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 !
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