Closer To The Heart: Neil Peart And The Creative Process

Sometimes in life, it’s easy to feel a little bit like an island in an endless ocean, especially when you talk about being creative and developing something from your own thoughts, feelings, and visions. Creativity is something so personal and the “quality” of a piece is 100% dependent on our own opinions, beliefs, and ideals when we come into contact with whatever the artist(s) created. In that way, art can very easily build bridges between people and it can also indirectly contribute to the creation of stories about the art or the artist(s) that may not be 100% true. Growing up I thought, for example, that the lead singer of a band was the one writing the lyrics. To me, if you were the person on stage singing the words to the song with so much feeling, it had to mean they came from you right?

With the recent passing of one of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s most unique and prolific creative forces, and after doing a little more research on the man himself, I have a newfound kindred spirit when it comes to songwriting and the craft therein, and found out that once again things are very rarely what they appear to be.

“All the world’s indeed a stage
And we are merely players
Performers and portrayers
Each another’s audience
Outside the gilded cage” – Neil Peart, ‘Limelight

According to the official Rush website, Neil Peart was born in Hamilton Ontario, about an hour outside of Toronto, September 12th, 1952. At the age of 13, his family moved to St. Catharines Ontario, 20-30 minutes from the famous Horseshoe falls in Niagara, and Peart began taking drum lessons. After a brief stint in London England, Neil moved back to Canada and in 1974 joined the Toronto based band Rush before their first American release.

“One likes to believe
In the freedom of music
But glittering prizes
And endless compromises
Shatter the illusion
Of integrity, yeah” – Neil Peart, ‘The Spirit of Radio

What many people may not know about Neil Peart is that he created the vast majority of stories, themes, and lyrics that set the tone for the band and made Rush’s music so iconic. Since Rush’s 1975 album, ‘Fly By Night’, Peart wrote some of the most ingenious and inspiring lines in rock music to date, using the work of Ayn Rand to inspire an entire album and quoting Shakespeare in one of the bands most well-known songs.

When Bruce Pollock interviewed Peart in 1986, the two discussed the craft of songwriting. Peart’s views on the creative process are very interesting and insightful. Pollock asked Peart,

“Doesn’t it seem to you that sometimes a group is categorized for its music, but its message isn’t considered as important as that of an individual singer/songwriter?”

to which Peart responded,

“That’s ok; as a member of the audience it was that way to me, too. If people don’t take all the trouble interpreting lyrics that I took in creating them, that doesn’t bother me, because I’m a musician first and not just a lyricist…”

“I think as a listener of music, lyrics were strictly tertiary for me. First there was the song and then there was the musicianship, and then, after I already liked the song, there were the lyrics. There’s no way I’ll ever like the lyrics to a song that I don’t like. It’s an essential relationship.”

To me, Peart’s response shares a very close link to a literary theory called Reader Response Theory. I believe that this method of literary criticism actually applies to the way we all interact with art in general. According to Perdue University’s online writing lab, “reader-response criticism considers readers’ reactions to literature as vital to interpreting the meaning of the text.” Essentially what this means is, that the artist creates a piece and creates a life for the piece based on their own perceptions of what it means. However, once it’s put out into the world everyone who comes into contact with that piece interacts with it their own way, finds new meaning in it through that interaction, and therefore creates a new life for said piece.

This is the beauty and inherent complication in art. Once you create something, it is no longer solely yours and you can no longer 100% control the narrative associated with your creation. This, in my opinion, is a wonderful thing because whatever it is that you created is now brought into the context of different people’s lives, and therefore can mean so many different things to so many different people. At the end of the day, isn’t that the point of being creative? To start a conversation, and create something that continues to make people think about the world around them? I, for one, believe that this is more important than finding something that is “true”.

“And the men who hold high places
Must be the ones who start
To mold a new reality
Closer to the heart
Closer to the heart” – Neil Peart, ‘Closer to the Heart

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