Peart and Poetry: A Prize Every Time

I previously blogged about the thematic connections between 18th century English Romantic poet William Wordsworth and one of my favorite modern songwriters and composers, Brian Wilson.  I’m fascinated to find that Romantic Age aesthetics and philosophy continue to permeate modern literature and popular music.  In light of my most recent read, I’d like to highlight additional connections between literature and music, this time using one of my favorite lyricists and writers: Neil Peart.

RushFans of the progressive rock group Rush will be familiar with Peart’s style of alluding to  literature and philosophy into his lyrics.  Peart has been influenced by a variety of literary genres, authors and works, too numerous to mention here, from Greek mythology to English Romanticism to science fiction and fantasy.  Rush’s most well-known literary inspiration might be Mark Twain’s 1876 novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which inspired “Tom Sawyer”, the keystone song of their 1981 album Moving Pictures – an album that rocketed the progressive rock group into the mainstream.

Far and Away: A Prize Every Time - By Neil Peart
Published May 2011

I just finished Peart’s fifth book in his series of non-fiction travel memoirs, Far and Away: A Prize Every Time.  This work ties together a serialized collection of blog entries which appeared on his website from 2007-2010, primarily during Rush’s Snakes and Arrows Tour through the first leg of the Time Machine Tour.

As I continue to define a niche for my own writing, I can appreciate Neil’s natural proclivity to  the genre of travel writing, as each of his five books revolves around his chosen mode of travel during concert tours, Neil Peart Motorcycle 03vacations and getaways – motorcycling and bicycling.  By relating various hiking and biking adventures along the back roads of North and South America, Canada, Europe, and Africa, he not only reveals details about his music career with bandmates Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, but he also shares such intimate stories about growing up in Port Dalhousie, Ontario, discovering his passion for music, and even the tragic loss of his wife and daughter in the late 1990s.

Already a fan of Peart’s lyrics, I found his prose writing equally honest, well-written and compelling when I first began reading his books.   A voracious reader, Peart is incredibly observant of his natural surroundings and pulls from an extensive vocabulary to describe what he sees and feels.  An incredibly shy and private person, Peart prefers to open himself to his readers through his prose.

I naturally interpret Wordsworth’sNeil Peart Motorcycle 01 aesthetic of the sublimity of nature and its inspiration in Peart’s travel writings, as he is incredibly responsive to the natural landscapes ( what he calls his “soulscapes”) that he coasts through on his two-wheeled BMWs.  According to Wordsworth in Lyrical Ballads, poetry is the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.”  Peart’s versions of poetry – his travel writings – are recollections of his amazing experiences on the road.

In  Chapter 19, “Time Machines,” Peart describes different types of time machines – photographs, songs, books, drumsets, cars –  catalysts for the recollections of such powerful, emotional memories.  I can certainly relate to these concepts.  I think Wordsworth would too.

…As I played throught the old songs the three of us had agreed to resurrect for the Time Machine tour, some of which I hadn’t played live in ten years, twent years, or ever, it occurred to me that the ultimate time machine might be a song.  What else can immediate take you to a particular moment in time – an indelible memory that overwhelms you with its completeness?…

…Books, I think, are a different kind of time machine.  Instead of reminding you of a lost world, they create one for you.  More personal, more intimate – unlike movies, say, the world you experience which reading a book has been lived and envisioned entirely from the inside, and its contours are yours alone…

Neil Peart Motorcycle 02I also love Peart’s writing style because it allows me to become so engrossed in the stories that I forget about his famous persona and instead respond to the universal truths and life lessons he so succinctly communicates – the words of wisdom he’s collected on the road.  His identity as the drummer/lyricist for one of my favorite bands was the initial draw to his travel books, but I discovered what a prize his words really are – lyrics and prose – both forms of poetry that generate my own powerful feelings.


2011 Concert Season: Crosby & Nash

Crosby & Nash at Carnegie Library Music Hall
Munhall, PA – April 29, 2011

Crosby & NashLast Saturday night, our Carnegie Library Music Hall was a very, very, very fine hall, with two folk rock heroes on the stage, and it wasn’t hard to hear these veteran musicians put musicians one-third of their age to shame.

Their white hair might indicate the length of their music careers, but the voices of 69-year old David Crosby and Graham Nash remain ageless.

The duo harmonized for over two hours, joined by James Raymond on keyboards (Crosby’s son), Dean Parks on guitar, Kevin McCormick on bass and Steve DiStanislao on drums.

I almost missed these guys.  Tickets sold out before I decided to buy them.  However, a few single seats opened up about a week or two before the show.  I grabbed 13th row center on the floor before somebody else did.

Founding members of The Byrds, The Hollies and Crosby Stills & Nash (& sometimes Young), the duo brought a jubilant audience to their feet after each of the 26 songs on their set list.

While the set list did not include any Hollies songs, The Byrds were represented with the psychedelic opening number “Eight Miles High.” Nash alluded to his legendary love affair with and subsequent heartbreak over singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, his sweet, clear English voice piercing the air with the beautiful “Our House” and “I Used To Be A King.” Crosby let his freak flag fly, belting out classic CSNY anthems  like “Almost Cut My Hair” and “Wooden Ships” with as much gusto as he’s ever had.

Crosby and Nash entertained the audience with a  blend of the past and the present:, featuring love songs and political protests; acoustic folk rock ballads and harder rock; CSNY classics and solo efforts; old and new songs equally relevant to current events.  I was struck by how many of their classic songs resonated with my life.

I felt the chemistry and friendship between the two rock icons, as they joked with each other and with the audience throughout the concert, tossing out their personal politics between songs to a crowd in full agreement.

Along with the customary poster I always buy, frame and hang on my wall as a reminder of each fantastic concert I’ve attended, I waited in line to buy a copy of THE ACTUAL CROSBY AND NASH CONCERT THAT I JUST WITNESSED!!!  Now I can relive the experience over and over!

Set List

Set One
1. Eight Miles High
2. I Used to be a King
3. Wasted On The Way
4. Long Time Gone
5. Lay Me Down
6. Just a Song Before I Go
7. Don’t Dig Here
8. Cowboy Movie
9. To the Last Whale: Critical Mass/Wind on the Water
10. A Slice of Time
11. Marrakesh Express
12. Deja Vu
Set Two

13. Almost Gone
14. Guinnevere
15. What Are Their Names?
16. In Your Name
17. They Want It All
18. Jesus of Rio
19. Delta
20. Cathedral
21. Our House
22. Military Madness
23. Almost Cut My Hair
24. Wooden Ships

25. Teach Your Children
26. Chicago


Here’s a snippet from “Teach Your Children Well.”

The final song of the night: “Chicago” –  The best part is that Graham Nash is playing without his shoes.  I have no idea if he had his shoes on the entire concert or not.

Movies, Motors & Memories: Pennsylvania’s Drive-In Theaters

DIT Presentation 06

Jennifer Sopko & Brian Butko (Courtesy of Sam Banales)

Please check out the page I just launched on this site detailing my summer 2009 Pennsylvania drive-in theater exhibit at the Ligonier Valley Library’s Pennsylvania Room.  The page includes a virtual tour of the exhibit, plus photos of several Pennsylvania drive-ins that I visited.

Hi-Way Drive-In Theater - Latrobe, PA

As a fusion of America’s romances with the motion picture and the automobile, the drive-in theater phenomenon is not only a nostalgic reminder of a simpler time, but remains a viable entertainment continuing to attract families and film-goers to its steadfast roadside survivors.  The drive-in theater has been around for over 75 years and owners and fans alike are hopeful that the stars will continue to twinkle over these attractions for years to come. 

Please support your local drive-ins; without the support of faithful patrons, these cultural icons will continue disappearing into history.