Rush’s Neil Peart in New Interview

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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.

Rush's Clockwork AngelsAlthough 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.

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