Rush’s Neil Peart is one of the greatest drummers of all time. Despite what you think of the band Rush (the Canadian prog-rock trio who have sold 40 million albums), Peart’s preeminence on the sticks can’t be denied. His drum set goes ALL THE WAY AROUND HIM, like a small grocery store. There are 65 cymbals. A drum tech shines each cymbal before and after each show, because one spec of dust could hinder the pristine, meticulous, roundhouse power-shuffle that Peart puts forth.
Rush was in Seattle to begin a US tour in support of their 73rd album, Clockwork Angels. VICE caught up with Peart for a foot massage and reflexology treatment before the show. Reflexology is the ancient Chinese therapy that says every gland and organ in the body corresponds to a part of the foot, even the anus organ. When these parts of the feet are pressed, the stimulus moves through the nerves and energy pathways of our “Qi” to support the associated area of the body and release blockages.
I wish I’d known Peart didn’t like his feet to be touched before I took him to the foot massage parlor. Apparently he thought reflexology was a hand and ear thing.
At 60 years old, sure, Peart’s drumming has lost a micro-step since Rush’s 1980 "Spirit of the Radio” heyday. But if you are going to make a list of the greatest rock drummers alive, you have to include him. Others on the short list would be Slayer’s Dave Lombardo, Matt Cameron of Soundgarden/Pearl Jam, Motörhead’s Mikkey Dee, and let's not forget Dave Grohl of Nirvana/the Foo Fighters.
The foot massage parlor was located South of Seattle’s downtown in the International District. Real deal reflexology locations are no frills. The place had some houseplants, some lounge chairs, and some Modern Science magazines. Dead flies littered the window sill. The plastic rock fountain was more relaxing than the Muzak on the boombox. It was a single room, and smelled like bok choy and the Quiznos two shops down. I got us each green tea in a small paper cup and asked the woman at the counter if they would play Rush’s Moving Pictures CD, which I brought, but she declined. She asked if we wanted someone “with good strength.” I nodded yes and studied the chart on the wall. Then out walked Lan, our reflexologist. Lan means orchid in Chinese. She was short, stout, and angry. In her offdays, Lan plays fullback for the Seattle Seahawks. I said hello and asked if she could concentrate especially hard on the region that corresponded with our “ureter” from the chart. Lan was not pleased with my request. She ushered us to the far side of the room for our pre session foot soak. Peart seemed uneasy.
It’s been an active time for Rush as of late. This past October, Rush were finally nominated to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Serious Rush fans are up in arms that they haven’t been inducted. We’ll see. They do have 24 gold records. With the release of Clockwork Angels, Peart has also published a novel (his fourth) under the same name. Teamed with bestselling science fiction writer Kevin J. Anderson, the book Clockwork Angels is steampunk-ish and deals with a young man's quest to follow his dreams. There are lost cities, pirates, floating ships, and a watchmaker. Neil Peart is one of the greatest rock drummers alive. He can write whatever he wants to.
The foot soak was warm: Epsom salt, apple cider vinegar, and lavender oil. We were to soak for eight minutes. Lan left us. Neil Peart was one of my childhood idols. His solos were transportive. “YYZ” was a beacon of male teenage rock promise. The way he played, spraying a calculus of fills and beats. He was a superhuman figure, and there we were, soaking our feet together. Neil motherfucking Peart (pronounced Pee-rt). The fucking drummer on “Tom Sawyer." There’s a stately, Benjamin Franklin air about him. He’s quiet and supreme. He’s also the band’s lyricist, so we can thank him for “Today’s Tom Sawyer he gets high on uuuu, the space he invades gets by on yoooooo.” I was exploding with questions.
VICE: Does your drum set ever seem excessive? There are 90 toms. Do you really play all of it?
Neil Peart: When I added the electronic portion, the kit became 360°. There are a lot of drums. Nothing goes unused though [laughs].
If I had a phobia of small grocery stores, that thing would scare the ever-living shit out of me. Please talk about the book Clockwork Angels. Congrats by the way. You’re getting steampunk there?
There’s some alchemy involved, yes. The book is expanded out from a story I wrote in my lyrics for the album. There’s a watchmaker, who imposes precision. I worked with writer Kevin Anderson, he’s incredible. He took it and ran. We also had Hugh Syme do some art to go with it. He’s won a Juno award, and we’ve worked with him in the past. He’s done tons of art for bands.
Are you pissed Rush isn’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame yet?
I’m not too concerned with it.
Does it bother you when you’ve texted someone and they haven’t texted you back, then you see them on Twitter or Facebook?
I’m not on Facebook and twitter so much. Are we supposed to not be talking during this part? I think we’re supposed to be zen and relax, right? [Laughs] You have questions, that’s OK.
Why do they call it a parlor? It doesn’t seem very parlor-y in here. I hate all the Facebook event invites. You must get a zillion invites, you’re one of the greatest drummers of all time.
I wouldn’t know.
What about those weird “recommended pages?" I got one for Mistress Gwendolyn last week. It tried to suck me into a web cam. She does erotic objectification, like some sexual thing where they put a gimp ball in her mouth and make a coffee table out of her. I don’t see what’s erotic about being a coffee table. You probably see all kinds of things on tour.
We’re pretty low key actually. We like to stay in our rooms and read. I haven’t seen any coffee tables like that.
I was listening to your new song, “The Wreckers." Your words are “The breakers roar, on an unseen shore / In the teeth of a hurricane, we struggle in vain.” Is that about the watchmaker’s steampunk ship? Going with the ol’ A-A-B-B rhyme scheme huh?
You probably know more about steampunk than me.
I have to be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of that song. You’ve written better lyrics than that before. Your lyrics for “Tom Sawyer” are the best. (Singing my best Geddy Lee) “No, his mind is not for rent, to any god or government / Always hopeful yet discontent, he knows changes aren't permanent.”
Well, everyone’s opinion is valid. At least you’re not kissing up to me. Now my turn to be honest. Let’s have quiet for the rest of the soak. At least a couple minutes? Thank you.
(With that, he closed his eyes and sat back only the way an accomplished man can. The sound of the plastic rock fountain grew. His heart rate palpably decreased. A respite before the pace of Rush’s arena tour began. A couple minutes passed. Then I noticed that the woman behind the counter was gone, so I dried my feet, walked over, and put my Rush CD in the boombox on “Tom Sawyer.” I turned it up and pressed play. When he heard it, his own song, Peart looked over, but closed his eyes just as quick. I air drummed on my way back to the lounger. And sang the words, “A modern-day warrior / mean, mean stride / Today's Tom Sawyer / mean, mean pride.”)
Did you guys ever want to cut Geddy Lee’s ponytail off back in the day? That thing was terrible.
Are we finished with quiet time?
(He opened his eyes again and shot me a stifling, powerful look of disgust. I’d violated quiet time. Neil Peart’s the kind of person who can look at you and make everything else disappear. The power of his gaze froze me. I went into his eyes, and entered a vision. He was soloing, pounding around the toms. A blur of punctuated cutlery, carving a spate vehiculum of beats. Viridian glacial spears rained out omnidirectional from his 360° kit. I saw homo erectus man discover fire from lightning 700,000 years ago in Chesowanja East Africa. I saw the early hominids learn to harvest the fire, and take it into caves. They had never felt warmth like that before. It became night and the light threw their shadows on the wall in new and moving shapes - aqueous, never-seen-before Panther God shapes. For the first time on earth, sapiens mated by the heat of a fire in a cave. The couple was afraid, then unafraid, animalistic, and mesmerized. The female became pregnant from it, and nine months later gave birth by the light of another fire. The afterbirth splattered slow motion and golden, into the exact shape of Neil Peart’s drum kit. The baby born, a girl, would grow highly inquisitive as a child. She would pester her Mom with early hominid questions. The mom would grow frustrated, and look at her with a frustrated gaze. The same exact gaze of disgust Peart gave me. The same exact look in the eye.
Lan had emerged, cut “Tom Sawyer” off, and said it was time for the reflexology. She sat in front of Peart on a stool, and as soon as she touched his foot, he rocked back, jerking his foot away, completely startled. He said, “I HATE it when people touch my feet. Do not touch my feet please.” He stood up. Lan stood up. I thought for a second they might throw down. Lan had the fullback stature, and could have mowed him over and unloaded elbows on his face. But they didn’t fight. Lan simply said, “Why you come to foot massage if you no like foot being touched? This foot massage here, not hang gliding.”
I apologized profusely to Peart. He accepted, being the gentleman that he is. We put our shoes and socks on, and I paid—full price for two. I tried to use a coupon for Cinnabon, but Lan the orchid had none of it. As we made our way back toward Key Arena, the sky was spitting rain. Drops that landed on the windshield of the car became shapes of Peart’s drums, and afterbirth. I will never look at fire the same again.)