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On the Road Again

  Roadshow: Landscape with Drums: A Concert Tour by Motorcycle
Neil Peart
Rounder Books, 2006
Rating: 4.1

Posted: January 20, 2006

By Kevin Forest Moreau

No doubt when he finally retires from the life of a rock musician, Rush drummer Neil Peart will settle into a comfortable second career as a travel writer. Truth is, he's already enjoying that sideline, having previously published three travelogues -- Masked Rider, Ghost Rider and Traveling Music -- all of them enjoyable and substantive, offering glimpses of places most readers will never get to see, all of them fueled by Peart's easy, conversational writing style. Still, when that inevitable day comes, it will be a sad one, not just for fans of Peart's music but for fans of his prose work as well, since it's the various looks at, and insights into, his "day job" that make his latest book, Roadshow: Landscape with Drums -- aptly and accurately subtitled "A Concert Tour by Motorcycle" -- such an engrossing read.

The premise is such a simple one that it's surprising it took Peart this long to get around to it: Roadshow is an account of his motorcycle travels through America, Canada and Europe during the band's 30th anniversary tour in 2004. One of the benefits of this approach is that it lends a sense of structure to the book: As each day's jaunt has a predetermined end-point (namely, the site of the band's next show), the reader knows that he and Peart are working toward a series of destinations. No matter how enjoyable the author's descriptions of a certain day's travels may be, it's psychologically helpful to know that the narrative is heading somewhere. (Especially when Peart gets bogged down by his own tendency to meander.)

Besides which, the glances Peart offers into the life of a touring musician -- and, more specifically, into the inner workings of a Rush concert tour in particular -- are far and away the most intriguing and riveting sections of the book. From reminiscences on the band's early days (usually doled out as memories linked to certain cities on the itinerary) to the occasional hierarchical clashes between the road crew and the administrative production office, Roadshow hums like a well-oiled motorcycle when Peart takes us backstage and into the tour bus and, however briefly, into his relationship with "the guys at work" -- guitarist Alex Lifeson and bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee. If you've ever wondered what a tour rehearsal looks like, or how many people it takes to mount such a traveling production, Roadshow is particularly rewarding.

One only wishes Peart devoted more time to these fascinating peeks behind the curtain -- and perhaps a little less to the occasional peek into his antipathy toward his fans (as also documented in Ghost Rider). While his complaints about the kind of overzealous autograph hounds who follow his tour bus after the show (or even dare to board it) are completely understandable, his reluctance to mingle with audience members, brave the throngs of fans who wait outside the venue beforehand or spend too much time chatting with appreciative civilians during his travels occasionally comes across as more standoffish and even disdainful than he no doubt intends. Yes, he's a private man, slow to open up to strangers and let them into his life, especially after the tragedies he's endured -- of course. But he does himself few favors by returning to the subject so often, and seeming so defensive when he does.

Fortunately, there's much in Roadshow to offset those moments, including the obvious satisfaction Peart takes in a job well done, his perceptive outlook on organized religion (as evinced in his reactions to various church signs), the historical background he provides for many of the places he visits and such bon mots as the fact that the bus used for the European leg of the tour once belonged to Cher. And, as mentioned earlier, he writes in a disarmingly engaging voice that makes it easier to ride out some of the thornier patches all travelogues inevitably sprout.

Which makes his thoughts on ever undertaking another such grueling tour ("Hmmm ... I don't know") so disheartening. While one can't blame a man in his mid-fifties for being hesitant to commit to spending long months on the road, away from his wife and home, fans have to be crossing their fingers that Rush tours at least one more time -- if only to hopefully provide the basis for another book as absorbing as this one. For those folks, the fact that the band has finished another studio album, presumably to be released later this year, is promising news indeed.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A masterwork
 4.0-4.9: Great read
 3.0-3.9: Well done
 2.0-2.9: Ordinary
 1.1-1.9: Sub par
 0.0-1.0: Horrendous

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