Rush's Neal Peart: Not a fan of pot. Or Jeff Liles. (Vernon Evans)
During the late '80s and early '90s, I was a frequent contributor to Your Flesh, a seminal Minneapolis-based art and music fanzine.
One of the myriad perks of this gig was that it led to actual paying jobs; YF editor Peter Davis was particularly generous when it came to steering real work my way whenever he was occasionally pitched story ideas that were too mainstream for his own publication.
This was the case one morning when my phone rang and the Caller ID revealed a twelve-digit number--it might have even been the first time anyone had ever called me from overseas. Mine was a very sheltered life; it was already next week over there for all I knew.
On the other end of the line was the female editor of Rip, an offshoot of the German heavy metal magazine Metal Hammer. She introduced herself (I’ve since forgotten her name), gave me the rundown on the new mag, and pitched me an offer to contribute to her publication on a regular basis.
Sounded like a good fit to me; there was a time when I actually listened to heavy metal on a pretty regular basis.
I had faked my way through everything else in life up until that point, and this would require even less effort. "Fuck it," I figured. "I’m in."
The first assignment seemed somewhat within my area of relative expertise: Review a Dallas show by the Canadian band Rush, and interview one of the band members for a companion feature item. I accepted the gig right away. We were still a couple of months away from opening up Trees; I was in between paychecks.
For the 500 bucks she was offering, I would have written a blowjob review of Loverboy; I was so broke at the time she probably could have talked me into anything.
Besides, there was a time when I actually listened to Rush. It might have been 10 years prior to this assignment, but at least I still knew the names of the three guys in the group.
When I was in high school, Rush's music actually led me to crack open weighty doorstops by Ayn Rand and Mark Twain. For a week or so there, Neal Peart’s appropriated lyrical concepts had me thinking that maybe I was today’s Tom Sawyer or tomorrow’s Howard Roark. I think I even learned how to play side one of their 2112 album on my electric guitar.
But that phase all came and went pretty quick.
Once I started listening to Public Enemy, Beastie Boys and NWA, the clothespin-on-your-nose vocals of Geddy Lee had fallen off my musical radar altogether. You just couldn’t listen to hip-hop and Rush without getting laughed at by one or the other’s local fan base.
Something somewhere had to give.
But that little disconnect wasn’t stopping me from taking this gig.
Of course, I was just gonna wing it anyway. Since I didn’t go to school to study journalism (is that obvious yet?), I never really considered pesky stuff like research or preparation. I knew I could fake my way through this shit. Hey, it’s music, right? It ain’t brain surgery. I figured a lot of it would probably get watered down in translation when they transcribed it into German, so I figured I’d just keep it all as simple as possible.
Then the apathy set in. The night of the show arrived and I had lost my motivation to do the piece altogether. Rush meant nothing to me. It just didn’t register anymore. If you would have put a gun to my head and asked me to name the titles of the their three previous albums, I would have told you to just pull the trigger and get it over with.
Why was a heavy metal magazine doing a story on Rush anyway? Who would ever bother to read it? I was doing a great job of talking myself out of doing this.
In addition, I had still yet to arrange a ride downtown for the show. This whole thing had become an obvious non-starter. On top of that, I was too broke to even call the German heavy metal woman at Rip to let her know that I was bailing out.
Then the unthinkable happened.
I met a beautiful younger woman at the Gold Rush Café who wanted me to take her out on date. God knows what she saw in me at the time. (Free breakfast?) Obviously, she had no idea that was I totally broke and didn’t own a car.
Then the light bulb flickered on: Why not let her take me to see Rush? I had the free tickets, backstage passes; we could steal dinner from their craft services table, and maybe even take some photos with the band. She would be able see firsthand that I was a rock 'n' roll big shot. This was a good fit all the way around.
All I had to do was convince her to drive.
As I should have expected, she had never heard of the band; they were obviously something that her parents might have listened to at a midnight laser show. I tried to convince her that they were really smart for a bunch of old guys, but that just made me sound old.
Worlds were colliding; she wasn’t feelin’ it at all.
I quickly explained to her that this was a gig that I was attending strictly for the money. I needed to do it. Afterwards we could go do something fun, like hang out in Deep Ellum and have sex in the back seat of her car.
For 30 to 45 seconds she was sort of impressed that she was actually dating a writer. I talked her out of that fast.
So there we were; surrounded by thousands of mullet-headed people my age wandering around like sheep at Reunion Arena. I did my best to talk about stuff that seemed more age-appropriate.
What did she think of the new Spike Lee movie?
“I don’t know. Is that porn?”
Uh, no. He directed She’s Gotta Have It.
Her response: “Sounds like porn to me.”
This was going downhill fast. I needed this show to be over with pronto so I could get back to my natural element; this was just too much of a throwback to translate reasonably to her reality. The only way to salvage this evening would be to get her the hell out of this building ASAP.
The lingering problem was that I still had to interview Neil Peart after the show. No telling how long that could take. We sat through the entire two-hour long show, then the two encores. Her boredom and restlessness were growing by the moment. Hell, I was just as anxious as she was. I told her that, at the very least, I needed to pop my head backstage and at least appear to make the effort to do the interview. At this point, it was all about being able to cover my ass when reporting back to the German heavy metal woman with the really long phone number.
“Well, I tried!”, I imagined myself saying.
We slinked our way backstage, where I spied about 150 radio and promo people waiting in rows of folding chairs for a post-show meet-and-greet with the band. “Fuck this,” I thought out loud. I wasn’t waiting around for the band to shake hands and make small talk with all of these twerps.
I looked at my date and said, “OK, let’s get the fuck out of here.”
As we turned around and started making our way back out the door, a man stepped up to a podium and said, “Is Jeff Liles here? Mr. Peart is now prepared to meet with you.”
I'd almost made it out. Now I had to turn around and walk back by this whole twisted gaggle of impatient Rush freaks, many with that “Why does he get to meet the band first?” look on their faces.
I told my date to just wait by the door; I would be right back in a minute. I also knew this entire group of “folding-chair people” were counting on me to get this over with as soon as possible.
The band’s twitchy tour publicist led me to a small office near the dressing area. It looked like a stuffy room down at the police station: a single table, two metal chairs, bright fluorescent lights; all quite uncomfortable. The only thing missing was a two-way mirror on one of the walls.
I wanted out of there quick. Almost 10 minutes went by and I began to wonder if Peart and my date had both already ditched me. My imagination started to run wild: Hell, she didn’t know anybody out there. They all had mullets--even the women. She had the car. I was just some dude who had heavy metal skeletons in his closet. Why would she wait around for somebody like me? Maybe she split with him!
Then the door opened up again and it was on.
Neil Peart was obviously exhausted; it looked like he could barely even stand up. As he sluggishly entered the room, the tattered strap on his man-purse got caught the doorknob, then snapped and broke--sending the full contents of said accessory scattered all over the floor: his wallet, passport, journal, address book, hand lotion and prescription medication. They splattered in every direction.
Clearly we were off to a great start.
As I knelt down on the floor to help him retrieve his personal items, I assured him that I would make this interview very quick. He thanked me for my consideration and we got down to business.
I set my little portable tape recorder on the table to begin the Q&A. He quickly noticed that I didn’t have any prepared questions. Peart seized this opportunity to flip the script and start interviewing me.
Here’s an approximate snapshot of how it went down:
Peart: “Where is your notebook?”
Me: “Oh, I don’t need one. I’m a big fan from way back.”
Peart: “I see.”
Me: “Cool, let’s get started. How old were you when you guys started the band?”
Peart: “I wasn’t in the band when it first started. John Rutsey played drums on the first album.”
Oops. Forgot about that.
Peart: “Big fan, huh?”
Me: “Yeah, really. So, what has been the response to the new record?”
Peart: “From who?”
Me: “Uh, you know, the fans. The media. The critics.”
Peart: “You mean the real fans and critics?”
What the fuck was that supposed to mean?
Me: “Uh, yeah. The real critics. They’ve never really liked Rush very much, have they?”
Peart: “What are you getting at? Do you have any real questions? Do you even know what our new album is called?”
Me: “Well, I didn’t get my promo copy in the mail yet.”
Jeff Liles: Not incredibly observant.
(All I had to do was look down at my backstage pass to see the word “Presto” and--presto--I would have had my answer. That was too much trouble at the time, I suppose.)
Peart: “I see. You couldn’t go out and buy it?”
My body language said it all: Not bloody likely, pally. Maybe I could steer this in a different direction.
Me: “So, do you listen to much rap music?”
As if something like that would ever matter to any Rush fan.
Me: “Well, what do you listen to these days?”
Peart: “Stuff like Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa. But that’s beside the point. We’re here to talk about the new Rush album.”
Uh, yeah. You would think that.
Me: “You mean you’ve never heard Public Enemy? They’re amazing.”
Peart: “They use drum machines. I find that offensive.”
Me: “Oh, dude. Your drum solo tonight was incredible. You ever think of doing a solo album? You know, just you playing drums by yourself. Nobody has ever done that before. You could totally pull it off.”
Peart: “You’re kidding, right?”
This was spiraling horribly downward. Maybe I should bring up some of Rush’s material that I was actually familiar with...
Me: “So, do you think you’ll ever see the real 2112?”
Peart: “Sure, if I manage to live to be 150 years old.”
I really was never very good at math. I quickly changed subjects again. Maybe he was into politics.
Me: “Who did you vote for in the last election?”
Peart: “Which election? I’m Canadian.”
OK, that didn’t work.
Me: “What do you think of punk rock?”
Peart: “The message is disjointed and the musicianship is terrible.”
Me: “A lot of people think it’s really important.”
Peart: “Important? Why is that?”
Me: “Because it cleared away a lot of the dead weight of classic rock. You know, a lot of people think rock music is stagnant and over with. You don’t agree with them?”
Peart: “No. Can we please wrap this up?”
Me: “Sure. Great show, by the way. I just have one more question: I know you guys are into hockey. Who is gonna win the Stanley Cup this year?"
Peart: “I have no idea.”
Me: “OK, cool. Thanks, Mr. Peart. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this.”
Peart: “Sure, I’m used to it. Now may I ask you one more question?”
Peart: “You smoke a lot of pot, don’t you?”
Hey, maybe we were finally starting to bond!
Me: “Yeah, I love it.”
Peart: “And pot affects your short-term memory, doesn’t it?”
Me: “Uh, yeah, you could say that. Why do you ask?”
Peart: “Because your tape recorder has been on ‘Pause’ this whole time.”
Me: “Oh. Damn. Sorry about that. Wanna start over?”
Obviously, he didn't.
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Needless to say, the magazine only ran the live review part of my assignment. Shortly thereafter, I ditched the idea of writing for Rip and Metal Hammer and went back to writing about rap music and punk rock once again for Your Flesh.
At least my date hung around long enough that night to give me a ride home. --Jeffrey Liles
The piece as it eventually ran--just as a live review.
Jeff Liles will read a number of his Echoes and Reverberations pieces tonight at 8:30 at Priya Yoga Studio's free open mic spoken word night.