Canadian Band Rush Is One Of Rock's Long-Distance Runners

By Jim Abbott, Orlando Sentinel, February 1992, transcribed by Bruce Holtgren

It has taken them 17 years, but the members of Rush have finally acknowledged that the band has a future in the music business.

"We really have never looked to a long future until now," drummer Neil Peart said by phone from a New Orleans tour stop. "We've always said, 'OK, we'll make the next record' or 'We'll do the next tour,' and that's as far as we ever looked ahead.

"Now we realize that this band is all we need. As individuals, everything that we want to accomplish as musicians or writers we can do within this band."

Peart, singer-bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson adopted the new attitude during recording sessions for their 18th album, "Roll the Bones," which focuses on the random nature of the human condition.

Fittingly, Peart said that he got the idea for the album's theme by chance while toying with lyrics about being dealt a wild card.

"It just came out of nowhere, honestly. Suddenly, it struck me. Then I started thinking about it more and realizing how many wild cards there are in each of our lives and how you're faced with a choice - just like in a card game.

"You can be dealt the wild card and you can turn it down - or you can jump on it. That's part of the 'roll the bones' aspect, too. When opportunity knocks, do you answer or do you pretend you're asleep? Even when luck comes your way, you have a choice how you respond to it."

But Peart concedes that when a band has existed as long as Rush, there is more involved than luck.

"There's a discipline and a restraint factor that comes into it, so that when you do have disagreements, you handle them in a mature and productive way.

"If you disagree on something, you have to decide in your own mind first, 'Is this worth having a fight about? Is this worth the band breaking up over, or should I find a more positive way to introduce this note of discord?' Those kinds of little decisions that you make on a day-to-day basis really do affect the long term."

Peart said that it's similar to the compromises that must be made in a romantic relationship - a scenario he addresses in "Ghost of a Chance," the latest "Roll the Bones" single. Peart is proud that the song goes beyond the cliched idea of starry-eyed romance.

"'Ghost of a Chance' really offers some clues into long-term relationships - not only for mates but also for a band - in the sense that you just make it last ...

"It debunks a lot of the sentimental love songs in saying that love at first sight is not going to last forever and be made in heaven and all that. People drift together by accident, and if they are attracted to each other, that's the easy part. The hard part is making it last."

It would seem that Rush is making it last. The group has enjoyed consistent chart success over the years with such albums as "A Farewell to Kings" (1977), "Hemispheres" (1978), "Permanent Waves" (1980) and "Presto" (1989). Peart credits the band's staying power to the fact that all three members enjoy equal creative input.

"There are no frustrations hanging over," he said. "At the end of a record, there isn't one guy left with five of his songs not getting used. With me writing the lyrics and the other two writing music, everybody is involved."

He said that the band also has managed to avoid such pitfalls as overinflated egos, choosing instead to cultivate a group image.

"Those pressures do play a larger part in tearing bands apart than I think is often admitted or understood by other people," Peart said. "There are those problems of pride and ego - and not even to the extreme sense. I just mean in the small, day-to-day sense of anyone in any working situation, really, if you feel that you're not really being appreciated, your work isn't being used and somebody else is getting more attention.

"Those are common aspects of human nature and human life, I think, that hold more true in a band because it's such a concentrated environment of just a few people trying to work together creatively over a period of time."

In concert, members of Rush have traditionally attempted to duplicate the studio versions of their songs on stage. But this time around, they are loosening up.

"We said it's time to get out of that and take a few chances," Peart said. "So when we were putting this tour together, we started immediately playing with the arrangements of the new songs and putting some spontaneous bits in them.

"At this point, we feel that we can really perform a song as well live as it is on the record, so we have to push ourselves beyond that. It's just an ongoing learning process and refinement of what you're really supposed to be doing."

While the rigors of the road also can take a toll on a band, Peart, 39, said that Rush has learned how to manage the stress.

"We actually enjoy it a lot more than we did even 10 years ago," he said of touring. "We're much more in control of it now, and we understand what a good balance of work and freedom is ...

"Within the last 10 years, our lives have gotten so much bigger that suddenly we can take advantage of being on the road. If we're in a city for a day or two, we can go to an art museum or we can play tennis or golf or go for a bike ride."

Pretty sedate activities for rock 'n' rollers. But Peart said the band has never craved a rowdy offstage image.

"I think we're pretty normal, really. It's just whether you take the trouble to cultivate this big image of a larger-than- life kind of lifestyle and all that - and we never have.

"We thought, 'Let's just get along and survive.'"