A Man of Many Hats
In 2006, Arts East spoke with musician and author Neil Peart.
Neil Peart has been busy. Since returning to full-form in 2002, the 54 year old drummer for Rush, the Canadian mega-rock trio, has been preoccupied with a series of personal and professional projects; two studio albums, subsequent concert tours, DVDs, a website, and the writing of three books, including his latest work Roadshow; Landscape with Drums.
Speaking from a recording studio in Toronto where he and his bandmates Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson are at work on their 18th original studio album, Peart explains his motivations for chronicling his motorcycle journeys during Rush's 2004 thirtieth Anniversary tour.
"This book works on different levels. On the one hand it became the logical culmination of so many desires to try and explain what it is really like to be a touring musician and the kinds of personal and artistic conflicts that exist in trying to survive and make a living doing something creatively satisfying. At the same time it is a travel diary of sorts as I have a passion to communicate what I see and who I meet when I am out there on my bike."
As the longtime beat-keeper and lyricist for his band, Peart is no stranger to shifting gears. "It's a little like juggling hats" he says. "When I'm writing lyrics I always wear a cowboy hat, because I figure that you can never take yourself too seriously with a cowboy hat on. And then when I go in and work on drum parts I'll put on my little African hat. Then, when I am writing prose, I'll wear either my BMW motorcycle hat or a Toronto Maple Leafs hat." Prejudice aside, Peart can be forgiven for that indulgence.
"Ha! To be honest I am not a hockey fan at all - I just happen to like the hat! Certainly, however, there is both a distinct physical and psychological adjustment that occurs when changing hats as each has specific requirements. Thankfully I like all of my hats!" For Roadshow, Peart exchanged his musical toque for a writer's cap as he made the transition from lyricisms to literature.
"As I describe at the end of the book, after the last concert in Europe I, literally and figuratively, put down my drumsticks and walked off-stage into the world of prose writing, which is a whole other mindset altogether for me.
"I have learned that there is a fine line between the art and craft of writing; one is strictly a concise creative endeavor while the other seeks to broadly capture and communicate experience. As such, like good journalism, prose writing is very freeing in that it seeks to record and relay those experiences on a much bigger canvas. The challenge of lyric writing is to try and condense big themes and big ideas into a much smaller space.
"With Roadshow, the key phrase, as it always has been, was that little writer's exercise that always plays in my head; how would I put this in words? How can I best capture this feeling, or this view, or this experience?
"I worked a lot on the presentation of structure and especially the handling of time because I wanted to make a flowing narrative of my day-to-day journeys. At the same time I had a lot of history to get in there, so there was a real drive to reconcile those two elements. Still, I am very satisfied with the book in the sense that I feel like I've been able to convey my observations from that period in an exact and effective manner, while still leaving some room for matters of personal opinion."
Having hung up his literary lid for the time being, Peart has once again thrown himself back into the world of music. "I've just finished all the lyrics for the new album, which will be out next year, and so I'm back into the headspace of drumming and trying to challenge myself by experimenting with new set-ups and sounds. And, of course, the language of rhythm requires a completely different kind of hat."
Story by Stephen Patrick Clare