Wednesday Aug 27, 2008

Neal Peart's "Traveling Music"

Back from a true week of vacation: thanks to the hotel's internet service provider's inability to maintain IP addresses consistently during a 24-hour period, I had almost no IMAP service and therefore no email. A week of bakery-fueled breakfasts, days of reading by the pool, and some random boogie boarding were a huge win.

First book I finished on the trip: Neal Peart's Traveling Music, a bit of a departure from Roadshow and Ghost Rider in that he didn't write it to chronicle a momentous occasion in his personal or professional life; he wrote it because he wanted to capture the backstory of his own musical influences. So the storylines wander, diverge, meander into seemingly unrelated areas to add color or depth. Of the three, I found it the most readable, probably because it's more about music than travel, and I thoroughly enjoyed Peart's implicit recommendations of bands and albums.

There were tons of little nuggets in the book to keep any Rush-head happy: seeing the lyrics for Workin' Them Angels (from "Snakes & Arrows") take shape as the epigraphs for each chapter; seeing how his travel adventures formed the backstory for the song; the exposition of Ellis, one of Peart's pre-Rush friends who is the "hero" in Nobody's Hero (a song which always reminds me of the great friend I have in Tom Chatt, who has been a hero of mine - for every reason Peart touches on - for 27 years. Thanks, Tom); the story behind Mission and the pressures placed on creative artists to continuously be, well, creative.

Best of all for me was the insight into how Buddy Rich's drumming influenced Peart. At first, I found this surprising; but listening carefully (especially to later Rush works) exposes what music critics in the 1970s referred to as "a jazzy drummer, like Bill Bruford." Peart quotes his teacher Freddie Gruber as saying "There are no straight lines in nature," imploring Peart to think away from the 1-(2)-3-(4) rock drum (straight) lines. One of Mr. Santoro's drummer friends put it another way: Find the beats in a circle, not a square. Beats on the downward stroke of the circle are straight-ahead -- it keeps you moving. On the upswing of the circle is laid-back -- you keep moving it. But never at the top or the bottom.

As soon as I put the book down I had Groovin' Hard by the Buddy Rich Big Band on the iPod. Non-traveling vacation music, straight ahead.

Thursday Jul 10, 2008

Ghost Rider

Just finished Neal Peart's Ghost Rider, the story of his "healing road" of motorcycle travels after the tragic deaths of his daughter and wife within 10 months of each other. Normally I find travel literature really boring; I'd rather go and explore and get a sense of places first-hand than have context prescribed for me. But Peart uses the travelogue to establish the context for his moods, his thoughts, and in the second half of the book, a series of letters to his friend Brutus (who co-stars in Roadshow: Landscape with Drums, the successor story to Ghost Rider).

Snippets of Rush lyrics (written by Peart) appear at the opening and close of various chapters, and as adjuncts Peart provides along the way. It's eerie to see how some of his attitudes and thinking pre-tragedy shaped his recovery after those events; it's even eerier the Rush CD Roll the Bones deals with death and matters of circumstance, written long before Peart experienced those first-hand. At the close of the book, he describes the process by which he began to pen lyrics again, for the Rush CD Vapor Trails (and it's easy to pick up on the themes that later braced that CD, starting with small personal victories).

I turned the last page of the book last night, and was left with two striking thoughts that paired with a difficult day of work:

1. Tormented by time and space where he was, Peart rode his motorcyle. Fast. Speed and distance (changes in space over time) counted for more than direction. Forward progress.

2. He rediscovered hope by building on the things that gave him joy: first his motorcycle, then nature, then caring about the environment, and eventually meeting his second wife.

I put on Rush's Snakes & Arrows, a CD about hope and faith, in some ways the third part of the Peart mental travelogue, on the way home. It's audio Anne Lamott.

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Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management

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