After 20 Years, Rock Band's Music Still A Rush

By Kira L. Billik, San Diego Union-Tribune, February 3, 1994


The cover of Rush's latest album, "Counterparts," shows things that can't exist alone, such as a nut and bolt.

The CD itself showcases three other things that haven't existed apart for the past 20 years: drummer-lyricist Neal Peart, guitarist Alex Lifeson and bassist-singer Geddy Lee.

Peart attributes the Canadian band's longevity to a combination of Lifeson's spontaneity, Lee's "melodic instinct" and "meticulous passion," and his own "obsessive drive."

"We root each other and we uproot each other," said Peart.

Rush, which performs here Monday night at the Sports Arena, has been pushing the envelope of progressive rock since its first self-titled album in 1974. Lee's bass playing has influenced many musicians to take the instrument out of its strictly rhythmic role and into a melodic one.

The band has done everything from concept albums ("2112") to live albums ("All the World's a Stage," "Exit . . . Stage Left," "A Show of Hands"). Its classic track "Tom Sawyer," from 1981's "Moving Pictures," is still one of the most-requested songs on rock radio. Rush has done 18 records, including a double-disc anthology in 1990, "Chronicles."

The band's 19th effort is pared down, less dependent on technology and more reliant on the natural sound of guitar, bass and percussion.

The formula seems to have worked - "Counterparts" debuted at No. 2 on Billboard's album charts, the band's highest debuting release ever.

Peart is Rush's wordsmith, and he is fascinated with the concept of yin (the passive and negative female force) and yang (the active and positive male force). He can use a nature metaphor one minute, a technical one the next.

He's also a disciplined writer who favors restraint over what he calls "unabashed emotionalism."

"Here's a lovely example: People always think, 'Oh, it must be so healthy psychologically to be a drummer because you can just smash things all the time.' Well, you can't. You have to control yourself. You have to smash them at the right time with the right intensity and a sense of flow. . . . I never feel released when I'm playing drums - I just feel tremendously disciplined."

"Counterparts" deals with personal issues: the nature of love ("The Speed of Love," "Cold Fire"); ambition ("Cut to the Chase"); and Carl Jung's concept of the masculine animus and the feminine anima ("Animate").

But Peart says it's not conventionally introspective, but more a combination of personal experience and imagined situations.

"That's a style of lyricism that I congenially dislike," he said with a laugh. "I'm not really fond of self-revelation in lyrics because I think it's a bit indulgent."

Peart's mind works as deftly as his drum patterns. He speaks of Jung, T.S. Eliot, politics, history, his fascination with Chinese and African culture, and his love of cycling in rapid succession.

"These songs grow out of reading and conversations and thinking and driving and collecting phrases," he said.

He keeps a journal while traveling and says he has years' worth of material gathered. And he finds certain themes repeating themselves.

"That little gateway between innocence and experience I find I'm always coming back to readdress," he said. "The nature of ambition, for instance, gets examined in some way or another on probably nearly every record."

Rush has been called stuffy and pompous by critics, and it tends to be a band people either love or can't stand. But the seriousness of Rush often masks the humor.

On the "Roll the Bones" tour, two huge inflatable rabbits (echoing the cover of the 1989 album, "Presto") arose from the sides of the stage and bobbed along in time to "Tom Sawyer." And the title of Rush's live album, "Exit . . . Stage Left," was in deference to the cartoon character Snagglepuss.

Peart admits that 20 years of touring has taken its toll, and the band has discussed giving it up.

"I always tend to push for continuing to tour because I think it's so important a part of a vital band," he said. "I think for the risk-taking aspect, for the discipline of playing at 100 percent night after night, playing live takes you to a level that you would never willingly drive yourself to.

"It's not easy, but I have to think the equation works out for the good. It is good."

DATEBOOK

Rush, with Candlebox

8 p.m. Monday. Sports Arena, 3500 Sports Arena Blvd. $21.50 and $29; 278-TIXS or 224-4176.