Lesson In How To Avoid Pitfalls Of Rock 'N' Roll

By Paul A. Harris, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 31, 1991

Wherever they fall in the big rock 'n' roll picture, you have to concede to the Canadian trio, Rush, some points for longevity. In 1991, band members released their 18th album, their 14th studio recording and marked their 16th anniversary of performing with the current lineup.

"We have felt a new kind of realization," said Neil Peart, the band's remarkably erudite drummer and lyricist, in a recent phone interview. Rush will perform at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7 at the The Arena.

"There is a long future ahead of us because we are so satisfied with working together. There isn't an area of frustration for any of us - something that we don't get to express in Rush."

He went on to explain that strategy and a familiarity with the pitfalls of big time rock 'n' roll have helped Rush to survive. "There's one pretty helpful thing between the three of us," he explained. "The roles are clearly defined.

"I write the lyrics, and the other two write the music. So, right from day one, there's sort of a series of assignments: I'll go in that room and write some lyrics, and you two guys go in that room and write some music. And at the end of the day, we'll get together and see what we can merge."

Peart's approach to lyric writing will likely widen the eyes of anyone who entertains stereotyped images of rock drummers. "Roll the Bones," Rush's latest longplayer, is riddled with literary references that range from the highbrow fiction of American novelist John Barth ("Lost in the Funhouse" and "Tidewater Tales") to science fiction writer Kevin Anderson.

To Peart, lacing rock songs with literary references keeps the work interesting. It also affords him a novel means to process the people and ideas he finds fascinating.

"I try to make those things not so important," he elaborated. "They're there for people who are interested in stuff like that.

"I try to plant the references, using them just to entertain myself. If they don't reach an interested reader or listener, then it's probably a failure on my part.

"I try to look at different, experimental ways to communicate things and, at the same time, I'm looking for the most effective way to communicate them."

Peart's approach to the drum kitalso entails more than might initially reach the ear.

"You spend a lot of time learning the craft," he said. "Then, once you start to get reasonably confident of your tools, you look at different ways to apply them.

"I played a concert earlier this year with the Buddy Rich big band, where I was among six drummers. And for one thing, it gave a rebirth to my love of big band music.

"Since then, it's not only been a course of study, to learn about doing it, but I've gone back through all the CD collections of Count Basie and Duke Ellington, and I have a whole new appreciation of that."

Most of all, Peart attributes Rush's continued success to calculation, luck and a slow, steady rise. He knows that big time rock 'n' roll has caused more than a few good bands to split up. He compares his band's legacy to that of an ensemble quite close to the hearts of the St. Louis rock fans.

"We spent many years opening shows so we saw how other bands handled it or didn't handle it," he explained. "That was kind of an object lesson for us, and also an illustration of how good it is to rise slowly.

"I have a great deal of sympathy for bands like Guns 'n' Roses that rise suddenly from small clubs in L.A. and, all at once, they're the number one band in the world.

"It's enormously difficult to deal with. We had five or six years to get used to it. A band like that has five days to get used to it."