Monday, August 10, 2009

Tom Sawyer

The Ayn Rand nonsense chronicled here has got me thinking about various Rand-related matters, including the band Rush and their pseudo-intellectual awful drummer/lyricist Neil Peart.

Could anyone tell me what "Tom Sawyer" is about?

33 comments:

AMV said...

Spiros --

Your music judgement is almost always beyond reproach, but do you really think that Peart is an awful drummer? Yes, he has a ridiculously large drum set and there are much better drummers out there, but awful seems a bit harsh no?

Anonymous said...

Neil Peart plays solos for himself, not for you.

Paul Gowder said...

Dunno, but I trust you've heard the Mindless Self Indulgence version? They really thrash the shit out of that track. Listen to it.

Anonymous said...

Full disclosure: Huge Rush fan.

As far as Neil's "awful" drumming -- I am pretty sure this can be dismissed outright. Whatever could be your reasons for holding that judgment? What, other drummers don't know what they are talking about when they extol his virtuosity? Modern Drummer (a drumming magazine) is just mistaken when they likewise extol his skill? I just don't think that judgment is true at all. You can not like Neil's drumming, but to say he's awful? I call "pshaw!"

As far as the politics, this has been an issue that has vexed me since I became a fan. I am no objectivist, and I abhor Rand's views. However, in an interview Alex and Geddy did for a Canadian radio show (I forget exactly when and with what radio show), they put a charitable spin on the whole Randian thing: they just apply it to music. They are not in favor of doing what other people want, or making what other people think is good music. They play for themselves, and do what they want to do.

If they didn't, 2112 would have never been made. At the time they were being pressured to make more "radio friendly" songs. 2112 is, of course, not a radio friendly record.

So, yeah. I understand where Spiros is coming from, but I think the connection to Rand is no reason for not appreciating the music.

Of course, this brings up an interesting general philosophical question: Can the artistic value of a work of art (here, music) ever diminish in value just because one disagrees with the politics of it's maker?

The Brooks Blog said...

I'm with Spiros: I've never been impressed by Peart's drumming. An old high school teacher once told our class he was the best drummer "because he had a degree in music." Well, so do I. Does that make me the best guitarist? Well, I am...but not because of my degree.

Better drummers? I'd bet Dave Lombardo is far better...

imipolex-g_unit said...

A highly skilled shit juggler who can keep like 20 turds in the air is still just some guy slinging shit.

Anonymous said...

Well, he's no Bill Bruford, if that's what you mean.

Neil said...

Tom Sawyer is, in both the book and song, the personification of a sort or type of person--the sort of person breaking away from the status quo, exploring, and who represents both a normative and actual shifting of the human paradigm in the direction of his (man's) rational evolution. This fits, to a greater or lesser extent, with Freud's idea that man evolves in such a way as to shed his dependence on ideals (religion, social norms) and replace that dependence with a greater implementation of reason (leading to self-reliance, a deeper self-awareness and sense of responsibility for ones own "destiny"). Tom Sawyer has thus been a different people at different transitional points in man's evolution (our history). "Todays" Tom Sawyer is exactly what the song says; a leader to the next step in realizing pure reason or rationality. The "space he invades" is his day's work, to explore the unknown as progress towards truth. The "friction of the day," is the resistance he faces from both people's unwillingness to embrace change as well as the intellectual rigor of tackling what hasn't already been explored (the guy who cuts a path through the forest faces resistance from the brush leaving those who follow behind with little to do but be complacent and stagnate). He (TS) does all of this with a mind filled only by his own conclusions (i.e. "not for rent"), and via the power coming from honest intellectual reciprocity or dialectical process ("he gets high on you," "he gets by on you"). As far as "riding out the day's events," the song is referring to fate controlling what life gives to us, even though it is our responsibility (and can be a point of pride if done well) to live our own life with what fate hands us. In RUSH's "Roll the Bones," Peart refers to the same notion, "we draw our own designs, but fortune has to make that frame."

Spiros said...

AMV,

Yes-- "awful" is a bit harsh. But it's a reflex against years of hearing people go on and on about how Peart is great.

BTW: I once witnessed a drum-off between Peart and Omar Hakim (at some Buddy Rich celebration). And Hakim not only sent Peart to the woodshed, he *embarrassed* Peart to the point where Peart had to just stop playing.

I was left with the impression that Peart could do impressive things when it was all neatly worked out in advance after hours of practice, but he simply could not *play* the fucking drums.

Nutshell: Within the safe confines of Rush, he gets the job done well. Outside that context, he's amateur.

Spiros said...

Brooks:

Lombardo is definitely better than Peart.

But Stewart Copeland probably beats them all.

Meno said...

Spiros:

It's really disappointing to see you back off like this with AMV. "Awful" isn't harsh. It's just accurate. Period. So is "rancid."

Spiros said...

Meno,

I'm not going to defend Peart as a drummer per se-- I still say he's awful in the sense. I will say that he does well for Rush: he's tight, mechanical, regimented, obedient, predictable and soulless. Much like Randians in general.

little drummer girl said...

Nine favorite rock drummers:

- Charlie Watts
- Bill Ward
- Jody Stephens
- Mo Tucker
- Grant Hart
- Steve Shelley
- Billy Ficca
- John Bonham
- Whoever drummed on Crooked Rain Crooked Rain (Steve West? Nastanovich? Malkmus himself?)

(Never cared that much for Keith Moon...)

Spiros said...

Little Drummer:

Grant Hart. Genius. Did I mention that Husker Du is the greatest American band ever?

Neil said...

"Modern drummer" as an authority is like any number of guitar magazines. You can cite it for technical proficiency but the writers of these things are typically simply unaware that getting around an instrument is not equivalent to musicianship. Same goes for all too many players: they go on about X on the grounds that X plays really fast - never mind that X plays shit really fast.

Meno said...

Spiros:

I will say that [Peart] does well for Rush: he's tight, mechanical, regimented, obedient, predictable and soulless.

If this is what one needs, why not use a drum machine? A drum machine doesn't look as cool as a human drummer. But that seems to be the only disadvantage it has compared to drummers such as Peart.

Spiros said...

Meno:

But don't forget: a drum machine can't write shitty lyrics. Do you know how *hard* it would be to get a drum machine to be able to write so poorly? Peart is indispensable.

"Echoes with the sound of salesmen... of salesmen... of SALESMEN!"

Glaucon said...

This isn't about drummers, but it's a good Ayn Rand story nonetheless that a visiting friend of mine reminded me of. Years ago, before the sad demise of Great Expectations in Evanston, Illinois -- a great bookstore devoted almost exclusively to philosophy near the Northwestern campus -- my friend John is browsing and hears the following exchange between a would-be customer and the owner (Truman ...?).

Entry chimes tinkle.
Customer: Do you have any books by Ayn Rand?
Owner: (After a pause, but not looking up from whatever he was reading) Certainly not.

Glaucon said...

This isn't about drummers, but it's a good Ayn Rand story nonetheless that a visiting friend of mine reminded me of. Years ago, before the sad demise of Great Expectations in Evanston, Illinois -- a great bookstore devoted almost exclusively to philosophy near the Northwestern campus -- my friend John is browsing and hears the following exchange between a would-be customer and the owner (Truman ...?).

Entry chimes tinkle.
Customer: Do you have any books by Ayn Rand?
Owner: (After a pause, but not looking up from whatever he was reading) Certainly not.

729 said...

Glaucon--great anecdote!!!

The Brooks Blog said...

Fair enough, Spiros. But Copeland? I'd enjoy seeing him trying to play "Angel of Death"...

In any event, I believe the case has been made: whatever your favourite, PEart is not the best. QED.

Spiros said...

Brooks,

Copeland could rock "Angel of Death" on a high-hat alone.

Anonymous said...

Nothing I have heard Neil Peart do (and I'll admit I only know Rush's hits because, like Spiros, I loathe them) comes anywhere close to the beauty and technical sophistication of this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZZLLYEzKE8

And the qualities that make the Gadd bit so fantastic are present in large swaths of Stewart Copeland's drumming: supportive, but highly inventive and subtle stuff. Copeland's feel and groove are also just fantastic (it strikes me as the straight-ahead equivalent of Tony Williams' feel).

Peart, and as far as I'm concerned, Rush are really rather boring -- they just do technically flashy versions of pretty obvious stuff. I would also add that unlike the truly great prog rock bands -- King Crimson, early Yes, Genesis with Gabriel -- Rush's music completely lacks a sense of humor, which is required to make prog rock go down smooth. The great prog drummers (Michael Giles, Bruford and, yes, early Phil Collins (he was a fantastic drummer)) are, in addition to being technically very accomplished, highly *musical* -- the parts they concoct are often beautiful (although I would put Bruford at the bottom of that list). The same is not true of N.P. by a long shot.

Of course, if we're going to compare across genres, the best jazz drummers really put everyone to shame.

DANIEL said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
little drummer girl said...

"Grant Hart. Genius. Did I mention that Husker Du is the greatest American band ever?"

My own choice would be Guided by Voices. But if someone said Husker Du, I wouldn't protest too loudly.

Anyway, yes, Grant Hart is something else. #1 piece of evidence: In A Free Land, where he does a whole bunch of subtle things that no other drummer playing a song this fast and furious could dream of doing.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:29 has obviously never seen a Neil Peart drum solo.

Here's his solo at the Buddy Rich memorial concert: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47yxLg2RyXM

Anonymous said...

Anon 9.29 here. You're right: I had never heard Peart solo. But I'm not sure what the solo 6:48pm points to is meant to show. Clearly Peart is extremely technically proficient -- no one denies that. But I would much much rather have heard a solo one third the length that kept the tune's form of the tune and time than a four minute bag of (admittedly impressive) tricks. That would go much further to establishing his credentials as something other than a technician than what's there.

As for his swing feel, it is absolutely horrendous. His feel on the count in at the end of the solo is embarrassingly bad. But perhaps the point wasn't that he was a good jazz drummer (b/c the video demonstrates quite the opposite). So what part of what I claimed does this video falsify?

Perhaps Peart is a disciple of this school of drumming:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFL6_jmWsB4

Anonymous said...

And then there's this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrMBIH2TBpU

Jon said...

I remember after Rush released one of their horrible live albums it turned out that most of the songs were less than one second difference in length than the studio tracks.

I got really interested in that and found out that a great deal of what they did "live" was midi tracks from the studio. THEY ARE A KARAOKE BAND.

Now weirdly, they recorded their live Karaoke and that even wasn't good enough. They took the Karaoke performance tracks back into the studio and re-recorded huge bits of those too! So the turd had to be polished to a very high Rushtastic sheen.

Seriously, Sid Vicious and all the martyrs of punk rock died (and Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig become huge hulking bullies) to free us from the soul death of pretentious crap like Rush! Geez, just this year we lost Ron Asheton (though it's just been announced that Iggy has made up with James Williamson after all these years) and Lux Interior.

As Angus Young said in another context, "Look at that guy on stage playing all those fast notes up and down the finger board. I can play fast notes up and down the finger board, but I call that practicing." If you like seeing people practice scales to prerecorded music underneath emotionally dishonest music, then Rush is your band.

[Full Disclosure: When I was a kid I was so uncool that even the square kids who read Rush album lyrics to each other in the back of the bus bullied me.]

A good drummer is someone who (1) picks a good band to play with and (2) doesn't get in the way of that band rocking out. Meg White, Scott Asheton, Maureen Tucker, and Phil Rudd kick Neal Pert's jazzercizmo into the ground.

Dr. Killjoy said...

Jon,

While I agree that Rudd is a kick-ass drummer, I have to laugh at your Sid Vicious reference. If a junkie who couldn't play bass worth a shit is your idea of a musical martyr, then I'm pretty sure anything else your kooky religion has to say about music may be slightly misguided.

Everyone else,

You good folks do realise that at any self respecting punk bar, actually whinging out loud about how much you hate Rush or how awful a drummer Neil Peart may be will get your face beaten just as quickly and brutally as would wearing a Rush T-shirt or being Neil Peart himself.

Jon Cogburn said...

Dr. Killjoy,

Actually youtube has some Sex Pistols concerts from the American tour where the bass is plugged in, and it's all perfectly competent.

On the cultural significance of John Simon Ritchie's band, I heartily recommend Greil Marcus' "Lipstick Traces."

I think it's been over a decade since I've been to a "punk rock bar," so I'll take your word for it about contemporary cultural norms (cue Cake- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILRpRv57H0g ) .

I do remember in college (Austin TX's famed "Cannibal Club" which you can see in the early footage from "The Devil and Daniel Johnston") a really unpleasant Skinhead named "Scuff" tried to beat me when I asked him for a light. Luckily he was so drunk that his fist overshot my face and he fell insensible onto the concrete floor. I'm sure if I'd whinged about what a crap band Rush is it would have gone much worse for me.

Dr. Killjoy said...

Jon,

You may be right. As I recall, for the first bit of the American tour, Vicious was without a smack supplier.

My apologies for Scuff's actions. Later that night we took him out behind the bar and gave him a lesson in manners. He now obliges the light before drunkenly attempting to pound someone.

The Wolf said...

THE GREATEST!!!

Ladies & Gentlemen, Mr. John Bonham!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ed5YvFkcR7g

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_fwcFjzyik