Saturday, February 11, 2006

 Neil Peart 

Neil Peart, the drummer for Rush, has his own web site, and diary page that's almost a blog but not quite. In his January 20th entry he talks about the initial efforts the band is making toward creation of their next album, and even admits the trepidation he feels when it's time for him to show the first draft of his lyrics to Geddy and Alex. (He writes all the lyrics for their songs, while Geddy and Alex write the music.)

...on the Rush front, just this past week Alex and Geddy and I have started work on some new songs. Although we are 3000 miles apart, the two of them at home in Toronto and me in California, last week I received an e-mail from Geddy saying that he and Alex had spent the day in his home studio, and not only did they have fun, but they also thought they’d written something good.

A couple of weeks ago I had written to both of them that I had spent some time at my Quebec place in November, and decided to see if I had any lyrical “muscles” built up. With the first snows of winter whipping around outside, the lake beginning to freeze over during the cold, still nights, I spent five days sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace. A pile of papers grew in an ever-widening circle around me, and in the end — after much forehead-wrinkling and gnashing of teeth — I felt that I had about six half-decent ideas under construction. I wasn’t that confident they were any good, mind you, but I never am until the other guys respond to them. And anyway, those words won’t come alive until after the “little miracle” of hearing them sung for the first time.

Later he digresses onto the topic of sports, something which true Rush fans like myself know is very important with the band even though it never comes up explicitly in the music. But he then said a couple things which surprised me:

There have been times when Alex and Geddy and I have been in the studio, for example, and I’ve gotten totally caught up in the hockey playoffs. During breaks in the recording, or while waiting to hear a mix, we would sit in front of the television, all anxious about something over which we had absolutely no control — and I would get all tense about the outcome.

And then after all that tension, there was no release — no reward. Inevitably, we were either disappointed by other people’s failure to win the game, or briefly elated by their victory. Even after a whole season of watching something that either tortures you with someone else’s failure, or even excites you with their transitory victory, you are left with… precisely nothing.

A few days ago I was hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains with South Park’s Matt Stone, and he was telling me that for him, growing up in the Denver area, everything had been centered on football. If the Broncos won on Sunday, his world would be a better place on Monday.

So he's buddies with Matt Stone? Interesting. But that wasn't the real surprise. Rather, it was his summation that a whole season's involvement with a beloved sports team, regardless of outcome, leaves you with nothing. I suppose that's true, as far as it goes. That is, to the extent that virtually anything we do with our lives and with our time is illusory, then perhaps it's fair to say that one is empty at the end of the season. But if that's true, then surely we are just as empty during the season? And that too may well be, but it doesn't ring true to me - or rather, it seems to miss the whole point altogether.

For my part, the purpose of my interest in following teams isn't always explicable (nor likely rational), yet it's quite palpable and undeniable. I do derive a feeling of community from it, even when around those who root for other teams. Merely the act of pulling for a team provides a commonality with someone else, because for better or worse we have agreed to place some amount of importance on the outcome of the game, or season. Why would that sense of common ground vanish merely because the season ended? The tension may disappear, to be replaced by relief, joy, or anguish, but emptiness? That's just not in my experience. And if Neil's issue is instead with the vicariousness of spectating itself (which I don't think it is, but I just want to cover that ground), then he would be left in the odd position of suggesting that his very fan base is likely bereft of meaning at the end of Rush's own concerts.

None of this is to suggest that spectator sports are meaningful in the way that art or personal struggle or self-sacrifice are. It is only to say that they aren't utterly meaningless either.

Well, whatever. Even if I don't agree with Neil here, I still admire him greatly for his personal strength, his lyrics and his musical craft. Oh, and Rush ROCKS!!! Woohooo!!!

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