To Neil, the Sweet Science is About Handling Curves, Both Good and Bad
When life throws you curves, you readjust, maybe go to Plan B—unless you’re on your motorcycle.
Neil writes in his latest essay, called “The Sweet Science,” which he posted to his blog yesterday, that for a motorcyclist, curves are what it’s all about, and his latest discovery is North Carolina, where he found curves galore, often with little other traffic on them. He even found an out-of-the-way North Carolina byway in which his riding partner Michael Mosbach was able to capture him riding on a spot of road in which five curves were visible within the picture frame. A real gem. This “North Carolina byway made our highest score so far—five curves in one shot. It will be hard to beat,” Neil says.
The theme of Neil’s essay is sweet science—that is, the satisfaction of studying and practicing something to master it enough that you can adjust appropriately when things don’t go right. Motorcycling, botany, and of course drumming: these are all sweet sciences. But the theme of his essay could also be about curves: the good curves, like those in North Carolina, that make for excellent motorcycling, and the challenging curves, like the one Jann Wenner threw him when the band was practicing for the closing performance of “Crossroads” at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction banquet.
Jann Wenner is the founder of Rolling Stone magazine and of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and he’s famous for his antipathy toward Rush, and, as legend has it, had single-handedly kept the band out of the Hall of Fame all these years. (Certainly he kept them off the cover of his magazine.)
At the rehearsal the night before the banquet, Neil says, he had laid down a tempo for “Crossroads” based on the way Rush plays the song on its 2004 all-covers Feedback album. “I was playing it the way we had recorded it, modeled on Cream’s version,” he says. But then a “rumpled-looking guy in a suit and tie” came up to him and said the tempo was too fast.
“So I pulled it back a notch, and we played it again. It felt fine to me either way, but the boge (our slang for ‘square’) said it felt heavier and better for the soloists to breathe. I could see that. Then he suggested even a notch slower yet, and I said, ‘Okay.’ There was no time to rehearse that, but I figured out a proper ‘feel’ for a slightly slower tempo in my brain (’cause it ain’t just math, eh?). I also asked the geniuses to pass around to all the other players that I would be playing it slower. (If nothing else, I wanted them to know it was on purpose!) Well . . . Geddy [said that] “that boge was Jann Wenner!” Ha ha!—Perfect! The world’s most powerful Rush-hater.” (Read about Jann Wenner’s surprise at the ceremony.)
As it turned out, the end-of-show jam went great. “We laid it DOWN,” Neil says, and, indeed, that’s what the sweet science is all about: achieving excellence no matter what curves are thrown your way.
Neil says the induction ceremony that was captured on video was larger than life but to him it was exactly life-sized, another curve to be taken at the right speed and angle so that when you pull out of it, you can experience the pleasure of having done something with excellence. “The all-important part of last night’s reflections was the mood that colored all of my scattered memories—bathed in a glow of satisfaction,” he says. “Not for the honor and glory—but basically just because I had ‘done my job’ properly. The key elements of that satisfaction were simple: I had spoken and played well.”
Of their speeches, Neil says they were planning to keep them short and improvised, just long enough to recognize their families, fans, and the business people who make it all happen, But at the last moment—another curve—they were told they had to fill a five-minute slot to give Taylor Hawkins and Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, who inducted them, time to get into their kimonos for the spoof on Rush’s ’70s style. Five minutes is a long time to fill, but we know how the band ended up doing it: Neil recognized their families and Geddy recognized their fans. But most of the five minutes was filled up by Alex saying nothing at all: his infamous “Blah” speech.
“What a moment that was,” Neil says. “Geddy muttered to me, ‘How can we make him stop?’, and I raised my heavy ‘trophy’ behind Alex’s head as if to brain him. The two of us have long declared Our Lerxst to be ‘The Funniest Man Alive,’ and of course his performance was a huge comedic success. But he should have warned us.”
But that’s what the sweet sciences are all about: handling curves without warning. Read Neil’s essay in its entirety.
More on Rush’s Rock Hall induction. Click image: