Neil Peart: The Fundamental Relationship of Music and Listener (1984)

SKF NOTE: This is from the transcript of one of my 1984 Neil Peart interviews. The back story is here. I remembered this exchange about drum clinics after I saw Jeff Wald’s YouTube video of a Peart clinic given eight years after this interview. (I’ve not watched most of this video.)

Neil’s points here about the music primacy of ears (audio) over eyes (visual) are timeless.


Scott K Fish: Why don’t you like giving drum clinics?

Neil Peart: Partly temperament, again. It’s uncomfortable in that context. The overriding negative is: I don’t believe in their value.

SKF: You never went, as a kid, to a drum clinic?

NP: No. I’ve done clinics a couple of times, just to say I can. I talked about influences and discussed their application and use. Then had questions and answers. I don’t think anything valuable is imparted at clinics. The maxim “teach by example” is best.

SKF: How were the [clinic] questions asked of you?

NP: Good.

SKF: So, why are clinics of little value?

NP: A good answer to a good question isn’t necessarily helpful. I see music as an inner struggle for assimilation. You can only learn so much from other musicians.

SKF: A drummer seeing you in concert might be a football field length away. That’s not the same as seeing you at a clinic.

NP: No, but our records are my ideal performance, the way I conceived the songs. Just slightly ahead of me. Justifying them after the fact is a bit redundant.

SKF: How can a kid figure out what you do with electronic percussion [just by] listening to your records?

NP: He doesn’t need to. He needs that level of understanding in 20 years. If what you need to know is how to go: bass drum, snare drum — that’s what you should be worried about. Not how to run digital sampling to eight pads, integrated with your foot. That’s not where you start.

SKF: When you see drummers play, don’t you like to be as close as possible?

NP: Seeing isn’t important either. Music is not a visual medium. I’ve seen bands from [both] a distance and close. Both are interesting and exciting, but aren’t fundamentally moving the way music is. Sometimes I hear a song live that has much more impact because it wasn’t communicated properly on record.

SKF: I asked Max Roach how he learned to play. I was asking him about stickings, because at the time of the interview, stickings were a big thing.

[Max] said he never worried about that. If he heard Papa Jo Jones play something on record, Max would imitate the sound. Very often he would see Papa Jo [live] playing the same song, and Max would see that Papa Jo got the same sound a different way.

NP: Absolutely. That’s so important. The way you interpret what someone else did sends you off into your own zone.

I grew up in a small town. It was a long way to go to see a concert. Concerts were rarer then anyway. Clinics were practically unknown in Toronto. Toronto was a long way away from where I was, for a kid who didn’t drive or have a car.

All those things were very remote. but the record store wasn’t. My record player wasn’t. And my brain wasn’t. And those were what you needed. You listened to something and tried to imitate it. Maybe you learn it your own way. So what? Maybe you learn it a harder way. But again, so what? If you’re sending yourself into more difficult areas, you’re setting yourself up for further experimentations in those areas. You’re only helping yourself.

As much as visuals are an important part of a Rush concert, it’s not just the music. With a record, it’s just the listener and the music. The fundamental relationship. I’m not convinced there’s much of a difference listening to a drummer on record, or seeing him in a drum clinic.

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