On page 27 of his third full-length book, Rush drummer-turned-author Neil Peart writes: "Sometimes I have to face the reality that music can be part of people's lives, like wallpaper, without being the white-hot center [his emphasis] of their lives, as it always seemed to be for me." If that statement can be applied to your own world, Traveling Music-The Soundtrack to My Life and Times will be one of the best books you read this year.
Part memoir, part travelogue and part music essay, Traveling Music is the kind of book best read by people who absolutely adore music. While 2002's Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road chronicled Peart's haunting and cathartic journey toward his own rebirth after both his wife and his daughter passed away, Traveling Music finds Peart on a journey of another sort. Having settled into a life with his new wife, Carrie, in California and with some extra time on his hands while Rush was on hiatus in 2003, Peart decided to take a road trip in his new dream sports car a BMW Z-8 on a six-day, 2,500-mile round-trip journey to Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas. This is the story of the music he listened to as the miles rolled by, from Pink Floyd to Patsy Cline, from Madonna to Linkin Park, from Miles Davis to the Shaft soundtrack, from Eminem to his own band's latest album at the time, Vapor Trails.
Divided into 10 main chapters referred to as "Verse One," "Chorus One," "Verse Two" and so on (there's even a "Middle Eight"), Peart offers readers his life story chronologically, based on the music he spins in his car. Readers join the drummer during his formative years growing up in St. Catharines, Ontario, and then when he flees to London to pursue a career as a musician. They sit in on his Rush audition and get glimpses into the backstage world of a rock star and his attempts to balance stardom with a private life. There's even the inside story of Rush's performance at the Concert For Toronto, a 2003 SARS benefit in which Rush "opened" for AC/DC and the Rolling Stones. Along the way, Peart takes on the role of record reviewer, providing insight into both some of the most recognizable and most forgotten albums of the rock era. He even somehow manages to draw comparisons between the origins of Vertical Horizon's "I'm Still Here" and Rush's 2112.
If it sounds like Peart covers a lot of ground in Traveling Music, that's because he does and not just road miles. In the span of five pages, the author goes from witnessing a disgusted Woody Herman leave a gig in Evansville, Ind., to explaining his love of Dusty Springfield's music to the hazards of manual transmissions in vehicles to a debate over electronic percussion to fond memories of a Sunday morning breakfast at a Cracker Barrel restaurant somewhere in Tennessee during Rush's 1996 Test For Echo tour to his own mortality.
Peart's prose, much like his drumming, is complex, bold and precise, with alternating cadences. Parts of this book drags do we really need page after page of bulleted observations Peart made on a 1992 bicycle tour he took of West Africa? ("Lots of palm trees out here, green fields, everything pleasant, and nice to see big trees overhanging, and just acres of palms off to the sides there.") But other sections are rich with details and alive with astute observations. ("As much as the notion of 'progressive' music has been mocked, used to denigrate a particular style of experimental, ambitious arranging and musicianship, it was really the only possible kind of honest music."). Peart's not even afraid to write about his bowels, when that West African bicycle trip gave him a bad case of what he jokingly refers to as the "Oogabooga Fever."
One of the signs of a memorable book is whether it leaves readers wanting more, or spurs them to action. In the case of Traveling Music, this reader closed the book wanting nothing more than to get his hands on a copy of Frank Sinatra's apparently overlooked 1970 concept album Watertown. Peart's description, of that disc, spread over five pages, makes it sound like a gem that any self-respecting music fan needs in his or her collection. I'm in the process of seeking out a copy