Neil Peart a rider and writer

By Marissa Baecker

My dream life would be to get up every day in a different city, get on my bike, ride to the next city, repeat. In fact, it’s fair to say that most passionate riders feel the same way.  Reality however, only allows this dream for a couple of weeks at a time before possibly running out of money and having to return to a real job to pay the bills.

I am not complaining as my photography work blends quite nicely with my motorcycle dreams allows me to do both synonymously of one another. Musicians that ride experience that same fortune. So when music and motorcycles collide, opportunity knocks.

Just about a year ago, I got wind that one of music’s biggest rock stars was an avid rider – and by avid meaning following the tour bus from city to city on motorcycle, across North America and Europe and then writing about it.

For die hard music fans, the name Neil Peart needs no background, and while the majority of the population is familiar with the music, they may not know the details of the individuals that produce it.

Who’s Neil Peart? Fans and industry personnel agree that Peart is the greatest talent to ever sit behind a drum kit. He is the drummer and songwriter of Canadian iconic rock band RUSH.

The more detailed answer – Peart is a literary talent, author, award winning percussionist, Hall of Fame songwriter, Order of Canada recipient, businessman, student, widow, husband, father, brother, friend and . . . a rider. Ask Peart about his many talents and he would probably answer that he doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about – he is, after all – just who he is.

RUSH would bring Peart to Vancouver which was close enough for me and at the time, I thought I could show him a road or two in my beautiful part of the country. Little did I know that he had ridden just about every road in North America and even a few that would be considered a path.

When I looked at the tour schedule, the band had a day off between the Vancouver show and prior to the tour wrap in Seattle so I thought timing couldn’t have been any better. Why wouldn’t he want to ride with me?

I requested to interview Peart in person, ride with him, video tape segments, photograph others, and write a column about the adventure. Sounds ambitious but for me it all flows together simultaneously.

The only thing left to do was to read Peart’s books; autobiographical tales of motorcycle riding, travel and the life of a touring musician.

Roadshow, published in 2006, was the fourth of Peart’s penmanship but the first for me. Even though the novels are autobiographical in nature, and mark time periods of Peart’s life, each one is somewhat independent of the others in that references are made to fill in any background that was told in a previous writing. The story may make more sense if you read the novels in order (The Masked Rider – African bicycle journey –1996; Ghost Rider – 2002; Traveling Music – 2004) but isn’t necessary.

A few chapters in, and it became quite apparent that Peart surrounds himself only with familiar, trusted faces and is a man who prefers anonymity, and having his privacy in tact. At one point he makes a reference to being out with his wife and daughter and a fan coming up to him asking if he was Neal Peart to which he responded, “Not today.”

In fact, for the status of rock star that Peart is, his rock star life is far from stereotypical. He manages to slip under the radar with every move he makes and he does it right under everyone’s nose.

He writes about alias names, identification and credit cards and waking up on the side of the road in his tour bus at the crack of dawn, unloading his motorcycle and riding to the next venue sometimes putting on as many as 1,000 km in a day and setting small challenges like visiting every national park and collecting a stamp in his passport.

After a show, Peart runs off stage, into his tour bus (RUSH bandmates fly), where he immediately leaves the venue, motorcycles in a trailer, and after a shower, plans the next day’s ride and programs the GPS affectionately named Doofus.

The thought of riding 21,000 miles of back roads, through 7 countries while performing every night to the tune of 57 shows and tens of thousands of fans is enough to make anyone a bit nervous but for Peart it is normal life. What makes him nervous? The UPS driver frantically waving at him while he was stuck in traffic on his motorcycle a few blocks from the next venue and realizing that his Ontario licence plate on his bike had given him away.

It’s funny to think that a motorcycle pulled up along side you in the city, the rider decked out in leathers and a full face helmet could be one of the biggest rock stars of all time. You have no idea who is behind the handlebars and for Peart riding isn’t a big production. There is no entourage or police escort. Peart spends his time on a motorcycle solo, or with one of two RUSH tour personnel/friends – Brutus or Michael.

Each daily journey offers minute details from landscape, road signs, mileage and GPS mix ups to historical information, personal reflections and experiences. Throughout Roadshow, references are made to Peart’s departed loved ones and if you don’t know the story (like I didn’t) Ghost Rider explains it all. In fact, Ghost Rider is probably the most popular of Peart’s writings and was nominated for a literary award. While the premise of the story is tragic (having lost his daughter and his wife within a 10 month period), the story focuses on the journey to recovery.

At the funeral of his wife, Jackie, Peart informs his band mates that he is officially retired and then travels on his motorcycle for the better part of 14 months and 51,000 therapeutic miles. Motorcycling literally saved his life. Keeping moving was the only reason he had to get out bed.

The more reading, the more private I learned that Peart was. It became apparent that riding, photographing, video taping let alone even getting an interview, was pretty far fetched not to mention the fact that Peart writes about avoiding public appearances and interviews leaving that aspect of RUSH business to his band mates.

Peart’s novels are not short stories, they are eloquently written and answer just about any question any journalist could come up with including – sadly –me. By the time June rolled around and RUSH appeared in Vancouver, my request, not surprisingly by that point, was denied. On one hand I was disappointed yet after reading his novels, not surprised.

While I haven’t gotten to his latest literary offering, Far and Away, I am sure it will be a great read. I recommend that you keep riding through the winter months vicariously through the writing of Neil Peart or if you have a rider on your Christmas gift list, any of Peart’s novels will be a great gift.

For more information on the many talents of Neil Peart or his novels visit www.neilpeart.com.

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