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Subject: 04/29/91 - The National Midnight Star #227 ** Special Edition **

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          The National Midnight Star, Number 227

                  Monday, 29 April 1991
Today's Topics:
                   Neil Peart Interview

Thanks to  Andrew Brooks  for this:

                    Neil Peart Interview
                        Metal Hammer
                      25th April 1988
                       Volume 3 No 8

How do you think people perceive you as a person and as a musician?

I regard that question as irrelevant to my position as a musician.
Maybe you should ask me if I care?

OK.  How do you think people look upon Rush as a band?

It's so difficult to generalise about something like that.  Even if you
accept that there are about a million people who would be considered
fans of the band, they probably have a variety of reasons for liking us
and it's beyond my presumption to question their positive attitude
towards us.  As for the rest of the world and the reasons they don't
like us... again it's an impossibility to state what these are.

You are a band who've changed considerably over the years, yet have
retained the faith of most of your original audience.  Does that
surprise you?

The fact that we've developed and changed so much yet held onto our
audience isn't that remarkable if you consider that what we've done has
been an honest response to situations around us.  We started out as fans
of the late Sixties style of music, which was dominated by the likes of
Jimi Hendrix and Cream -- MUSICIANS.  I was personally inspired by the
Who, they were the first band to make me wanna play drums and write
songs.  At that time it was really the music that mattered and the idea
of formulae for making music, record companies running things, or radio
stations `formatting' was totally alien.  Such things were never
considered back then.  Sure, you realised that if you were in a band
that didn't play Top 40 music then you might not get so many gigs... but
then you were going to school at that point anyway!  You just played the
music you liked and let it go at that.

That's where our musical values were forged, but because we stayed
interested in music and our music stayed open as a band we were able to
respond in the late Seventies as fans when the idea of minimalism came
to the fore.  Thus, when the best emerged from the dross, the likes of
Talking Heads and the Police, we were able to take its influence into
our format.  And the same occurred again, when the second generation of
this movement such as U2 and Simple Minds came along -- as genuine
listeners we _had_ to be influenced by them.  In many ways we are a big
musical sponge, reacting to the times in a genuinely interested
fashion.  We are not bandwagon jumpers like so many others.  Even in
the Sixties there were loads of acts who would happily jump from
bandwagon to bandwagon; the Beatles certainly did this from time to
time.  They'd be at a loss, and then look around at what was happening;
I reckon they'd say something like, "Hey, that sound's good, let's get
into that!"

Where do your lyrical influences emanate from?

My influences are very nebulous.  They come from growing up, it's kinda
like my musical stylistic evolution.  I started out, of course, with a
lot of fantasy and because I was a post-adolescent this reflected my
interest and sensibilities at the time. Everything was dressed up in a
lot of ornate imagery.  From there I moved onto allegory and symbolism,
dressing up big themes in symbolic characters, none of which I have any
use for these days.  I believe that I've grown out of such a style both
as a person and a writer.

I grew from this into modern fiction, dealing more with reality and
using a clear, concise language.  Not a lot of this has anything to do
with verse, it's more prose form, especially North American writers. 
These days I read a lot less fiction.  I'm much more into non-fiction,
particularly history and sociology, geography and the world around me. 
If I had to define that part of fiction which has had the most profound
influence on me, though, it would definitely be the 1920's and 1930's
American writers, people such as William Faulkener, Ernest Hemingway
and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Their whole ethic was dealing with reality
and the world in which they found themselves rather than gothic
romances, sci-fi or fantasy.  At the same time, they had a very
romantic sensibility and tackled the world with a sense of love.  Even
when there was cynicism involved, the darkness was still presented in a
stylistically beautiful manner.  It became a sort of romantic realism
to me.

Where did you draw your lyrical themes for the lates Rush LP (`Hold
Your Fire') from?

Well, firstly let me say that I care about anything I go to the trouble
of writing about.  I get a lot of response about our most recent album
from people who regard the lyrics as highly personal, which is a
compliment but totally untrue in many respects.  I deal on the record
with a lot of emotions and intimate things and a lot of relationship
ideas, but they're all taken from other people.  If I chose to write
them from the perspective of the `first person singular' then it was
because that was the most effective way of transmitting my thoughts.

OK, in general terms where do you find the inspiration for songs?

My subject matter is drawn from other people, although it's nice to
find a personal parallel if something upsets me.  Anger is always a big
motivation, and outrage gets me all fired up.  But one thing I
particularly hate is confessional lyrics, the one where people reach
down inside their tormented souls and tell me how much they hurt --
that's really selfish and petty!  If you have all that pain, by all
means express it but be a little self absorbed about it and look around
you at other people, because everyone has pain and frustration and you
can find parallels if you look for them.  For example, the song
`Distant Early Warning' (from the `Power Windows' LP) contains the line
`The world weighs on my shoulders,' which is an expression of worldly
compassion that any sensitive person feels occasionally.  You feel so
rotten, because the world is such a mess, so many people are starving
and unhappy.  It's an extreme that represents a feeling most people
have from time to time.  Yet I certainly wasn't going to put it in
terms like `Oh, I'm so depressed.'  I wanted to get across the point of
world-weariness and sadness rather than self-pity.

This theme is a recurring one of mine, and even on `Hold...' there's
`Turn The Page,' which expresses the same attitude: how sensitive can
you afford to be?  If you're watching the news or reading a paper, how
much can you afford to feel?  How much can you get involved in the
world without wanting to kill yourself immediately?

Another constantly recurring theme is trying to reconcile idealism with
clear-sighted reality.  I remain an idealistic person to this day, much
to my pain sometimes.  I grew up that way to the point where all life
was then suddenly disillusioned to me.  I'd imagined it as being so
much nicer than it really is, and the hardness, the crassness, and the
inhumanity of it all really homed in on me.  It was tremendously
painful, and really hard for me to face.  Thus, the dividing line
between youthful illusions and their subsequent loss with age is an
attractive one to me.  There are prices and rewards for that -- you
exchange your illusions and innocence for experience and the way things
really are.  If you weather it emotionally, that's a fair exchange.  I
went through this change in a very extreme manner and a lot of the
current album does face up to this dilemma.

Personally, I remain essentially an idealist and haven't been totally
disillusioned.  As soon as I started to realise that it wasn't a
perfect world, I decided to try and make at least a part of it perfect.
Yet that does become such a painful and one-sided, fruitless crusade
after a while.  The rest of the world is sceptical at best and usually
cynical, so there has to be a meeting ground if I want any improvements
and this stretches from musical morality to environmental consciousness.
The song `Second Nature' from `HYF' expresses such a belief, because to
me it seems so obvious that we should wish our cities to be as nice as
our forests and that people should behave in a humane fashion -- yet
this is also clearly a naive and laughable assumption.  I want a
perfect world and can be bothered to do something about it, yet I can't
do it on my own.  So, even if you don't want the things that I do, at
least let's make a deal and go for some improvement at least.  But you
shouldn't just scream about it in a song.  If you really care about a
cause then get involved with people who are doing something about it,
people who are self-actuating and are actively working to improve
things.  That's what I do in my own time, without any clarion call for
publicity.  I go out into the dirty world.

On the subject of music and charities, what's your opinion on the
preponderance of charity concerts across the world?

I get so impatient with the pop side of causes, the whole sensibility
of, "Let's get together and change things" because these people just do
not know what they're talking about and don't take the trouble to find
out how they can really change something.  It's a Sixties mentality --
it had no action then, and has no action now.  It's just sound and
fury.  And, let's be honest, how many of these people are only lending
their names as a career move?!

Geddy was involved with the `Northern Lights' charity record here in
Canada, although Rush weren't invited to participate in the `Live Aid'
event -- mainly because if you look at the guest list, it was very much
and `in-crowd' situation.  We didn't refuse to take part because of any
principles.  Mind you, I wouldn't have been happy being part of this
scenario.  Those stars should have shut up and just given over their
money if they were genuine.  I recall that `Tears For Fears,' who made
a musical and artistic decision to pull out of the concert, were
subsequently accused of killing children in Africa -- what a shockingly
irresponsible and stupid attitude to take towards the band.  But I have
nothing bad whatsoever to say about Bob Geldof; he sacrificed his
health, his career, everything for something he believed in.  But
others around him got involved for their own reasons.  Some of those
involved in `Northern Lights' were actually quoted as saying that their
managers told them to get down to the recording sessions because it
would be a good career move!  What a farce!

I don't believe that all this ballyhoo changed anything.  Even now,
trucks full of food are blasting through Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda,
trying to get to the Sudan and Ethiopia and they're being robbed and
shot at and turned back.  I was in East Africa last Autumn, so I got a
first-hand insight into what's going on and whilst I was there no less
than 55 trucks laden with food were stuck in Uganda, with no was
through because of the political situation.  It's not a lack of food,
nor a drought that's causing the problems, but civil war!  People are
starving others deliberately and how do you change that via a rock
concert?!  I don't decry charity causes, but if someone were to ask me
to do a concert in aid of Ethiopia I'd say NO!  I would quite happily
donate some money or do anything else that might help, but I believe
you have to get involved far more then just giving money to salve your
conscience... even that type of charity is so negative because it's
self-serving and shallow.

You seem to shun the usual excesses of rock stardom...

Well, I never wanted to be famous and people just don't seem to
understand that.  All I wanted was to be a musician, to be good at
playing my chosen instrument.  You read a lot of interviews with
musicians who claim that what inspired them to get into bands in the
first place was seeing the Beatles playing on the `Ed Sullivan'
American TV show back in the early Sixties.  And I can't understand
people who saw someone on TV and then decided they wanted to play
music!  That's so far removed from any of my responses to what I wanted
to do or where I wanted to be.  And my first glimmers of fame really
just left me feeling that it was a weird scene.  It always makes me
very uncomfortable.

When I first joined the band (1974) I was totally unknown because I
hadn't played on the first album (`Rush' which featured John Rutsey on
drums), but there was already a fan base building so a few kids would
turn up at the backstage door waiting for Geddy and Alex, and even
though they weren't jumping on me because they didn't know who I was,
nonetheless I felt very strange.  Fame is the sort of thing imposed by
the music industry because back in the Fifties they didn't know how to
sell rock'n'roll music.  They just looked at the way the movie
industry had sold personalities by creating larger-than-life screen gods
and goddesses, glamorous beings who were sold to the public as something
better than they were.  The same thing happened with music, and the sad
thing is that the musicians went along with it.  Inevitably, it led to
a whole host of casualties, people like Hendrix and Keith Moon who were
killed by fame because as insecure people they couldn't deal with it! 
All that alienation and artificial reality set up between them and the
real world is frightening.  Once you lose contact with reality, how on
earth do you get it back?  There are those whose only source of self-
esteem comes from others... and then one day they look down inside
themselves and it's no longer there.  They've been depending on various
escapes for too long and suddenly they have to face their own
alienation, and with someone like Hendrix who lived a larger-than-life
existence, that can be enormous.  Of course, some do survive, which is
fortunate, and even under the influence of drugs and alcohol and so
forth they are brilliant enough to make good music, like for example
Pete Townshend.  But these people are rare.

In the late Seventies, the demand for us was getting ever greater and
we hadn't yet learnt to say `no'  and there was a period when we had
no days off to breathe.  We did show after show on the `Farewell To
Kings' tour, driving ourselves everywhere; in fact we renamed it the
`Drive Till You Die Tour.'  We'd play a date, drive 300 miles with no
chance to rest and do another gig.  From the U.S. we came straight to
Britain, did some more shows and then went into Rockfield Studios
(Wales) to record `Hemispheres!'  That was the turning point, we felt
so much like machines, and all of us were crippled by that.  In some
ways the scars are still visible.  The more fame we got, the more
uncomfortable I became, until I had to overreact and refuse to have
pictures taken or have anything to do with the machinery because it was
taking over.

As a musician all you want to do is remain intact, but as a writer I
needed to maintain objectivity, contact and anonymity.  As a listener
you learn a lot more than as a talker, yet if you're sitting with a
group of people, you can't just sit back and soak up the vibes if
you're the center of attention.  Fame was just a negative factor on me
as a person and as a professional and I had to push it all away.

I guess there is an exhibitionist aspect of me; you have to have this
element to appear onstage and it comes out of me for the two hours or
so that I play each night.  Basically on the road, the day builds up to
this and then winds down from it.  Our working day is really so regular
and normal in that it's and eight hour day in spite of the fact that
it's not a 9 to 5 job.  Still, we go into work at 4 pm and finish at
midnight.  To me, it seems so natural.  I get up to go to work, do my
job and then go home.  But when barriers start getting thrown up around
you and you start having security to keep people from getting too close
then you no longer have freedom of action.  You then begin to feel
imprisoned against your will and feel as if you're in a fish bowl.  It
all begins to get a little predatory and _you_ are the prey!  Yet try to
explain all these things rationally to people is impossible, because
it's so far outside their experience.  I don't feel I deserve all this
adulation, I just do a job of work, and if _you_ enjoy it then that's
great.  It's an exchange; if I enjoy doing it and you enjoy the results
then that should be then end of it.  You don't owe me a living, I'm not
owed a loyal audience.  But then the reverse is also true!  Humphrey
Bogart once said that the only thing he owes the audience is a good
performance, but that always sounds so hard.  It's fruitless to try and
explain.  Most of the world doesn't and can't understand.

Rush are one of the bands who do seem to command loyalty.  Your audience
is prepared to give you a chance with new ideas.  Does this feeling take
the pressure off slightly?

I think the pressure went off slightly after the success of `2112,'
which was the first of our records to pay for itself.  Directly prior
to this release we were beginning to get a lot of presure and thumbs
were starting to come down on us trying to alter how we did things.  I
know that Polygram had already written of `2112' as a failure before it
came out and our management were saying that we had to discuss with
them the material we were using.  Obviously, we were still fighting
back and that album was a statement of our rebellion, but if it hadn't
done well then we wouldn't have gone on.

But I think we believe that every album is gonna be the one that's
gonna dies on us.  Something like `Power Windows' was an especial risk
because we used Peter Collins to produce i and also adopted quite a
different set of aesthetics than previously.  We threw open a lot of
barriers and over-produced it like crazy.  It could have died. Even
`Hold Your Fire' wasn't something we felt sure about, because you can
so easily get disappointed.  For instance, I thought that `Grace Under
Pressure' was the right album at the right time.  It was a time of
crisis in the world and I was looking around and seeing my friends
unemployed and having a very bad time.  Inflation was rampant
everywhere and people were basically in trouble.  The world looked
dark.  That album to me was a tremendous statement of compassion and
empathy with the world and I thought because of this it would have a
similar accessibility as `2112' or `Moving Pictures' in their own eras.
But it didn't have the desired impact because people do not wanna hear
about sadness when reality is so gloomy.  In the 1930's people didn't
clamour for sad stories but absolute escapism and I realised that
having the right feelings at the right time isn't necessarily going to
be the best way of dealing with something, particularly in the
so-called `entertainment arts!'

You can never take anything for granted.  Our third album `Caress Of
Steel,' was another one that was so close to our hearts, yet the public
never shared our enthusiasm.  So, with every new album we have a
certain wariness about public reaction.  The same also holds true with
songs.  When a track doesn't reach people it's really your fault and
we've had that experience on almost every album.  I think you have to
say that if a song doesn't connect with people then the fault of
accessibility lies with communication.  `Emotion Detector' is an
example off `Power Windows' and `Kid Gloves' on `Grace Under Pressure.'
We did our best but didn't achieve what we wanted.  You pay a price in
that the song is lost and it leaves a little pang of sadness.  But if I
couldn't look back at songs which were unsuccessful in certain terms
then perhaps there wouldn't be any chains of development of progression
to other, later numbers.  `Force Ten' on `Hold...' is an amalgamation
of ideas that goes back to the last three or four albums, which at the
time weren't necessarily successful.  `Digital Man' on `Signals' was
our first attempt at juggling totally disparate stylistic influences --
ska, synth-pop and hard rock and at the time we ended up with three
pieces of one song held together by Crazy Glue.  But we learnt from it
and subsequently did `Force Ten.'  `Countdown' is another example of a
song that didn't work at the time but led us forward.  It was our first
attempt at a documentary, taking real life and putting it into a song. 
It didn't work, but led us to `Manhattan Project' on `NYF' which has
[I think this should be `Power Windows']
the correct balance between the music, the lyrics and the theme.

Can you ever see yourself publishing a book of verse, or even a novel?

I would life to write a book one day, but it would probably be along
the lines of a travel book, influenced by the new wave of travel
writers.  Because with something like that you can throw in anything
you want.  If you want to write a poem then that can be stuck in.  If
you want to write an essay, a diatribe or a vitriolic defamation of
character, then they can fit in as well.  This kind of amorphous style
makes me feel a lot more comfortable than slots do.  Sometimes even
fiction can be a narrow constraint in the fact that you have to carry
the plot forward.  And as with music, you can get stuck in a certain
style with fiction.  Robert Ludlow had better never attempt an
historical romance, nor Stephen King a serious work of literature!  The
same applies of course with most music.  That's why Rush has been
fortunate.  Form our beginnings we decided to remain amorphous.  We
were lucky in some respects, because every time we felt confined by
being only a three-piece technology has come along and opened fresh
avenues for us.  Time-wise we've spanned a very fortunate era in music
-- although one definition of good fortune is when opportunity meets
preparation.  That, I believe, certainly applies to us.

There is something strangely English about your music...

Well, our roots are fundamentally English, and as I said it was the
progressive era that first got me into music -- English musicians who
could play and weren't afraid to show it.  In Britain the
carrot-on-the-stick aspect isn't as strong as in America.  For most of
the latter bands it's too tempting to sell out.  Even if they only play
Top 40 covers in bars they make a good living.  Over in the U.K. the
same criteria don't apply because most acts have the attitude that they
won't get anywhere anyway, so they might as well do what they want and
to hell with it.  Most of the adventurism that I admire in English
music doesn't come from courage so much as default. Groups have
nothing to lose from being as crazy as possible, of being themselves,
because all they'll end up with anyway is a couple of pub gigs and
perhaps get to make a demo.  So many English outfits are doomed to
obscurity because they have no outlets.  Musically, it can lead to
exciting developments, whereas sociologically it's clearly very sad.

A final question.  Each year the Rush name is initially associated with
the Castle Donington Festival.  Would you ever consider playing it?

Well, it seems that our name is announced as a rumour every year and
only then do the organisers come to us and ask if we'd be interested. 
The plain truth is that we'd _never_ consider playing such an event. 
I've been in the audience at stadium shows and they're awful.  They're
also a big rip-off, with no humanity about them.  It's like a mass, a
mob and all they do is provide the opportunity for a lot of people to
make a lot of money.  One of our road crew freelanced for a band at
Donington last year and he was telling us about the screens erected to
stop missiles being hurled onstage.  Why put yourself through that?  We
are happiest in arenas, that's our forte.  Theatres are great, but only
if you wanna turn around and say, "I know that 12000 people wanna see
us, but the band only wants to play for 3000 kids."  Who are you serving
with that attitude?  Who are you doing it for?  All the people who
won't be able to see you?  For those people in the industry or with
contacts to get tickets?  No, we know where we are at our best and
that's in arenas, where we intend to stay!

Interview by Malcolm Dome, Metal Hammer.


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End of The National Midnight Star Number 227

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