Neil Peart: Recent Rush Attention Feels Like a Vindication
Neil sat down with Andy Greene of Rolling Stone recently to talk about Clockwork Angels and the band generally. The two of them touched on Neil’s old Ayn Rand obsession and whether the recent adulation over Rush feels like a vindiation after so many years of being dismissed by the music establishment. On the attention the band’s been getting, Neil says it does in fact feel like a vindication—not just for them but for fans as well. “Because as much as we’ve been vilified over the years, they were, too,” Neil said. “It was always like, ‘Oh, what do you know? You’re a Rush fan.’ You could definitely hear that in the schoolyard.”
On Rand, Neil repeated what he’s been saying in recent years, that Rand provided a black and white moral clarity that he needed when he was young, but he’s long since moved on and now has a more nuanced view of things, although he still believes in the idea of libertarianism. What had helped fuel the whole Rand thing, he said, was when he was in London in the early 1970s, trying to break into the music business. He was taken aback by everyone’s cynicism, so he found Rand’s no-nonsense clarity an important touchstone for fighting back against the corrosive effect of that cynicism.
Here are his comments in their entirety on these two points. You can read the entire interview at the URL below.
Andy Greene: I feel like Rush has gotten more attention in the past few years than any time I can remember. How do you feel about that? Does it feel like vindication? Do you care at all?
Neil: It is a vindication. I’m ambivalent, personally. Too much attention and hoopla doesn’t agree with my temperament. I’m more introverted and I like to be an observer, so I’m ambivalent about that part, but it is a great vindication . . . and for our fans. Because as much as we’re been vilified over the years, they were, too. It was always like, “Oh, what do you know? You’re a Rush fan.” You could definitely hear that in the schoolyard.
Honestly, it wouldn’t make our day any sweeter or not, but for the whole spirit of Rush – for our fans and everything – you chose the right word. It’s a vindication. We’ve been doing what we think is right this whole time . . . and that’s part of it too. There’s a bit of personal pride there, too. It’s self-evident that we’re hardly calculating and commercial with our music, but we’ve really tried to do everything the right way, or what I perceive to be the right way. It’s kind of a vindication of that principle too. People can look at us and see that you can do things your way and still succeed.
For us to have worked so hard and been successful and respected for it, that goes right smack in the face of cheap panderers. That just occurred to me now, but it’s true. They’re always saying, “Oh man, I have to do it this way, have to make the song simple and repetitive ’cause that’s what people like, ’cause that’s my job and if I can just put a smile on the face of those hard-workin’ people then my job is done.” You know, that attitude has been kind of my enemy all of my life.
Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to play music that I liked, and even when I was in cover bands when I was a teenager we only played cover tunes that we liked. That was the simple morality that I grew up with. It’s hard to think of the number of bands that just do what they want.
Andy Greene: It’s true. You guys pack every arena in the world, and you’ve never once tried to write a commercial song.
Neil: Yeah, no question about it. And that’s from our reputation for live performances. We devoted ourselves to it. We always played the very best show we had in us that day. And it didn’t matter if it was 2,000 people or if we were opening in front of five other bands in front of 20,000 people. Every show was like that for us. A point of honor, a point of pride and total dedication. That’s what builds a reputation, and the reliability that we do tend to show up on time.
That reputation carried us through different periods where maybe we weren’t as popular in terms of radio play or record sales from one album to another. People knew, even if they didn’t care for that particular album, they would still enjoy our show. And so they kept coming to see us.
Boy, if you’re not a working live act, your options are vanishingly few. We met Pete Townshend a couple of weeks ago at an awards show. We told him that we had just finished making an album and he kind of scoffed: “Making an album – waste of time these days, isn’t it?” Well . . . we can only agree. We said, “Yes, but we had to do it. We wanted to do it.” But the reality is, of course, as a thriving, bring-home-a-paycheck human being, it’s working live. And the number of bands that do get airplay and can’t sell tickets . . . That would be worse.
Andy Greene: This is somewhat random, but you were interested in the writings of Ayn Rand decades ago. Do her words still speak to you?
Neil: Oh, no. That was 40 years ago. But it was important to me at the time in a transition of finding myself and having faith that what I believed was worthwhile. I had come up with that moral attitude about music, and then in my late teens I moved to England to seek fame and fortune and all that, and I was kind of stunned by the cynicism and the factory-like atmosphere of the music world over there, and it shook me. I’m thinking, “Am I wrong? Am I stupid and naïve? This is the way that everybody does everything and, had I better get with the program?”
For me, it was an affirmation that it’s all right to totally believe in something and live for it and not compromise. It was a simple as that. On that 2112 album, again, I was in my early twenties. I was a kid. Now I call myself a bleeding heart libertarian. Because I do believe in the principles of Libertarianism as an ideal – because I’m an idealist. Paul Theroux’s definition of a cynic is a disappointed idealist. So as you go through past your twenties, your idealism is going to be disappointed many many times. And so, I’ve brought my view and also – I’ve just realized this – Libertarianism as I understood it was very good and pure and we’re all going to be successful and generous to the less fortunate and it was, to me, not dark or cynical. But then I soon saw, of course, the way that it gets twisted by the flaws of humanity. And that’s when I evolve now into . . . a bleeding heart Libertarian. That’ll do.