In No Rush For Immortality - Drummer Peart Never Looks Back

By George Varga, San Diego Union-Tribune, February 3, 1988, transcribed by pwrwindows

Not all rock artists dream of creating music that will outlive them.

Witness drummer Neil Peart of the veteran Canadian trio Rush.

"There's no necessity to be remembered. The nature of pop music is its ephemerality, and I have no need to listen to music from 20 years ago," said Peart, who performs here with Rush at 8 tonight at the San Diego Sports Arena.

"It's just like, I don't go up in the attic and dig out my old report cards. Rock doesn't last, and I don't know if it should. Moliere's plays are still great to read, but they have little relevance to modern life. Rock reflects the time in which it was made, and I'm quite happy to let it die."

Peart, who speaks seriously without taking himself too seriously, paused to contemplate the implications of his statement.

"Of course, that raises the point that I have no need at all for our old music - basically anything we did before 1980 - because it was so simplistic," he said with a wry chuckle.

Indeed, Rush's records and concerts in the 1970s were consistently scorned by critics.

Rolling Stone was especially derisive, describing the singing of Rush bassist Geddy Lee as "a cross between Donald Duck and Robert Plant," and dismissing the group as "the power boogie band for the 16 magazine graduating class."

"It certainly was irritating to have total strangers slagging us off," Peart acknowledged.

"It was hurtful and annoying, but it didn't keep me up at nights. In the late '70s, we were proving ourselves with a lot of convoluted ideas that were strung together in a way that had no cohesion and meant nothing. We learned a lot from that time."

Rush persevered.

By 1980, their heavy-handed approach had given way to a more ambitious and accomplished style that combined the intricacy and precision of progressive rock, the energetic minimalism of new wave and the aggressive, hard-rock attack that characterized their earlier efforts.

Still, the critical abuse continued.

"That shouldn't be a surprise," Peart said.

"Historically, all of the great writers and painters were maligned. Consider the post-impressionists, who took a lot of flak, or Einstein's teacher, who told him he was stupid and would never amount to anything. It's never been the nature of our band to play down to people; I've always taken the attitude that our audience is just as smart as us."

In the past few years, many critics have dramatically revised their opinion of Rush.

"There was one writer in Toronto who was vitriolic about us in the early days. He thought we were derivative and simplistic," Peart recalled. "Over the years, he began to give us grudging respect. Now he's our biggest booster, and he writes that it's shameful that we're ignored. He had to get over that innate cynicism."

A gifted drummer who consistently earns top honors in several annual pop music polls, Peart brings a sense of flair and finesse to his instrument unusual by conventional rock standards. His playing combines flawless technique, an impressive command of odd time-signatures and a no-nonsense delivery that is crisp and direct.

"I have a litmus-test theory for drummers," Peart said. "Some drummers started playing after seeing Ringo when the Beatles played on the Ed Sullivan show, while others started after seeing Sal Mineo star in "The Gene Krupa Story." I was totally unimpressed by Ringo, whereas hearing masters like Krupa or Buddy Rich makes you set your goals a lot higher.

"Jazz helped me a lot in terms of my musical values. I was inspired by the people who played the best, and - when I moved to rock - their integrity and vision helped. All that matters to some people is making a living playing music, so they don't care about playing polkas or the Top 40 five times a night. When I started, I worked during the day at another job, so that I could play the music I wanted at night."

Peart is one of the few rock drummers who contributes all of the lyrics to his band's songs. In the future, he hopes to establish himself as a bona-fide writer.

"In music, all of my goals have been pretty much achieved," he said. "My big dream is writing, and I'd like to get into prose. What suits me best is the new wave of travel writing. I can fit in tangents and soliloquies. It's perfect. It's a way to get away from music, but not from thinking about it."