All the World’s a Stage, and Neil’s Merely the Audience
Neil’s writing, both his lyrics and his prose, depends on his ability to observe the world anonymously, he says in an interview with Rock Cellar Magazine that centers mainly on his writing. “I am very much an audience and I’ve been lucky to have that privacy, and careful to protect that in terms of my identity and my prominence in the world,” Neil tells writer Marshall Ward.
As he puts it, he thinks of himself as the world’s audience. Whether he’s riding his bike through China or his motorcycle through the Mojave Desert, he takes in the world around him and thinks about how he would describe what he’s seeing.
Even when he’s playing in concert, he says, he feels like he’s as much an observer of the audience as the audience is of Rush. “Honestly, I’m looking at people and reading their signs, looking at T-shirts or watching the way they behave, and I very much consider myself the observer.”
Neil says his personal style probably has something to do with his ability to wander around the world more or less anonymously even at this stage of his career. “I carry myself like someone who wants to listen to you, not someone who wants to show off,” he says.”
He says he typically spends about three days writing the lyrics to a Rush song. Over the years, a pattern has developed in which he starts out hopeful as an idea comes to him, gets bogged down trying to make the idea work, then glides to the end once he works out the technicalities. “The moment of triumph for me isn’t when it’s finished; it’s when I see that it’s going to work,” he says.
Neil has talked on many occasions about pieces he’s written that never made it into songs, and in the interview he says Rush has endured over the years because he, Alex, and Geddy never move forward on something unless they all like it. “We can’t be a democracy,” he says. “You can’t have two against one. It’s never going to work. It has to be consensus.”
The band’s plans didn’t come up in the interview, but he talked about his upcoming work extending the Clockwork Angels graphic novel franchise. He and his collaborators, including writer Kevin Anderson and artist Nick Robles, are developing additional stories around characters in the book. “There were so many incidental characters that we wanted to know and tell their stories too,” he says.
Whether it has to do with the graphic novels or his own books, working collaboratively with editors is one of the most rewarding parts of his literary efforts, he says. “It is always a pleasurable experience for me because [editors] are encouraging and you have the sense that all the little changes that you make together elevate the entire work so much,” he says. “I always find that an absolutely inspiring and rewarding experience rather than grim, having to work with an editor wanting to change things.”
You might say it’s a slightly different story with Rush’s music, though. He says he likes working collaboratively with the band and others involved in the music, but when it comes to outside influences, he draws a firm line. “You’re getting conflicting opinions with different motivations, and they’re saying, ‘Well, this could be more commercial if you did this or that.’ Well, that doesn’t help the conversation, right? (laughs).”
Given the band’s successful run, it sounds like the line has been drawn in the right place.
From the publisher of Rush Vault:
Rush: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Excellence
Great book, read slowly to fully enjoy it
“A very in-depth conversation from Rush’s start to the present. It is not a lot to read. You probably won’t rifle through this in a single sitting, and the author will likely challenge a lot of your interpretations of many of the songs. But more than worth considering the impact on Rush lyrics far beyond Rand and Aristotle. Pick it up.”—Alan L. Emery