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Subject: 12/18/90 - The National Midnight Star #134  ** Special Edition **

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          The National Midnight Star, Number 134

                Tuesday, 18 December 1990
Today's Topics:
         Neil interview in Modern Drummer 4/84
---------------------------------------------------------                          (none)

[ Thanks to Jimmy Lang and Dan Delany for this one.       :rush-mgr ]

_Modern_Drummer_ - April 1984

Interview: Neil Peart

    I'm all for heroes -- people noted for their special
achievements.  Heroes are inspiring, and there are too damned few of
them around today.  To steal a phrase from Studs Terkel, today
seems to be the "period of the pipsqueak" - a period of small and
insignificant people.  The pipsqueaks elevate a select few to the
status of idol or demigod.  They take heroes and turn them into half
men/half gods or into Golden Calves.  Rock 'n' roll heaven is loaded
with musicians who have succumbed to the pressures of being demigods
and idols.  Starting in the '50s, I made a list of 74 dead "rock
starts."  Their average lifespan: 31 years.  The youngest on the
list was 18.  The oldest was 47.
    In many ways, Neil Peart has been put on that dangerous pedestal
and he's not real excited about it.  Neil is excited and grateful,
however, that he's respected for his drumming, songwriting, and his
contribution to Rush.
    In a 1977 interview, Bob Dylan was asked about heroes.  He said,
"A hero is anyone who walks to his own drummer."  The interviewer
asked, "Shouldn't people look to others to be heroes?"  Dylan
replied, "No:  When people look to others for heroism, they're
looking for heroism in an imaginary character."
    In Neil, I sensed a strong resistance to becoming an imaginary
character.  He wants to remain Neil Peart:  the guy who plays drums,
writes songs and goes home - just another guy doing his day's work
to the best of his ability.  The problem with pipsqueaks putting
people on pedestals is that soon the adulation turns to chants of
"Jump, Jump."
    I've known Neil for about three years.  I should say I know
aspects of Neil.  We've conversed on the phone many times.  I edited
his articles for MD and helped coordinate the Neil Peart Drum
Giveaway.  During this interview, which was done on the last day of
Rush's five-concert series at Radio City Music Hall, it was Neil, my
wife and I in a room backstage.  Neil, in his last MD interview
said, "You don't have conversations with your friends about
metaphysics, the fundamentals of music and the fundamentals of
yourself really."  Well, we spoke about all three of those and it
was fun because we disagreed on some fundamental issues.  I asked
him if he ever asked himself the fundamental question, "Why am I
here?"  He responded, "You can ask those questions, but what's the
point?  The point is I'm here and making the best use of it.
There's a further qualification to that.  It's not 'why am I here?'
It's 'why am I here this way?'  The meaning of why I was born is a
simple biological fact.  Why am I spending my life in this
particular manner?  Most times that tends to be a combination of
circumstances and drive.  The fact that I wanted to be a successful
drummer was by no means a guarantee that I was going to be.  But
circumstances happened to rule that I turned out to be one."
    I'm not a great believer in circumstance, I'm more inclined to
agree with what Longfellow wrote in his poem "The Singers."  He
wrote, "God sent his singers upon earth/ With songs of sadness and
mirth,/ That they might touch the hearts of men,/ And bring them
back to heaven again."
    Neil Peart's lyrics and spoken words are excellent launch pads
for further study.  I think he'd be the first to encourage anyone to
study the writers, philosophers and musicians who have inspired him.
All artists, it seems to me, would sooner provoke thoughts in their
admirers, than attract a group of people who take everything they do
or say at face value, or don't think about it at all.

SF:  I was re-reading the lyric sheet from Signals today.  Much of
what you wrote about made me think of you as the Mark Twain of rock
lyrics - writing about Huckleberry Finn - or Tom Sawyer-type
NP:  Well, that's certainly something that I relate to strongly.  I
basically come from a standard background like that.  I grew up in
the suburbs, but at the same time, most of my relatives had farms.
So every summer or holiday I'd be out at the farm.
    I always had a very simple outlook on life as a response to
that.  When I first got into the big time, I did, and still do, find
it very hard to relate to.  I love playing drums and I love
traveling.  But I find a great deal of difficulty dealing with
everything that surrounds that.  Fame, for me, is embarassing.  It's
not something I get arrogant about.  I don't feel like people are
bothering me.  But, at the same time, I get embarrassed if strangers
walk up to me on the street who think they know me.  I just get
embarrassed, tense and uncomfortable.

SF:  Why?
NP:  Because it's UNREAL!  But it's something that I can never hope
to tell people or convince them of.  They think they know me.  They
DON'T know me.  They don't know anything about me.  They're
strangers.  It just makes me defensive.
    I like meeting people.  I like people.  One of my favorite
subjects to think and write about is the human race.  So I'm not any
kind of a misanthrope - a person who hates human beings.  I'm not
reclusive to that extent.  But I am a private person and I'm
basically shy with people I don't know,  especially when I can't
meet them on equal terms.  If I can meet someone's friend, or even a
stranger, person to person, I get a kick out of that and I enjoy it.
But I feel differently when somebody comes up to me with an attitude
that I'm something special, or thinks that they know something about
me or that - as I read so often in letters - "You and I have a lot
in common."  How do YOU know?  I struggled a long time to figure out
why it bothered me so much.  When I first joined the band, nobody
knew who I was because I wasn't on the first album.  There'd be kids
hanging around backstage to see Alex and Geddy and not paying any
attention to me.  But still, the SITUATION would make me feel
uncomfortable because it's not a real relationship.  It's not any
kind of a situation you can base a friendship on.  You can't start
a friendship with somebody who thinks you're a plastic figure on
some kind of pedestal.

SF:  You don't think that you've changed from the kid who was on the
NP:  Certainly, in that I've broadened.  But I don't think that
I have changed my essential nature.  I still get excited by and
enjoy the same things.  I understand things a lot better now, I
guess.  Thirty years of experience gives you a greater
understanding.  But I don't think I've become any of the dangerous
things that this situation can make you become.  That's something
that was a conscious effort for all three of us.  We didn't want to
become rock 'n' roll cliches.  We didn't want to become isolated
people who would feel totally alienated from the human race.  That's
what the song "Limelight" is about - the alienation that fans try to
force on us.  People force us to protect ourselves.  They force us
to check into hotels under false names.  They force us to have
security guards to keep people away from us.  That was a real shock
for us and it was a real hard thing for us to give into.
    In the first four or five years that we were on the road, if I
wanted to, I'd walk out of the hotel, walk through the city to the
gig and walk in the back door.  After the show was over, I'd walk
out the back door and walk back to the hotel.  I'd get up in the
morning and go to work.  Then I'd finish work and go back home, just
like a normal person.  I love that.  I love it more because I can't
do it anymore.  I resent the fact that I can't do that now.  It's
all because of an unreality that, I guess, was started in the early
days of Hollywood, where they created these people who were supposed
to be demigods.  Then rock 'n' roll picked up on that as a marketing
tool to make musicians larger than life.  It's something that I try
to fight, but you can only fight it so much, because it's such an
ingrained thing in society that somehow entertainers and
celebrities are different from everybody else.  It's something I
detest.  I really hate it.  It's totally unnatural, it's totally
unreal, it makes everyone uncomfortable and it makes everyone

SF:  Do you think that's what killed Keith Moon?
NP:  He's a bit of a special case.  Jimi Hendrix might be a better
example of someone who pushed and pushed, and alienated so greatly.
For a lot of these people it's a weakness of characters that they
possess.  A lot of people feel uncomfortable about fame.
Fortunately, when we were first starting and opening for different
bands, we saw the ways that people dealt with it.  There are
basically two ways:  You can either try to avoid it or you can play
it as a role.  We saw bands play it as a role.  They'd walk out
after the show and say, "WE LOVE YOU!  YOU'RE WONDERFUL!  YOU THINK
I'M GREAT?  I THINK I'M GREAT TOO."  That's the choice you have for
dealing with it without going crazy.  I try to hide from it,
basically.  I stopped having my picture taken.  I stop being a
public figure because I don't want to have a famous face.  I spent
all my life learning how to play drums and loving it.  Having famous
hands is okay, even though that carries its own set of pressures and
insecurities.  But having a famous face?  That's nothing.  I mean,
what's your face?  I didn't work all this time for my FACE.  I don't
think about writing songs for the sake of my FACE.  And I didn't
spend the last 17 or 18 years playing drums to make my FACE famous.
I resent that whole mentality.
    I remember saying out loud one day, "I hate being famous."  That
was the crux.  YES, you want to be successful in any profession, but
take professional architects or doctors.  They don't have thousands
of people chasing them around all the time and people they don't
know running up to them on the street.  Yes, you want to be
successful for the sake of independence.  There was a point we
reached that was successful enough for the record companies to leave
us alone because we were selling enough records.  And there's
certain balance you reach when all of these things become equal.
And that's wonderful; that's a great period.
    But when it goes beyond that, people expect and demand so much
of you because you're not human anymore.  "What do you mean you
don't feel good today?"  It's so frustrating.  Maybe eight days out
of ten you don't mind meeting people and signing autographs.  But
maybe one night you don't want to deal with strangers, you don't
want to see people, or you feel sick.  You're physically sick and
you're only doing the gig because you're a professional.  You're
only going to the gig to do the job.  Period.  Do you think people
understand that?  No.  If you come out and say, "I don't feel well.
Please leave me alone," they react with, "Oh wow.  Mr. Bigshot.  Mr.
Big Star.  You're too good to deal with us."  I just don't
understand that.  I don't have that alienation from my side.  I
still get a pleasure out of answering letters from people.  It's a
thing I can do on MY time, on MY terms and I can feel good about it.
When I'm home I'll write 15 or 20 postcards usually, and answer the
mail which I mostly get forwarded from Modern Drummer.  It's a
positive thing on both sides, I feel good about it and the person
who receives it is going to feel good about it.
    In England, where life is even more narrow and circumscribed
than here, and those people have nothing to live for but their
favorite group, you can't even open the curtains in your hotel room.
You cannot walk out of the hotel.  I wouldn't dream of going for a
walk in the afternoon because there'll be about 50 people outside
the hotel.  If you open your curtains, there'll be people staring in
at you - shamelessly staring into your life.  And that's the kind of
thing that infuriates me.

SF:  Was there ever a time where you were at a crossroads of
pursuing either your writing or your music?
NP:  I verge on that from time to time right now.  I started as a
lyricist totally by accident.  I'd literally written two songs just
for fun before I joined this band.  When I joined Rush, it was
actually my predecessor who had written most of the lyrics in the
past.  Neither Geddy nor Alex was very interested in doing it.  I
thought, "Well, I've always been interested in words and reading and
so on.  I'll give it a shot."  I did a couple of things that the
guys liked, so it encouraged me to keep going.  Now I really enjoy
it and get a lot of fulfillment out of it.  Over the years, I've
developed a stronger and stronger interest in prose writing.  I've
pushed myself as a lyricist, just as I did as a drummer, to
constantly explore new areas and use different constructions,
rhyming patterns and rhythms.  There's a lot really in common
between being a lyricist and being a drummer.  You're dealing with
mathematical rhythms and phrasing, and you can use the same freedoms
of stretching bar lengths.  All of that comes into play in writing
lyrics.  It's just a thing I still enjoy doing very much.  But I
have found myself a bit constricted by verse.  Lyrics, or any kind
of versified poetry, is very concentrated.  You have to take things,
filter them down and filter them down.  Every word has to be of very
strong value.  The better I've gotten, the fewer words I use,
because those words become of greater value.  I've seen that
reflected in the best of the modern prose writers too - specifically
the American writers of the '20s and the '30s.
    My favorites of that era are, first, Theodore Dreiser and
Sherwood Anderson, and then F. Scott Fitzgerald and William
Faulkner.  Hemingway is one of my very favorites, and I like John
Steinbeck and John Dos Passos.  It's the Golden Age of Literature, I
think, as recognized by most people.  If it's not, it certainly is
by me.  That's what I respond to; I would really like to emulate
that someday as a prose writer.  But I realize that, as long as I'm
in Rush, Rush is the first commitment.  There's no way that I can
split that 100% commitment.
    I've tried to devote a week or two every year purely to being a
writer.  That's when I've done some of the articles for
_Modern_Drummer_, I've also worked on short stories and started on
theoretical novels and so on, just to see what I'd like to do and to
see what I do best.  I've done enough now to know that I would like
to give it a stab.  And if I could complete one good short story,
I'd feel like a real writer.  But to do a novel or a series of short
stories takes a 100% commitment, and I don't want to compromise what
I'm doing as a musician by any means.  But at a certain point as a
musician you reach the law of diminishing returns.  To me,
improvement has always been the measurement of how well  I'm doing.
At the end of every tour I can say, "Okay, I've learned this and
this specific rhythmic idea, and I've improved this much."  Then we
do an album and that's like final exams.  A record defines you at
your absolute best.  With everything that you can do technically,
the studio can represent you at a better-than-human perfection.  So,
for me, on the tour following an album, I'm trying to live up that
THAT set of standards.  And every night I go on stage trying to play
every song as good as it is on the record.  That's just a totally
involved commitment.
    But, with the law of diminishing returns, I've gotten to the
point now where my level of improvement has slowed down.  It was
easy when we first got together.  We weren't that good and I wasn't
that good.  So it was easy for us to improve, and we improved by
leaps and bounds.  Every album was a major step in terms of
progressing as a band and as individual musicians.  We've gotten to
the point now - no false humility or arrogance - where we are pretty
good as musicians, and we've gotten good at writing songs and
interpreting them.  We can take a particular mood or emotion that we
want to express, and we have enough technique, empathy and pathos
now that we can do it.  I find that, at the end of the tour now,
where I used to have five or six new rhythmic areas that I would
explore during that tour, now I might have one or two.  And I might
only learn one or two new things because of that law of diminishing
returns.  So it has become a little less fulfilling in terms of
    I'm still very satisfied when I walk off stage thinking that I
played well.  And I'm still very unhappy and frustrated when I walk
off stage thinking that I haven't played well.  But the progression
isn't as vast now.  Consequently, the gratification isn't as
immediate and it isn't as constantly renewing.  So I think there
will come a time when I'm as good as I can ever be and I'll have to
say, "Okay, I can live on this for a while" - like a lot of
musicians do.  They work themselves up to a certain level and then
they survive on that level for as long as they can.  I don't think I
would work that way because I have another goal.  Writing has
become another goal for me.  I can measure my improvement in
writing as I used to be able to do with drumming five or six years
ago, and that's exciting.  I get that buzz from writing now that
drumming has always provided me with.  So there's a bit of a
conflict now, even though my commitment is really 100% as a
musician.  But in the back of my mind there's a future goal:  I
really want to, one day, write just one good short story.

SF:  What would you like to write about?
NP:  I want to write about being a musician, because it's never been
done.  People outside music, who are good writers, have tried to
write about it.  But because they are writers and not musicians,
they don't really understand the essential mentality of it and the
gears that make it move.  They don't know what it's like to really
be a musician.  So I would like someday to refine my ability and
technique as a writer to be able to express what it's like to be a
musician.  I would like to write about being a young musician
playing at a high school dance, and I would like to write about a
really successful musician in the middle of a tour at this level.
It's a hard thing to be able to find a way to write about that in a
literary sense.  I don't want to write popular "pop" stories as a
musician.  I want to be really great at it.  I want to reconcile my
experience.  When you start, the only thing to write about is what
you know.  Then, as your technique develops, you can try to write
about something you don't know anything about.
    If people could understand what it's like to be a musician - if
they would understand that a musician is someone who gets up in the
morning, goes to work, finishes work and goes home - it would get
rid of that alienation.  There's that elemental thing.  I've done a
lot of other jobs.  I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth,
and I didn't become a professional musician overnight.  When I was
18, I went to England with musical motivations and goals.  But when
you go out into the big world, as any adult knows, you're in for a
lot of disillusionment.  So while I was there I did a lot  of other
things to get bread in my mouth.  When I came back from there, I was
disillusioned basically by the music "business."  I decided that I
would be a semi-pro musician for my own entertainment, would play
the music that I like to play, and wouldn't count on it to make my
living.  I did other jobs and worked at other things, so that I
wouldn't have to compromise what I liked to do as a drummer.
There's a choice there.  If you're a musician you can say, "I don't
care what I have to do.  I'm going to make my living as a musician."
Therefore you'll be happy to play in any kind of band as long as
you're playing your instrument.  I know musicians like that and I
don't knock it.  There are two different kinds of personalities at
work there.  I know people who want to be session musicians because
they don't like to travel.  They like to stay at home, and they like
the familiarity and the security of that.  So consequently, yes,
that's the perfect place for them to be.
    Conversely, there are people who think that it's incumbent upon
them as a matter of pride to make their living as musicians.  To me,
it's a matter of pride to play the music I love.  That's the essence
of it.  So I never felt that it was a compromise to have a day job
in order to pay my bills, and at night, to work in a bar band that
played the music I liked to play or just to put a band together in
my spare time that played music I liked.  I don't care about being a
professional musician necessarily, because there are other things
that I can do, and other things that are satisfying to do.  Music is
something that I would never stop doing.  I'm sure I'll never stop
playing drums.  But at a certain period in my life it will not be
the focus.  It'll be a hobby.  And in some ways it's a nicer thing
to play drums for they JOY of it rather than because you're OBLIGED
    Let's face it:  Out of a tour of 150 or 200 shows, not every one
of those is going to be EXACTLY where I want to be that night.
There have been times where I've been on stage thinking, "I'd rather
be anywhere in the world than here."  And other times when I've been
sitting on stage saying, "I'd rather be here than anywhere else."
There are extremes.  Again, as with any job, some days you like it
and some days you hate it.  That's another thing people don't
understand.  They think it's always a wonderful joy, everything is
looked after for you, you don't have to worry about a single thing,
and it must be wonderful to sit in front of people who love you.  It
just doesn't work that way.  No one's life is perfect.  There is no
    I worry about a lot of things.  I carry the world on my
shoulders sometimes.  It's almost like the joke Woody Allen made in
_Annie_Hall_:  "As long as I know there's somebody in the world
suffering, I can't be happy."  It's true.  There's a compassion in
that.  Sometimes I think about a city like New York.  There's an
exciting, glamorous aspect to New York and there's a tremendously
sordid, horribly brutal, disgustingly inhuman side to it too.  And
when I go by those buildings I think, "Okay.  Here's a building
where 500 people live or work.  What are their lives like?"  They
come here every single morning and fight their way through the war
of rush hour.  They go to that little office and do meaningless
things all day.  Then they fight their way back home again at night
and watch TV, or go to a bar and get drunk.  Then they come back the
next morning.  You have to respond to that.  You have to be
compassionate about that.  You have to say that time, as a moving,
circular thing sometimes runs people down and ruins people's lives.
    One of the new songs that we've done, "Between The Wheels,"
says, "The wheels can take you around/ or the wheels can cut you
down."  There are those two things.  A lot of people AREN'T run down
by time, and they aren't pushed by time.  They're just in the middle.
Everything rolls right by them.

SF:  But isn't that their choice?
NP:  Well, it'd be nice to think so.  If you take a hardline,
libertarian mentality about it - yeah.  You could say that.  But a
lot of times it's circumstances, or whatever intangible thing you
call it.  Fate.  There's a thing I'm fond of quoting that's been
attributed to Ernest Hemingway, although I've never been able to
nail it down, and I've read all his books.  "There are no failures
of talent, only failures of character."  It refutes that statement
that "There are a thousand good musicians in the world and you just
happened to get lucky"  or "There are probably drummers in India who
are better than you, but because they're in India, they'll never get
    With a lot of the great musicians that I know who didn't get
anywhere, there's a reason why.  Either they can't live with
themselves, or no other musician can stand to work with them.  It's
a flaw of character.  It's not the fact that they're not talented.
They're great.  They're emotive, they move people and they have
everything that great musicians need to have.  But nobody can stand
to live with them in the way that a professional musician has to
live with other musicians.  It's a tremendously insular, familial
kind of world.

SF:  If they realized the character flaw, could they change it?
NP:  Do you think that's possible if someone has a little pool of
poison in their mind, that causes them to take it out on someone
else whenever they're feeling a little insecure?

SF:  I think they could do it.  It's more difficult for some than
for others.
NP:  There's always a price to pay, too.  I have a little poison pit
like that:  temper.  When I was a teenager, I recognized that I had
a bad temper, and set out consciously to control it and keep it
back.  Consequently, yes, I do that.  When I get angry I don't yell
at people.  I don't freak out.  But I pay for that inside.  I carry
that with me and I get knots of tension through the course of a tour
- - through the course of any situation where I have to deal with
people on a daily basis and there's constant interaction.  And it
hurts me.  It makes me uncomfortable where I don't need to be
uncomfortable.  It makes me nervous when I don't need to be nervous.
But I probably wouldn't have been together with these two guys for
nine years if I hadn't learn to control that.  You can't just build
the foundation for the kind of relationship that we have, based upon
swearing at each other.  You have to base it on respect and you have
to maintain that respect.  You can never afford to lose control at
somebody.  You might feel remorse for it and say, "I'm sorry I did
that."  It doesn't matter.  It's always there.
    Our band has a very special relationship.  I see a lot of other
bands at our level, and they literally are never together except
when they have to be.  They'll even be recording an album and never
all be in the studio at the same time.  And when they're on the
road, they don't travel together.  They have different dressing
rooms.  I couldn't go on in a relationship like that.  We have an
equal share in everything.  We collaborate on the arrangements.  If
I write something they don't like, they say so.  If I can fix it so
they'll like it - fine.  If I can't, I keep it in my notebook.  You
have to open yourself up.  When I bring a new idea to those guys,
it's a very vulnerable thing.  I'm a bit tense about it because I'm
baring my soul.  "Here's something I worked on and believe in.  What
do you guys think?"  If they like it - great.  But if they have
doubts of any kind, there's a bit of insecurity and vulnerability
involved there.  It's incumbent upon them - or me in the opposite
circumstance - to be very careful about that.  You have to say,
"There's something about this that doesn't ring true."  It's
important to be SPECIFIC too.  They can say, "I like what you're
trying to say here, but a couple of lines are a little bit obscure
or could mislead people.  A cynical person could read something
totally different into it."  I have to respond to that and say,
"Yeah, that's true," and I go back to the drawing board.  There's a
give and take that's really critical to us.  We're very rare in that
    Almost every successful band you can think of has ONE person.
That person either writes all the songs, or if that isn't admitted
and they say that the songs are written by the whole band, there's
one member who really is the original essence of that band.  That
person gives them their character, direction and originality.
That's got to be really hard to live with.  That's where all these
solo albums, musical differences and euphemisms of modern rock 'n'
roll come about - because of that ego conflict of, "I'm not happy to
be JUST a guitar player, drummer or whatever.  I want to be THE main
one."  So the democracy that we've been fortunate enough to have is
a real democracy in that sense.  Majority does rule, but it's always
the majority of interested parties.  It's never one person.  It's
always a congruence of different people's ideas.  Then you can say,
"No, that's not a good idea," throw it away, and no one's feelings
are hurt.  Everyone has agreed upon it.  Everyone has given
something to it, and everybody agrees that it's no good.  That's
fine.  But when one member brings something in and everybody else is
negative about it, that causes tremendous conflicts.  In a lot of
bands today, the problem is that they all don't have equal abilities
or equal input.

SF:  And yet in some bands the whole is greater than the parts.
NP:  The synergistic idea - that's certainly true of us.  The
important thing about that, again, is that we are all equal as
musicians.  We all make the same number of mistakes.  We've all
grown at the same pace.  We've all been very, very concerned about
progressing.  We all want it to get better and better.  Fortunately
we all get better at the same pace.  I've been in other bands where
everybody WANTED to get better, but half the band was getting better
a lot faster than the other half.  That causes a tremendous rift.
We've all had an equal input in the writing and in the day-to-day
business of running the band, and we've all improved at the same
rate.  but we make enough mistakes to be human - enough that we can
be equal and we can all laugh about it.  That's important because I
get embarrassed when I make a mistake.  I hate making mistakes.
It's the worst thing.  When I make one, I can't laugh about it
immediately.  At first it's like, "Oh shit."  And then I have to try
to get myself back into the flow and try not to overconcentrate,
because that makes you overcompensate, and that just makes you make
four of five MORE mistakes.  When we walk on stage, we try to just
set the flow.  The thing should flow out of you in a natural sort of
way.  In the middle of that, if I do something by accident - like a
drumstick breaking at the wrong time which puts me in the wrong
place - that just makes me uneasy and embarrassed.  Then suddenly I
do another stupid thing and then another stupid thing.  Then it's
like, "Get me away from here!"  But in the normal course of things,
each of us has breakdowns.  And it's not hard for any of us to admit
it because it's not always me saying, "Oh, I made a stupid mistake
again.  Sorry guys.  Let me play again tomorrow night and I'll try
to do better."  It's important that none of us feel downgraded by
it.  That equality is very important.

SF:  A lot of y our lyrics are said by many to be inspired by Ayn
NP:  Yeah.  That's sort of a convenient post to latch on.  It's like
the science fiction label.  I'm not as big an Ayn Rand fan as I'm
made out to be.  Our album 2112 happened to be based around, in a
coincidental way, the circumstances of one of her stories, I gave
due credit to that.  I realized that, as our story progressed about
the re-discovery of creative music in the future, her story happened
to be about the rediscovery of electricity in some totalitarian
future.  I didn't set out to adapt that story into a musical format.
But the story of 2112 developed, and THEN I realized that it
paralleled the circumstances of her story.
    So it's an easy thing for people to fix on.  The song "Science
Fiction" happened to be set in the future.  I happened to have done
two or three other pieces that were set in the future.  Out of all
the pieces we've written and out of the ten albums we've made,
perhaps a total of two-and-a-half albums have had to do with the
future or anything that could be called science fiction.  If people
aren't really into your music, but they're forced to write about it,
then they pick up on what they can get easily:  superficially.  It's
the whole labeling aspect that any number of musicians of whatever
school have complained about.

SF:  In Harry Shapiro's book called A-Z of Rock Drummers, he eluded
to many of your lyrics as being "fascist."
NP:  I've never written anything political.  I'm an apolitical
person really.  If I'm interested in anything, I'm interested in the
philosophies that bring about those political schools of thought.  I
don't write about politics.  Sometimes I write about philosophy.
Ayn Rand, for instance, has been categorized as being a fascist
writer.  Consequently, if I admit any influence from her...John Dos
Passos was known as a radical left-wing writer in the '20s.  "The
Camera Eye" was directly influenced by him.  But at the same time,
nobody calls me a Communist.  I'm influenced by these people because
they're great writers, not because of their politics.  I am an
Individualist.  I believe in the greatness of individual people.
That's not anti-populist or anti-human.  When the lights come on
behind us and I look out at the audience and see all those little
circles, each of those circles is a person.  Each person is a story.
They have circumstances surrounding their lives that can never be
repeated.  In the song "Entre Nous," the introduction says, "We are
secrets to each other / Each one's life a novel that no one else has
read."  That's the essence of it, really.  All those people have a
whole novel about their lives - the time they were born, how they
grew up, what they did and what they wanted to do, their
relationships with other people, their romances and marriages - all
those things.  And they ARE individuals.  That's what I respond to.
They're not a mob.  They're not a crowd.  They're not some lower
class of degenerates.  They're individuals.
    I'm always playing for an individual.  I don't play for the
crowd - for some faceless ideal of commerciality of some lowest
common denominator.  It's a person up there every night, who knows
everything I'm supposed to do.  If I don't do it, that person knows
it.  It's like I have a judge on my shoulder, in the old Anglo-Saxon
way, who watches everything I play.  If I play it right, my judge
says "Not bad."  And if I play it wrong, it's "You jerk."  That
individual is the person I play for every night.
    If you play for a crowd, then you pander, basically, to a
mentality or a lowest common denominator.  You basically say, "If I
play something simple but make it look good, then these people are
going to be impressed.  We'll shoot off a bunch of pots and wear
flashy outfits and all the other stuff."  That's fascism, basically.
The rest of the world is a mob and  you're the only individual.  But
if you have the values of any decent musician, you could never play
for "a mob."  Then you don't become a musician.  You become some
kind of entertainment marketing director.  It's not musicianship

SF:  How do you feel about the kids who come to your concerts wasted?
NP:  Well, it's sad.  I don't know.  You can never really understand
the reasons for it.  I can't say that I could sit with those people
and necessarily carry on a conversation.  It's a sad thing.

SF:  You don't feel that your music contributes to that?
NP:  No, I don't think I can take that responsibility.  I have the
responsibility subsequent to that judge on my shoulder.  If I walk
off stage thinking that I haven't pleased that objective standard, I
feel bad.  If I walk off stage feeling that I haven't played very
well of didn't really live up to any set of standards, then I feel
very badly indeed.  On the other hand, regardless of whether the
whole audience is wiped out of their minds, if I go on and know that
I'm really living up to my own standards and playing to the
standards I go on stage with every night, then I feel good about it.
I can't judge by the fact that somebody in front of me is really
drunk, but thinks it is great.  You can't go by that.

SF:  When a person listens to your albums or attends your concerts,
do you have an ideal that you hope they can walk away with?
NP:  Sure.  You have the ideal listener.  The person I play for
every night is THAT person.  We make a record for the person who
buys it, goes home, puts on headphones, sits there with the lyric
sheet, follows along with every word and hears every note that we
do, understands what we're trying to do, and understands whether
we've achieved it or not.  Yes, there is an ideal listener who
probably doesn't really exist.  But he or she is the person that you
aim for.  It ties exactly back to the standard we aim for.  I think
it does have a subliminal effect on people.  The fact that we are so
well regarded as a live band has to reflect that set of stands.
Regardless of whether we're playing in Igor, Indiana, or if we're
playing at Radio City Music Hall, the same amount goes into that
show every night.  I walk on stage with the same mentality and the
same urge to really do well.  It's a fundamental truth about us, and
I think it has to do with the fact that a lot of people consider
Rush first and foremost a LIVE band.  That's wonderful.  The essence
of a musician is a live performer - a person playing an instrument
on stage.
    When you make a record, it represents only one performance.  But
when you try to duplicate that performance, that can be hundreds and
hundreds of times.  Some of the songs that we're playing now are
five, six, seven, eight and nine years old.  You have to bring
something fresh to them every year.  And you have to play that with
true conviction every night.  We've dropped songs that were very
popular and people expected us to play forever.  There comes a day
when we have to say, "We have nothing to say with this song anymore.
We can't play it with conviction."  Otherwise, it becomes like a
joke - like we're taking advantage of people or we're pandering to
them.  We can't do that, so we drop the song.  And we take a lot of
flak for it.  People say, "Well, why didn't they play more OLD
songs?"  It's because we can't do that honestly.  We can't play "Fly
By Night" or "Working Man" anymore with any conviction.
    There are some songs that do survive.  They are challenging
enough or self-representative enough that we say, "Yes, that song
still represents how we feel as musicians, as people, and we're
still proud and happy to play that."  But there are other things
that you grow out of.  There are things on our last album that we've
grown out of already and we'll never play again.  It stands to
reason that there are things we did six or seven years ago that are
still relevant to us and we still get joy out of playing.
Consequently, the audience gets pleasure out of it.  So there's both
truth and beauty there.  And that's the important thing.  You can't
say, "Well, these people have been listening to this song for eight
years and they expect you to play it.  You've GOT to play it."
That's a lot of people's mentality.  We get that pressure,
sometimes, directed right at us.  "Why didn't you play that song?"
Because we can't HONESTLY play it for you anymore.  If we played it,
it would be a lie.  And you don't want us to lie to you.  We don't
lie to our audience on any level.  When we make our records or play
in concert, that same set of standards comes to the stage with us.
We're not there to play a role.

SF:  You've mentioned Keith Moon, Michael Giles and Bill Bruford as
influences.  Have you ever met any of those people?
NP:  No, actually I never met any of my real drumming idols.

SF:  If you had the opportunity to sit down and speak with them what
would you ask them about?  Would you ask about equipment?
NP:  Probably not.  I might discuss it with somebody I work with on
a regular basis, such as the drummer from a band that we tour with.
Drummers automatically seem to have some kind of affinity for each
other, so we might talk about equipment and technical things, given
an already existing personal relationship.  But if I met another
drummer I respected, we'd probably talk about books, movies, sailing,
or any point of interest that we had in common, because at a certain
point, especially when you do become well known, you get tired of
it.  There was a time when I was happy to sit and talk about drums
all day and all night.  But you can only say the same thing so many
times.  When you already have a friendly relationship with someone,
you wouldn't talk about the prosaic everdayness of, "Yes, I use a
Clear Dot Remo head on my snare."  You'd talk about, "Well, how do
you think it would affect my snare sound if I used a different type
of head?"  You'd talk about THEORETICAL things, or you'd talk about
other things.  One of my very best friends is a drummer who's very
classically schooled, and also grew up an Africa, so he has that
whole different input on things.  He can give me a whole different
insight, and we'll talk about that in theory.  We don't talk about
what kind of pedals we use, but we'll say, "Well, I've been trying
THIS lately and it didn't really work for me.  You try it and see
what you think."  Equipment will become a fact of everyday life,
like dishwashing detergent or car wax.
    There was a time, like I said, when I'd always be glad to talk
to a drummer anytime.  But you can only hear so many times, "Hi, I'm
a drummer like you."  And from the way people say it, you're
supposed to be impressed by that and you're supposed to welcome them
into your life - invite them home for supper and all that - just
because they're drummers.

SF:  I think statistics have shown that there are three million
NP:  There you go.  I'm supposed to have a brotherly affinity with
three million people.  And that ties in perfectly with the fact that
I'm also supposed to have some kind of affinity with the two million
people who buy our records.
    A lot of people think that the equipment is an integral part of
the style, when really the equipment is only an expression.  It's
not an influence.  It doesn't affect the way I play.  It's an
expression of the way I play.  I choose my drums and equipment
because of a vision I have inside - because of a goal I'm trying to
achieve in expression.  It's not what kind of hammers and nails you
use; it's the vision you have of the perfect thing you want to build
WITH those tools.  I can't imagine that carpenters spend much time
talking about different hammers and nails, or that doctors talk
about scalpels, or auto mechanics talk about different wrenches.
That's got to be pretty limited.  I have to think that, when auto
mechanics get together, they're more interested in the completed
    That's an essential analogy that really holds water.  If I met
one of those drummers, we might talk about reggae music.  I'm not
interested in becoming a reggae drummer by any means, but it happens
to be a rhythmic area that I respond to strongly.  If I met another
drummer who said, "I love Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and Third World,"
then we'd have something to talk about right there.  We wouldn't
talk about what kind of snare stand is the strongest.
    I've just come to understand that recently because equipment was
always very interesting.  I've always had an affinity for drums as a
physical thing - the combination of circles and lines; the way drums
look; the way they're made.  There is something about that that's
good.  I've always been really interested in hardware.  I try to
always investigate new things, and I try to be interested in new

SF:  What was your role in the creation of Tama ARTSTAR drums?
NP:  Basically, when we were mixing our live album, we had a lot of
spare time.  I don't like just sitting around.  They had an old set
of Hayman drums sitting around the studio.  I thought, "I'm going to
restore those."  I took them all to pieces, cleaned all the crud off
and put them back together, got new heads for them and tuned them.
Once I had restored them, we recorded a couple of demos and they jus
sounded so great.  They had so much pure tonality.  I put the heads
on them that I normally use, and I tuned them the way I normally
tune.  The only difference was that the shells were very thing.  I
equated that with violins or guitars.  It's the thinness and
consistency of the wood that gives the character of the sound, its
resonance and the true quality of a classical instrument.
    I started thinking about why drums deep getting thicker.  why
does it give you status to say, "I have 12-ply drums"?  That was
just people barking up a tree.  It was saying that more is better -
that thicker is better.  That's wrong.  When you have a resonant
acoustical instrument, the wood has to resonate.  Therefore, the
thicker and more dense it is, the less it's going to resonate.  So I
wanted to get a thinner-shelled drum.  I knew Tama didn't make one,
so I talked to Neil Graham at The Percussion Center.  He's kind of
my equipment mentor as far as that goes.  I talked to him about my
theory that thin drums will sound better.  We talked about it a bit
and I thought, "Well, I could go to Gretsch or the other traditional
companies that still make thinner shells."  Neil said, "Well, I'll
talk to Tama and see what they'll do."  They were cooperative enough
to make me a four-ply version of their normal six-ply set, and asked
me to keep quiet about it.  They did have the quality I was looking
for.  They were more resonant and their voice was more throaty
somehow.  "Voice" is the operative word.  They had more of a voice;
they were more expressive.
    I expressed my gratitude to Neil Graham, talked to Ken Hoshino
at Tama and said, "These are great - just what I was looking for.
You really should consider making them for jazz players.  The jazz
purists have stuck with Gretsch and the old-style thinner shells for
that reason.  They want that.  They don't want big, thick, heavy,
dead-sounding drums."  We talked back and forth a bit, and then I
heard that they were going to market them as a series of special
shells.  Ken Hoshino brought me the basic layout of that ad with the
picture.  The copy hadn't been written.  He asked, "What do you
think we should put there?"  I said, "I've run into problems with
that with other companies.  I've given them a quote to work from,
and they misquote it or twist it around to make it a little more
favorable.  This time I'll write it myself."  I thought I'd try
writing an advertisement about WHY I wanted this kind of drum, why I
think they're great and how it all came about.  They were glad to
have me do it, I guess.
    One of the statements I made in that ad copy was about listening
to old big band drummers and the old records, where they were
basically recorded with only one microphone.  That microphone was
also picking up the whole rhythm section and probably half of the
horns.  There is a character to those drums.  You can hear when they
hit it hard, as opposed to when they hit it quietly.  You can hear
the energy in there.  With modern close miking and noise gating, you
lose all that.  The difference between me hitting my snare drum
quietly and whacking it to death in the studio gets minimized.  The
dynamics get lost and it's frustrating.  I hear my drums a certain
way.  It's the sound I'm trying to get on records.  It never seems
to be captured by microphones regardless of different techniques
we've tried.
    On Moving Pictures, I had a PZM microphone taped to my chest to
try to capture MY perspective of the drumset.  Yes, it added to it
and it helped to apply that special dynamic that I hear.  But still,
I've never heard my drums recorded the way I hear them.

SF:  Did you change the miking techniques in the studio when you
used the Artstar drums?
NP:  No.  In the studio we try to cover all angles.  We use close
miking, but usually there are also several different types of
ambient miking.  When it comes down to the mixing stage, we'll try
different combinations of the close miking and a bit of the
different ambiences from all of those other mic's.

SF:  Have you ever tried no close miking - just room mic's?
NP:  We've done that for special effects.  On one of our earlier
albums, there was a part that was just drums.  We used one
microphone about 30 feet away from the drumset.  It sounded great,
but we couldn't blend it with other instruments.  It's SO ambient
and so big sounding that there was no room for anything else.  In
that case, it was okay because it was just drums; the other
instruments were INCIDENTAL to the drums.  But there's just no way,
when you create that big of a sound, that you can squeeze other
things in there as well and still maintain the integrity of that
    It's generally acknowledged that drums are the hardest thing in
the world to record.  That's almost a cliche by this point, but
it's true.  It's so hard to get drums to sound like they really

SF:  Are there any drummers you've heard on record where you've
thought, "I wish my drums could sound like that?"
NP:  No, I think that we have achieved as good as what I've ever
heard from anybody else.  But that doesn't mean that it's the
ultimate.  On Moving Pictures or Signals, at its best, the drum
sound is as good as I've ever heard anywhere, given the character.
If you have a dinky little guitar and keyboards and stuff, and
nothing to interfere with the drum sound, then yeah, the drums sound
more present.  But then it's just a matter of what else you're
including them with.  See, my drums always sound wonderful on basic
tracks.  When they're first recorded and there's just bass there and
a guide guitar, the drums sound incredible.  But as soon as you start
putting in a big guitar sound, a big keyboard sound, a big vocal
sound and try to make everything work together, which obviously is
the most important thing...See, the crucial, number one point is not
to make the DRUMS sound good.  It's to make EVERYTHING sound good.
When it comes to that point, the sound gets lost.

SF:  Why?
NP:  Because there are so many things fighting for the same space.
In modern music, a big guitar sound covers a broad frequency range,
from the high end to the very bottom.  Consequently, a good guitar
sound will mask all of that from the drum sound.  It's a bit of a
struggle, really.  When you hear a band that has a small guitar
sound or a narrow keyboard was over the top of the drums, then yes,
the drums can speak through, perhaps closer to their true

SF:  Are you still using your Slingerland wood snare with the
Artstar drums?
NP:  Yeah.  It's ironic, because it's not even the
top-of-the-line-Slingerland.  It's their second one down.  I don't
know what it's called.  I bought it secondhand for $60.00.  It was
the first wooden snare I ever owned.  I'd always used metal ones
before that and had never been totally satisfied.  Then we picked up
this wooden snare and it was perfect.  It was THE ONE.  Then I
thought, "Well, if this isn't even the top-of-the-line wooden one, I
must be able to get something better."  So I got the top-of-the-line
wooden Slingerland, and I've tried several of the wooden Tama ones.
I even have the twin to that $60.00 snare behind me for the other
kit.  Everything's identical, but it just doesn't sound the same.
    I think somebody who had this snare before me did a modification
on the bearing edge of the snare side.  Someone filed the bearing
edge where the snares go across.  It's murder on the snare heads
because it makes the tension very uneven, but the snare never
chokes.  I can play it however delicately or however hard, and it
will never choke.

SF:  Have you ever had Tama try to duplicate that drum?
NP:  No.  Basically I've just tried what Tama makes.  They either
sound good loud or they sound good soft.  None of them have the
versatility that my snare has.  I haven't pursued it that much
because my snare makes me happy as it is.  I'm not looking for
something better, really.

SF:  Is the inside of the snare Vibrafibed?
NP:  No.  I've never fooled around with it.  I was even afraid to
get it painted.  For a long time it was copper colored.  When I had
the black drums or even when I had the rosewood Tamas, it didn't
matter so much.  It looked okay.  When I got the red drums, the
copper started to look a bit tacky, but I was even afraid to get it
painted because disassembling it, painting it, and putting it back
together might have affected it.
    I think Slingerland probably still makes that snare.  I still
have one of their top wooden snares too.  It's good.  I have a
Gretsch wooden snare, and it's also a good wooden snare.
    Whenever I've had a set of wooden drums, of course, because
they're wood, no two drums are exactly the same.  Drums number one
and number two would be great, but number three would be a little
bit deader.  With the Vibrafibing, I don't lose the tonality or
expressiveness of wooden drums, but it evens out these
inconsistencies.  Consequently, my four closed tom-toms all have the
same timbre to them.  They have the same effect when I hit them.
That's the big advantage.  It doesn't really change the sound so
much as it makes all the drums sound like they belong in the same
    This summer, I introduced an alternate drumset into my regular
drumset.  I'm using Simmons drums, but I didn't want to incorporate
them into my regular drums.  I didn't want to get rid of my
traditional closed tom-toms because they ARE a voice.  Those speak
in a way that the Simmons do not.  While the Simmons have a certain
power and a certain dynamic quality that I like, I wasn't willing to
sacrifice my acoustic drums.  So I hit on the idea of having two
complete drumsets.  I can turn around and I have a little 18" bass
drum back there, another snare drum, another ride cymbal and the
Simmons tom-toms.  It doesn't interfere with the basic relationship
I have with my acoustic drums, but it gives me a new avenue of
expression.  And I've come to realize the limitations of the Simmons
as far as expression is concerned.  There are certain things they
CAN do and certain things they CAN'T.  So when I'm playing with that
little drumset, I have to play, necessarily, in a different sort of
way.  I can't play some of the kinds of patterns that I would
normally play because they don't work.  Those drums will not speak
in the same way that I can make a 9 X 13 double-headed tom-tom
speak.  With the Simmons I can get a roar.  I can get a whisper AND
a roar out of a 9 X 13 tom-tom.

SF:  The Simmons won't respond to touch?
NP:  They have a sensitivity control.  You can turn it down or up.
If you hit it light, it will make THE sound; if you hit it hard, it
will make THE sound.  But's it's still THAT sound.  With a regular
tom-tom, the harder I hit it, the more that head is going to
stretch, and it's going to detune itself.  They have that in the
Simmons.  They call it "bend" in there, it's in there.  With the
regular tom-tom, there are subtle gradations of physical input
depending on how much I put that stick into the head.  I can see
the marks on my drumheads sometimes where literally four or five
inches of that drumstick are making contact with that head.  I'm
hitting it so hard and stretching that head so much that the stick
LITERALLY goes right into it.  But that was the sound I was after
and it's the sound that the Simmons drums try to imitate.  It's that
THROATY quality of tuning the drum high and then hitting it hard so
that the head stretches and detunes.  You, in effect, get several
notes at once.  You get the initial high impact and then it descends.
That's the essence of the Simmons sound.  You can tune that "bend"
in and you can tune sensitivity in, but you can't have it all at
once.  On an acoustic drum you have all of that there.  I can play a
triplet on an acoustic drum and have three different sounds by
altering the attack.  If you play a triplet on a Simmons, the three
notes will all sound identical.
    But for me it's a positive thing.  I approach the Simmons
knowing that.  I can tune them the way I would like them to sound
and I can play them with that limitation in mind.  So I play a
different way, and that's healthy too.  I like the idea of having
two completely different drumsets, because the reverse drumset is a
basic small bass drum and snare drum.  I always used 18" bass drums
until I joined this band.  I've always loved them and the
cannon-like punch that they have.  An 18" bass drum is a very, very
expressive instrument.  I've found that, for the greatest range of
expression, for me, a 24" bass drum has more voices.  It can go
literally, again, from a whisper to a roar, and everything in
between.  And 18" bass drum has one neat sound that I like - a sort
of nice, real strong gut punch.
    So when I turn around I have a single bass dru, hi-hat, snare,
four Simmons tom-toms and a few cymbals.  It's a very simple, basic
drumset.  What people sometimes fail to realize about a large
drumset like I use is that drumming ALWAYS revolves around bass
drum, snare drum and hi-hat.  And your fills ALWAYS revolve around
two tom-toms and your snare.  For anything else, you take those
patterns and transfer them to some little drums, or translate them
to some different voices.  It gives you something different out of
the same old patterns, or the same rudiments of set drumming.
That's basically the reason why I expanded my kit, especially being
in a three-piece band.  The more voices I have, the better.  By the
same token, I always understood the fact that all my drumming does
revolve around a very small set of drums.  Being able to have that
little, concise set of drums behind me has proved invaluable, even
in rehearsals.  If we're going over a song again and again and
again, instead of getting tired of it and just cranking it out, I
can turn around and play the other set.  It changes the whole thing
and makes it fresh again.  It's been a revitalizing thing for me.
It's something that I think I will pursue further.

SF:  What have you been using headphones on stage for?
NP:  The headphones are basically for when we used programmed
sequencers for the synthesizers that are driven by arpeggiators.
They're basically triggered by a drum machine with a click-track
pulse.  Then the arpeggiator picks that up.  The song on Signals
called "The Weapon" is based around an arpeggiator.  Ironically,
usually drummers are used to a band that follows them.  If I tend to
feel that something should be pulled back a bit or anticipated a
bit, the band follows me.  When you use something that's as
mathematical as a sequencer or an arpeggiator, there's no way those
machines are going to follow you.  You have to follow them.  I can
use the headphones to give me that trigger with a sequencer in
"Vital Signs" and with an arpeggiator in "The Weapon."  I have to
hear that and follow it, basically.  I have to swallow my pride and
be a little subservient to the machine.
    Playing with headphones is not the same as playing without them.
I have to use my imagination.  The essence of having an imagination
is that sometimes I've recorded a song all by myself, such as "YYZ"
from our Moving Pictures album.  when we did the basic track, it
was just me.  I went in there and played the drum track.  The other
guys' part were very difficult.  We figured it would make more sense
if I recorded my track and then gave them a chance to work on their
parts without the pressure of all of us having to do it at the same
time.  I had to have enough imagination to hear the song in my head
and respond to all those dynamics and nuances.
    With headphones on, drums do not sound like drums.  Period.
That's certainly a fact.  But the essence of it is that I know what
my drums sound like, and I know that if I play a certain pattern it
has such and such an effect on people - a certain excitement, drama
or whatever.  And when I have the headphones on, yes, I have to use
my imagination.  It is, in a sense, a limitation, that in order to
be able to follow those things effectively, I have to be able to
hear them well.  And the most sensible way to do that is through
headphones.  I just decided that it's not going to make me play
worse.  It's just going to make me have to work harder, because when
I have those headphones on, I'm going to have to think about what my
playing REALLY sounds like.  I can't be lazy and just hear it.  I
have to think about it and imagine it.  It is a hard thing.  But at
the same time, it became a whole series of progressions that we had
to make, so as not to add another musician.

SF:  I was going to ask if you'd ever considered adding more
NP:  Certainly we have, as a band that wants to keep improving and
changing our sound.  But the interpersonal chemistry among us
happens to be such that we didn't want to tamper with that.  We
didn't want to take a chance on adding another person because we get
along well.  We have a good balance of responsibilities.  Also, we
basically like being a trio.  I think that our audience likes us
being a trio and they're proud of - as we are proud of - how much
music we can create and how different we can sound being just three
guys.  That's something that we have to live   with.  We're going to
have to make certain allowances for that; we're going to have to use
sequencers and all kinds of interphased keyboards.  We're going to
have to have Alex and Geddy rooted to certain things at certain
times for them to be able to cover all those bases.  And anything I
can do to help that along is just icing.  It's the least I can do.
    An example is when I added tuned-percussion to my drumset.  I'm
by no means a classical percussionist.  I can't say that I have any
kind of understanding of tuned percussion.  But I can learn a part
and play it.  It adds something to the overall texture of the band.
It's been the same thing in the last few years with electronics.  It
would be easy for me to say, "Oh well, I don't work with headphones
on."  That contradicts the whole purpose of what we are as a band.
I can't take that kind of hard line.  I've said before, too, that I
don't like the idea of electronics as in electronic drums.  I was a
bit of a purist, in a sense, saying that I like acoustic drums.  But
I found a way to incorporate that without compromising acoustic
drums.  I didn't have to throw them away or replace them.  It's a
    It's like the old extreme of musicians wanting to be technical
or emotional - saying that ONLY feel is important or ONLY technique
is important.  Well, hell, they're BOTH important.  Not only that,
but they're both good.  I want to be technical, but I also want to
be really instinctive and emotional.  I want to play things that are
exciting and I also want to play things that are difficult.  I get a
buzz and a satisfaction out of both of those.
    Acoustic drums are my first love.  My first relationship with
things is to hit them with a stick.  That still remains true.  And
everything that I've said about electronics in the past is still
true.  They DON'T replace acoustic drums.  They can never hope to do
so any more than an electric piano will replace an acoustic piano.
Any person with a halfway open mind realizes that fact.  But at the
same time, it doesn't mean that it has to be one or the other.
That's a mistake I fell into for a while, figuring that you had to
be either going towards electronics or be a purist and stay with
acoustics.  Now I've found a way to have both, where I can move
forward into electronics, but not have to sacrifice anything that I
think is important.
    That's an essential truth that people tend to wander to extremes
about.  A lot of people have written to me saying, "It's great that
you don't want to have electronics.  I'm the same way."  And I'm
still true to that just as I'm still true to the other thing about
how headphones are a limitation.  They do change your perception of
what you play.  It's the same thing that you have to do in the
studio.  Anybody who's been in the studio knows that you have to
wear headphones.  And that's difficult.  I have to imagine a lot in
the studio because I don't hear my cymbals right.  I don't hear my
snare drum right.  I don't hear the interkit dynamics among the
snare, bass drum, tom-toms, and cymbals.  Acoustically, all those
things have an interrelation that's really subtle.  I can move from
my snare to a certain tom-tom, and I'll know that they have a
certain relation to each other.  I know what I can do.  But, for
instance, I know that I CAN'T go from my snare to my 8 X 12 tom and
come back again.  I know that acoustically it doesn't work.  But I
know that I can go to my 9 X 13 tom and come back to my snare, and
that works.  It's just a matter of the subtle inter-dynamics of the
way I tune things and the characteristics of a particular drum of
any given size.  It has a certain voice about it and a certain
characteristic to it.  I've come to know all those things from a
long familiarity - night after night of hearing what they can and
will do.
    The drum solo is my fundamental source of research and
development as far as which voices will work together.  None of that
has changed.  I still hold to all those principles, but at the same
time, I've found a way to use headphones as a tool as I've been able
to use electronic drums as a tool - without negating anything else.

SF:  Gary Chester wanted me to ask you if you play flat-footed on
your bass drum pedals or with heels up?
NP:  I play with heels up all the time.  I have a lot of equipment
and I like it all under me.  I don't like things too far away.
Consequently, my bass drum are very close to me.  Even drummers,
who are smaller in stature than I am find it very uncomfortable to
have things closed in that much.  But I like to be able to have as
much leverage as I need on any given drum.  I like to be able to put
my weight in the right place so that I can put whatever degree of
force I want on either my left or right side, regardless.  I want
all my leverage there and it's important to have everything in
close.  My bass drum pedal is practically right under my knee.  I've
noticed that drummers who sit further back with their legs more
extended tend to play flat-footed.
    I use my ankle a lot.  It's not a question of playing from the
thigh, although a lot of my pivoting comes from the hip.  But
anything fast has to come from my ankle.  The same with my wrists.
I play a lot with my arms, but when I comes to playing anything
subtle or really quick, my wrists, my fingers or some smaller
muscles definitely have to do that.  Long muscles can only take care
of so much.  So basically I play with my toes, but I use my ankles.
Whereas with a lot of drummers who play tiptoe, a lot of their
pivoting comes from the hip.  I use my ankle for pivoting as well.
    My two bass drums are tuned the same.  But my legs aren't the
same because of the long muscles which are the easiest to get in
shape and, for me, the first to go out of shape.  Towards the end of
a tour, I start to lose the tone of my long leg muscles.  My arms
and my wrists just continue to get better and it becomes easier for
me to play throughout a tour.  The long muscles are the easiest to
get back into shape when I start, but there's something very touchy
about them.  For instance, when we used to open shows I had a lot of
problems with my foot because we'd only be playing 40 minutes a
night.  There'd be no warm up or soundcheck.  The extent of my
playing every day was only 40 minutes, which wasn't enough for those
muscles.  I used to have a lot of problems with my feet and my leg
muscles stiffening up and developing a kind of paralysis and a
feeling that they were working against me.  I've spoken to other
drummers in the same circumstance who would ask me, "Are you
familiar with this problem?"  Or I'd ask them if they'd noticed it
as a phenomenon.  It's definitely true that if you're not playing
enough every day, those muscles suffer the most.  That's the reason
why my two bass drums tend to sound different.  My right leg gets a
lot more exercise than left one does.
    Whether or not someone else should play either on the toes or
flat-footed depends on the individual.  I can't believe that some
people have two feet of distance between them and their snare drum,
and then another foot over to their bass drum.  It's so far away.  I
suppose you can get just as much power from your bass drum if it's
that distance from you.  The same with your snare drum.  You'd
probably have to use your arms a lot more.  But it probably does
average out that you're getting as much impact into it.  It's got to
be a very individual thing.  I feel better if things are in close to
me.  I have a lot of drums and cymbals and I want them where they're
usable.  A good part of my drumkit is underneath me.  I have pretty
long arms so a lot of it can fall within the scope of being right
under my center of gravity.  It's important for me to feel like I'm
on top of the kit.  Some people play behind their drums in a
physical sense.  Their kit is in front of them.  I know lots of very
good drummers who play that way.  I don't think there's a
qualitative difference there.  It's just probably a matter of what
you're comfortable with or used to.

SF:  Your song "Losing It" seemed to be about Ernest Hemingway.
NP:  Good.  Yeah.  Not a lot of people have caught that.

SF:  I also wonder if that is a fear you have for yourself sometime
in the future.
NP:  Of course.  But fortunately for me, as we covered before, I
have another set of goals.  When I start to feel as though I'm not
improving any more as a drummer - not even getting worse, just not
improving - I have another thing that I can go to work at and
improve on.  The two avenues that were explored in the song were,
with the dancer, the physical deterioration, and with the writer,
physical deterioration.  Actually, my original plan for that song
was to carry it a little further into the are of musicians.  I
wanted to cover the idea of someone like Bob Marley, for instance,
who loses it through a disease - an internal thing that you have no
control over.  Or in the case of Keith Moon, in a self-destructive
sense, where someone loses it, but they don't really lose it.  They
throw it away.  It's a bit too much to accomplish all in one song,
but the concept I'd envisioned was all the different ways there are
to lose something special.  The essence was whether it was worth
losing something great or whether it was worse never to have known it.
    There's a pathos I feel with people who have an unrealized dream
of any kind.  When you talk to an older person who says, "Well, I
always wanted to be such and such, but I never really gave it a
shot," that's sad.  But to me it's not nearly as bad as someone who
was great at something and has to watch it fade.

SF:  Did Hemingway, towards the end of his life, feel like he
couldn't write anymore?
NP:  It was really a sad case with him.  He was trying to respond to
an invitation from President Kennedy, I think, just before he died.
He slaved for days just trying to write a little paragraph.  The
physical part of his deterioration was tragic too, because he was a
very vital person.  I can relate to that strongly, because I've also
lived life in a very physical sense.  I love physical expressions of
things.  And when you're depended on your brain as an instrument,
and all of a sudden it doesn't respond to you...I read a biography
of John Steinbeck recently.  It was the same thing. He realized that
he had lost it.  He knew that he couldn't do it anymore and it was a
source of tremendous sadness to him and frustration.  And he never
stopped trying, either.  That's even more sad, somehow - to see
somebody trying to do something that they know they can't do.

SF:  Was the dancer in "Losing It" about anyone in particular?
NP:  Not specifically.  It drew a bit from that film with Shirley
MacLaine called The Turning Point.  It was about two ballet dancers.
One of them had continued on and was getting to be a bit of a
has-been.  The other one had given it up to get married and raise a
family.  I was a bit inspired from that, but it was also about the
physical side of doing things as an athlete.  There's a sadness to
    Geddy's a great baseball fan.  He's told me about batters, for
instance, who have been beaned a couple of times, and all of a
sudden, lose their nerve.  You have to respond to that kind of
tragedy compassionately.  It's a horrible thing.  You spend all your
life learning how to do a thing and then because of something beyond
your control, all of a sudden you can't do it anymore.  It's very
sad.  There's an essential dynamic to life that you have a prime,
and you have something leading up to that prime.  Unfortunately, you
also have to have something leading down from it.

SF:  How do you feel about MTV and the effect it has on kids?
NP:  It's really neat that MTV has become another avenue of
exposure for some bands.  It's been proven by a few different bands
who wouldn't have gotten exposure on the radio, but their videos
were interesting.  MTV has the same flaws that radio has in terms of
being too programmed and too easy to try and find a formula for.
Music is enough all by itself.  Anyone who loves music knows that
already.  When you listen to something, you see pictures and it
puts images in your mind, regardless of whether it's abstract
designs or good images that good music and lyrics make you see.
They make you visualize a whole cinematic thing.  We have written in
the past from a cinematic point of view.  We have a theme in the
lyrics, or sometimes even before the lyrics, we have something that
we want to create.  We work at it cinematically in that we create a
whole background and then we put the center focus of action, or the
character, in the middle of it.  We work at it just like a movie.
    There's no way that music means anything else.  It doesn't
really need a lyric sheet and it certainly doesn't need a video to
express it.  It's two media mixing together, just like you could put
poetry into a play, or you could put a novel into a song.  But it
doesn't take away from either of those.  Nothing's going to take the
place of a good book.  Nothing's going to take the place of a good
record.  Nothing's going to take the place of a good movie.  They
are each separate unto themselves.  I don't have a strong relation
to video or film as a medium.  I don't get any satisfaction out of
making a video.  I get a lot more satisfaction out of writing and
recording, or playing a concert.
    Another thing I find frustrating as a musician and a music fan
is that I really like to see people playing their instruments.  If
you can't get to see them live, but you can see them in the OLD
context of seeing a band on TV - seeing a band come on and play
their song, or PRETEND to play their song at least - they have their
instruments there and you can see how they look when they play.  It
gives you a whole new insight into the nature of that band.  In a
lot of modern videos, it becomes too obvious just to take a picture
of the bands playing their songs.
    When we've done interpretative videos where we take something
BEYOND just us playing the song, we still maintain a balance of us
playing the song.  We'll film ourselves playing the song and then we
might add some other images.  The ones we did for Signals were
"Countdown" and "Subdivisions."  For "Countdown" the choices were
obvious.  We were there.  We had friends at NASA and had access to
these NASA films.  Of course we're going to use those.
"Subdivision" reflects each of our upbringings.  All of us were
brought up in the suburbs.  It reflects each of us as being a misfit
and not quite fitting into the fabric of a high school society.  And
we wanted to express that.  But at the same time, both of those
show us playing the song.  We'll cut away to something like in
"Subdivisions" where we had a kid representing the misfit, and we
showed his life, his parents and his school.  That was the thrust of
writing that song.  That's important.  But it's not SO important
that it should override our playing the song.  It sometimes seems
too facile to break things down to basics, but for me, you have to.
You have to come down to the basic fact of, "What is it to be a
musician?"  It is to play your instrument.  Therefore, when you're
playing it on a stage in front of people, that is the essential
reality of being a musician.
    Humphrey Bogart said that the only thing he owed the public was
a good performance.  You can add all kinds of caveats and possible
exceptions to that - which we do respond to - but fundamentally, we
are there to make the best records we can make and to play the best
concerts we can play.  We don't always do that.  But if we CAN do
that, or at least even TRY to do that, that's our responsibility.


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