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Classic Rock News And Views
August 14, 2012
I suppose I should never think that I understand people, particularly a complex character like Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart. Peart reveals a few things that surprised me in a recent interview he did with Canada’s Maclean’s Magazine. Of the three legendary musicians that constitute Rush, Peart seems to be the one that tends to shy away from the public eye compared with band mates Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson.
Peart’s clearly someone who is more comfortable allowing a little daylight to shine on his private life by writing on his blog rather than sitting down for interviews like Lee and Lifeson often do. A Neil Peart interview is a rare thing; a point that’s certainly not lost on Maclean’s Mike Doherty. As a lyricist and writer, we get to hear a lot of what Peart chooses to share with the world, but it’s not often that he subjects himself to questions about himself. Maybe that accounts for a few misconceptions I had about him.
Although Peart talks a lot about his beginnings with Rush and his expectations at the time, it’s the little glimpses he provides into his philosophy and beliefs that I found most interesting.
Going way back to the 2112 days, we know that Peart was heavily influenced by writer Ayn Rand and her Objectivism philosophy, which I – perhaps wrongly – perceived simply as an “every man for himself” way of looking at existence. It’s clearly much deeper and more complex than that. It’s also very possible that Peart’s beliefs have evolved through the years as mine have.
There are some things that have clearly not changed all that much where Peart’s core beliefs are concerned. He’s still a big advocate for individual rights and responsibility. “I still totally believe in individual rights and individual responsibility and in choosing to do good,” he says. He also reveals that he “helps panhandlers,” which is something I was a little surprised to read. Not that I don’t think he’s a nice guy, but getting back to that whole individual responsibility thing just didn’t lend itself well to the image of Neil Peart handing money to a panhandler on the street.
Another unexpected tidbit that emerged from the interview is that Peart appears to leave the door open a crack where spirituality is concerned. And by spirituality, I mean the belief in a higher power or creator. Coming from someone who wrote the lyrics to a song like “Faithless” from Snakes & Arrows, I didn’t expect him to say something like, “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 I’m going to meet Jesus or Allah or Buddha, I’m going to be all right.”
Maybe I’ve been misreading the guy for years. I always presumed he was an atheist like Ayn Rand. Even though I’ve pretty much considered Rush my favorite group since the late 1970’s, I was never the kind of fan to put a Rush bumper sticker on my car or wear a Rush tee shirt. Nothing wrong with that – it’s just not me. That probably accounts for why I’ve never spent a lot of time trying to figure out what Neil Peart’s beliefs are. I just kind of came up with my own off-the-cuff conclusions based on a famous philosopher who influenced him and some of the lyrics he has written. Up until now, apparently!
I did manage to come up with a quote that was reportedly from his 1996 book, The Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa. “I’m a linear thinking agnostic, but not an atheist folks,” he wrote at the time. Sounds like I’m not the only one to have pegged him as an atheist. Declaring himself as agnostic surely makes his interview comments about Jesus, Allah or Buddha easier to understand.
Rush fans know the terrible tragedies that have befallen Neil Peart soon after he wrote that book. Experiences like that can have an effect on one’s beliefs, although I’m not making any conclusions regarding what Peart actually does believe. Speaking strictly for myself, tragedies involving the loss of loved ones and the experiences that follow can be a powerful influence on your beliefs about life, death and the existence of a higher power.
For those that are reading this because they want to know more about music and albums and things of that nature, my apologies if the above has bored you to tears. The full interview is linked above and is not diluted with my observations about Peart’s beliefs and spirituality. Still, there are some interesting tidbits that actually do involve music and Peart’s new approach to playing drums that I’d like to mention. I’ve also got a little confession to make.
In the interview he talks about his new improvisational approach to playing – both live and in the studio, something that’s quite the departure for a musician like Neil Peart who has remained true to studio versions of the band’s songs when playing live. As someone who has taken other drummers to task for straying too far from the work on the studio version of songs while playing live, Peart’s desire and ability to remain true to the “original” version of Rush’s music was another reason he has been my hands-down favorite drummer for a long time.
I seriously doubt that his position on my personal list of favorite drummers is in jeopardy. He still plans to remain true to many Rush classics that he sees no reason to change. “The old stuff will remain. A song like Tom Sawyer I don’t need to change. It’s always hard; it’s always satisfying. Why mess with it?” Those are the kind of words I like to hear.
Regarding Clockwork Angles, Rush’s latest album that will also be released as a novel, I have a confession to make. I’ve listened to the entire album just once. There, I said it. I’ve seen rave reviews of the album from others, but for me it was such a departure from what I expected a Rush album to sound like that I just kind of set it aside and decided I’d attempt to digest it again in the future.
Although Clockwork Angels is indeed advertised as much more improvisational than previous albums, I guess I was unprepared for just how improvisational it is! Not to worry. I’ll get over it and give it a spin again soon. The fact that I’ve been pretty overwhelmed by a major life “re-boot” also factored into my decision to put Clockwork Angels on the back burner for a bit. I think it’s one of those albums I have to listen to a half-dozen times before I finally “get it.”
Every time I read a little more about Neil Peart I find that I respect and relate to him more. I think I understand where he’s coming from where the whole religion and spirituality thing is concerned, and I believe we’re very close to being on the same page. I guess I should make some time to read some of his books.
A lot of assumptions are made about celebrities, and Neil Peart is no exception. I’ve come up with my own collection of assumptions about the man and I’m kind of glad to see that some of them were off the mark. In the end, I think Peart’s closing comments from the interview make sense. If he ever does come face-to-face with Jesus, Allah or Buddah, I think he will be just fine.
May 24, 2012
For any Rush fans who have been living under a rock for a while (hey, I get it, work and life in general tends to get in the way!) the Canadian progressive rock legends will be releasing a new album on June 12th and embarking on yet another tour starting right here in New Hampshire on the 7th of September. It’s clear that these guys are no slouches when it comes to hard work! Once you start working your way into your late fifties, touring is bound to be a lot more difficult than it was in 1981. As someone who has eased into his early fifties, I can tell you that it’s significantly easier to get hurt and takes longer to heal so the only thing I have left to say on that subject is rock on, fellow geezers!
In a recent interview, front man and unofficial band spokesman Geddy Lee sat down to talk about the group’s new album and subsequent tour. After noticing that one of the topics of conversation was supposed to be about “steampunk,” I became a little more excited about reading the interview. As a Rush fan of many years, I should probably not admit this, but I don’t have any idea what steampunk is! I guess I’ve been too lazy to look it up and I had hoped this interview would help explain it. Not so much.
So, in order to put this to rest once and for all, I decided to look it up. I knew it had something to do with the design elements that have been incorporated into the group’s equipment and such, but I finally reached the point where I want an explanation of this!
OK, a quick visit to the all-knowing Wikipedia has me up to speed on this whole steampunk thing. I’m fairly sure I got it, but in case you have been as negligent as I was regarding your understanding of it, check it out here since I really don’t think I’m up explaining it any better than Wikipedia did, and they even have pictures!
Now that we’ve got that out of the way and hopefully minimized the impact of my ignorance somewhat, let’s consider what Geddy Lee had to say about the new album, Clockwork Angels.
Perhaps the most important thing to understand about Clockwork Angels is that it is another concept album, or as they are framing it these days, “a narrative.” Don’t ask me what the difference is because I don’t know, but I have a feeling it’s roughly akin to the difference between album and record. You get the point. Whether or not I do is subject to scrutiny, I suppose.
What’s different about this new concept album (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!) is that the group worked hard to ensure that each individual track could stand on its own outside the context of the album in its entirety. This is something that resulted in some occasional frustration on the part of drummer/lyricist Neil Peart which seems understandable given the insistence that each individual song have the ability to be pulled off the album and listened to while still making sense.
Being someone who obviously has a deep love for writing, this may have been a bit of a challenge for Peart since he has authored a few books and is probably more accustomed to having the chapters flow together nicely and not worrying about crafting each one into a story that would hold up outside the confines of the entire book. I have not heard the album but for the two songs they released early, but if I’m going to give anyone the benefit of the doubt, it would be Neil Peart. After all, he’s got a reputation to uphold! Look up sarcasm if you missed my point on that one!
Another interesting new element to this album is improvisation. Rush fans – if they’re anything like me – have great respect for the group’s ability to stay true to their own music. Whether it’s a live show or a TV appearance, when Rush performs one of their songs, what you get is usually exactly what you expect to get. As Lee himself points out, “…we are very much creatures of structure.” He then adds that it may have been something that hindered their records. I’m not so sure, but the new album should help put that argument to bed.
Rush may throw a little improvisation into the mix from time to time but it isn’t all that much compared to how a lot of other bands cut loose when performing live. I never had a problem with that, in fact I always kind of preferred it. I suppose it might be more of a “How the hell are they going to improve on that?” kind of thing for me.
Anyway, it seems they may have broken their own rules a bit with Clockwork Angels and have revealed that they allowed some improvisation to make its way into the creation of the album. They allowed themselves to exercise a little more musical freedom during the writing process and worked themselves into more of a jamming mindset to unleash some of that spontaneity that they feel they have been lacking. It will be fun and interesting to see how this manifests itself when we get a chance to sit down and give the new album a good listen.
Getting back a bit into the whole “steampunk” thing, Lee says they’re sticking with it and going to expand on it. He says that they plan to, “…have fun with that whole kinda machinery and we’re designing rear-screen things and have a fun little movies. Hopefully it can all tie together in some ludicrous way.”
Having viewed my share of Rush DVDs, there’s no question about their willingness to take ludicrous to new levels! There’s no doubt that they are fun-loving guys and although their brand of humor doesn’t always tickle my funny bone, I love their willingness to be silly and poke fun at themselves. And look like they’re having one hell of a good time while they’re at it!
Like the rest of the fans out there, I’m anxious to hear the new album in its entirety. On the other hand, I’d forego listening to the album for a year in exchange for a chance to hang out with those guys for a little while. I don’t say that about every rock star or celebrity, in fact, there are many I’d go out of my way to avoid, but I’m pretty sure an evening hanging with Rush would be intellectually stimulating, educational as hell and just plain fun. A guy can dream, right?
January 19, 2012
The year 2012 will bring Rush fans something they haven’t seen in about five years: A brand-new studio album. This one’s been in the oven for a while having been started back in 2009, but it looks like it’s almost done since the group is reportedly done with recording and was planning to begin mixing early in the new year.
Two songs from the new album, Clockwork Angels were released previously, giving fans a sneak peek at their latest material, and according to a recent entry by drummer and lyricist Neil Peart on his personal website, the three Canadian boys aren’t dialing things back any. In fact, Peart says that, “So . . . thus have I arrived at my sixtieth year, more-or-less gracefully and gratefully, feeling healthy and strong, and feeling that I am putting words together and hitting things with sticks better than ever.”
If the reports that say Rush may start touring this spring hold any water, fans might not have to wait too long before the new album is released. No official announcement has been made regarding a tour, but it does make sense considering the forthcoming new album. Although there’s no reason to doubt that the group will embark on a tour soon, I wonder how anxious they are to actually get out there and do it.
As he has in past writings, Peart reveals in his most recent posting that there is a downside to going on tour and with a young daughter at home, it may be something that’s weighing on his mind more than usual these days. “It’s like when people ask me before I go away if I am excited about going on tour, and I can only look at them in wonderment. Should I be excited about leaving my wife, my baby daughter, my friends, my dog, my house, my toys, my desk, my kitchen, my grocery stores, and all that?,” he writes.
It surely isn’t my intent to throw cold water on the expectation that Rush has a lot of life left in it and that fans can expect the group to continue making new music and touring in the years to come. As a fan myself, I don’t feel like I’m anywhere near the point where I’m ready to say that I’ve heard enough music from Rush, but at the same time, it is enlightening to gain a little insight into what the people up there on that stage might be feeling.
It’s always been pretty clear that Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee are more-or-less the front men both on and off stage while Peart has always been more reclusive – a trait that has likely been misunderstood by some fans through the years, but I believe he has more than made up for any perceived snobbery by sharing his thoughts, feelings and certain details of his personal life through his website. I feel that I know more about his personal life than I do about those of his band mates, even though Lee and Lifeson are the two that we most often see and hear during interviews and other public events.
It’s clear that Peart is a man that’s far more comfortable behind a keyboard or with pen in hand than he is on a talk show set or in a radio station studio. The tendency for the public to think of celebrities as something other than human is well demonstrated, and I for one am glad we have this medium called the internet that allows our favorite rock stars or actors the opportunity to reach out directly and remind us all that they are just as human as the rest of us.
August 2, 2011
A few years back I heard about a study that concluded that rock drummers are are “top athletes.” I made it a point to make my wife aware of this since it sounded like an excellent excuse for me to pick up a drum kit some day. Since she often reminds me that we should start exercising soon, I thought this would be a great way for me to exercise and have fun at the same time.
Since it’s been over twenty years since I’ve even sat behind a set of drums, I don’t know how my stamina is these days, but if 58-year-old Neil Peart is any indication, I’ve got a good shot at getting back in the groove when the circumstances are right. Peart, regarded by many as the best rock drummer of all time, is a fellow that takes fitness very seriously.
There’s no doubt that every musician that spends hours on stage performing for fans has to be in pretty decent shape, and although I don’t want to take anything away from singers, guitarists or bass players, it’s easy to see that drummers are the ones that are expending the most energy during their performance. With all four limbs busy just about constantly, drummers are probably burning more calories than anyone else on stage.
Recently interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, Peart revealed that he honors a pretty rigorous fitness program that includes cross-country skiing when he gets a chance to spend some time in his native Canada during the winter. At his home in Southern California, he swims, lifts weights, bicycles and does yoga. Although this may sound like more than an adequate amount of physical activity to keep someone ready for just about anything, Peart has to ramp things up significantly when preparing for a tour.
“Playing a three-hour Rush show is like running a marathon while solving equations. My mind is as busy as it can be, and so is my body; full output all the time,” Peart says. Anyone familiar with Rush’s body of work is likely to be in complete agreement with that statement. Other rock bands may rock as hard as Rush does, but few of them can match the technical expertise and musicianship that Rush is so well known for.
Even when he’s on the road, Peart’s tour workouts don’t keep him from taking on physical challenges like climbing 14,000-foot mountains. The man might be compared to a perpetual motion machine!
Admitting that he was a kid with “spindly little ankles,” and wasn’t able to skate (kind of a big deal for a Canadian), Peart has certainly made up for his youthful lack of talent on the ice or athletic field since then. I wonder how many of his former classmates and childhood friends could even come close to keeping up with him these days while he cycles, swims or hikes up a 14,000-foot mountain.
Perhaps a lot of musicians wind up where they are as a result of similar circumstances. Since I was never anywhere near the top of the list when it was time to select team mates during gym class, I can relate to Peart’s childhood lack of athletic ability.
Unfortunately, I haven’t followed in Neil Peart’s footsteps where physical fitness is concerned. Although I was just in the doctor’s office a few weeks ago for my annual physical and worked out my BMI or “Body Mass Index” at about 23 according to the chart hanging in the office wall (that’s a pretty good number), where exercise and physical activity is concerned, I’m pretty-much a sloth compared to Neil Peart.
Peart also took time to point out that drumming is excellent physical activity for kids and helps them develop stamina and blow off some steam without the risk of injury that comes with other sporting activities. That is something else I might consider pointing out to my wife when the time comes to plunk down the cash for a drum kit. Unfortunately, I ‘m pretty certain the only reply I’m going to get from her is, “Neil who?”
While I’m on the subject of Neil Peart, I would be remiss if I did not mention that RushIsABand.com recently reported that Peart’s next instructional DVD is scheduled for release in October. Taking Center Stage: A Lifetime of Live Performance is set for release on October 14th.
Is that guy busy, or what?
June 3, 2011
Many a dedicated Rush fan has lamented the lack of mainstream recognition that their favorite band has failed to realize for decades. The progressive rock powerhouse from the Great White North (otherwise known as Canada) cranked out albums and toured extensively within the confines of what must have felt like a shield of invisibility. Despite their significant base of fiercely dedicated fans and top-notch musicianship that earns them praise and respect from many of their peers, it seemed Rush just wasn’t cool enough to be recognized by rock’s most-recognized and influential gatekeepers.
Only during the past few years has the group begun to break down the wall that separated them from the “cool” bands and defined them as a band that attracted fans who were often considered “nerds” or “geeks.” Perhaps there just wasn’t enough sex and drugs served up with their rock and roll. Their music has always been technically complex and has been accompanied by lyrics that are meaningful and thought-provoking, particularly after drummer and lyricist Neil Peart joined the group in 1974.
Things are changing for Rush these days and they’re showing up in more places than just the posters on the bedroom walls of “nerdy” fans. They’ve been in the movies (I Love You, Man), on Comedy Central’s ultra-cool Colbert Report and were even featured in an issue of Rolling Stone magazine. Talk about breaking the wall down!
It seems that their acceptance by the mainstream is only gaining momentum these days. For starters, Peart has recently been named number two in Gibson’s top ten drummers of all time. For the curious, the late John Bonham was ranked number one by Gibson, something Rush fans might not agree with, but number two is still pretty darn good for a guy who plays for a “nerd” band.
Speaking of Neil Peart, there’s a report from the Rush fan site RushIsABand.com that Peart will appear on the The Late Show With David Letterman on Thursday, June 9th. The rare TV appearance is part of what the Letterman show is calling “Drum Solo Week,” and will feature a performance by a renowned percussionist each night of the week. Seeing Peart, who often shies away from the spotlight, on national TV will be a nice treat for Rush fans.
Other folks who have been enjoying a little Rush lately include the space shuttle astronauts whose daily wake-up call included the Rush track “Countdown” on May 24th. It’s hard to imagine a better tune for the astronauts to wake up to since it was written as a kind of tribute to the shuttle program and was included on their Signals album which was released during 1982.
Unlike Peart, guitarist Alex Lifeson does not seem to put off by the camera, in fact, it seems he is embracing it with gusto. The Rush axe man is set to appear in a new movie based on a book entitled Ecstasy: Three Tales of Chemical Romance by Scottish author Irvine Welsh. The movie, by Toronto filmmaker Rob Heydon which will feature Lifeson as Scottish psychiatrist Dr. Fig, has been talked about since the beginning of the year, but with the September release approaching, it’s worth mentioning again. The clip below suggests that Lifeson’s role may not be an entirely serious one, which would not be at all uncharacteristic.
Rush is finally enjoying the recognition that their fans knew they have deserved since the early days. It may be a bit hard to understand why it has taken nearly four decades for this to happen but the guys in the band never seemed to lose much sleep over it. Their focus has always been on the music and that was a decision that has served them well – mainstream recognition or not.