Friday, April 13, 2012

Roadshow: Landscape With Drums (Peart, Neil)

Rating: 5
Year: 2006
Genre: Biography/Travel
Read again? Yes

For several years I've been wanting to read Peart's books to see whether his prose is as good as his lyrics for Rush. Maybe it's not as evocative or poetic, but a book takes different writing skills than does a song--and he does a fine job.

In the first chapter, Peart takes us on the road along Interstate 40, nominally following old Route 66, from his home in Los Angeles to the tour's first venue in Nashville, Tennessee. He gives brief sketches of scenery, bumper stickers, reminiscences from the band's beginnings or most recent tour. He describes old diversions for days off--building models, bicycle tours, reading, several abortive attempts at writing fiction. Anything to kill time during the boring stretches of highway travel.

We see a side of the author that most fans never see; he used to have a reputation for being standoffish, unapproachable, and rude toward the invading fan horde. His writing here--and in interviews for the Rush biopic "Beyond the Lighted Stage" reveals a man who can play his drums before 500,000 screaming Rush fans but who is terribly shy and uncomfortable under fame's microscope.

Here, on the road with Michael (the R30 Tour's security director) and their motorcycles, he's not Neil Peart the Greatest Rock Drummer Of Our Time (and he'd be very uncomfortable if you called him that to his face); no, he's Just Neil, an anonymous guy on a bike who takes the occasional smoke break, stays overnight in a Best Western, and has a generous serving of The Macallen single-malt before dinner: "When I'm riding my motorcycle, I'm glad to be alive. When I stop riding my motorcycle, I'm glad to be alive."

Chapter 1 comes to a close 2-1/2 days later with the weary riders pulling up to the practice venue.

The rest of the book follows the same pattern, with snapshots of shows old and new, rides past and present, moments with friends and family, all tied together with life on the smallest, most out-of-the-way roads on the way to the next show, passing farms and tiny towns and meeting real people, regular people, ordinary people along the way.

I was amused to find that Peart "collects" church signs--
--We have no new messages
--To prevent burning, use son block
--If you take satan for a ride pretty soon he'll want to drive
--Faith is a higher faculty than reason
--To belittle is to be little
--Why worry when you can pray?
--He is no respecter of persons

--each of which get some snarky comment or launch a philosophical discussion once he and Michael are off the road and drinking their evening Macallen. The thoughts triggered by "He is no respecter of persons" is especially worth reading.

Another running joke is that Peart doesn't give the venues' corporate names in the book; he names them "Lodging and Entertainment Corporation Amphitheater" or "Consumer Electronics Chain Amphitheater" or "Natural Gas Corporation Theater" or whatever. He describes fans who've been to so many shows that the band gave them nicknames (license plate chick, the happy guy), remembers seeing the Fan's Girlfriend phenomenon over the years (she hates the music, hates the band's place in her BF's affections). There are the inevitable fans who push a little too far, following Peart's bus out of the venue lot and down the highway--do they want autographs, or is it some lunatic who wants those secret lyric messages decoded?

When he arrives in London to begin the European leg of the tour, there are heartbreaking memories of Peart and wife Jackie trying to absorb the loss of their teen-aged daughter in 1997; they went to London hoping to get away from publicity and reminders. Less than a year later, Jackie was dead of cancer. Peart goes out of his way to avoid triggers this time around (the show must go on), but it's a hard couple of days.

Still, this isn't the book for dwelling on those losses, though there are many other places that bring the occasional stab of memories: a museum trip in St. Louis when Selena was nearly 16, Peart keeping it short: "I love those memories. And hate them, too."

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