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.
Fans 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.
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, vacations 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’s 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…
I 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.