"I find my taste running more and more toward non-fiction," says Neil Peart, in what should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with recent Rush albums.
At 35, the group's drummer and lyricist has long since exited the Never Never Land of myth and legend, stepping out into the broad daylight of reality.
Reality hits home in a big way on Monday and Tuesday nights, when Toronto's most international of bands returns to Maple Leaf Gardens for another homecoming, this one in support of the trio's recent Hold Your Fire album, its 12th studio album in 13 years.
Just as the group has shelved its penchant for grander themes, so has it gone about re-tooling its instrumental machinery to match the streamlined lyric effect.
"Some of it does reflect maturity and growing up and facing reality on its own terms and not having to buffer it with fantasy," says Peart.
"I think by the late 1970s we had reached a kind of dead end: convoluted instrumentals, very complicated arrangements ... It might have been high in technical skills but very weak in arrangement skills."
And while Peart admits that older fans occasionally complain Rush's music has been thinned down to nothing, it's a criticism he can live with.
An inveterate consumer of art and literature and a curious world traveller, his new belief in the clean line was confirmed when he visted the Vincent Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam recently.
"I was looking at the incredible body of work he went through just to arrive at a few daubs of paint ..."
This is Peart's way of saying that growing up isn't easy. The kid who came out of St. Catharines' "dull gray suburbs" naturally leaned into the escapism of Tolkien et al.
But the world at large couldn't help but nudge him into new areas of expression, stripping off layers of pretense along the way. Hold Your Fire, he says, began as a meditation on the passage of time but evolved into a deeper examination of instinct, "the idea of primeval or subconscious drives."
But I think he's wrong there. Hold Your Fire is more about the ephemera of daily living and how it controls us. "Turn The Page" takes a shopworn theme but frames it cleverly: "Looking at the long-range forecast/Catching all the names in the news/Checking out the state of the nation/Learning the environmental blues."
This is fairly hard stuff. Peart's fantasy fetish of yore, it turns out, hid the soul of a true ascetic.
Apart from wildlife documentaries - a source of endless fascination - he has no time for TV's throbbing cathode ray. There's resentment in his voice when he talks about the way people fool themselves into accepting television as a huge part of their lives.
"So many our age are into more remote realms of fantasy, just in the sense of normal TV fare, which people are pleased to denigrate but, it seems, equally pleased to watch ...
"It's like reading a book. Why should you read a book when you can wait for the mini-series?"
As we get older, Peart says, we become lazier. "You talk to people whose favorite record was made 15 years ago or 20 years ago. It's simple laziness ...
"But then again, other things become more important to people. Maybe they haven't the same amount of time anymore for music or whatever it was that once held their interest..."
Peart wants to make sure that never happens to him or his band (including singer-bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson). To its credit, the current Rush bears almost no resemblance to the terrible troika that foisted Fly By Night and 2112 on the world more than a decade ago.
It's a band for its times, and it's Peart's role is to see it stays that way.