Skip to comments.Neil Peart on introverts, learning to improvise, and why people should be nicer to one another
Posted on 08/13/2012 5:07:13 PM PDT by My Favorite Headache
Neil Peart on introverts, learning to improvise, and why people should be nicer to one another
Rushs drummer and lyricist talks to Mike Doherty by Mike Doherty on Monday, August 13, 2012
Rushs 20th studio release, Clockwork Angels, hit No. 1 in Canada in Junenot bad for a steampunk, progressive rock concept album. Its story, about a young man who flees a land designed to function in perfect mechanical order, reflects the philosophy of drummer and lyricist Neil Peart. Now living in Santa Monica with his wife and daughter, the native of St. Catharines, Ont., is preparing with his long-time bandmates, bassist-singer Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson for a concert tour that starts next month. At a Toronto rehearsal studio, he granted a rare interview about musical integrity, freedom and his fight to escape precision.
Q: Thirty-eight years ago you joined Rush, and the next day you went shopping for instruments for your first tour. What are your memories of that time?
A: I remember all of us riding in the truck down to Long & McQuade [a music store in Toronto]. What a young musicians dream, to say, Look at those chrome drums. Look at that 22-inch ride cymbal. Ill have those. It was one of those unparalleled exciting days of your life.
Q: Did you feel you were embarking on a great, lifelong journey?
A: No, nothing like that. When I was young, my ambitions were very modest. I thought, If only I could play at the battle of the bands at the Y, that would be the culmination of existence! And then the roller rink, and you work your way up branch by branch. Whereas if youre [thinking], I want to be a rock starthose kind of people just want to know how they can start at the top, and theyre doomed not even to get to the bottom.
Q: That said, the hero of Clockwork Angels, called Owen Hardy in the novelization [by friend and science fiction writer Kevin J. Anderson, to be published in September], says, I cant stop thinking big.
A: Ah, the classic dreamer, and one of the lovely distinctions that Kevin and I wove over the character with reflection to our own pasts. When I was in the band J.R. Flood in St. Catharines, where we were doing pretty well, I said to my bandmates, Lets go to London [England]. I did, on my own, but it surprises me to this day that no one wanted to go with me. I went hungry and wasnt finding fame and fortune as quickly as Id fantasized, but there was nothing daunting to me at the time. Like Owen, I did stumble into things, and a trail of events that could not have happened otherwise in one sense led me toward the person I am today. I lived away from home for the first time; I got a real job and proved myself in a workday situation, and thus I was never afraid anymore. As crises came up later onOh, we have to compromise, and the record company wants to do this, Id be like, No, I dont have to.
Q: It sounds idealhaving had such a long career without ever needing to compromise.
A: Well, its an unending and awful battle, because sometimes youre up against everybody in the whole worldeven your friends and family are saying, You need a single. You feel sometimes incredibly alone. When we first got into the professional music business and saw how calculated people were, we called that the sickness. We grew up in the 60s where music was for musics sake. To us it was pure, and dedicated to getting better, and all of the good ambitions that later became subsumed in the progressive moniker.
Q: It seems as though now, with your full-length concept album, Clockwork Angels, youre swimming against the musical tide.
A: Yeah, but it grew from the bottom up. The reverse is how we worked in the 70s: I would think of a grand plan and then build the pieces to fit it. This started as a simple [idea]the steampunk image and aesthetic I liked, I suggested to the guys as the basis for some kind of extended work. It built up to [the album] piece by piece by organic expansion. All the music was created by Geddy and Alex jamming in the studio, and many of the lyrics were just extemporized over email. Theres so much life experience in this storyits not just a far-blown fantasy. Wish Them Well [offers] a very mature response to the world that it took me a long time to learn. In a lot of our early stuff, my lyrical inspiration was anger, for sure. [laughs] Theres still a lot Im angry about, a lot of human behaviour thats appalling and despicable, but you choose what you can fight against. I always thought if I could just put something in words perfectly enough, people would get the idea and it would change things. Thats a harmless conceit. With people too, you constantly think, If Im nice to people and treat them well, theyll appreciate it and behave better. They wont, but its still not a bad way to live.
Q: Youve mentioned being influenced by Voltaires Candide and John Barths The Sot-Weed Factorboth humorous works. The albums lyrics, however, are rather dark.
A: They have to be. People dont realize the limitations of 200 words, and the way they get chiselled down into a song that has to be sung. I love jokes as much as anyone, but I dont want to hear my snail jokes [hes collected 16 so far] every day. But I might want to hear a good song every day. Were just about to film comedy clips like those we used on the last few tours, and of course we necessarily have to ramp them up every time into more ambitious things. To me, the highest expression of life is art with jokes. Its very rarified, very difficult to accomplish if you want to be more than just funny, and more than just jokes about human gaseousness.
Q: Is there a link between writing about a land thats meant to function like clockwork and your goal to become a more spontaneous drummer?
A: Its absolutely coincidental. I have been on that campaign for four or five years. [In the past], my ambition was not a humble one, to try to play with superhuman perfection in the studio and then reproduce that every night. Once I had defined myself as a compositional drummer, I thought, Well, I want to be an improvisational drummer. I think in the recorded drum parts on this album, you can sense the excitement and danger: This guy never played that before, and he just barely made it. Im going to cut myself completely loose this tour; Id always composed and choreographed a tour solo and then improvised within that framework, and this time, Im throwing that out.
Q: Are you afraid of disrupting generations of air drummers whove memorized the classics?
A: The old stuff will remain. A song like Tom Sawyer I dont need to change. Its always hard; its always satisfying. Why mess with it? And I play some of those songs now so much better than I did then, because I was approximating a style and a feel that now I understand.
Q: Rush received a Governor Generals Performing Arts Award in May. What was it about giving an acceptance speech that made you nervous? After all, you play for several thousand people night after night.
A: I expect if youre a professional public speaker, you probably wouldnt want to go onstage and sing and play drums. Standing in front of a microphone where every word or every slip that you make, especially in these times, is with you foreveryou want to say the right thing. I fell into having to extemporize, and it came okay because of tools Ive learned. I said [to myself], Remember [to mention] mom and dad.
Q: You have a reputation for being a private person, but in your blog posts and memoirs, youre quite forthcoming. In some ways youre the most open member of the band.
A: It is true, but Im less comfortable in a gregarious social situation, and you can be introverted and still share everything. It just means that youre guarded. Certainly there is a line that seems perfectly clear to me about whats to be shared and what isnt, but its not always so clear to others. Extroverts never understand introverts, and it was like that in school days. I read recently that all of us can be defined in adult life by the way others perceived us in high school. I know [people] who had the popular, good-looking path in high school; they tend not to do so well. It was a little bit too easy for them, where for those of us who struggled in every sense, perhaps our determination and self-reliance and discipline were reinforced by that.
Q: Clockwork Angels deals with concepts of fate, circumstance, and free will, which youve been writing about throughout your career. What are your thoughts on these issues now?
A: I remain the optimist: you just do your best and hope for the best. But its an evolving state of mind. I still totally believe in individual rights and individual responsibility and in choosing to do good. On the liberal side of things, they go to an extreme of how people need to be led, and they cant handle freedom. Pure libertarianism believes that people will be generous and help each other. Well, they wont. I wish it were so, and I live that way. I help panhandlers, but other people are, Oh look at thatwhy doesnt he get a job? While I believe in all that freedom, I also believe that no one should suffer needlessly. A realization I had lately: it is impossible to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and be a Republican. Its philosophically absolutely opposedif they could only think about what they were saying for a minute. Thats when you get caught up in the webs of what people call themselves and how they behave. You just become adaptable and try to lead a good life in ways that make sense, regardless. Because I know at the end of it, if Im going to meet Jesus or Allah or Buddha, Im going to be all right.
Side note...the new Rush album is their best in over 20 years...easily.
Hey Neil, Show Don’t Tell.
As always I tried to track down what makes them tick and all I can say is that, during the one interview I watched, Neil seemed like he was off his meds.
Now then, I have also recently RE-discovered Brain Salad Surgery, and it's clear what Mr. Peart was listening to as a boy.
I recently rediscovered that Carl Palmer was far and away the most impressive drummer of the century and probably beyond.
This twit is on the wide road to destruction. shalom b'SHEM Yah'shua HaMashiach
Hey Neil, it’s gonna be a long, hot, eternity.
So for the last 40 years this guy has been beating on some drums? I guess that explains why he’s one of those idiots who thinks Jesus was a registered DemocRAT.
Just which teachings is he refering to?
My guess is the man has never looked at a Bible and has no idea what it says. What he ‘knows’ is what liberals have told him it says. Liberals always get it wrong.
For example, the reason he never sees people helping others is because Jesus told us to do our giving in secret. We aren’t supposed to be showing off, and, what we do in secret God alone can judge! God has not appointed liberals to be his deputies in punishing the successful. He has reserved that right for Himself, because only His judgement will be accurate.
Just play the drums, Neil.
Nonetheless, he IS one of R&R’s greatest drummers, certainly one of the very best living.
I don’t agree with his politics either, but despite what you guys say, he’s easily one of the best drummers in the world.
Good article. Thx.
“it is impossible to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and be a Republican”
I am sure JC would love the Democratic platform of
Abortion, gay marriage and government mandated free contraception for everyone. Also, as a Rabbi, I am sure old JC would be right on board with Obama’s anti-israel stance and the “tolerance” of the peace loving Islamists who believe in honor killings and stoning rape victims. Neil Peart this is you:
Oh, Neil. You just totally ruined Red Barchetta.
I do not identify with the 2012 definition of Republican. I am a Conservative Libertarian for sure. Neil’s old writings back from 75-81 used to be too and then the Greenpeace movement started brainwashing him.
Rush has been around since the mid 70s and you’re just now coming across them?
I just rediscovered “Tarkus” and “Trilogy”. These were talented musicians.
What can you say. He’s a drummer.
Q: What do you call a drummer whose girlfriend just broke up with him?
Exactly backwards if you ask me!
I don't know how anyone who calls themselves a Christian can be anything other than a conservative republican.
Shut up and play !
Jesus is not a partisan. Death does not distinguish between political parties. Jesus is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. If Neil knows this much, he knows enough.
As for the Marxists who agitate against all that pertains to the life of the world to come, they will find out soon enough what is Truth.
Thanks for the article. Yes - their new album is great. While maybe not my favorite (yet) - they are at the top of their game. And as a Christian, I wonder if Peart will find what the Truth is some day. He gets pretty close some times, and every once in awhile I’ll say a prayer for him.
It makes for good conversation with the kids though to discuss in detail a bit about the lyrics and his ideas - both old and new.
Yes because killing unborn babies, destroying whole generations of the urban family and enslavement are all Christian articles of faith.
Neil also recently stated his Ayn Rand influence was something from 40 years ago. He started wearing his agnositicism/atheism on his sleeve since Snakes and Arrows, then the whole Rush Limbaugh thing this year. I didn’t buy the new record, as it or S&A just didn’t speak to me. I could be wrong, but I sense they want that Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction.
Freep-mail me to get on or off my pro-life and Catholic List:
Please ping me to note-worthy Pro-Life or Catholic threads, or other threads of general interest.
Pop was not my scene and they came out very pop. "Fly by night blah blah blah blah..."
When that song charted -- and I guess that was about the first I noticed them because you couldn't not notice them -- I was listening to WXRT, which was turning me on to David Johansen and Joe Jackson.
Sounds like he’s taken a passage to Bangkok.
Wrong, Neil. Jesus is mutually exclusive of the other two, and is a jealous God.
I love his drumming, and most of Rush's songs, but the guy spouts nonsense most of the time. But Geddy does it, too.
This scumbot is paid to hit empty objects with sticks. I dont need his views on religion or politics
Not, Yes, Rush.
This Neil guy has no Logic. He thinks God and Allah are the same AND BUDDHA!!! Geeezzzz. How can you even start with such “thinking”.
He thinks believing in Jesus and being a Republican is harder than being a DEMOCRAT and CHRISTIAN-—is he JOKING????? Does he know that Sodomy is a Vice and so is KILLING babies-—and it has been EVEN IN THE USA until rather recently. Republicans don’t embrace Vice in a government based on Rule of Law—which by its very Nature—has to promote Virtue-—Justice.
Jesus loves Virtue and Justice-—God is Justice, Truth and Good, etc. Everything out of zero’s mouth are LIES. Sodomy in the military-—glorification of Satan!!!
...and since when is it JUST to sodomize and degrade other human beings and give them diseases-—just because you have a selfish “urge” to do some perverse, insane act???? You classify it as “GOOD????”
When can a Just society have Laws like THAT???? Cicero-—whose concept WE USE-—stated that you have UNJUST laws—ARBITRARY LAW—when you don’t use Right Reason According to Nature (Natural Moral Law).
It is sickening—the way liberals minds “work”—they are so brainwashed and conditioned in believing Good is Evil and Heather has two mommies—their perverse reality is truly that of “Alice in Wonderland” but Alice would be getting laid-—and they would think it is so Progressive and cool—but it would be by a Lesbian, of course, like their perverse, ugly literature they glorify—V. Monologues.
Cher Bono would approve too—but in a sane world she would be in prison for allowing some Lesbian to rape and destroy the life and happiness of her daughter, Chastity.
” Because I know at the end of it, if Im going to meet Jesus or Allah or Buddha, Im going to be all right.”
Right there’s the giveaway. He knows NOTHING of Jesus, otherwise he wouldn’t be leaving it to chance. He’d KNOW which ‘god’ he was meeting at the end of it.
He obviously wouldn’t know what Republicans really stand for either. That’s the biggest problem with the lefties: we READ their actual words and search their actual meanings and intents, in order to understand who they are. They, on the other hand go only for the stereotypes, name-calling and false innuendo that THEY make up themselves.
Just shut up and play the drums, eh.
I have always found his playing style to be too theatrical.
His "fills" are overdone and his drum kit is simply for show.
As I have gotten older I have come to see the greatness of Ringo Starr. His 4 piece drum set, and two cymbals and a high hat, give enough percussion and the correct flow to the fills without being overstated.
Regardless, they deserve it. The same lineup for all these years, plus some of the best musicians in the world in their respective fields.
Heck, Iron Maiden hasn't yet been inducted into the R&R Hall of Fame, and they inspired an entire generation of metal bands almost single-handedly. Without Maiden, there's no Helloween; without Helloween, there's no power metal. Likewise, without Dream Theater mixing Rush and Iron Maiden as influences, there's no progressive metal.
A huge, huge part of rock would not exist today without Rush.
I was listening to WXRT
My man. My favorite, til I moved away. Yeah, they did play a lot of Joe Jackson then. A Terri Hemmert fave, I believe.
one of the best stations ever. I still hear tunes in my head that I cannot find a trace of anywhere on the web — remember “Shipyards?” Can’t find a thing about it. “Checking out the Checkout Girl?”
You don’t get near-classical musicianship in pop music.
Peart has espoused atheism in everything from “Roll the Bones” and “Tom Sawyer,” to the current “BU2B.” So, I don’t really care what he thinks Jesus thinks.
Which is guess is why I preferred ELP.
Add Stevie Ray Vaughan to one who needs to be in the RNR Hall of FAme
Neil Peart must have hit his head one too many times with a drum stick.
Great group...should be in R + R Hall of Fame...but Neil needs to just worry about percussion
They need to take a ticket and get in line...
Mr. Pert, the Libertarian needs to understand this: you can not have an expansive welfare state and the freedom he treasures. When the government becomes your wet nurse, it’s a lot easier to trample over individual rights in the name of the “common good.”
Jesus offered salvation.Democrats offer a system that’s been shown time and again to end up on the ash heap of history.
It is easier to have a discussion about God in Russia than in Canada. Sad but true.
I have to agree with Ian Astbury. Eddie Trunk was giving his usual rant about the Hall, and Astbury said (basically), “Who gives a ——? It’s an honor NOT to be inducted.” I don’t understand why Eddie on the one hand says it’s a joke and on the other hand complains about bands that haven’t made it. I know—he’s saying they could have credibility if they inducted these bands. But, it’s yet another den of leftist buffoons, worthy only of the snub response Axl Rose recently offered them.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.