Hitting The Beats With Neil Peart

By Brian Mccollum, Detroit Free Press, October 25, 1996

So what kind of show are we gonna see?

Well, for the first time, we're gonna do an "Evening With" format, something we've always stayed away from, because of course we came up as an opening act and we hated to close that door. It's such an alternative route. Without having radio or particular media support, as we didn't in the beginning, we were still able to go out and tour as an opening act and build an audience that way. In the short of it, we've always resisted that idea up 'til this point, based on that, a nd we finally decided that at this point in the program we owe ourselves that so rt of latitude. And of course for the audience too it'll be a quite larger scope of music that we're able to do, and a completely different format of presentation, so we thought, "OK, now's the time."

I know there's an intermission - any sort of chronological division between halves?

Nothing artificial like that. I think it would be really crazy to try to impose an "early" or "late" time frame on them or anything. For us, it's more important that we can play the songs with a conviction, so songs are being chosen or rejected based on how they are to play. Which might sound selfish, but no one else has to play them a few dozen times over and over. You want to make sure that it's something you're gonna be comfortable with. And I think that translates to the audience in a subtle way, too. If they know that you're playing a song that you really believe in - or don't! - somehow that becomes apparent.

We've been frivolous about it, and we've passed each other lists over the past few months of ridiculous choices - "What do you think about doing this?" or "How about if we did that and did a rearrangement of it?" - and entertaining all sorts of wild ideas, and whittling down what's possible from there.

Even our non-short list was about 3 1/2 hours of music.

"Ridiculous choices"? What are some of the off-the-wall songs you're talking about?

That's a qualified term - these are just songs we haven't even heard or thought of for tens of years. So just that - we were kind of racking our brains for the least likely suspects, I guess, and trying to put them forward and actually consider them. And in fact some of them are being used. We're already into the process where some songs we might have thought we'd never play again or hadn't even thought of for a long time we have resurrected and brought back and gone, "Hey, this is good!" So there are pleasant surprises available there in the back catalogue.

Is it an attempt to give fans something they've been itching for?

You can't go with the pretend altruism. I mean, we're fans of the band too. One thing about Rush is that it's a genuine reflection of ourselves at different times. If we can go back to a song from '78 or '82 or whatever and still connect with it, then great. And of course, the fan gets the benefit too.

But we're not saying, "Hey, man, the fans would really like to hear that song, let's play that." That would be as phony as could be, as far as we're concerned. So I think by accommodating one desire - which is our own, to go back into the archives and find interesting things - we serve the interests of the fans as well.

Can you give me a couple of titles?

Uhhh, not yet, of course.

I knew you wouldn't.

No false promises! (Laughs) We might not end up doing any of them.

There's word from close sources that this is the last tour.

I've heard that, honestly, for 10 years, every time we go on tour: "I hear this is your last tour!" Yeah, sure it is. There's no answer to that, because no one knows.

So this is not a grand finale...

Not by plan, no.

This last break was certainly longer than other stretches between albums and tours.

Yeah, but not to us. I mean, from our point of view it was filled with so many interesting and productive things, and I've been fond of saying lately I accomplished more in my basement in the last two years than I ever would on two years of concert stages. So I'm not sure it was a break, really. It was kind of a sabbatical or something - it was a working holiday, if you like, where everybody was very active and did some interesting things on their own, and brought all of that back into the fold to build from again. So it was an exciting break. It was an exciting reunion for us getting back together, and I think the music is the better for it. So it certainly wasn't a conscious revulsion, on our part, it wasn't a desire to step away from it all. It was a desire to do those things.

It seems a perfectly natural thing to me that there were no bad feelings about it, there was no tension of "maybe we'll never work together," or anything like that. There just wasn't anything like that, that "sources close to the band" might tend to dramatize. It wasn't like that. It was a natural thing, as things that we do are.

People want to always put more drama, more black and white, on things than there really is: "What do you plan when you get together from now on?" Well, we don't plan. We get together, and start playing, and see what happens. It's as genuine and organic as that, and if we don't do a tour or make a record, then we'll do something else that interests us or makes us excited. It's all part of the big thing. Without being a grand plan, it's certainly a grand architecture of some kind.

Give me a nutshell summary of "Test for Echo."

It's always a strange thing. On "Counterparts," any overarching theme really only appeared afterward, when I realized that it did deal with dualities and fundamental relationships in the literal sense, rather than the pop terminology. This was the same really. They started out as individual essays. But of course they reflect a particular period of life and time, and even the little inspirational snippets that I've written down over the past few years, they all do reflect a time and a sensibility, so I suppose it's inevitable that they should also reflect a kind of unity, as much unity as a person's life is capable of, anyway.

So I don't know. There are a lot of themes to me that are woven in there, and no song is about any one thing, certainly as far as I'm concerned. I try to weave as much in there as the basket will possibly hold. In the little bio thing I kind of settled on the overall theme of affirmation, which I thought was quite important throughout, and the echo being that if you go "hello," you want somebody else to say "hello." As simple as that. And the song ("Test for Echo") itself, looking around at the world and thinking, "This is weird -does anyone else think this is weird?" You know, those kind of feelings, I think, are at play throughout.

But at the same time there are many, many sub-themes and other little ideas woven into it. Questions of morality: "The Color of Right" and "Resist" both look at what morality consists of, and why it's different for one person than for another. You can say, "Well, I thought it was the right thing to do!" and the other person can say, "That was totally the wrong thing to do!" And I got to wondering how those kinds of divisions arise, especially in context of relationships.

The phrase itself came out of my daughter's law homework. There's a point of Canadian law called "the color of right." And I just thought it was a beautiful metaphor to come out of legal language. Like I did in "Cold Fire" on Counterparts, a little argument between two people, I dramatized it and made it illustrate a larger concept. Those are really satisfying ways to go about it, where you can make something appear really personal and small when in fact it reflects something very large and abstract. Those are woven in there.

"Time and Motion," too: seize the day, carpe diem, things as simple as that are in there. So there's a lot of stuff in there, obviously, as much as I could get into each line and each carefully weighed word, days and days of revisions and so on. It's always hard for me to then kind of turn around and contract that down to one little germ.

You tell me.

Perhaps it's a glimpse at postmodern society four years from the millenium - maybe the frazzled pace, or this concept of the global marketplace of ideas. With such a wide variety of belief systems to choose from, the paradigms continually shift. "Virtuality" and "Totem," particularly, speak to that. Is the "I" in "Totem" true first person, or are you in someone else's head?

I would never use my first-person singular. It's always an imagined person. Somebody asked me recently, "Are you a solipsist?" I said, "No, I'm writing about other solipsists." (Laughs)

It's true that on a bright sunny day the world looks really nice if you're in a good mood, but if you're depressed or just in a bad mood, the sunniest day suddenly is dark. And the way people behave according to their moods really astounds me sometimes - they're charging around in a bad mood, offending and upsetting people, as if they have the right to do that. And it is about exactly that kind of solipsism - that the world does change according to how you feel. But again, the words are very carefully chosen. I said "how I feel changes how the world appears," not "how the world is." I think that's a really important distinction, and one that I was careful to make, because that's what I see these people doing.

I'm fairly gifted with equanimity, I guess, as far as being the same person every day mood-wise. But of course I see in the people around me all kinds of extremes of not only mood-swings but inflicted mood-swings - moods used as an unshielded weapon sometimes. That really astonishes me. How come people think they can get away with that, and why do they think other people should have to put up with it? But they do, and so they behave, and I found that interesting, and wove it in there.

And religion makes the perfect filter for that. People see the world in the way their religion filter makes it appear. They see what appears.

So is it a stab at religion? Or are you embracing this school of subjectivism?

It's pointing out the good parts of them all. It's a stab at the divisions, certainly, in the sub-theme of it, but on the surface, no, it's very genuine. It's not cynical. It's saying that a Buddha smile is a beautiful thing to have, and 12 Apostles are a beautiful thing, and I'd love to have Aztecs and Mayas dancing around my totem pole. I mean, that's all genuine, and perfectly artless. It's not meant to be anything at all cynical or jaded. It's a genuine response to the beautiful parts of all these beliefs. That part of it was true - I'll take it, I'll take all those things, just leave your wars out of it and leave your moralizing out of it and leave your missionaries out of it, but give me the Buddha smile.

So you're reveling, then, all the different ways somebody can filter things.. .

Yeah, though the filter is something that I stab at. Religion as an organized thing - I do stab at that.

And "Virtuality" (a song about the Internet) is certainly is a little bit sardonic. I'm saying, again using the first person, "I can do this," and "I can do that," and the subtext is "no, you can't." You can't hold the world in your hand, you can't save the universe in a grain of sand, you can't smell her perfume, all these things. The character is operating under an illusion, really. Those kind of things I was taking a stab at, at the same time affirming the echo, affirming the affirmation among people - it's nice to go "hello" and hear a "hello." And while not discounting that, at the same time I dislike when it gets blown up into an illusion.

I'm looking at a big map of Africa on my wall right now, thinking that as far as the Internet goes, more than half of Africa doesn't have any kind of access to the Internet or the World Wide Web. The virtual reality thing, too -it's not real, you know. You can't dance to a virtual song.

The subtext of it all is this character in kind of blithe naïvete saying, "I can do this!" and "I can do that!" and "The Internet can do this!" And underneath it is the voice of reality going, "No, you can't." You can go have fun in the ultimate video game, but you can't hold the universe in your hands.

It's no secret Rush has a big following on the Internet. Was there any fear of alienating those fans?

Well, not fear, because it's not the sort of thing you're supposed to be afraid of, but certainly I'm aware of it and think it's unfortunate. But, again, if you're puncturing illusions. ... It's religion. If you're afraid to poke fun at religion because somebody will get offended, then you're gonna run away from a lot of subjects in fear. As they say, you're not supposed to talk about religion, sex and politics. Well, I like to talk about them all! You're gonna offend people.

I see this kind of religious zeal, and "filter" is a well-chosen word you offer there, in all these cases, because it's not the reality that I'm ever criticizing. I happen to love reality. I love the world. It's everything there is. But it's the idea that people think they're really connecting, in an overblown way like I'm taking a stab at, because it's wrong. The world isn't like that.

I always realize it when I travel and I go to some little village in Ghana or Sicily and look at all these people living their lives completely oblivious to us, and of course all of us living our lives completely oblivious to them. It maybe seems facile, but it's not. It's a very deep realization, that all these people go through their births and loves and triumphs and tragedies and deaths without us even knowing or caring a thing about it. So any kind of global consciousness is achieved only by going out there and sweating in these villages with these people and drinking their bad water and eating their sandy food and understanding a little bit of what their life is like from beginning to end, you know. And the idea that you can dial up someone on the computer who happens to be another white adolescent male, and have the idea that you're connecting with the world ... well, it's too much. It's just an overblown sense of accomplishment.

That's all. I'm poking fun at the hot air, not at the reality, and not at the genuineness of the impulse. All those things I'm careful always to glorify, but at the same time: Don't overblow the self-importance aspect. I ride herd on myself about that all the time, and thus I consider it my duty to ride herd on everybody else about it, too.

Do you ever hop on and skim the Rush chat rooms?

Well, 10 years ago I did, when I was first introduced to it by a guy who worked at Hewlett-Packard, who took me in and showed me this growing thing. I thought, "Oh, that's very interesting. Very cool." And even at that time - 10 years ago, in the very dawn of the Internet - there were already

I imagine it could drive you nuts after reading it awhile.

It would be awfully self-important for me to want to sit down and sift through The response to it would be either: You'd think you're wonderful, or you'd get mad at this kind of invasion and these people with nothing better to do but talk about your life and your work.

It's a double-edged sword, as so many things are. It can be very beautiful, and I have friends who get a lot of use out of it in very productive ways in terms of their work and their research, and the actual connections with people and libraries and institutes of learning and everything. Those things are very valuable, so it's not to be discounted. I'm by no means a Luddite about it. I mean, I'm computerized, and CD-ROM-ized, and fax machine-ized, and everything else, so I'm hardly a reactionary about it. But at the same time I don't like it when things are touted beyond their real meaning.

But thinking back to "2112," it would be easy for someone to make the quick conclusion that maybe you're a little afraid of technology, or the possibility that society will be overcome by machines.

Anger and fear should not be mistaken. I saw "2112" as championing technology. My hero in that was reintroducing technology to a non-technological world. There are so many shades of meaning in there.

The word "Luddite" is so much bandied about today, but in history the Luddites weren't against technology, and they weren't against progress, they were only against labor-saving devices - because they wanted to have jobs. It was as simple as that. It wasn't some kind of religious or fanatical wish to destroy all machines. They just wanted to make sure people had jobs.

On to another familiar Peart theme - time and motion. "Time and Motion" is certainly one of the album's top cuts.

It started from a simple little seed. A friend of mine in a letter once remarked, just in an offhand way, that life shouldn't be what you can get out of it, but what you can squeeze into it. And I thought that was very profound and very insightful, so I developed it into the metaphor of the box cars and a train, and you're responsible to load the cargo. This train doesn't pull into the station full of stuff for you; you're the one who's supposed to go and load the train. I thought that was a very profound and interesting thing. And as you point out, it is a common theme of mine - of self-determination, and the power of will, not waiting for things to happen but going out and making them happen.

Also response to nature, weather, those are fundamental things for me, the worship of essential beauty and the phenomena of nature on a day-to-day basis. When people discuss the weather, it's often disparaged - "oh, we didn't talk about anything but the weather" - but really that's a postmodern comment too. Because in our whole history as a species, nothing's been more important than weather, more fundamental to our lives and livelihoods. Our hopes for next winter, our survival to next summer. All of that was entirely predicated on weather for generations and generations, so it's hardly strange that it's the most important thing in the world to us. And it remains so to me. But of course some of our urban types consider weather to be at worst an intrusion.

Musically the album is very 1996. Like "Counterparts," it's a little more raw.

It's such a genuine response of us still being music fans, and remaining aware of the music going on around us, going out and buying CDs and listening to the radio and all the stuff that any other music fan does. So of course your time and your consciousness is molded by what's going on around you.

I think rock and pop music continue to be really interesting and really satisfying, so I stay in touch with them just as a human being, and consequently, of course, that does mold your idea of what modern music is.

So, what, does the band just show up at the studio and say, "OK, we're gonna make a raw record"?

No, we've been working on it for two months at that point, for one thing. (Laughs) But we never sit down and discuss those kinds of things. We just start work and try to make it as natural and organic as that. Geddy and Alex are working away on musical ideas for the first days, whatever gets them excited enough to be bothered working on. As for me on the words, too. If I'm not interested in it, I'm soon gonna lose the energy and determination that it takes to sit there day after day and plug away at it, and throw words away.

All of that is so genuine and so natural, and when we get playing together and the songs start to take shape, and the drum part influences the bass part, and that influences the guitar part, and I'll take cues from the guitar melody to try to build drum parts around that - it's all so natural. It's almost like a slowed-down session of an improvisational session of a three-piece group. We're responding to what each other is doing, trying to put forward our own ideas, and trying also to create something larger musically than any of those elements.

So all of that's going on. Instead of happening spontaneously in the moment, it's happening over a slow period. But it's exactly the same organic response to each other's playing and the ideas that we've learned and things we want to use in the music, the overall sense of structure that we have about it. All that just happens so naturally based on what we like and don't like at the time, you know. It almost seems too facile to term it that way, but that's exactly how it goes.

The guitar has a beefed-up role here again.

Yeah, the last couple of albums we've leaned that way. And they're just genuine responses to the time.

Our dabblings in keyboards were really a product of the time when that technology became available to us, when foot pedals and drum triggers could cause so many new sounds. That was really exciting to us, and it also helped push back barriers to what a three-piece group could accomplish, especially live. So a lot of our experiments were predicated on our time in time, you know. When digital synthesizers and sequencers came along, they were tools. Electronic drums, the same thing for me - I couldn't resist. And I do continue to use them, but they occupy less focus after a while. They just become an article in the tool box that you can bring out when you need it.

I didn't use any electronics on this record, because I didn't need them and because I was so focused on drum-set playing. But I'm still using them live and I still really love what they can do. So a lot of those things are just genuine reflections of the time in which they happen. Our keyboard period reflected a time when keyboards were dominant, and it had as much to do wtih technology as with style, which I find really interesting too. It wasn't just that everybody said, "Let's use a lot of keyboards." It was that people said, "Hey, we've built keyboards you can use!" That's an important distinction, but nonetheless it was the time in which we were growing and building.

And we used keyboards on this record quite a lot, really, but in more a subtle way and more of a supportive role, certainly. Alex has growing confidence in what he can accomplish texturally, too. (In the '80s) it was partly wanting to expand the limits of a three-piece, so keyboards were an easy way to do that. And as Alex has gotten more experience - and also, guitar technology has improved so much - what he can accomplish, mixing acoustics and different guitar textures ... It's his confidence and his ability, too, to play all those roles that negate the necessity for keyboards in a lot of those cases.

Did he seem to come in empowered by the solo project he released earlier this year?

Certainly, in the same way I was by my forays into big band music and studying with a teacher the last couple of years and practicing every day. I came very much empowered by a facility on the drum set I'd never had before in my life. Those are life-changing things. For Alex, yes, just to see a project through from beginning to end himself ... he does tend to be of a more spontaneous nature. It's part of the chemistry among us that he's often the one to come up with a brilliant idea just off the top of his head, just to sit down and play it, where Geddy and I are more methodical, and any quality we tend to come up with is mostly the product of time and effort. Alex can be effortless brilliant. (Laughs)

That's a great quality to have, but it makes it hard for him to be applied. For him to sit down and do a whole project like that was a real challenge, because it's just not the way he's made. So, yes, that becomes a very affirming part of his life.

So what in the world can a drum teacher teach Neil Peart?

Well, you never finish learning. And the best comparison, I think, is with tennis players. You know, the world's best tennis players have coaches - what can their coaches teach them about the game of tennis? Well, nothing. But they can watch them serve, they can watch their cross-court backhand, and say, "You know, if you kept your shoulder a little higher, and follow through like this ..." So that's what he was for me, very much like a coach - just watched the way I moved and suggested ways in which that could be more natural and more comfortable, and hence more musical.

It wasn't ever about teaching me a drum beat or a paradiddle or anything, but more on the macroscale, just watching my game and suggesting ways it could be better. And sure enough, it could.

Any more solo projects in the works, more stuff like the Buddy Rich tribute (released in 1995)?

Yeah, I'm certainly interested in pursuing that because I enjoyed it so much, and also because I have so much music still unreleased on it. I definitely plan to do at least one more volume, and possibly two more of it.

I took the opportunity this spring, just after we did the recording, to do an instructional video based around the recording of the album, drum part-wise. And then right after that I went in and was doing some more work for Volume Two of the Buddy Rich thing. I would definitely like to more work personally with that, but I would also like to do more with the material I already have.

Is there any one area that's becoming more gratifying at this point in life? Are the priorities shifting at all musically?

Not stylistically, no. It's more work space, I would say, and personal enjoyment.

My favorite part of everything is when we go away to the country and work on new songs, and we're kind of isolated but we're together, and there's the whole collaboration enterprise, which I just love. I love bringing in lyrics and having the other guys first of all like them, and then suggest ways to make them better, and I go running back to my desk all excited to incorporate those improvements. It's just a great time, you know. We're very comfortable and friendly together, so we enjoy that time and we produce good work. There's a sense of satisfaction of having accomplished and made something out of nothing, but at the same time the very process itself on a day-to-day basis is really enjoyable, and not nearly as stressful or as fraught with surprises as the more public side of it can be.

So is playing live still a high priority?

It's less valuable after a while. You know, I realized I spent the last two years in my basement basically playing drums for the spiders, and that did me more good musically than two years of touring, or five years of touring, would ever have done.

There's a point in your building years when there's nothing better you could do than go out and play every night on a stage, you know, and force yourself to that level. We would feel it, as a band, getting better and getting tighter as a unit, all of that. But of course once you've achieved that after 20 years, you have it! (Laughs) So we don't need to build that anymore.

On the other hand, it's still the ultimate challenge to walk up on a stage with all the spirit of the moment, when it's not like in the studio where you can stop the tape and go back. There's no opportunity to re-do it and refine it -it has to be right on the moment. So that's a tremendous challenge, to walk up those stairs every night, especially with 20-odd years behind you, and a certain expectation from the audience about how good the performance is supposed to be, so that's different too. You're no longer trying to prove anything to someone who doesn't know you. You're trying to live up to something. So that's a certain level of pressure itself too.

But it is the crucible, I call it. It's the ultimate ordeal by fire.

So there's still nervousness, excitement in those moments before you take the stage?

Oh yeah, man. It's enormous just to walk up that stage every night and deliver. It's a huge thing, and it's not to be discounted.

But in the past it had an overweening value that was cumulative, that I don't really think is there now. ... (As a tour starts) the first few times you present it, it's a massive challenge, and then it just becomes a process of re-creation, even though it of course changes from night to night, and we've tried to make it over the years freer and freer for that eventuality of spontaneous magic on the night.

But at the same time you're trying to live up to a certain standard, so it takes on a chasing-your-tail kind of aspect.

As you've gone back through some of these old songs, songs you haven't played in some time, are you finding you need to make some real seismic shifts in your current performance style?

From time to time. Again, we're very experimental, and there are limbs we've gone out on that we chose not to go out on again! (Laughs) But that's OK, and I think it's the right thing to do, and I respect us for doing that. There are definitely songs we wouldn't want to revisit.

But the times when we really did hit something, some combination that was just right - and there's no way you can know it at the time - we can go back and find songs that are just as good as they should be. We've learned a lot since and improved in subtle ways since, but it's important that all these improvements and tools that we acquire are subtle, and very much internal, I would say. Even though the shift that I've gone through drumming-wise in the last couple of years is not really for the listeners' benefit, except in the most subtle and felt way. That's the story through all of it.

We find gems all the time. Last tour when we revived the overture from "Hemispheres" from 1978, we hadn't even heard for probably 15 years. And you go back, "Hey, it sounds pretty good! And it's great to play!" When you do find those, it's a wonderful thing - something that you do still like and also that's enjoyable to play. It's not impossible. That's almost 20 years old and we found real pleasure in rediscovering it for ourselves.

At the same time, there are other things from that time or earlier - or newer, even songs from the last couple of albums - that we have no wish to revisit.

So there are musical moments from 20 years ago that make you squirm now?

Of course! Do you want to see your kindergarten paintings hanging on the refrigerator? (Laughs) That's the unfortunate part of it - so much of your growth and development takes place in public. That is tough, to know that things you did 23, 24 years ago are still out there in front of people. Of course it's embarrassing.

Anything in particular?

Oh, nothing I wish to share with anybody. No, no!

How often do you just kick back in your living room and play your old records?



Nope. Just before a tour, when we're looking for things, then I'll go through and read the titles, really, and think about them and go, "Maybe." And "Maybe not."

Over the last couple of months the three of us were sending faxes back and forth of potential lists. Some of them were intended to be ridiculous suggestions, but even some of those worked out to be - somebody else took it seriously and said, "Well, wait a minute, what if we did this? It could really work."

The idea, again, of self-importance - I would never think of sitting down and reading through my press, or listening to my work from that point of view. It's just wrong.

You may not read your own press, but you've certainly got to be aware of the revisionist thinking that's come Rush's way in the '90s. Maybe it's a younger generation of critics. And others seemed to have stopped to take stock and decided they gave you too hard a time two decades ago.

Yes, thank God for that. I am aware of that, certainly, and grateful for it. But it was part of a revolution.

Just before that time, in the late '80s, I was concerned for the whole state of music, even just for drummers. What were drummers doing? There were drum machines out there playing these stupid beats all the time, and I wasn't hearing, obviously, inventive drumming going on, or any drummer getting an opportunity to be inventive or creative, and I really feared for the future of the instrument.

And then in the '90s, along comes the whole shift, from Guns N' Roses right through the Seattle bands, and suddenly it's all different, it's about real musicians playing real instruments again. And suddenly people like us, who have championed that, are respected again, instead of being disparaged.

So that was a really pleasant turnaround, not from a personal view so much -although there's nothing wrong with that - but more on a larger scale. Music was an awful lot healthier for that change.

As you get older, is it...

I haven't started that process yet! "As time goes on..."

OK. As time goes on, is it harder physically to do some of the stuff you do? Drumming, particularly yours, is a very physical performance.

It hasn't yet. One of the gifts of maturity, if you like, is stamina. That's not a problem. When you see endurance sports, for instance - marathons and triathalons - older guys do pretty well at that, where the younger ones are quickly snapped out.

Fortunately drumming is much more about the long run than it is about sprinting. You don't have to give that up. Buddy Rich was almost 70 and still playing like a madman. It gives you hope when you see that level of performance going on at that age. It certainly doesn't have to stop.

So rumors of Rush's demise are definitely premature...?

That's another unfortunate byproduct of the Internet, that anything anybody says suddenly takes on electronic gospel. Part of our frustration is constantly having to fight these rumors that blow up on there. My parents get phone calls - "Is it true Neil's dying of cancer?! I saw it on the Internet!" So it takes on the wealth of fact.

(Author) Douglas Coupland had an article in the New York Times a few weeks back saying that he thinks the big problem with the Internet is that it doesn't have an editor, and he hopes it never does. The title of the article was "Why the Internet Should Remain a Mess."

And that's just how it is. But people aren't adjusted to that reality yet, and just in the same way that people believe the National Enquirer - it's in print, it must be true - they still believe what they read on these bulletin boards. "If it's in pixels, it must be true."

At the same time, would you commit to saying, "Yes, there will be another tour?"

No. I could be dead! Or anything. It's none of anybody's damned business anyway! (Laughs)

No, like I said, the only thing that's clear in my mind is that as long as we're able, we'll continue working together. But everything else is subject to reevaluation.

Rush Puts Some Surprises In Its 3-Hour Stage Shows

By Brian Mccollum

So much for self-indulgence.

Neil Peart has 22 years worth of Rush records he can listen to, but he won't do it.

The highly heralded drummer for the stalwart Canadian rock trio says he wouldn't dream of kicking back in his living room and spinning such albums as 1974's "Fly By Night" or 1978's "Hemispheres." Too indulgent, he says - and "just wrong."

So when it came time to carve a lengthy set list for the band's new tour - the first featuring three hours of music and no opening act - Peart had to pull out old LP covers and scan song titles to refresh his memory.

Some off-the-wall suggestions from Peart and his band mates, bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson, ultimately made it into the mix.

"The three of us were sending faxes back and forth with potential lists," recalls Peart. "Some were intended to be ridiculous suggestions, but even some of those worked out. Somebody else would take it seriously and say, 'Well, wait a minute. What if we did this? It could really work.' "

Skip this paragraph if you don't want to know what surprises may pop up tonight at the Palace of Auburn Hills, but shows on the tour's first week have featured such long-buried chestnuts as "Natural Science," "Red Sector A" and "2112" - in its seven-part entirety.

For fans of the virtuoso ensemble, news like that seems heaven-sent. Since taking Peart on board in 1974, the Toronto band has carefully emphasized its newest musical approach.

With 16 studio albums - including "Test for Echo" (Atlantic), which debuted at No. 5 on Billboard's albums chart early this month - there's certainly a hefty body of work to choose from. Take away Aerosmith, whose membership fractured for several years in the early '80s, and Rush has the longest endurance record of any original rock lineup around.

But fans hoping to hear something really odd - say, "Losing It" from "Signals" or "Didacts and Narpets" from "Caress of Steel" - may be out of luck. He won't name names, but suffice to say that plenty of the old material makes Peart squirm.

"Do you want to see your kindergarten paintings hanging on the refrigerator?" he says with a laugh. "That's the unfortunate part of it - so much of your growth and development takes place in public. That's tough, to know that things you did 23, 24 years ago are still out there in front of people. Of course it's embarrassing."

With last week's tour kickoff in Albany, N.Y., the famously hard-working Rush just closed the biggest road break of its career. Since capping the "Counterparts" tour in mid-1994, band members have indulged in side projects (Peart's Buddy Rich tribute, Lifeson's solo disc), babies (Lee's new son) and even musical training (Peart has worked with a drum coach for two years).

For Peart, roundly considered the top drummer in rock, taking time off wasn't exactly taking time off. Peart, 44, says two years off the road led to one of the most fertile musical periods he's ever enjoyed.

"I spent the last two years in my basement basically playing drums for the spiders," he says. "And that did me more good musically than two years of touring - or five years of touring - would ever have done."

Armed with renewed energy, the band went roaring into last winter's "Echo" sessions near Woodstock, N.Y. It had already run through the traditional Rush creative game plan: hunkering down at a house in the Canadian countryside, where Lee and Lifeson forged song structures while Peart toiled meticulously on the words that would fill them.

"It's almost like a slowed-down session of an improvisational session of a three-piece group," Peart says. "We're responding to what each other is doing, trying to put forward our own ideas, and trying also to create something larger musically than any of those elements. Instead of happening spontaneously in the moment, it's happening over a slow period."

The latest result - a guitar-heavy album that rocks harder and more crisply than anything from Rush in the last 10 years - should convince doubters that the longtime trio is anything but a bunch of old farts. But Peart stills foresees change for the band.

Amid plans to record and release more Buddy Rich tribute material, Peart sees the grind of touring becoming a less efficient way to ease his musical itch.

"In your building years there's nothing better you could do than go out and play every night on a stage and force yourself to that level. We would feel it, as a band, getting better and getting tighter as a unit, all of that," he says. "But of course once you've achieved that after 20 years, you have it."

That doesn't mean he's complacent about playing in front of 20,000 demanding fans. When you're held up as the world's best drummer, and your band is expected to maintain on-a-dime performance standards, the pressure can get intense.

"That's a tremendous challenge, to walk up those stairs every night, especially with 20-odd years behind you, and a certain expectation from the audience about how good the performance is supposed to be," Peart says. "You're no longer trying to prove anything to someone who doesn't know you. You're trying to live up to something.

"It's the ultimate ordeal by fire."