In May 2015, the veteran Canadian rock trio Rush embarked on their 40th anniversary tour, R40. For the band and their fans, R40 was a celebration and, perhaps, a farewell. But for Neil Peart, each tour is more than just a string of concerts, it’s an opportunity to explore backroads near and far on his BMW motorcycle. So if this was to be the last tour and the last great adventure, he decided it would have to be the best one, onstage and off.
This third volume in Peart’s illustrated travel series shares all-new tales that transport the reader across North America and through memories of 50 years of playing drums. From the scenic grandeur of the American West to a peaceful lake in Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains to the mean streets of Midtown Los Angeles, each story is shared in an intimate narrative voice that has won the hearts of many readers.
Richly illustrated, thoughtful, and ever-engaging, Far and Wide is an elegant scrapbook of people and places, music and laughter, from a fascinating road — and a remarkable life.
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Far and Wide
Bring That Horizon to Me!
By Neil Peart
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2016 Neil Peart
All rights reserved.
NOW — AND WAY BACK WHEN
That phrase I opened this book with, "Begin as you mean to go on," echoes through my life and work, as I guess it does for most everybody. In childhood I began with curiosity and a restless yearning to wander, and so I have gone on — now into my seventh decade. And even here and now, beginning as I mean to go on, I will ramble around the scenery with curiosity and restless yearning and report what I see. (I was delighted to learn the French have a literary term for such an approach. Thus I am not just a wandering loafer, oh no — je suis un flâneur.)
The title of the Introduction, "Thirty-Five Concerts. 17,000 Motorcycle Miles. Three Months. One Lifetime," was inspired by billboards advertising new movies and TV shows — high and prominent scenic attractions around my urban writing retreat. Located in what my letterhead terms "The Mean Streets of Midtown Los Angeles," my sanctuary, the Hallowed Bubba Cave, is a small cinder-block commercial building. The interior is painted white and raftered in bare wood and skylights. A row of six sports cars from the 1960s gleams under the skylights across one side, a historical array spanning Aston Martin, Jaguar, Corvette, Maserati, and Lamborghini.
Talk about "begin as you mean to go on," this baby picture foreshadows a lifetime of adventures behind the wheel — and behind the handlebars.
On a whim that grew over time, all of my old cars are silver, and I call them the Silver Surfers because most of their driving is on the Pacific Coast Highway. Cruising north or south, I glance west over the ocean, passing the wetsuited kahunas riding the waves, and sometimes dolphins and pelicans. Farther out, enormous container ships lumber darkly across the horizon like vast unmoored buildings.
Opposite the row of cars, my desk sits in a bright alcove, with a cozy sitting area for relaxed lunches with visiting friends. In the middle of a solitary writing day, a brief interval of brotherhood and laughter is welcome.
My building is delightfully situated on a narrow sidestreet in a gritty neighborhood of auto repair shops and "gentlemen's clubs." Famed twentieth-century journalist H.L. Mencken, "The Sage of Baltimore," named the performers in such establishments "ecdysiasts," after the ancient Greek word for a snake shedding its skin. Canadian males of a certain class used to call them "peelers," with more obvious derivation. When I drive home from the Cave in late afternoon I sometimes see the girls — tall, slender, elaborately maned — arriving for work, handing over their Range Rovers and BMWs to the bouncers. So I guess they do all right. A girl's gotta eat. Not much in career prospects maybe, but if it's all they have — the dancers and the gentlemen — then bless 'em.
Same with the street people, poor mad souls. Sometimes I see them sprawled on a cardboard bed on the shady side of the street, while others assemble more ambitious dwellings on the sidewalk under the freeway. Ramshackle arrangements of soiled cardboard, plastic tarps, and carpet scraps are draped over the inevitable grocery carts and junk furniture. After a week or two I might see a pair of police officers gently confronting the squatter, and next morning the warped expression of natural instincts for home and possessions will be cleared away. When I pass one such abode and find the builder awake, I pass him a folded piece of paper with a dead president on it. If I see a poor mad-eyed female shuffling by, or living in a place like that, my chivalrous heart aches and I am even more eager to help them. Because who could mistake their illness and misfortune for "laziness"?
Late one afternoon as I was about to drive home, I encountered a bizarre trio hanging by the Dumpster outside my gate. Not menacing, I didn't think — they seemed at ease where they were, with nowhere better to be. An African-American woman's lined face and sagging figure contradicted her youthful getup of cutoff denim short-shorts, leopard print sleeveless top, and an unfortunate attempt at "blondeness" on her wild hair, like a hacked-up ball of yarn.
One could guess her profession had once involved "gentlemen" in the earlier sense, but her chemical indulgences had compromised even that. She stood on the sidewalk with two scrawny little white guys, scruffy and threadbare, with vacant yet friendly smiles. As with the woman, their ages could not be guessed — anywhere from thirty to fifty. Their years had been hard.
All of them turned to smile at me with cracked and stained teeth, pointing at my sleek and shiny Jaguar (described in its day by Enzo Ferrari himself as "the most beautiful car in the world") with obvious admiration. As I opened the narrow door and climbed out to close the gate, the woman said something I couldn't hear, so I walked closer.
She repeated, "You wouldn't happen to have anything snortable, would you?" (With the inevitable finger upside her nose.) "Something to make the day a little more ..." she beamed a yellow smile "... beautiful?"
I smiled back with my palms outstretched and said, "Iwish!" and heard a chorus of laughter.
Then to my new friends, with a smile and a dismissive wave, I said, "I'm too old for that stuff!" After a beat, I added, "It's okay for you young people!"
They hooted at that. I gave the woman a folded note and said, "Maybe this will help." Next morning they were gone, and I saw an empty bottle of cheap vodka and an empty pack of Pall Malls near the Dumpster. So I guess they found some way to make their day a little more ... beautiful.
Bless 'em all.
In a similar spirit of making my own day more beautiful, one blazing afternoon I set out for a walk. As perfect as the Hallowed Bubba Cave is, sometimes it is refreshing to get outdoors. As my mother used to say when I was a kid, "Just go outside — it'll blow the stink off ya!" I also wanted to reward myself with a cheeseburger and a milkshake from a local joint, because I had just finished the first draft of this book. It had been a fairly urgent effort to get down all the "forgettable" details before they slipped from memory. As legendary editor Maxwell Perkins (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe) advised, "Don't get it right, get it down."
The getting it "right," the smoothing out and orchestrating, would take another few months. But I enjoy that kind of carpentry day after day, mingled with the diversions of "real life." The care taken in that work always has a clear aim — to help the reader follow along, in every sense. "Hard writing makes easy reading," as Wallace Stegner put it.
That day I walked out into my "mean streets" wearing appropriate hiking boots for the cracked and heaved pavement. Low, rough-hewn structures of crude masonry and corrugated metal sheltered behind iron gates topped with slashes of barbed wire or the forbidding coils of fanged razor wire. Any exposed surfaces were tattooed with bold, colorful scrawls of graffiti, which also decorated the weathered sides of old campers parked at the curb — the "gypsy RVs," as I thought of them. Following some arcane knowledge of city codes (I like to think of secret signs, like the hobos had in the 1930s — a whole guidance system they shared with one another), these battered machines migrate among certain backstreets and park for a few days. Sometimes they even run a little gas generator on the sidewalk outside, but I almost never see the residents. One day they are mysteriously gone, presumably having circulated to another louche neighborhood.
Above all our mortal coils of graffiti and loucheness, towering billboards looked down on the gridlocked drivers on nearby commuter streets. The ads for new movies and TV shows were punched up with strong graphics and pithy blurbs, like, ONE HOT DUDE. ONE HOT BABE. SEXY CHASE SCENES. PASSIONATE EXPLOSIONS.
The photo collage below was created by Greg Russell, combining riding partner Michael's images of me riding my motorcycle through a snowy landscape, waiting to go onstage, and drawing a route for the following day's travels. Picturing this combination of images as a huge movie billboard (ah, sweet dream! If only such a movie could be made without cameras intruding like so many eyes of Heisenberg — a futuristic notion of a film made from pure memory!), I imagined my own blurb under it. It sounds nice, rhythmically, looks good typographically, and the truth of it — well, that lies ahead.
Begin as you mean to go on — from the very beginning ...
At the age of twelve, in 1964, I decided to be a drummer, wanting to emulate Gene Krupa. The 1959 movie The Gene Krupa Story made being a drummer seem exciting, glamorous, and dangerous. "That's what I want," I thought — not yet even considering that I might someday "make several dollars just playing the drums," or even "dazzle the chicks!" For me, though, it was not going to happen "in NO TIME."
For my thirteenth birthday Mom and Dad gave me drum lessons, a pair of sticks, and a practice pad. They said if I stuck to the lessons and practiced for a year, they would think about buying me drums. (The advice I still give to parents whose children say they want drums.) Not having real drums that first year at least exercised my imagination, for I would array magazines across my bed in the layout of Gene Krupa's drums, or later Keith Moon's, and beat the covers off them. I sat on a stool in front of a mirror and waved my sticks around — like the maniac I dreamed of becoming ...
The next year Mom and Dad got me a three-piece set of Stewarts ($150) in red sparkle. Bass drum, snare drum, one tom, and one small (clanky) cymbal. Soon a cheap high-hat joined the "trap set" (from "contraption," dating to the silent-movie days when the pit drummers would have a wide range of percussion for sound effects).
That first day my shiny red jewels were set up in the living room, and over and over thereafter, I proudly played my two songs, "Wipe Out" and "Land of a Thousand Dances" (a local band, the British Modbeats — their eight-by-ten glossy hangs on the wall in the color photo — played a cover of the latter with a cool drum part). Then I moved the drums piece by piece upstairs to my room, and every afternoon after school played along with the pink spackle AM radio on the steam radiator beside me. Whatever song came on the Top 40 station, I tried to play along.
Next Mom and Dad got me a floor tom, and I saved up paper-route and lawn-mowing money for a pair of Ajax cymbals (still clanky, but bigger!) and stands. And still I played along with the radio, to the hits of 1965, '66, and — look out, big changes ahead! — 1967.
A few things I notice now in this photo of my teenage self (I had been sick in bed, hence the pajama bottoms, which add nicely to the op-art striped theme): the tight, round wear-spot on the snare head's sweet spot — working on good accurate technique even then. Like my unruly bangs, the cymbals way up high were a style of the times. The even-cheaper non-matching bass drum was a foolish trade with a school friend, but it was the desirable eighteen-inch diameter. Again, style over substance, like a callow youth of fourteen-and-a-half.
The old-car wallpaper and the Corvette poster (a project for school) signified a boyhood infatuation with cars that would be eclipsed by drums for a while. Later I came back around to cars, and today that 1963 Corvette Sting Ray "split-window coupe" I so admired is a prized trophy in my Silver Surfers collection. The Sting Ray also starred on the cover of the 2014 Bubba's Bar 'n' Grill calendar.
This beat-up relic was my "drum throne" in the early years. (What marketing genius dreamed up the name "throne" to bolster the fragile egos of the poor disrespected basher sitting at the back of the band? Like the lyrics to Gene Krupa's theme "Drummin' Man":
"See that man sittin' on that stool? He's a cowhide-kickin' fool."
Well, now that cowhide-kickin' fool is sittin' on a throne, baby!)
This psychedelic red barrel dates to about 1967, when I got my first good drums, a small set of gray ripple Rogers — now owned and restored by friend Brad, who recently returned this souvenir to me. All through my earliest bands in the late '60s, to my time in England in the early '70s, and right up until my first audition with Rush in July 1974, I used it to carry my stands and pedals for transport. (For that first audition, I drove my mom's Pinto, as the drums wouldn't fit in my Lotus Europa — and in earlier years the drums traveled in the back of Dad's International Harvester pickup, the same color as I sprayed this barrel, International Harvester Red.) When the drums were set up and the barrel was empty, I turned it over and sat on it to play — cushioned with a square green pillow I "liberated" from Mom.
My first band's name, "mumblin' sumpthin'" (oh all right, one last time — from a Li'l Abner comic), is psychedelically rendered (à la Moby Grape) in Magic Marker.
The barrel originally contained calcium carbide, which my dad's farm equipment dealership sold to power "bird scarers." These were megaphone-shaped little cannons that made a big noise at intervals to scare birds away from orchards and vineyards. My battered old red barrel is kind of a fitting symbol of where I started, fifty years ago — a milestone for the time and distance I have covered.
By the time I was sixteen, I had been playing for three years, and began lobbying Mom and Dad for some good drums. With influence from Mom, Dad agreed to sign for a loan to buy a little set of gray ripple Rogers — costing an astronomical $675. (You do not ever forget numbers like that. Drumsticks cost $2.50, drumheads around $10, and my first good cymbal was $75.) I made the loan payments of $32 a month by delivering morning newspapers, mowing lawns, working Saturdays and holidays at Dad's farm equipment dealership, and bringing home an occasional "several dollars" from gigs at the Y, the roller rink, or high schools around Southern Ontario.
And again I return to "begin as you mean to go on." Many times I have referred to my own "inner teenager" as the ultimate authority on artistic integrity — my conscience, in effect. I have always made decisions as if the guy in this photograph (with the Keith Moon pose, and a piece of his cymbal — smashed onstage during the Tommy show in Toronto — around my neck) was judging me. I felt a glow inside when I read a quote from singer Lesley Gore, "You gotta make your sixteen-year-old self proud." Oh yes. I have spent almost fifty years doing that. That kid judges me on everything.
My ideals were so pure back then I didn't even know they were ideals — I thought it was how the world worked. I believed that good work was rewarded by success, and that if I could just get good enough at playing the drums, all else would follow. I never dreamed of being famous — not at all. I dreamed of being good.
And I also had the illusion that music was only ever played for love, not for anything so crass as money. Wealth, like fame, was the effect, not the cause — if you were good, the money and celebrity just came with. My categories of music were simple. There were only three styles: old people's music, like on my dad's radio station, was irrelevant (the music I listen to now, of course); bubblegum pop on the Top 40 stations was despicable; and the only real thing was genuine, heartfelt rock.
That music entered my life in 1964, at age twelve, at a Saturday matinee of a still-astonishing movie, The T.A.M.I. Show (Teenage Awards Music International). In Traveling Music I wrote a lot about the history and significance of that film, and how life-changing it was for me. I had seen the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, but this was a powerful big-screen exposure (in "Electronovision" black and white) to "everything else": the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, James Brown (his performance alone was mind-blowing to this twelve-year-old small-town boy), Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and an eighteen-year-old Lesley Gore — her feminist manifesto, "You Don't Own Me," galvanized me. (And still — oh, that key change!)
(Irresistible sidebar: Lesley Gore's hits were also the first successes for producer Quincy Jones, though he never made much of it in later years.)
By 1968 I was able to expand the Rogers with a second bass drum and small tom ($275), set up to emulate Cream's Ginger Baker. A homemade extension elevated the high-hat cymbals nearly as high as my crashes, and my pant legs were rolled up to avoid the pedal beaters (hadn't discovered bicycle clips yet). As the rock became harder, so to speak, I started playing hard enough to break off the tips of my Slingerland Gene Krupa model drumsticks. I found it more economical to turn them around and use the butt end, which would remain part of my (ahem) "style" right up to the mid-'90s. While studying with Freddie Gruber I revised many of my playing techniques and got used to holding the sticks right-way-around again.
Excerpted from Far and Wide by Neil Peart. Copyright © 2016 Neil Peart. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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Table of ContentsIntro: Thirty-Five Concerts. 17,000 Motorcycle Miles. Three Months. One Lifetime. ix
Chapter 1: NowAnd Way Back When 1
Chapter 2: Science Island 23
Chapter 3: Rock of Ages 35
Chapter 4: Gifts of Time 49
Chapter 5: Backstage Byways 56
Chapter 6: A Sense of Place 72
Chapter 7: Show on the Road / Snow on the Road 82
Chapter 8: Against the Weather 97
Misfit Middle Eight 111
Chapter 9: Miracle in Colorado 127
Chapter 10: Serenity in Motion 137
Chapter 11: The Accidental Pilgrim 147
Chapter 12: George Harrison's Eyes 162
Chapter 13: Cops and Robbers and Morons (Oh My!) 179
Chapter 14: East of Eden 186
Chapter 15: Westbound and Down 201
Chapter 16: In a Big Country 216
Chapter 17: Binge Riding 231
Chapter 18: The Loneliest Road in America 238
Chapter 19: Bubba Crosses the Backline Meridian 268