Thoughts on Neil Peart retirement confusion
If you were a little confused this past week about whether Neil Peart was "retiring from music," you're in good company. Even if you read the entire article in Drumhead Magazine (included in its entirety below), there's still a lot of ambiguity. To be clear, I don't have any idea what Neil Peart and Rush are going to do next, but here are my thoughts.
"No strict answer" for Neil Peart's futureFirst, let's talk about what we knew -- even before this article came out. In the press release for the R40 Live tour, Rush announced that this tour, "will most likely be their last major tour of this magnitude." I took this to mean that Rush probably wouldn't be going out on 50-show tours anymore.
In an article I wrote for this site after the last R40 show in Los Angeles, 10 things to look forward to after Rush's R40 tour, I included this quote from Alex Lifeson:
"I think, in my gut, that this is probably the last major tour that we'll do. I'd like to think that we'll maybe do specialty gigs -- maybe a week in New York, or something like that... We want to discuss whether we want to make another record anytime soon. Whatever this tour is, it's not the end of the band. It's just reviewing where we're at, in terms of major tours... we're not waving goodbyeThe question about "what's next" has remained, and is usually covered in interviews with the band, including one that Peart did for the January 2016 edition of Modern Drummer:
MD: What's in the future? If Rush isn't touring, will you still record? Write prose? Be a dad?
Neil: You just answered it. There's no strict answer, but those possibilities are all there.
The retirement story goes viralWhen Cygnus-x1.net first posted a quote from Drumhead (on Sunday, December 6), it included the quote:
... Lately Olivia has been introducing me to new friends at school as "my dad -- he's a retired drummer." True to say -- funny to hear. ...Now after fifty years of devotion to hitting things with sticks, I feel proud, grateful and satisfied. The reality is that my style of drumming is largely an athletic undertaking, and it does not pain me to realize that, like all athletes, there comes a time to ... take yourself out of the game. I would much rather set it aside than face the predicament described in our song "Losing It." In the song's two verses, an aging dancer and a writer face their diminishing, twilight talents with pain and despair, ...I saw this around noon on Monday, and by then many sites were reporting that Peart had "retired from music." Most responses to these stories on Twitter -- even from those close to Peart -- seemed to confirm the news.
I waited until Monday evening to post a story, and shorty after that Cygnus-x1.net posted the entire Drumhead article. (I ended up revising my story almost immediately to include a longer excerpt from the article.)
By Tuesday, December 8, Geddy Lee talked with Prog magazine and clarified that Peart hadn't retired from music, "...In my view, there is certainly nothing surprising in what he said. Neil just feels that he has to explain with all the thousands of people asking, 'Why no more tours?' He needs to explain his side of it."
Sadly, this kind of distortion and misinformation on the Internet isn't a rare occurrence. Take a look at any news website, and you'll see untrue stories being reported as "fact" on a daily basis. This is the reality we live in with a 24-hour news cycle to fill and fewer journalists (and their fact-checkers) to fill it.
It's going to take some time for Rush fans to get used to a reality that doesn't include tours. I know that many of us want a definitive answer about what's coming next, but, as Neil Peart confirmed to Modern Drummer, there's no definitive answer right now.
I do think we'll see more from Neil Peart, including books, blog updates, and, yes, more music. Peart might occupy a smaller stage, but he'll still be there. I, for one, am happy with whatever he choses to do next.
Not being one for celebrating personal "occasions," I am always content to mark milestones like birthdays quietly, privately. Not that I deny them – each September I am proud and grateful to have survived another year, and lately, at age sixty-three, to be in my seventh decade. I just don't like to make a big deal about it, or have others make a fuss.
For that reason, it was a few days later when I realized where I had spent my fiftieth anniversary of playing the drums -- at a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Having played there a few times with Rush over the years, it was fitting in that way – but this time I was with my wife Carrie and six-year-old daughter Olivia to see the Psychedelic Furs and B-52s.
I loved the Furs in the '80s, and Richard Butler's solo album in the noughties was a favorite for about two years. They and their songs still sound really great. The B-52s are nothing if not fun, of course, and all through her childhood Olivia had been dancing wildly to "Love Shack." To watch her dancing (wildly) is the aisle at the Hollywood Bowl with her mother was as they say, "priceless."
Lately Olivia has been introducing me to new friends at school as "my dad -- he's a retired drummer." True to say -- funny to hear. At the Bowl, two fine drummers appealed to dad's professional (retired) appreciation: Paul Garisto nailing the perfect balance of aggressive and artful rhythmic drive for the Furs, and Sterling Campbell laying down a powerful, solid groove for the B-52s – wonderfully abetted by Tracy Wormworth's muscular and immaculate bass playing.
Then there was the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and the fireworks finale to crown an unforgettable family evening. The occasion felt "well celebrated."
That night of September 12, 2015, was also my sixty-third birthday, which was no coincidence. Because it was for my thirteenth that my parents gave me drum lessons. No drums, you understand, just a pair of sticks and a practice pad. Every Saturday morning I would catch the bus to downtown St. Catharines (Ontario) for a lesson with Don George at the Peninsula Conservatory of Music on St. Paul Street.
Even there I wasn't playing drums, because other instruments were being taught in neighboring rooms. As arrangement of metal-rimmed pads mimicked the layout of a four-piece set, with a bass-drum pedal, hi-hat and a ride cymbal with a "sock" around it. I learned my rudiments, elemental sight-reading and basic drum-set patterns in a combination of thuds and clicks. I can still hear that sound. (One time Don asked me to improvise around the set a little, and after I did he nodded and said, "Nice. Some of that might not have sounded great on real drums, but the spirit was good.")
Don gave me my first and most important encouragement, mentioning my friend Kit Jarvis, too. "Of all my students, you and Kit are the only ones who can be drummers if you want to." That meant a lot.
As for not playing real drums that first year, fortunately I always had a good imagination! I would array magazines across my bed in a layout of Gene Krupa's drums, or later Keith Moon's, and beat the covers off them. I sat on a stool in front of a mirror and waved my sticks around – like a maniac I dreamed of becoming.
Mom and dad said if I stuck to the lessons and practiced for a year, they would think about buying me drums. Sure enough, the next year they got me a three-piece set of Stewarts ($150) in red sparkle, bass drum, snare drum, one tom and one small (clanky) cymbal.
That first day my shiny red jewels were set up in the living room, and over and over I proudly played my two songs, "Wipeout" and "Land of a Thousand Dances" (a local band played a cover of that with a cool drum part). Then I moved them piece by piece upstairs to my room, and every afternoon after school played along with the pink spackle AM radio on the steam radiator besides me. Whatever song came on the Top 40 station, I tried to play along.
Next, mom and dad got me a hi-hat, then a floor tom, and I saved up paper-route and lawn-mowing money for a pair of Ajax cymbals. And I still played along with the radio to the hits of 1965 and '66. (Perfect time to quote a contemporary drummer who remarked of that time, "My six favorite drummers were all Hal Blaine!")
So that's where I started, fifty years ago, and what a run it has been.
Forty-one years with one band – three young guys who grew up together in music and in life, going through everything music and life can throw at you. All the while, we were doing what we wanted, the way we wanted to do it.
That's the quality I'm most proud of, really – just that we can stand as an example, in the face of what often seems like a factory of corporate entertainment. If nothing else, we showed that it is possible to make a career of music without giving away – or selling – your soul. You just have to be determined. And of course, lucky.
I can't quite give the "wouldn't change a thing" statement you sometimes hear, as there are elements in both music and life that I wish had gone better. A line in our song "Headlong Flight" was inspired by my late drum teacher, Freddie Gruber, "I wish that I could live it all again." Toward the end of Freddie's long and eventful life, he meant it literally, wanting every experience and sensation again, just as it was. Some people rightly see another interpretation in the way I used the line 0- a wish that one could do it all again better. But never mind, regrets are ultimately ... not helpful.
The third teacher in my Holy Trinity, Peter Erskine, modeled a way of looking back on your younger self with a buddha-like ... amused tolerance. He talked about the unthinking way he used to set up his drums, or how limited his playing has been in some technique, with a knowing, comfortable smile. If he was foolish and lame then, he was better now, and that's what mattered.
It was Peter who helped me conquer -- or at least attack -- what was for me the Final Frontier: improvisation. Having developed a certain amount of compositional tools and habits over forty years of playing, I was determined to become freer and more spontaneous. Peter helped me toward that goal with guidance in developing deeper time-sense and greater musicality. (With credit to Nick "Booujzhe" Raskulinecz, too, who encouraged and enabled my improvising in the studio.)
Now after fifty years of devotion to hitting things with sticks, I feel proud, grateful and satisfied. The reality is that my style of drumming is largely an athletic undertaking, and it does not pain me to realize that, like all athletes, there comes a time to ... take yourself out of the game. I would much rather set it aside than face the predicament described in our song "Losing It." (From 1982 it was performed live for the first time on our fortieth anniversary tour, R40, in 2015). In the song's two verses, an aging dancer and a writer face their diminishing, twilight talents with pain and despair, ("Sadder still to watch it die, that never to have known it.")
You have to know when you're at the top of your particular mountain, I guess. Maybe not the summit, but as high as you can go. I think of a Buddy Rich quote I used in a book, Roadshow, about our R30 tour, ten long years ago: "Late in his life, Buddy Rich was asked if he considered himself the world's greatest drummer, and he gave an inspiring reply: 'Let's put it this way: I have that ambition. You don't really attain greatness. You attain a certain amount of goodness, and if you're really serious about your goodness, you'll keep trying to be great. I have never reached a point in my career where I was totally satisfied with anything I've ever done, but I keep trying.'"
I recently picked up another great quote, this one from Artie Shaw. As many readers will know, he was a celebrated big-band leader and clarinetist (he called Benny Goodman "the competition") who famously gave up playing at age forty-four. This summation of his career really resonates with me now. "Had to be better, better, better. It always could be better...When I quit, it was because I couldn't do any better."