Farewell to Kings: new Rush tour could be last:...
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Feb 01, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Farewell to Kings: new Rush tour could be last: Menon

‘Live shows were always religion for us,’ says drummer Neil Peart

OurWindsor.Ca

Neil Peart is cradling a tumbler of whisky and squinting ahead.

The late afternoon sun casts moody shadows that dance around the lounge at the Hazelton Hotel. We’re tucked into the corner, slouched forward on russet leather sofas. A copy of Far and Near:On Days Like These, his latest book, sits between us, an anchor of manicured prose that spans three years of his life, travels and day job as the drummer and lyricist of Rush.

The prog-rock trio formed in 1974. To put this longevity in focus: when a 21-year-old Peart drove his mother’s Pinto to Pickering, and nailed his audition with existing band members Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, Pierre Trudeau was prime minister. Stateside, a scandalized Richard Nixon was about to resign. And Paris was home to the new Charles de Gaulle Airport.

Politicians come and go. Buildings open and close. But one thing that hasn’t changed since that July day more than 40 years ago: Rush is still, first and foremost, a live act. In the same way Corvettes are designed to go fast or the Kardashians were placed on earth to destroy synapses, Rush is all about playing in front of an audience.

“Live shows were always religion for us,” says Peart, sipping his double Macallan. “We never played a show — whether it was in front of 15 people or 15,000 — where it wasn’t everything we had that night.”

The lads are ready to give it their all once more. And if you’ve been meaning to glimpse them in their natural habitat, pouring sonic licks and pyrotechnic fury into a throbbing arena, this may be your last chance.

To celebrate four decades and 20 studio albums, the band will fire up the jet engines — or in Peart’s case, motorcycle pistons — and descend on 34 cities this summer for RUSH: R40 Live Tour. It starts in Tulsa on May 8 and ends on Aug. 1 in Los Angeles, close to where Peart now lives with wife Carrie and daughter Olivia.

There will be two Toronto shows, June 17 and 19 at the Air Canada Centre, with tickets going on sale Friday.

Coincidentally, tour plans were hatched at a dinner the same day Peart and I meet for drinks in Yorkville. Before he leaves to Skype with Olivia and then join his mates and manager, Ray Danniels, it’s not clear if R40 will even happen.

“Talks are ongoing, but there are no firm plans yet,” is how Peart foreshadows it, adding with a grimacing smile: “It doesn’t require my participation at this moment.”

It’s no secret, at least to Rush fans, that Peart may be the most reluctant rock star in the galaxy. His contempt for the shallow trappings of celebrity — “Even as a kid, I never wanted to be famous; I wanted to be good” — could form the curriculum for an undergrad psychology class. He doesn’t do meet-and-greets with fans. He gets squirmy in the face of adoration. He doesn’t even travel with the band on tour, preferring instead to mount his purring BMW R1100GS and see “the real world” one dusty back road at a time.

The Road Atlas, he says, beaming, “is the book of dreams.”

Even in the mid-’70s, when young musicians discovered touring was a spectacular way to hook up with nubile admirers or lavish their central nervous systems with booze and drugs, Peart was different. Rush were all on the nerdy side, really. They’d watch TV and snowshoe and re-enact Monty Python skits.

Peart was also saddled with a blinding compulsion to learn, to store knowledge the way camels store water. Then, as now, he was always deciphering “the real world.” When not pounding the daylights out of his drum kit, his nose was in a book. Three chevrons away from the adoration, he took refuge in history and philosophy, science and literature.

As his father Glen once told me: “We can’t explain him. His mother and I say, ‘We don’t know where he came from.’”

While his origin story may be unknown, his future seems to rest with the syncopated beats of the written word. His new book, a sequel to 2011’s Far and Away: A Prize Every Time, is his sixth work of non-fiction. He describes it as “the best kinds of letters I’d love to send and receive.”

He is an inveterate letter writer. He works out his innermost thoughts by writing them down. Or as he notes, paraphrasing E.M. Forster, “How do I know what I think until I see what I write?”

Peart is free to unmask himself between the pages of a book. All that knowledge, all those wanderlust adventures, from Death Valley to the Laurentian Mountains, fuse together and form a print-track to his life. The reader is riding shotgun as Peart provides an intimate narrative of the places he’s seen and the strangers he’s met.

He gets to fulfil a role that seems hard-wired: observer.

“I am the audience,” he says. “I want to observe people. Even when I’m playing drums onstage, I’m watching people. I’m looking at them and their faces and their T-shirts and their signs. And travelling by motorcycle, especially, the world is just coming at me.”

When this flips around, when Peart grabs his drumsticks or keyboard and the observer becomes the observed, he understands his impact on an audience. He first discovered this as a gifted but gangly teen in St. Catharines.

“Being smart was not an attribute, it was a handicap in those years,” he says. “But when I first started playing in bands and the other kids took notice of it, it changed my life. Instead of being the pariah of the high school, suddenly something I had done was admirable.”

These are the sweet bolts of personal reflection that ricochet into his real world orations. Honestly, get him going on the endemic species of the Channel Islands or fracking in North Dakota and it’s like you’re suddenly having cocktails with a man possessed by Wikipedia. Every Rush fan should beg to have at least one drink with Neil. Of course, if this happened, his next book would be titled, Really Far Away: Why I Moved to the Moon.

So will this be Rush’s last big tour? The big money is on, “Yup.” The lads are now in their early 60s. They have families and eclectic interests and disposable income. Even in 1989, after Rush cemented lasting fame on the strength of albums such as A Farewell to Kings, Hemispheres, Permanent Waves, Moving Pictures, Signals and Power Windows, Peart was ready to beg off touring forever.

“That feeling of going up on that stage every night, to prove the worthiness of your existence, night after night,” he says. “That’s just the cost and I’ve found ways to recompense that, absolutely. If I have to travel, I’m going to travel my way and travel in the real world. And I’m going to have conversations every day with people in rest stops and people in gas stations and people in hotels and diners. That nourishes me.”

He is also nourished by the fellowship shared with Lee and Lifeson since 1974.

On his travels, Peart once returned to Le Studio, the residential recording hall in Quebec where so many of the band’s albums were made. He hadn’t been back in years. The fond memories, well, they came rushing back.

“When I think about it,” he says, the winter shadows now dancing on his face, “we were young and foolish and brave and fun.”

Toronto Star

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