Traveling Music: Playing Back the Soundtrack to My Life and Times

Traveling Music: Playing Back the Soundtrack to My Life and Times

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by Neil Peart

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Neil Peart decided to drive his BMW Z-8 automobile from L.A. to Big Bend National Park, in Southwest Texas. As he sped along “between the gas-gulping SUVs and asthmatic Japanese compacts clumping in the left lane, and the roaring, straining semis in the right,” he acted as his own DJ, lining up the CDs chronologically and according to his possible


Neil Peart decided to drive his BMW Z-8 automobile from L.A. to Big Bend National Park, in Southwest Texas. As he sped along “between the gas-gulping SUVs and asthmatic Japanese compacts clumping in the left lane, and the roaring, straining semis in the right,” he acted as his own DJ, lining up the CDs chronologically and according to his possible moods. “Not only did the music I listened to accompany my journey, but it also took me on sidetrips, through memory and fractals of associations, threads reaching back through my whole life in ways I had forgotten, or had never suspected.… Sifting through those decades and those memories, I realized that I wasn’t interested in recounting the facts of my life in purely autobiographical terms, but rather … in trying to unweave the fabric of my life and times. As one who was never much interested in looking back, because always too busy moving forward, I found that once I opened those doors to the past, I became fascinated with the times and their effect on me. The songs and the stories I had taken for granted suddenly had a resonance that had clearly echoed down the corridors of my entire life, and I felt a thrill of recognition, and the sense of a kind of adventure. A travel story, but not so much about places, but about music and memories.”

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Peart's writing is lyrical and his tale poignant, fully capturing an extraordinary journey, both as a travel adventure and as memoir."  —Library Journal on Ghost Rider

Product Details

ECW Press
Publication date:
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6.06(w) x 9.26(h) x 1.19(d)

Read an Excerpt

“Driving away to the east, and into the past”

The Santa Ana winds came hissing back into the Los Angeles Basin that week, breathing their hot, dry rasp through what had once been the fishing village of Santa–Monica–by–the–Sea. The streets around us were littered with dry palm fronds and eucalyptus leaves, and the view from our upstairs terrace reached the distant blue Pacific through the line of California fan palms down along Ocean Boulevard. The incoming waves battled the contrary wind, as dotted whitecaps receded clear back to the long dark shadow of Santa Catalina Island, bisected horizontally by a brownish haze of smog.

More than three hundred years ago, the Yang–Na natives called the Los Angeles Basin “the valley of the smokes,” referring to the fog trapped by those thermal inversions. And even then, wildfires sometimes raged across the savanna grasses in the dry season, creating prehistoric smog. Then and now, the air was usually clearer by the ocean, ruled and cooled by the prevailing sea breeze, but the Santa Anas invaded from inland, carrying hot desert air over the San Gabriel Mountains, through the San Fernando Valley, all the while gathering airborne irritants from the whole metropolis and driving them right through Santa Monica, and on out to Catalina.

The Cahuilla Indians believed the Santa Anas originated in a giant cave in the Mojave Desert that led directly to the lair of the Devil himself, and early Spanish arrivals picked up on that story and named those hot, dry winds the Vientos de Sanatanas, or Satan’s winds. Later arrivals to Southern California were more concerned with Christian propriety and boosting real estate values in this earthly paradise, and the Chamber of Commerce issued a press release in the early 1900s: “In the interest of community, please refer to the winds as ‘The Santa Ana Winds’ in any and all subsequent publications.”

Still, the devil winds were blamed by longtime Angelenos for effects both physical and psychological: Raymond Chandler wrote in Red Wind that when the Santa Anas blow, “meek little wives feel the edge of their carving knife and study their husbands’ necks.” Modern–day urban myths associate the Santa Anas with rising crime rates, freeway gun battles, wildfires, actors entering rehab, Hollywood couples divorcing, bands breaking up, irritated sinuses, and bad tempers all around.

As a recent immigrant from Canada, I had thought all that was local folklore (or just a regular day in L.A.), but I had only lived in Santa Monica for three years, and spent much of that time working with Rush in Toronto or touring in other cities. Now, though, in late March of 2003, I was feeling the effects of those abrasive winds on my sinuses, and my mood. Along with the brownish haze over the sea and my itchy nose, tension was in the air.

For one thing, there was a war on. The United States and Britain were just into the second week of the attack on Iraq, and no one knew what might happen. The smoke and mirrors of propaganda and the phantom menace of “weapons of mass destruction” had been paraded before us so much that a kind of contagious anxiety had been sown. Dire possibilities seemed to be on everyone’s mind, and in every conversation. The chance of a chemical attack on Los Angeles seemed … at least worth worrying about. When the war began, I had said to my wife, Carrie, “Let’s go to Canada,” where I still owned the house on the lake in Quebec, and still had friends and family in Toronto. However, now some mysterious disease called SARS was spreading from Asia to Canada, and people were dying, hospitals were closing, there was a travel advisory against Toronto; it was a bad scene there too.

Then there were the interior battles, and internal “travel advisories” — the “don’t go there” areas. I had some serious personal and professional issues weighing on my mind — big questions and big choices to make.

Work, for one thing. After only a couple of months at home, and spending most of 2002 on the Vapor Trails tour, and all of 2001 writing and recording that album, I felt I was just catching my breath. But plans had to be made so far in advance. Recently the band’s manager, Ray, had been entertaining (or torturing) me with various scenarios of recording and touring possibilities for the upcoming years, and I would have to give some answers soon. In 2004, the band would celebrate our thirtieth anniversary together, so we’d probably want to do something to commemorate that. A party, a cake, a fifty–city tour?

What about prose writing? With a stretch of free time ahead of me in 2003, I felt I wanted to get started on a writing project of some kind again, and friends were encouraging me to write more. But what did I want to write? (Now what?) Maybe try something different from the travel–writing style of my first two published books, The Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa (1996) and Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road (2002). Some fiction? History?

I didn’t know, but I was thinking about it.

There were a few half–finished traveling books in my files, narratives of journeys I’d taken through the early ’90s and never had the time or drive to complete: the third of my African bicycle tours, of Mali, Senegal, and the Gambia; several motorcycle explorations around Newfoundland, Mexico, and North Africa; perhaps I should look at them again. Or, back in the fateful summer of ’97, I had abandoned a narrative recounting the Rush Test for Echo tour, called American Echoes: Landscape with Drums, when my life was suddenly pulled out from under me by tragedy and loss. But I wasn’t sure I wanted to take up that story again, or any of the old ones. Something new would be good, it seemed to me.

Meet the Author

Neil Peart is the drummer and lyricist for the rock band Rush and the author of "Ghost Rider." He lives in Santa Monica, California.

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4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you are a fan of the greatest North American Band of all time, 'RUSH' (as I am). Or perhaps just a music lover, musician or someone who truly loves exceptional writing. I highly recommend Neil Peart's latest installment - 'Traveling Music'. He once again displays his writing genius and 'paints a beautiful canvas' for the reader of his 'What Now' journey from his home in California to Texas. Along his sojurn, he plays a vast array of music ranging from Sinatra to Linkin Park to Madonna and to the grand finally 'Vapor Trails'. From recounting his childhood memories of listening to his father's musical favorites, to 'The Who', right up until modern day music such as 'Vertical Horizon'. For each artist,song and orchestration, Neil provides the reader with a little history for the current CD that is playing in his BMW, as well as his personal memories and emotional attachment to that particualr song and artist. Neil also outlines in perfect detail the many changing landscapes of Americana and the interesting people he meets along the way. Another caveat is the inclusion of some of his other travels recounted in both 'Ghost Rider' (a truly touching story) and 'The Masked Rider'. As a lyricist for 'RUSH', Neil has always been a great inspiration to me and has proven time and time again what a gifted writer he is. Looking forward to the next book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Wiz74 More than 1 year ago
I have read almost all of Peart's books and have enjoyed them all, but I had held off reading this one. I was under the impression that it was just about the music he liked to listen to while traveling. I came to find out that it's an autobiography mixed with music reviews, mixed with travelogue. It's been a great read and I'm sorry I held off reading it until now. I should have known it would rock!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
There is a telling part in Neil Peart's 'Traveling Music' where Neil, perhaps my favorite musician of all time, describes the band Linkin Park's appeal to him by writing, 'It occurred to me that another reason I appreciated Linkin Park was because I had no idea what they looked like, or how they projected themselves visually...I had no idea where they were from, what age they were, what race they were, what kind of haircuts they had, or even how many of them they were. It was just about the music.' Well, being an amazingly huge Rush fan, and having Neil Peart shape a lot of my mostly conservative/libertarian views, I did know more about him than that...but not enough to say WHO he was. 'Ghost Rider' did a lot to fill that in, but not nearly as much as 'Traveling Music,' and, sorry to say, I am now a little sad that I've gotten to know more about the man behind the music. Finishing this book coincidentally around the time of the National Review's 'Top 50 Conservative Rock Songs of All Time,' with two of Rush's works prominently featured, I was sad to see that, actually, despite somewhat of a grudging respect for Ayn Rand, Neil actually is nowhere near conservative/ libertarian himself. Even worse, there seems to be a certain innate smugness and arrogance to the man, which some might have seen before (and apparently have, according to some of his anecdotes), but somehow or other, I thought that that was just a reaction to seeing so many people on the road, of not having a complete sense of privacy -- in other words, that deep down inside, Neil Peart would be a nice man to talk to. I think, having read 'Traveling Music,' that he would be...but only on HIS terms, and if you happen to hit him wrong, there goes your chance of friendship with him. (Although, of course, even in his memoirs, he says nothing about his complicity in losing his privacy via courting the spotlight the way any musician of renown does - such introspection and admittal would've been most welcome.) The book itself is good, and I appreciate much of his views on American musical icons like Frank Sinatra and Patsy Cline and music both popular and otherwise in general -- however, I still think that most progressive rock fans would be aghast to learn of Peart's respect for Madonna and 98º (?!?) and seeming obsession with The Beach Boys. Much as with that of 'Ghost Rider,' the ending of 'Traveling Music' is also anomalous, with the story of Rush's involvement with the SARS benefit concert at Toronto back in 2003...rather than congratulate himself on his (admittedly improving) prose-writing skills, Neil needs to concentrate on his denouement-building. Overall, I tried very hard to separate my growing (and surprising) disdain for the man and separate out his writing...but, heya, that's hard enough to do when dealing with a memoir. Will I love Neil's music, past and future? Always. The man himself, though? Eh...I must just be getting old...