Neil Peart - Off The Record

Off The Record with Mary Turner, August 27, 1984, radio program transcribed by Will Collier

I don't see it as a glamorous profession. I see it as a job I enjoy, but like everyone else, I get up in the morning and go to work, some days I have fun at work and some days I don't, you know, and it''s as real as that.

They may not think it's a glamorous job, but there's obviously something they like about it. After all, Neil Peart, Geddy Lee, and Alex Lifeson have been together for over a decade. What's the attraction? I'm Mary Turner, and for the next hour, I'll be talking with Neil, and we'll hear why the trio is still fascinated with Rush, off the record.

The new album, Grace Under Pressure...who is this Grace? (both laugh)

Grace Jones! No, uh...


Not Grace Kelly, either. Um, grace is the heroic quality, really, that's uh, it's very difficult to define. It's like the quality of, uh, well, of quality. Everyone thinks they know what quality is, but it's very difficult to put in words, and grace under pressure is a quality like that, too, that you see it demonstrated, and you recognize it and admire it, and you see it of course, it's a common literary theme, and any hero of, sort of Greek or Roman mythology in that one measurement of their heroic-ness was their grace under pressure, how well they responded in a difficult circumstance.

You're a, a...must be a voracious reader.


Sounds like...

Yeah, I read a lot.

Were you influenced, um, many reviews from several years back talk about Ayn Rand...

Mmm hmm, yes, it was certainly a part of my reading, but ah, it seems the people that focus on the science fiction aspect, again, again it was an aspect of my reading, but to me was a small part and of my writing, too, and it represented a small fraction of all the writing I've done, and was just one device that I happen to like using, you know, for certain things, and still do, too, "The Body Electric" on this album is a little piece of, sort of science fiction frippery, you know, that still gives me pleasure to do, and the. . . the Ayn Rand influence, basically she represents a part of my reading and uh, I've learned a certain amount from her certainly, but there was only one particular album that was directly associated with any of her work, so again it was an easy label to fix on, and people are lazy, so... (laughs)

Ayn Rand is definitely not Neil Peart's only influence. In a moment, we'll hear how everyone from J. Alfred Prufrock to astronaut Sally Ride affects the music of Rush, off the record.

I'm Mary Turner, talking with Neil Peart, off the record.

About Grace Under Pressure, you said, "it defines it's type."

Yeah, I think in a musical, in a stylistic sense, in the same way that Moving Pictures did before it. It's not all over the place, the way some albums are, and Signals was an example of that, that album stylistically is every which way, because we had a whole bunch of new stuff we wanted to play with, basically, and we had to try it all out, [transcriber's note: he pronounces this "oot," as befits a Canadian!] and speaking from, from a musical, a songwriting point of view, we had to try out all these things and see how they worked, and see what we could do with them, and take them apart and put them back together, you know, the little kid with the Mechano set kind of idea, and then, uh, I think this album is the cohesive realization of all those experiments that... that took place on Signals, all that we learned from doing all that we're now able to apply to this last album, and I think that it has an integrity to it as an album from the first song right through to the last song, they all belong together, and they all sort of follow one from the other very naturally, and Moving Pictures was that kind of album too, I think, where it starts and it has really good dynamics, and it goes up and down and in and out [again!] and everything seems to follow on, and it, also it has that little thread of, uh theme to it. After the songs were written, I sort of looked at it and saw this connection, and it became something that all of those songs somehow had had in common, without it happening by design, you know, I certainly never thought...sat down with that thought in mind, although those three words were written in my notebook, they weren't written as a title, even as a song title. They were as part of, as a line in...for a song, and I just ran across that phrase a few times, really liked it, and wrote it down, and it uh, it was after the fact that that emerged in my eyes, sort of, BANG, you know out of the notebook into my eyes as a good title.

"Distant Early Warning," for instance...

Mmm hmm?

Many people would think is about waiting for bombs to fall, when in reality it's about...

It's about a lot of stuff. It's, uh...

...but primarily the acid rain, isn't it?

Well, that's, that's, no, it's just one element in it, really. It's a style of writing I've been sort of working towards over the last couple of albums that's, uh, kind of inspired by T.S. Eliot in a indirect way, but that style of pouring so much into it, so many images, and almost flooding the reader or the listener with ideas and images so that you don't seem to grasp anything out of it, but in the end of it you're left with something, and you're left with a feeling, or, uh, just an impression of it, I guess, and that's one thing I was getting out of that style of writing when I was reading it, and a prose writer called John Dos Passos writes that way, too. His books are so flooded with pictures and images that you can't hope to grasp them all, or understand the intricate weaving of it all, but at the same time, after you've read one of his books, or one of T.S. Eliot's, uh, poems, you take away something from it, you know. You're left with something that's inexpressible, some emotional response to all those words, because they're so carefully crafted.

You'd enjoy being a journalist, wouldn't you?

I think I would, yeah, except for the fact that it all gets thrown a way so fast, but then again, when you think about it, pop music has a year-long lifespan at best anyway, so the fact that journalism only lasts a day or a week or a month, really, an album as far as its original, uh, conception and its validity in terms of modern music and that doesn't last much better than a year either.

I disagree with you on that because I think for, for many people to come up with the eight or nine dollars or whatever a record album costs these days is monumental, and I think that people really play...I mean, I still have my first Stones album, in mono!


Frankly, (laughs) I mean, I don't listen to them every day, for sure, but I still get off on hearing old records, and...


...I think people really...a record becomes really a part of someone's life.

Oh, it absolutely does for me, I really love buying a new record and having it and listening to it and taping it, playing it in the car, playing it on my Walkman and all of that, but for me as I was saying, I don't go backwards, you know. I don't like listening to old music. I mean, sometimes it's okay to hear it on the radio, but I wouldn't by choice go to my record collection and pick up a ten year old album and play it, because I know it inside-out, off by heart, you know, because of that intensity of relationship. And a lot of people, music is a small part of their lives, and it's a part of the background of their lives. Well, or course, for me both as a fan as and as a musician it's the focus of my life, so I tend to get, I think, a lot more intimately involved with the music than maybe, than general people might, other than other people whose lives too are focused upon music.

What does Rush have in common with the Rockettes? Great legs? Perhaps. Neil Peart has the answer right after this, off the record. I'm Mary Turner.

Rush is a band that equates "easy " with "boring," and after ten years of working together, Neil Peart says they have to be pretty inventive to come up with new challenges. That's why they visited the home of the Rockettes. [to Neil]: You mentioned, um, that in the past you've liked get a chance to sort of test new material in front of audiences. You had a gig at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

That's right, yeah, this time we figured we'd take a big chance. [unintelligible] usually in the past we would, uh, after we finished writing, it's more for the purpose of getting us in good shape, really for the studio more than testing out the songs, because, you know, you can't expect people to comprehend a song the very first time they hear it live, it's more a chance just for us to go out and work as hard as a concert makes you work, and come into the studio with that kind of conditioning, and uh, normally we would go out and do, say a week and a half of um, small places and small outdoor shows, that sort of thing. This time, the opportunity came up to do Radio City Music Hall. We thought, 'well that's so crazy, we just have to do it!' you know, because we hadn't played live at that time for, I guess about three months through all the writing and holidays and so on, and we were going to go right out of that period, you know, onto one of the biggest, most prestigious stages in the world, so we thought it was dangerous enough. It was a risk worth taking, because at this point in our career of course, we pretty well have to create our own risks, and, uh, it's something that you want to do, for all of us, I think, we want things to be never too careful. But we did it, we rehearsed for a week up north, and then went straight to New York City and right onto the stage and played three brand new songs and the show that we'd never played before, with quite a bit of new equipment that we were using also. So it was fairly risky, but I think it worked out very well. I think that the days went by for us in kind of a blur, because we were concentrating so much on all these things, and wanting the shows to be good, and there was, of course when you play a city like New York, there's so much hoopla surrounding everything that all that was going on. I think that we were all kind of dizzy when we got out of it. But it was worth doing, and we were glad we did it.

I imagine there are terrific new instruments coming out, if not every week, every couple of months or so. There must always be something new in the field of synthesizers.

Oh, yeah. Between our Signals album, which was about a year and a half, uh, time before Grace Under Pressure, there was an enormous revolution in that period of time. I mean, we went into the studio to do this last album with a whole different arsenal of studio equipment, um, a whole different generation of synthesizers, the whole comparative school of synthesizers that they have now that can take any sound in the world, synthesize it and modulate it for you, and it's just...ridiculous, you know, and we came in this time, and I started working a bit with electronic drums, and all this new stuff we just were coming into-with a different world with us, and also walking into a different world in the studio that was great. It is, yeah, it happens so fast that, if you weren't constantly wanting to keep up with it, it would be terrible. You know, for us it has the same kind of hunger that the music has, you know, the new technology you want to know about it, what it can do, if it can do anything for you, and at least know either way, so if somebody talks about it you can say, yes, you know, that's interesting, but I don't think it can help us.

Would you ever be tempted to play all electronic?

Never in a million years. No,, I just couldn't imagine that. I like them for their, for their difference, you know, I'm a bit of a purist as, in as far as acoustic drums go, and I love them and the way they can speak, and the number of different voices I can get out of one little drum could never be equaled, I don't think, by an electronic drum, but it's more than that, it's an organic relationship with playing them and with sticking that drumstick into the drum head, the way it reacts and all of that, it's a very physical thing, but it's very satisfying, and the electronic drums don't give me that feedback at all. I use them now for about four songs out of the set, and they're just isn't near the satisfaction or the involvement with them. I feel like I'm hitting them, but I don't feel like I'm with, with them the way I do with my real drums.

I know, it's the beating on wild animal skins that...(both laugh)

Really. It's an essential, atavistic thing like that, I think, yeah.

You're toured, toured with Pat Travers, I think, haven't you?

Mmm hmm, yeah, quite a lot.

I got that from him, that's his, his description of drummers, these savage beasts...


...that like to beat up wild animal skins. (laughs)

Yeah, well, he worked with Tommy Aldridge for a long time, which is, or course, he's an excellent drummer, and, uh, a good friend of mine, and I learned a lot from him, too, and he has that approach too, a very physical approach to drumming, and it's, it's a satisfying thing, you know, it's not something you have to do, but it's something that you really want to do. It feels great to hit 'em hard.

When we come back, Neil Peart explains why bilingual is better, off the record.

Renaissance rock and rollers coming up next on Rush, off the record.

Now, um, Geddy and Alex are big tennis players I discovered when I found Geddy wandering around the lobby of the hotel in tennis whites. (both laugh)


How do you spend your days when you're out on the road? I know none of you just sit around and vegetate.

No, no I'm very active also, but for temperamental reasons I guess I prefer more non-competitive sports. I'm more solitary too, so I really enjoy, uh, bicycling, I'm carrying a bike with me on the road this year, which I really like.

I see it over there in the corner.

Yes, in the corner of my room, and I've been enjoying that a lot, it's given me a lot of insight into a lot of cities, too, that I've been able to tour around on my bike, so that's, that's a very good thing, and I enjoy, not on the road, obviously, but cross-country skiing is a great passion of mine, I enjoy that a lot, and swimming, too, so there's all modes of exercise apart from drumming which is also of course a very physical outlet, and a lot of reading too. So I have both the sedentary mental pursuit, and also the very active physical pursuit.

Last year you all took French lessons?

Yes, in fact, I'm the only one still goin', but we have worked so much in Quebec, and come to like the language, and made friends there who were predominantly francophone people, and who had to struggle in English to communicate with us, well, it started to seem so one-sided and plus the communication was limited, and so we decided we were gonna take it on, so we hooked up with the Berlitz School and started having a teacher sent out to our concerts and, and uh, after sound check and before the show we would just have an hour, hour and a half of French school. It's another thing that's a diversion in a way, but it's also a very satisfying one, because, obviously as is well documented with musicians, there's a certain amount of free time that you can choose to spend (laughs) in a variety of ways, and with the time you have available, you can either kill it, you know, try to waste it, or, or literally just kill the time.

Or kill yourself.

Yeah, or you can spend that time, and for me, that's what I like about the free time that we have on the road, is that I can find ways to spend it, so reading, I mean, there's never been a greater opportunity for a person who likes to read, because you're constantly stuck places where you can't do much if you're on a plane or in the bus or, you know, sitting backstage or something where you are rooted to a place and you're not really free to do what you want, but at the same time you have a bit of time, then of course reading can take you anywhere in the world, wherever you are, so that's been very valuable to me in that sense.

Were you never tempted by life in the fast lane?, I find it all really unpleasant, you know, I don't enjoy fame in any of its manifestations. I enjoy, of course, being respected for the work, anyone would, and that to me is where it begins and ends.

Do you think that's what keeps you guys so...sane for a rock and roll band? I mean, you really are, are very none the worse for wear after, what, ten years together?

Yeah, it hasn't been natural, though, you know. It's been a very conscious effort not to get caught up in that whole side of things, and, and I couldn't say by any means that are we superhuman, and not that we haven't succumbed to temptations and fallen into, you know, bad things from time to time, but because the three of us have the relationship we do, we always have each other to compare to or each other to be supportive in a case like that, so certainly we've stumbled, [both laugh] and we've had troubles coming to grips with it all, I mean in reality, success and everything that comes with it is very difficult to deal with, no question about it, and you have to make a very conscious effort to deal with it in a healthy manner, you know, to realize that you want to maintain yourself the way you are, the way you know yourself, you know, not what other people are trying to make of you. So you have to avoid no only the machinery side of it, but also the fan side of it, the, and, and they are, somehow they do exert a lot of pressure on you to be something that you're not, you know, and if you walk out after the show and for me, my work is done, you know, I've been through the stage and I've projected all I have to project; all I want to do is go home, and if you walk out after that to a big crowd of screaming people, it's horrible, but...[tape runs out as I scramble madly to flip it over]..."Hey, you think I'm great? I think I'm great too! Yay! Thank you!" and really, there's no middle ground to walk there, there's no way of being natural in a situation like that, there really isn't. It's such a totally unnatural circumstance for a human being to find themselves in, there is no way that you can walk through that, you know, as a normal person, so you kind of, I just get totally uncomfortable, as I described before, but you can't play it, you know, you can't play to that, you can't pander to what seems to be expected of you in that respect. You know, any of the adulation beyond that embarrasses me, frankly, you know it's not like I get arrogant about it or anything, I just really get embarrassed and uneasy if people recognize me and I would do anything to avoid it.