to borrow a phrase of Peart’s from the title of one of his recent books) during that phase. From the words on the postcard, it is clear that it came too late to use in the paper. But to get a postcard from him was a major thrill.
In 1985 Sheehan was on the cutting edge of rock bassmanship and in a band called Talas. As a student of the bass, I was greatly influenced by the work of the usual bass legends including Geddy Lee, Jaco Pastorius, Chris Squire, Jack Bruce, John Entwistle, Paul McCartney and Steve Harris. However, Sheehan, a very innovative player, was a newcomer on the scene and because of his inspiring articles in Bass Player magazine and his mind-blowing technique, was rapidly making his way up the short list. He eventually went on to form the band Mr. Big, which has the dubious honor of being in VH1’s Top 100 One Hit Wonders. Nevertheless, Sheehan was a serious influence of mine pre-Mr. Big in 1985. Sheehan wrote back to me and gave solid insight into life as a musician and encouraged me to keep playing and practicing. I probably have his letter buried in my garage someplace too (I’m just organized to have all this stuff, but not organized enough to do anything crazy like put it into a file of “letters received 1985”).
As these things go, I did not become a professional musician. Interestingly, I believe this junior-level assignment helped me decide this. The message I got from all sides (even without Neil Peart’s postcard) was not rosy. Most talented professional musicians, like any trade, work very hard to make ends meet. A few lucky ones find regular gigs to pay the bills. Very few get to play in the big leagues with record contracts. And very, very few find fame, wealth, and fortune. I did play in garage and jam bands through all of my college years (many, perhaps most, of them with Isorski) and greatly enjoyed the experiences. But at some point, while probably pissing off many of my bandmates, I decided to keep music as a hobby rather than seek it as a career. My reasoning was that I didn’t want my paycheck (and all the things that implies) to depend on my musical successes and failures. I wanted my music, more specifically the creative pleasure I get from music, to be decoupled from the practicalities of life. I eventually went on to get my Ph.D. in physics and am currently a professor, but I still regularly compose music and, every so often, get together with Isorski, Kevin Brown, and others to jam.
Although over 23 years too late on my part, thank you Billy and Neil for writing back to me and providing your feedback.