Techies Rush To Spam Rush

By Brad Kava & Claudia Perry, San Jose Mercury News, November 20, 1996

Don't think Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart is a Luddite, even though he makes fun of the Internet on the band's latest release, "Test for Echo."

He just thinks techies should include a sense of humor in their specs.

"Net boy, Net girl/Send your impulse 'round the world/Put your message in a modem/And through it in the Cyber Sea," he writes on "Virtuality." Not exactly a techno-slam, but Peart told Mr. Hump Day that it had gotten him spammed.

"I've become the Salman Rushdie of the Internet for daring to poke fun at it," he says by phone from a tour stop in Maryland. "I can't believe the acid that had poured through the ether. I have some friends who use the Internet productively, but for the most part, it's the worldwide wank."

Peart is no stranger to computers, though. "I do every bit of my work on a computer. I have a fax modem. I'm not a Luddite. But I recognize its limitations."

For example, he can no longer answer mail. He used to answer every letter he received, but the volumes of e-mail, particularly over this song, have been overwhelming.

"The feedback has been so vicious. The song was supposed to be a lighthearted take. It's about two vagabonds waving on the Internet as their only affirmation.

"As with faith, people are sure this is good; so they are sensitive. From now on I don't talk about it.

"But I think the Internet is a pale imitation, just like virtual reality is a pale imitation of reality. As compared to reading a book or what rock music is to an adolescent, these are deep things. There is no way the Internet can replicate that or come close to approximating it."

He likens it to CB radio in the 1970s. "The next big thing is never the next big thing for very long."

Anyway, he adds, lighten up. "Rock is a disposable editorial page scrawled on a wall. It is a reflection of that time and it is constantly evolving. It is a mirror moving down the road, reflecting what is."

Rush, which plays the San Jose Arena tonight, is on a worldwide arena tour that will last until summer -- some old classics, some new material. One unearthed chestnut is the complete 30-minute "2112," from the band's breakthrough album, which was played shorter live at first because Rush was an opening band and the whole song would have taken the whole set.

They are also playing the nine-minute "Natural Science," which Peart first suggested as a joke. His trio-mates latched onto it seriously.

Peart, 44 and a man of eclectic intelligence, recently put out an album celebrating Buddy Rich and has been working to round out his own drumming style, focusing more on passion than precision. He's also written a book about bicycling for a month through West Africa, called "The Masked Rider."

Looking out from the stage he can tell fans are getting older by the number of eyeglasses reflecting back to him.