Rush Looks Back With Cold, Critical Eyes

By Chris Dafoe, Toronto Star, May 11, 1990, transcribed by pwrwindows

Longtime and die-hard fans of Rush may want to sit down before reading any further. This quote - coming up quickly - from Neil Peart may cause some anxiety.

Ready? You're sure? Okay, here's the quote: "...We've grown out of almost all our music from before 1980. I would be glad if it was hermetically sealed and sent to outer space ..."

Yes, that's right kids. 2112, A Farewell To Kings, All The Worlds A Stage, Caress Of Steel packed in plastic and launched skyward on the Space Shuttle.

Sounds more like the fantasy of an especially nasty rock critic (of the type familiar to both Rush - who have never been critics favorites - and its fans) than the musings of drummer and lyricist of the band in question.

But he said it. It's on tape.

Now, to be fair (and to put the quote in context) Peart made that confession as part of a discussion of his attempts at writing prose, as a way of expressing relief that he didn't have to learn to write in public the way he had to learn music in public.

So you can relax. The band hasn't voided its collective past. They will play some old songs when they hit Maple Leaf Gardens next Wednesday and Thursday. But that brief statement does say a good deal about how Peart sees the development of the band over its 21-year career.

Looking back on the years before 1980, Peart, who's on the phone from Wooster [sic (Worcester)], Mass., observes, "That was our apprenticeship - and my apprenticeship - and I no longer feel any relationship towards it.

"It's like other people might feel about their childhood drawings that hung on the fridge; you grow out of them and you really don't want your mother to bring them out every time you have company.

"So we play the old songs, but we're pretty selective about it. And any songs that we can't play with conviction, we set aside, regardless of consumer demand or whatever."

Part of his discomfort with the older material, says Peart, is that in the past Rush often used songs more as a means of experimentation than as a vehicle for communication. More recent material may be just as complex as the band's earlier, musically rococo work, but because the trio has learned to write more effectively the songs seem simpler and more direct.

"In a way, our songs are more complex now than ever," says Peart. "Much more complex than some of the more, uh, flamboyantly complex songs in the past.

"An experiment can be a positive or negative thing depending on whether it succeeds or fails, but regardless of the results, an experiment teaches you something.

"Now, that complexity gets woven into the subtlety of the arrangement. So it looks easier, but I think that's the sign of a skilled craftsman: to make difficult things look easy."

Ironically, the growth of the band and the acquisition of those craftsman's skills came very close to ending Rush's career as a touring band.

"Through all the early years, the reward of touring was that you thought it had done you some good," say Peart of the time when the band was frequently on the road 250 nights a year.

"I always came back from a tour feeling that I'd developed a lot of drumming ideas and skills. And that was always the inside reason for doing it, apart from all the machinery of the music business.

"Within the last couple of years, that reward has kind of slipped away and we got the sense that we were spending six months just doing the same thing. It was difficult for me because I thought there were ways I could better spend that time.

"But I went for the sake of the band - well, the band as an abstraction almost. I wanted Rush to be a living and breathing thing and to me a band that isn't working live isn't living.

"Basically, I realized that the only thing worse than going on tour would be not going on tour."