Innerview - Neil Peart

Innerview with Jim Ladd, 1986, radio program, transcriber unknown, edited by pwrwindows

How're you doing everybody? This week we welcome back one of my favorite lyricists and a member of what is possibly the very best trio in rock n roll today, so join us will you, as we take an indepth view through 'Power Windows' with our guest Neil Peart.

Let's get into 'The Big Money'. This is a litany of some good, but mostly bad things about big money, and the power behind it.

Well, I tried to make a balance of both, I didn't want to take the easy knee jerk reaction of saying that anything that's money is bad, because it's too simplistic, and of course it's just not true. Things like Live Aid is big money, religion is big money, politics - big money, television is big money, music is big money, art is big money. Everything is really, when it comes down to it, and it isn't necessarily bad. It's like weapons really; it's not what they are it's what people do with them. They can be nasty things and there is an ugly side of it that isn't necessarily bad, but it's tasteless at least. Like the game show mentality, the lotteries and things that I call "The Cinderella story on the tumble of a dice" where all of a sudden, through some totally random effect of a number being chosen, or be the most stupidest on a game show you know win a million dollars, these things take all the reality out of money...

If you take the old fashioned thing where you learned how to do something, where you worked hard at it and earned some money; that's how you get wealthy, that's supposed to be the American dream. So much of that gets eroded because people don't believe in it anymore, and they see it happen on that tumble of the dice or somebody on T.V. who's getting paid a whole lot of money to play the fool - that totally takes away any belief you might have in the worthwhileness of learning things and of getting good at something so people will reward you accordingly. High finance, as I tried to point out in the song, is sometimes a good thing in terms of medical research, in terms of again Live Aid and all large charitable things, most of them are huge institutions and they achieve a lot of good. And people do get fed and housed and clothed and educated and get clean water, and these things go on and I know them to be. But people find it in themselves to ignore them, and the only ultimately negative thing I had to arrive at, the ultimate conclusion with money, was that it had no soul - you know that's the last line of the song, and that was the bottom line of it all - because it doesn't have any conscience, it can't control it.

Let me set you up for a cheap shot about big money - give me your most single example of the worst abuse of this corporate big money. You know Live Aid is a lot of money, but I wouldn't say it was big money - big money to me is power.

Pushing people about?


Personally I have a vendetta about the Catholic church: being the biggest foundation in the world, and pushing people around, and trying to cause, to my mind, a lot of negative things in terms of not promising birth control in places that really need it. So I would say that if I had to pick on one single abuse of size, power, wealth, land and money, then it would probably be the Catholic church. And Evangelism too, is another one. It's a thing that I think a lot of people don't pay attention to, but the size and power of that is breathtaking. And sometimes I watch it to refresh my memory of how unbelievably calculated and vulgar and opportunistic that mentality is: "Oh, come let us adore ME!". It's so egocentric and narcissistic that these people set themselves up as a personal messenger from God and say things like that without any embarrassment. They say things like "I am a personal messenger, I am a hotline from God, and God told you all to give me your money". But the worst of it is, there are millions of people stupid enough to believe it and give them their money. And there are millions of them and you almost hate to come out and criticize it because there are so many of those people that, they are likely to come out and form a riot outside your door and throw stones at you until you are dead.

Ok - 'Manhattan Project', did you happen to see the PBS series on Oppenheimer?

Oh yes, that was part of my research. It was interesting with this song; just to preface it, the theme of the whole album is power, and each of the different songs deals with an aspect of that theme. And of course nuclear power being the greatest force I think in the world today, it was an area I couldn't ignore. But at the same time I didn't just want to do an old anti-nuclear song or pro-nuclear song or whatever; I didn't want to take it from an obvious point. So I decided to go back and learn about the birth of it all, and how it began and what sort of people they were and kind of demythologize it a little bit. It's common I think in the world today to first of all see those scientists as being very kind of robotic and very careless of the effects of what they were doing, when in fact the opposite was true. They were very patriotic, and a lot of them were Eastern Europeans who were escaping from Nazism at the time, came to the United States and were obviously concerned about fighting for the preservation of the free Western world. So it was a very strange thing that came upon us, and it's so common to say "Ok, well we've got these things and we don't like them, so let's throw them away". Well that's a lovely idea, but it's a very foolish kind of philosophy. Let's face it, no one has trusted Russia for the last 2,000 years; Russia hasn't trusted anybody for 2,000 years regardless of politics, and this has nothing to do with politics. It never has had anything to do with politics. It's not Communist against Capitalist, it's not Red against Reagan, it's nothing like that. It goes far beyond that and anybody who knows the history of the world a little further back than last week will realize that Russia historically has been in that position. So consequently you can say ok, America...I can't believe it when I hear people say that America should throw theirs away. People really do believe in that kind of solution, "The fools try and wish it away!" Ok, this is an ugly thing and it's dangerous, and grant it I'm the first to agree. And I think that as soon as something better comes along we should get rid of nuclear power, but for now... This is another issue that I think we've talked about before, the part of nuclear power that comes into the song is that there is a movement in the last ten years in the United States to get rid of nuclear power plants because they are risky. And I'm not denying that they are, but as a consequence of that and as a reaction to that mentality, all of the coal burning power plants have been reactivated, more have been built, more have been done with coal and consequently the sulfur in the air is causing acid rain which is destroying the forests of North Eastern Canada. Plus the forests of Western Europe, plus the forests of Scandinavia and even the whole East coast of the United States is being wiped out.

Let's talk about 'Territories'.

Oh, that's my special favorite musically and lyrically too. I'm really pleased with that one needless to say.

It's a great one about boundaries, mentally, as opposed to a boundless vision.

The aspect of the world being where people live and not wherever people are. That's one thing we've learned with travelling a lot; a couple of jokes in the song are founded on real experiences, the thing about where people are from has the best food and the best beer. Every place we go they think they make the best beer in the world - even in places you wouldn't imagine for a minute would dare to say so. It doesn't matter where you go, from Belgium to Japan, China, wherever, you know they make the best beer that you'll ever get and have the best food. And their people are just a bit better than the others, you know just a little bit above. And the line about the one I drew out of China last year came from our experience last year when we played in Japan and we took a brief side trip, just ourselves and a few of our crew. For recreation we had two days off and so we went to Hong Kong and then into China, where we learned about the Middle Kingdom. China calls it the Middle Kingdom - the idea being that it's a bit above the Earth but a bit below Heaven; it's in the middle. It's better than everywhere else, but still not quite up to Heaven. The title of the song happened to come from that trip as well; there is a part near to Hong Kong called the New Territories, and as we were going there I was reading all about it and learning as much as I could before we got there. I was just taken with the word and the way it sounded across the territorial instincts which are such a part of natural life in terms of birds and animals and so on. And also in humans, it's a very fundamental instinct - drawing your territorial lines. Every small town you go to in America or Canada or England is just a little better than the neighboring small town. And even when I was growing up in neighborhoods is another part of it. I grew up in a city, that Dot's that big, about 10,000 people, but if you were from one neighborhood then you were a better class of person than someone from another one. And this was not economic, this was just a social strata of people in that one neighborhood would be cool and another one wouldn't. And like I said it wasn't rich or poor, it was just one subdivision to another subdivision, all middle class, no difference and somehow still people yet they broke it down into these little territorial areas they had to do battle with someone else, just because they were from a different street? So that was just part of the growing up experience, but also there's the huge international chauvinism and the other thing I was mentioning, the xenophobic idea - people's fears of strangers and fear of other races and so on, and that's so prevalent everywhere, I hate to see it and I hate to listen to it. And I hate to go to Europe and have them tell me what a rotten place the United States is and somehow have the incredible temerity to say that 200 million people who live there are all a bunch of bum's, and they've never been here, they've never known any Americans. The Canadians and Americans do come from exactly the same place, you know they all come over here from Europe either in the 19th or 20 century. A whole bunch of them came after the second world war and we all came in the same melting pot. But it's funny - people have the idea that their melting pot is somehow superior to the one next door to it. People can say that a little patriotism isn't bad, what's wrong with boosting the neighborhood and being proud of your city and proud of your province or state. Well the point is that it is bad, it causes a lot of trouble and prejudice, and it's exactly the same as racism. There's a lot of very complicated sides of human nature that are represented here by those modes of thought and those modes of behavior. And they do, when it comes down to it, cause a lot of badness.

Now, 'Emotion Detector', this song sounds like someone's been doing some serious introspection.

Again, in keeping with the overall theme of power, I wanted to deal with the power of emotion and the power of love in a specific way. And I wanted to look at relationships, the dynamics of them, how they function and how people inter-relate. How sometimes it's successful and complete, and sometimes it's disconnected and incomplete. Also the comparison point or the juxtaposition between experience and disillusion was also an important part of it, when you grow up being all innocent and all full of illusions about life, and all of a sudden you get hit with these terrible strokes of adulthood, where all of a sudden you get disillusioned by people, or by this and that, and all those things can have a negative reaction on your life and your world view. But the positive point I wanted to make was that, that's where knowledge begins, with that experience, sure you get disillusioned, and that's a sad thing, and it's not very pleasant to trade in your innocence for experience, that's the very difficult part of life, making that transition. And many people never make that transition successfully, they never accept what experience has taught them to be true. And consequently their innocence becomes a false facade behind which they live. So I wanted to make a statement about disillusionment basically, and say oh, you've got to face it, everybody's got to face it, disillusionment is here, and it's painful, but it also leads to knowledge and to a way of seeing things. And if you have to put aside those illusions as part of growing up, then that has to be the baggage of childhood that you have to leave behind and say, I've got to give that up.

Voltaire said that knowledge is power. Do you agree with that?

To me it is. Again, in a modern world, people would laugh at that in context of 'The Big Money' - it's pointless. I've known people who spend their lives buried in books and learning more and more, and it's something I devote a large part of my life to, and one of the major flowing paths of any experience is input by books and by constantly learning more by that. I can't stand to be ignorant about things; I can't stand to be without knowledge personally. It is a lack of pride. Consequently that irks me on to go and learn about it, and if someone is talking about a subject which I don't know anything about, it makes me feel insecure and will give me the get up and go to learn it. But that's not, I think, a popular way of dealing with life. In a lot of cases, people's responses are if they don't understand it, it's not worth knowing. And if they don't know about it, it's not worth learning about.

Neil, I'd like to thank you for doing this.

Oh, my pleasure.