You already know that 2020 was a crazy year, and one we would all gladly exchange for a “normal” year if we could. Yet we can’t, and no amount of wishing will make that so. What we can do, however, is revel in the good of the past year.
Yes, there was a lot of good, especially for investors. We know that, because despite the pandemic-related collapse in March and April, stocks rebounded throughout the summer. Now, we are about to finish the year at new, all-time highs. And, if a push to all-time highs wasn’t enough, consider that the S&P 500 was up nearly 16% this year, while the tech-heavy NASDAQ Composite surged nearly 45%.
Of course, on Monday, equity markets will begin 2021. While stocks were historically resilient in 2020, it is likely a mistake to just assume that markets will stage a repeat performance in 2021. In the digital pages of this publication, and especially in my investment advisory newsletters, we will dig into the details of the markets each week to determine the best course of action for our money and to stay ahead of the biggest trends that can earn us outsized alpha.
Today, however, it’s time for a look back to identify my favorite 2020 issue of The Deep Woods. You can call it the “best of 2020” if you’d like, but I just call it my favorite, because my criteria here is strictly subjective. And, according to that subjective analysis, my favorite issue of the year also happens to be the most heartfelt, and the most bittersweet, issue I’ve ever written. And it came very early in 2020 (Jan. 15).
The issue was “A Shadow Crossed My Heart,” a tribute to the life and work of a true genius, a man who influenced my worldview profoundly with his music and his lyrics and someone I had the privilege of meeting and interacting with in a unique way. That man was Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist of the legendary rock band RUSH.
Now, at first, I thought that I was going to summarize my tribute to Neil in today’s issue, but that wouldn’t be doing it justice. So, I have decided to reproduce this article in its entirety, so that you can see what my favorite issue of the year was. Hopefully, after you read it, you’ll understand why this issue of The Deep Woods, despite all the pandemic craziness that ensued in the months that followed, was easily my personal favorite of the year.
A Shadow Crossed My Heart
Suddenly, you were gone
From all the lives you left your mark upon…
— RUSH, “Afterimage”
On Friday afternoon, I learned of the death of one of my real-life heroes. And after the initial wave of incredulity subsided, I felt a shadow cross my heart.
Perhaps not surprisingly, those precise words, “I felt a shadow cross my heart,” are lyrics from the song “Nobody’s Hero” by my favorite rock band, RUSH. Those lyrics also happened to be written by that real-life fallen hero, the band’s virtuoso drummer and lyricist Neil Peart.
Peart was a rock and roll legend. He’s inarguably one of the greatest drummers in music history, and at age 31, he was the youngest drummer ever to be inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame. Decades later, he and his RUSH bandmates, bassist-vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson, would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Yet, “The Professor,” as he was referred to by the legions of RUSH fans around the world, was more than just a genius behind the drum kit. And, he was much more than just someone with a penchant for turning a lyrical phrase.
Peart was a man who helped shape my mind, and my existence, with the profundity of his prose and the intensity of his thought.
His intellectual genius can only really be appreciated within the full context of the band’s 19 studio albums, 11 live albums and 33 music videos, not to mention the thousands of shows the band played over the course of its incredible 40-year career. Yet today, I will attempt to reveal a glimpse of the man’s mind with a sampling of a few of my favorite lyrics from his epic body of work.
After you read them, along with my thoughts on the lessons they convey, you’ll get a better sense of what was so profoundly influential for me about Peart’s work. I also suspect you’ll get a much deeper look at the man that I am, and the man I continually aspire to be.
Hold your fire
Keep it burning bright
Hold the flame
’Til the dream ignites
A spirit with a vision
Is a dream with a mission
The lesson here is that man requires a productive life purpose, and the key to achieving that purpose is carrying out your vision with passion and persistence.
From the point of ignition
To the final drive
The point of the journey
Is not to arrive
— “Prime Mover”
Life isn’t about the endpoint of attaining a goal. Life is much more about the doing, and the experience, of action in the moment.
The most endangered species: the honest man
Will still survive annihilation
Forming a world, state of integrity
Sensitive, open and strong
— “Natural Science”
The virtue of honesty is hard to adhere to, but one must always pledge fealty to truth. Doing so allows you to live in a state of integrated calm. Another way of saying this is that the moral is the practical.
You don’t get something for nothing
You can’t buy freedom for free
You won’t get wise with the sleep still in your eyes
No matter what your dream might be
— “Something For Nothing”
The only way to learn is by engaging with the world; however, doing so comes at a price. Let’s face it, it’s damn hard to really think things through. Yet as humans, we have no other choice but to think, and no amount of denial will make that fact go away.
Philosophers and Ploughmen
Each must know his part
To sow a new mentality
Closer to the Heart
— “Closer To The Heart”
We all have a responsibility to ourselves to be as happy as we can be, whatever our role is in this grand play we call life. Doing so not only helps us achieve happiness, it helps the world be a little bit of a better place for everyone.
He’s a writer and arranger
And a young boy bearing arms
He’s got a problem with his power
With weapons on patrol
He’s got to walk a fine line
And keep his self-control
— “New World Man”
There’s a constant struggle in each of us to maintain calmness of mind and spirit, and to keep our self-control in a world that’s so often seemingly out of control. Yet, the truth is that all we can have control over is ourselves, and we must struggle to achieve that. It is this battle that rages within every human, and it’s one that first must be recognized and acknowledged in order to be won.
Now, I could go on for volumes here with an analysis of significant RUSH lyrics and their deep meaning, but I think you’ve already got a clear sense of how much Peart and his work mean to me. And I can’t properly convey the influence Peart had on my life without mentioning his love of literature and philosophy, which he weaved brilliantly via direct references into his lyrics.
Perhaps the most influential of these references for me was his dedication, “To the genius of Ayn Rand,” in the liner notes to the concept album “2112.” As a very young man listening to that 1976 album, I had no way of knowing the immense influence Rand would have on my own life. Yet a seed was planted there by Neil to investigate Rand’s unique mind further, and I did just that with intellectual gusto.
Finally, I will conclude this tribute with a reflection on my own personal interaction with Neil, and it came, of all places, behind the wheel of a sportscar.
It was October 2010, and I was at Willow Springs International Raceway in Southern California. The legendary track is home to many pro and amateur sports car and motorcycle races. It’s also a place where motorsports enthusiasts can bring their own cars and motorcycles to do some performance driving on a real track.
On that day, I was there, testing my own sportscars. I was also there to help coach some of the “newbies” at the track to make sure they were safe and to help them gain more confidence behind the wheel at high speeds.
Much to my amazement, one of the attendees at Willow Springs that day was Neil Peart.
Now, as you might guess, for me, this was a surreal moment burned into my consciousness. I mean, it’s not often you meet a real-life hero of yours in the flesh. It’s also pretty rare to have that hero ask you about how fast, and in what gear, he should be taking the notoriously difficult Turn 9 at Willow Springs.
Yet, that is what Neil did. He asked me for advice on how to be a better driver.
I happily gave him that advice, and I also allowed him to follow me around the track so I could point out to him the proper turn-in points, “apexes” as we call them, so that he could improve his lap times.
After helping Neil Peart improve as a driver, I felt compelled to tell him how he helped me become a better human through his music and lyrics.
Peart was flattered by my confession, but I could also tell he felt characteristically uncomfortable with my fanboy, tearful praise of his work. I mean, I even had a RUSH patch on my driving suit!
Upon seeing the patch, Peart said to me, “Well, I hope it brings you luck.”
What Peart didn’t realize was that he had already brought me the greatest luck a man could ever have — the luck of discovering the beauty, passion and intensity of his brilliant achievements.