Neil Peart's News, Weather and Sports

That's the Way We Roll, July 2007

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With only a few days at home after the first leg of the Snakes and Arrows tour (16 shows, 7,257 miles of motorcycling), this will definitely be the "short version." Still, I wanted to try to put up something new.

Photographs of the performances are plentifully available elsewhere (my view of the audience this tour is studded with innumerable cell-phone cameras, sticking up like periscopes), so I thought I might just display a couple of motorcycling photos. On this tour Michael and I haven't even carried cameras with us on the bikes, let alone bothering to ease our steady pace to take photos, but recently we had a camera-happy "guest rider," Richard S. Foster. The name might ring a bell to dedicated readers of album credits - our song "Red Barchetta" had a note on the lyric sheet, "Inspired by 'A Nice Morning Drive' by Richard S. Foster."

I know that Rick (as he is known to his friends, among whom I now number myself) plans to tell our story himself in another forum, and it's quite an amazing sequence of coincidences and synchronicities.

The short version (I keep saying that) is that despite my attempts back in 1980 to contact the author of the short story that had inspired "Red Barchetta" - a story I had read in a 1973 issue of Road & Track - we only recently managed to actually make contact.

Rick rode with Michael and me through the back roads (the very back roads) of West Virginia for a couple of days between shows in near-DC and near-Pittsburgh (so many of those amphitheaters are in the exurbs), and then he attended his first Rush concert in (or near) Boston.

But that's his story, and I'll leave it to him to tell. Michael only left Rick with one request, from the movie Almost Famous, when the singer says to the young journalist, "Just make us look cool."

How well Rick succeeded with that challenge, the reader may judge at this location.

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For Michael and me, it was great just to have some photographs of us riding - something we do every day, after all, so it is nice to have it documented like that. After last tour, when I was constantly so intent on note-gathering for the book that became Roadshow, this time I have been feeling a real sense of freedom - the freedom of not having to document anything. I can simply experience it, think about it or not, and let the day flow by me as it will.

That being said, so far this tour has certainly been worthy of a book, too, in its way. I kind of wish someone else was writing one about it, but I don't think it will be me. My journal notes consist only of our daily mileages - though I couldn't resist noting a couple of church signs: "Give Satan an Inch, Soon He'll Be a Ruler," and one I just love: "To Err is Human, But It Can Be Overdone." So good. And I admire it not only for the worthy sentiment, but for the perfect phrasing, too.

Another church sign caught my eye because of the word "faithless," as in our song on Snakes and Arrows. This one seemed kind of mean, though: "And Jesus Replied, saying, 'You Are a Faithless and Perverse Generation.'"

I assured Michael that he was the only one of us who was both.

Also, we now know that "VBS" stands for "Vacation Bible School," as the back roads and small towns of America are full of signs for that exciting-sounding activity. We were once bemused at passing a yellow schoolbus full of kids, the side of the bus carrying a banner reading "Soccer With Jesus." (What position do you suppose the Son of God would play? Have to be the coach, I suppose. And would that make Mary, the Mother of God, a soccer mom?)

(And if that's sacrilegious, it's certainly not more so than the banner on that bus.)

One Sunday morning in southern Pennsylvania, Michael commented on the Amish carriages we had been passing, with the little boys in their blue shirts and straw hats waving shyly at us from the back. Michael said he wanted to "save" those kids - by buying each of them a BMW R1200 GS motorcycle.

Different prophets have different ideas about saving others - but I guess even "motorcycling with Michael" might be more fun than "soccer with Jesus."

But let's talk about the weather.

"Weather-wise, it's such a lovely day" would be an appropriate line from Big Frank's "Come Fly With Me," as Michael and I have had fairly unbelievable weather on our travels up the East Coast. It was often very hot, mostly in the 90s, but - even in an armored leather suit, boots, gloves, and full-face helmet - you adapt to that, basically by facing the fact, "it's hot," and carrying on. It's the same onstage, where I was also often working in very hot conditions - you just play the song, wipe away the sweat, drink some water, and carry on.

In all those thousands of miles, and dozens of days, Michael and I had exactly one day of rain - on a country-road ramble from Tupper Lake, New York, to a show near Buffalo. Riding in the rain is not bad when you're not in traffic, and you're not in a hurry. You can relax into a smooth, cautious pace (though Michael thinks I ride too fast in the rain - but I think he rides too fast in freeway traffic). I enjoyed those damp, quiet roads through the Adirondacks and the farming country of Western New York.

We often saw deer in our travels around the East, and once a black bear cub in the Delaware Water Gap area of Pennsylvania - and I almost forgot the huge alligator we encountered on a flooded dirt road through the Everglades. Later we agreed it had stretched the entire width of the single-lane road, so maybe twelve feet long, and so thick it looked as though it had swallowed a cow. As I had experienced in Africa before, it's always a thrill seeing animals in the wild, but quite a different experience getting close to wildlife that can eat you.

However, early that morning in the Adirondacks, we saw something even rarer than deer, bear, or alligator - an animal called a fisher, a large, dark member of the weasel family, darting across the road ahead of us.

The Smithsonian Web site offers an enlightening entry about the fisher (I'm a member, so presume I'm allowed to use it).

(A warning to the squeamish, who might want to skip this paragraph - the fisher is a pretty badass little beast, ripping the faces off porcupines and such).

Fisher Martes pennanti

Order: Carnivora
Family: Mustelidae

The fisher is a forest-loving predator that eats anything it can catch, usually small-to-medium-sized rodents, rabbits, hares, and birds. It also eats carrion. Fishers are among the few predators able to kill porcupines. They do it by biting the face, where there are no quills, until the animal is too weak to prevent being rolled over and attacked in the soft underbelly. Fishers are active by day or night. They tend to be solitary and defend territories. They were once hunted for their lustrous, chocolate-brown fur, and the range of this species has been reduced greatly in the United States. They are still hunted in some places, but some states and provinces of Canada list the fisher as endangered, and the population has recovered from extreme lows in the last century.

Also known as: Pekan, Fisher Cat, Black Cat, Wejack, American Sable

I have written before that every tour's itinerary varies greatly, and how on previous tours I have found myself riding often through, say, Virginia, and falling in love with it. So far this tour's East Coast revelation has been Pennsylvania, where I have enjoyed riding before, but never had so much of either riding or enjoyment as this tour's itinerary occasioned.

From the Delaware to the Susquehanna to the Three Rivers, the long-ridged mountains and dense woodlands, the old mining and factory towns, and the fantastically beautiful farms of Lancaster County, all have been delightful when seen from the little gray roads (as they are depicted on the Rand McNally maps). Our GPS units have evolved since those I wrote about in Roadshow, and though still called Doofus II and Dingus II, I must say they have learned a lot since the R30 tour. (We sent them to VBS.)

Despite my usual apprehension before embarking on another long concert tour, I have been enjoying this one so far (don't tell our manager, Ray - he'll immediately start pitching more shows to me!). Each show is a little shorter this time, and doesn't drain me quite so much, so I have a little energy left over to enjoy life offstage. We're also having a few more days off this time, because Geddy found that last tour's schedule, where we often had pairs of shows with a single day off between them, was too hard on his voice. So we're playing fewer shows per week, and though they remain tiring, of course, they're not quite so draining. So that's all good.

Here's an excerpt from today's letter to my friend Mendelson Joe:

I'm home for a few days after the first run of sixteen shows, and about 7,000 miles of motorcycling, and have enjoyed both somewhat more than I expected. The band is playing really well; I like the selection of songs we're playing, and I feel good about my drumming lately. I seem to have reached a new "plateau" that I don't even understand yet. I guess it started with the making of Snakes and Arrows, and the inevitable experimenting that goes on during that process, but there's also been an apparent growth in live performance this time - in my timekeeping, my time sense, and even in my technique. Call it maturity.

I don't like to analyze it too much, but I'm glad it is so. I listened to a recording of one of our shows last week, and was pleased to note that I was playing as well as I thought I was playing, if you know what I mean. Not perfect, you understand, but certainly better than ever. Listening to that show, with almost three hours of music and so many songs, there was only one song that I wanted to pull back the tempo on - and that just a little.

Otherwise, at age 54, it's great to feel that I have all the speed, stamina, and power that I ever had, if not more, and at the same time have matured musically in all the ways I would have wanted to, ten or twenty years ago - better tempo control, and a richer feel that is deeply rooted to the bass drum, and that is always the foundation for the show-off "pyrotechnics," rather than the other way around.

It is also interesting that after making the instructional DVD on drum soloing after the last tour, where I talked so much about how I go about composing a solo, and having written recently in other places that as a drummer I considered myself more of a composer than an improviser - I decided to start improvising.

It's like I had finally resigned myself to a personal limitation, then told it to **** off!

Nothing wrong with that, obviously. So this tour the first half of my solo is improvised over a simple foundation of single bass-drum beats and alternating high-hat clicks, as I experiment widely over it every night. It's been taking me some interesting places, while still giving me the consistency of the orchestrated second half, so I know the customers will always be properly satisfied.

I've also been exploring new territory on the bike. GPS has evolved a lot in the past few years, and even though riding partner Michael and I still call our units Doofus and Dingus, I must say I'm much more inclined to trust the thing now. On the day before a ride, I look over the maps of the area of the upcoming jobsite, and highlight a route along the smallest roads on the Rand McNally maps. Then Michael puts them in the computer and downloads them to Doofus and Dingus. The next day we simply follow their instructions, clearly (usually) and accurately (usually) displayed in front of us.

In that way we have been able to ride on roads that I'm sure no one but locals have ever traveled, sometimes one-lane paved or unpaved roads through deep forest. Much more fun to putter along those, past woodlands and occasional farms, than the busier roads, of course. It can even be relaxing, in a way that riding in traffic can never be.
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Finally, here's another photo of Michael and me on a little one-lane West Virginia road - this one paved.

Our next big ride will carry us through Montana, Idaho, and Washington state, as our Western swing begins in Calgary and proceeds to Seattle. I will try to report on that wonderful part of the country next time.

Meanwhile, those of you attending the shows, enjoy them, and those of you riding motorcycles, remember something I learned from bicycling, and try to keep reminding myself: "YOU ARE INVISIBLE."

My new motto (so new I just made it up), "Be as safe as you can while still having fun."

That is deep advice, and, as number-one soul brother Michael likes to say, snapping his middle fingers, "That's the way we roll."