I was thrilled when I received a review copy of this book from the publisher, ECW Press. Travel writing is one of my favorite genres and I have read, and enjoyed, a few of the other travel memoirs written by this author. And as a further disclaimer, I have enjoyed listening to and going to Rush concerts for many, many years. However, as far as Rush’s music is concerned, I tend to be more of a Geddy Lee fan (sorry Neil).
In the intro to his work, Neil Peart makes it a point to discuss the art of writing and the special attention he gives to his craft. Although the writings which are contained in this book first appeared as a series of pieces on his blog, Neil puts quite a bit of effort in perfecting this collection for his audience. He sites the Roman poet Ovid: “If the art is concealed, it succeeds.” The passage to which Neil refers is actually from Ovid’s story about the artist Pygmalion from his epic poem The Metmorphoses.
Pygmalion cannot find the perfect woman, who is chaste and wholesome and faithful and matches his ideal of what a perfect woman should be. So as an artist and sculptor he decides to make his own “woman.” As he is working with the ivory, the figure of a woman he sculpts is so flawless that one would think she is alive. The brilliance of Pygmalion’s art hides the fact that his sculpture is indeed art and not actually alive.
Like Pygmalion, Neil strives to perfect his art, whether it be drumming or writing, so that all the listener or reader sees is the seamless, finished product. Far and Near is first and foremost a travelogue of Neil Peart’s trips on his motorcycle from venue to venue while he is on tour with his band. His narratives take place over a three year period of time, on the second leg of the band’s “Time Machine Tour” and on all three legs of the band’s “Clockwork Angel’s Tour.” When the book opens, Neil is on the road in April with his longtime friend and riding partner, Michael. I have lived on the east coast of the United States all my life but Neil’s detailed description of springtime in this part of the country, as different flowers are resurrected and animals start to peak out of their winter hibernation, makes me appreciate it all the more. The vivid depictions of every place he travels, whether it be in the extreme heat of the desert or perilous roads of the British countryside or the brutal cold of a Canadian winter, makes one want to visit and experience these places for oneself. Isn’t this the true mark of a successful travel memoir?
Far and Near is so much more than a travelogue. It is also a book of wonderful photography, a brief history of many small towns in North American and Europe and a history of the flora and fauna of those places as well. The book further serves as a personal memoir of the author as he reminisces about previous experiences at each place he visits. Not only are pictures of the various touring destinations included in the book, but there are also descriptions of the photographic techniques that are employed for different situations.
A point is made to capture many of the small towns where these “shunpikers” (those who purposely avoid the most direct roads from one point to another) ride and oftentimes an interesting history is provided about these out-of-the-way places. As a classicist, I was particularly impressed that Neil gives a bit of the history of Roman occupation of Britain as he is riding around the English countryside.
Finally, the book captures the life of a musician both on the road and off. The band’s triumphant introduction into the Rock-And-Roll Hall of Fame is related at length in one of the entries. Neil would not be “on the road” going from place to place, after all, if it were not for his job with a touring rock band. Although this is certainly not the sole focus of the book, the reader is led to understand what the emotional and physical effects of constant touring and months on the road can cause. The stories about his young daughter, Olivia, who doesn’t quite understand that “Daddy is at work” are particularly touching. It is also entertaining to read about the many other crew members that all contribute to making a successful show possible; from the drum technician, to Neil’s riding partners, to the bus driver, to the crew members who entertain the band by dressing up in a chicken suit, it truly takes a small village to put on a show every night. The sum of all these moving parts means that, once again, the art conceals the art.
Far and Near appeals to a very broad audience of readers; if you enjoy travel writing, memoirs, photography, or the music of Rush you will want to read this book. In the end, the gods grant Pygmalion his wish and they make his statue become a live woman. Neil Peart, through his book, makes the art of traveling, writing, playing music and his quest to live his life to the fullest come fully alive to his readers.
About The Author:
Peart grew up in Port Dalhousie, Ontario, Canada (now part of St. Catharines) working the occasional odd job. However, his true ambition was to become a professional musician. During adolescence, he floated from regional band to regional band and dropped out of high school to pursue a career as a full-time drummer. After a discouraging stint in England to concentrate on his music, Peart returned home, where he joined local Toronto band Rush in the summer of 1974.
Early in his career, Peart’s performance style was deeply rooted in hard rock. He drew most of his inspiration from drummers such as Keith Moon and John Bonham, players who were at the forefront of the British hard rock scene. As time progressed, however, he began to emulate the jazz and big band musicians Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. Peart is also a pupil of jazz instructor Freddie Gruber. Peart has received many awards for his musical performances and is known for his technical proficiency and stamina.
In addition to being a musician, Peart is also a prolific writer, having published several memoirs about his travels. Peart is also Rush’s primary lyricist. In writing lyrics for Rush, Peart addressed universal themes and diverse subject matter including science fiction, fantasy, and philosophy, as well as secular, humanitarian and libertarian themes. In contrast, his books have been focused on his personal experiences