Neil Peart has somehow managed to become many of the things he has previously stated he never wanted to be. Of the three members of the band Rush he has been, cumulatively, the least outgoing. It is, according to his personal account, just how it goes for the life of an introvert, and that perspective has been etched into rock music stone in the lyrics of “Limelight,” a track from the band’s most famous entry, Moving Pictures:
“I can’t pretend a stranger is a long-awaited friend.”
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That’s where the separation falls apart. While he may be the least likely member of the band to casually glad hand the fan base, his ideas, philosophical leanings, and inclinations are the most prominent. He is, after all, the lyricist for the group and has been since he came on board with their second album.
Furthermore, he has contributed essays to the band’s many tour programs, frequently updates his website with considerations and missives, and the majority of those thoughts have had a second life in a series of books, the latest being Far And Away: A Prize Every Time (the subtitle also being the title of one of his essays). While starting as a farm boy from Canada, Peart has become a world traveler, mostly on top of a motorcycle, often exploring the back roads of the Americas; an activity that has sustained him for years and was essential to his grieving process during the tragedies of his life.
All these have filtered into his outlets of expression. Rush’s lyrics have been, up until recently, fairly abstract and philosophical. Some might even accuse them of being clinical, but they came at a time when the standard for such things was how many ways getting drunk/stoned/laid could be articulated, with the minimum amount of introspection or remorse evident. A major reason for that level comes from Peart being a self-avowed, voracious reader. It shows in the book, and his blend of travelogue, memoir and journalism are informed by his ability to string words into sentences as few writers or rock drummers can.
In terms of what the average purchaser can expect from Far And Away, that depends on what expectations they bring with them. If they’re looking for the tawdry, tell-all sort of road-dog journal, the kind that you can leaf through in an hour or so and get the hang of in half the time, this collection is not for you.
The release works as a coffee-table book and is profusely illustrated with photographs from Peart’s journeys, with the overall design orchestrated by longtime Rush design partner Hugh Syme, but this is not a picture book. It occasionally delves into the world of music—and of being one of the most famous drummers in the world—but more often looks to those places where Peart is not recognized, where he can fade into the background and be the observer he prefers to be.
One of the standout pieces recounts a moment when drum-legend Peart was reduced to feeling inadequate and unsure. It was during a stint with the Burning For Buddy project, a tribute to jazz drummer Buddy Rich, and the first experience left him shaken. He admits his time was off, his instincts weren’t working and was mercilessly critical of his performance.
For most the story would end there. The respected professional, having seen the depth of the knowledge he didn’t possess, would turn away, flip them all the middle finger and go back to what he knew best. Instead, Peart went back to school. Under the advice of another jazz drum guru, Peter Erskine, Peart sought out Freddie Gruber and the task of unlearning Peart’s rigid process began. Through this, the drummer learned a lesson in improvisation, playing in the moment and with the moment, and not having to beat hell out of a drum with mathematical precision. Gruber showed him how to flow.
Did Peart’s return to the Buddy Rich spotlight suddenly find him channeling the master? No, and Peart is not afraid to admit it, but he was happier with his performance, and that happiness translated into a better result. It is for Peart, not only in this vignette but in all the rest that fill Far And Away, the understanding that he is a student of the world, more appreciative when he can be so without hindrances, and less so when the world bends around him. For the rest of us who are eternal learners, the book stands alone as an account of a reluctant rock ‘n’ roller and an avid pupil.
Dw. Dunphy is a writer/musician/artist hailing from Red Bank, N.J. He is an editor for the pop culture website Popdose as well as regular contributor. As contributor, he has shepherded such site mini-series as 50Prog50 and 50CCM50. He has recorded several albums including Enigmatic, Modernism and the recent instrumental album People Wearing Masks.