Clockwork Angels Tour Through Neil’s Eyes
Neil has maintained a running commentary on Rush’s Clockwork Angels tour on his blog, called News, Weather, and Sports, with monthly posts since October 2012. I’ve been summarizing these posts as they’ve come out, so to help you get a good picture of the tour, through Neil’s eyes, I’ve compiled the summaries here. Of course, the best way to read about the tour is to read Neil’s posts for yourself. He’s a great prose stylist, so reading his posts is always enjoyable. But his posts are also lengthy. So, if you want to get the Reader’s Digest-styled condensed version, you can read the summaries here, compiled into this one handy-dandy blog post. In January 2013, Neil wrote his essay for Drum Works rather than for his blog.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault
Neil in his first blog post since the launch of Rush’s Clockwork Angels tour talks admirably about a book he’s been reading by Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, called The Better Angels of Our Nature, who pieces together an argument that people are becoming less violent, notwithstanding what it might seem like at times. What’s interesting, in Neil’s observation, is what’s not on the list of reasons for the decline: religion.
Education, democracy, reason—these are the cultural developments that have led us to find ways other than violence to resolve conflict. Faith, by contrast, seems to do the opposite, particularly when those professing faith harbor doubts about their faith that they don’t want to confront.
“We all know that people who are pretending something get very angry if mocked,” Neil says, “because they are embarrassed, a tiny step from resentful rage—and as for guilty doubters of a faith, they may well be the fiercest voices in the choir.”
Neil says he doesn’t think about religion that much despite charges that he’s a faith basher. It’s only when faith gets pushed to the front, as it does so much in the South and Midwest, which he calls a “walled fortress” of faith, that he feels compelled to comment on it.
All these “church signs and billboards,” he says, “all shouting at me, assaulting me, with breathtaking arrogance and ignorance . . . can be funny at first, but soon becomes appalling—such a backwards drag on the country, and the world.
“I only report it, I do not comment,” he adds, channeling Paul Theroux.
Fracking also gets his attention. While riding through North Dakota, a beautiful state that on previous tours was notable mostly for the abandoned barns that dotted the countryside, he sees everything now is topsy-turvy as energy companies trip over themselves to ramp up oil shale extraction using their new technology. Like everything in life, the fracking surge is good and bad—good for growing the economy but bad for the long-term impacts it’s having on the environment and a way of life.
The problem isn’t with growth per se, he suggests, but with the pace of growth. It doesn’t appear anyone is taking the long view. The result is hasty, ill-conceived road and other building projects that don’t have sustainability or quality of life in mind.
“This oil boom in Western North Dakota has only been underway for about three years, and the pace of it is frenetic, rapacious,” he says. “The only such careless extraction of resources regardless of consequences I have witnessed are in Northern Canada, China, and West Africa. The only such devastation disguised as road construction I have witnessed is in the Arctic, and in Argentina. These are not good examples.”
Religion, fracking . . . it seems like the post is just a downer, but actually it’s mostly upbeat. He ends with his thoughts on the tour and how energizing it’s been to have the string musicians on stage with the band this time around. The musicians were brought on board to provide accompaniment on the Clockwork Angels part of the show, but they’re also playing on other pieces, including “YYZ,” which Neil says wasn’t planned but is now one of his favorite parts of the show.
“That instrumental was originally planned to be played as a trio,” he says, “after we said ‘A Farewell to Strings.’ But when we noticed that it began with Geddy playing string samples on his foot pedals, after the real thing, it just seemed wrong. David [Campbell, the musical director of the string section] wrote an arrangement for the strings to accompany us, and that song came to represent the climax of the show, I think—at least on our side of the barricade.”
Neil has updated his blog, News, Weather, and Sports, to fill us in on how the tour is going and we learn that he and his riding partner, Michael Mosbach, spent the end of October dodging Frankenstorm, or, as he likes to call it, Frankenstürm, which adds a little more heavy metal menace to it.
“As we moved south from shows in Buffalo and Cleveland to Charlotte and Atlanta, I began navigating not by the maps or through my usual favorite areas, but by the weather patterns,” he says in his post, “Witness to the Fall.”
Even when they were far west of the Atlantic seaboard and heading toward West Virginia, Frankenstürm was a menacing presence. Their plan was to ride through the higher elevations of West Virginia to get to their Oct. 30 show in Charlotte but major snow was threatened for just when they would be hitting the upper elevations, so they re-routed through the backroads of Kentucky and Knoxville and got through just fine. As it turns out, West Virginia got hit with four feet of snow.
In a first, Neil along with Michael and his Canadian riding partner, Brutus, have been tweeting throughout the tour under the handle WestSideBeemerBoyz. They have about 4,500 followers, including Geddy, and Michael has been generously “twitting” Neil’s words of wisdom along the way under the heading “Bubba sez,” as in, “Bubba sez the body is a good servant, but a terrible master.”
That particular tweet has a specific reference: a bad case of tendinitis in Neil’s left arm, lateral epicondylitis. Neil says he’s had this before, during the Test for Echo tour, but it was in the other arm.
Given how easy it is on Twitter to say something you regret, especially after a glass of the Macallan, Neil says he and Michael have devised a rule, called the Atatürk Rule, to keep them from tweeting anything they’ll come to regret later. It’s named for the Turkish ruler Mustafa Kemal “Atatürk” (meaning “father of the Turks”) during the 1920s and ’30s. I’m not familiar with Atatürk myself, but Neil says he was quite an enlightened ruler but he also liked to drink, and often when he would drink too much he would blurt out some outrageous rule or command that he would never do while sober. Fortunately. he had some wise aides who who would hold off executing his command until they verified, the next day, that he really intended to go forward with it. Invariably he would not, and so he had the good sense of his aides to thank for keeping watch over him.
Although Neil didn’t say this, there are plenty of people in the public eye who would benefit from employing the Atatürk Rule themselves (read: Rep. Anthony Weiner, as one example), although without a doubt the news would be lot more boring if every politician and celebrity did that. So, I guess we should be thankful not everyone is so disciplined.
In addition to Frankenstürm, there was another big storm taking place while Rush was traveling up and down the country for its Clockwork Angels tour and that’s the election. Neil says he’s a bleeding-heart libertarian, meaning he believes in minimal government but also a safety net for people when they fall, even if their fall is self-inflicted, and it sounds like he was pulling for President Obama:
It has to be said that this was an anxious election for those of us who worry about true individual rights (key question, perhaps: “Does a woman own her body?”), compassionate government, and the separation of church and state.
I define myself as a “bleeding-heart libertarian,” unwilling to let people suffer unnecessarily (even if it’s “their own fault”), so I am repelled by the cold-hearted and crypto-racist attitudes of the so-called “Christian” right. Michael is what Republicans call a “RINO,” or “Republican in name only,” which can probably be defined as “right-wing liberal”—politically conservative, socially liberal, and not sympathetic to religious influence on society at large. As he clarifies it, “I’m a registered die-hard Republican. I only seem liberal because I believe hurricanes are caused by low barometric pressure and not by gay marriage. My party left me!”
Generally, while believing in individual rights and responsibilities, we favor the classic liberal values of generosity and tolerance, and fear the religious oppression that has wormed its way into modern Republican platforms. (And that is a good metaphor.)
On a truly sad note, we learn that Shane, the 23-year-old son of Rush manager Ray Danniels, died on Nov. 1 of cancer. Neil, Geddy, and Alex returned Toronto to share in his grief. “I knew how it felt to lose a child,” he says. “After fifteen years, I think of Selena every single day, and from time to time (birthdays, black anniversaries), I am still rendered helpless with grief at that unbearable loss.”
On a happier note, Neil says the band and the string musicians touring with them are really clicking. On Halloween, they were in Atlanta and the two female string players, Adele Stein on cello and Audrey Solomon on violin, gave everyne a big laugh by coming out wearing “wildly elaborate face makeup that night, from David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane to rhinestone arabesques.” (See image at the top of this post and at right.) Neil didn’t include pictures in his piece but I took a small screen grab of Audrey Solomon’s makeup from the excellent—in fact, incredible—photography on John Patuto’s site Cygnus-x1. The photography is credited to Kevin Millette and Rob Geller and if you haven’t checked it out yet, I recommend it. It’s terrifc, and it looks like photography from each stop on the tour is being captured and uploaded to John’s site.
With the North American leg of Rush’s Clockwork Angels tour wrapped up (the last show was in Houston Dec. 2), Neil has updated his blog with a recap of his motorcycling adventures between Oregon and Texas, which includes a tension-filled two hours on a remote and sandy road in Arizona.
Neil and his riding partner, Michael Mosbach, went down more than a few times as they navigated a dirt road coated with inches of loose sand and silt while on the way to Phoenix. Locals had suggested the road was passable by motorcycle, but, as Neil says, they either didn’t really know or couldn’t appreciate how much harder the road would be on motorcycle. It was only with the help of a small group of off-roaders that they were able to make their way back to solid ground.
To show his appreciation for their help, Neil broke his rule of staying incognito and offered them tickets to the upcoming Phoenix show.
“I have learned from traveling in many inhospitable areas, from Africa to the Arctic to the American deserts, that people in such places band together,” he said. “When you have a problem, if you are fortunate enough to find any people around, they are going to help.”
Neil also revisits the fracking issue, which he talked about when the band was in the midwest earlier this year. As he had seen in the western part of North Dakota, with remote areas suddenly turned topsy-turvy by profit-hungry energy companies, the fracking boom had come to West Texas and now one of his favorite riding areas was being turned upside down in exactly the same way.
“A place I loved like an old song, like an old friend, had been devastated,” he says. “Nothing more than a sleepy little cowboy town, and some lonely two-lane roads between hardscrabble ranches in the mesquite scrub—but it had meant something to me. The mess in West Dakota had been shocking and appalling enough, but now it was personal.”
The Clockwork Angels tour will be on hiatus until the spring, when it starts up again in Europe with a May 22 date in Manchester, England. (The North American leg had begun with a Sept. 7 date in Manchester, N.J.) The European tour is scheduled to end June 10 in Helsinki.
After the Dec. 2 Houston show, Neil stayed at the arena for the one and only time during the tour to celebrate the show with Alex and Geddy and the string musicians.
I “raised a glass to my bandmates—–all ten of them!” he says. “Geddy proposed a toast to the stringers, and said that not only did we love their contributions musically, and the energy they brought to their performance, but they were fun to hang out with, too.
“After thirty-five shows, and 13,632 motorcycle miles, we finished the Houston show on a very high note.” Read “Adventures in the Wild West” in its entirety.
Neil says in an essay he wrote for Drum Works magazine that he spent a good part of last year gearing up for the Clockwork Angels tour, which meant going to his local YMCA several days a week for rigorous workouts and spending other days at the Drum Works studios about 50 miles up Highway 1 from his home in Los Angeles—a great commute, since he gets to drive up and down the Pacific Coast Highway. “You really cannot beat that,” he says.
His workout routine, which he developed wth the help of his brother, who does that kind of thing for a living, is interesting, because it’s designed to get a 60-year-old man in shape to act like a 20-year-old kid.
First there’s the endurance training on the elliptical and other workout machines, and then there’s the yoga, which is intended to make him flexible to minimize the chances of straining his back, shoulders, and knees, which are the indispensable body parts of a drummer, especially one that hits the drums as hard as he does.
On the yoga, Neil says he starts with what is called a sun salutation, a series of 12 poses that you’re supposed to do in a single, graceful flow. You start out upright with your arms hugging your chest, raise your arms to the sky, and then dip down, lunge forward, push yourself up into a plank, then do what they call an upward and downward dog, then you lunge again and head back up into your starting position.
Neil says he doesn’t care too much for the part that involves the lunges (“but they feel . . . worthwhile,” he says).
Separate from the sun salutation, he does “warrior poses,” in which you stretch your body as you would if you’re a warrior in a Hollywood movie, dramatically posing to show even automatic-weapon-toting enemies that, even if you’re going down, you’ll be the more dashing of the two.
He also works out a bit using weight machines. “I’ll do leg presses, bicep curls and tricep presses, leg curls, chest presses, leg lifts, and high-lat pulldowns,” he says. “I do twenty reps of each, and for me, the appropriate weights have gravitated to 50, 70, and 90 pounds, depending on the muscle group. In the free-weight room, I do twenty chest flys with 15-pound dumbbells on an inclined bench.”
Then he finishes off with a swim and then hops on his bike for the 20-minute ride back home.
Neil says he does the cooking at home, so he’ll stop at the grocery store on his bike and pick up that night’s dinner, usually fish or chicken with steamed vegetables and a “comforting carbohydrate.”
It sounds a bit regimented, but I imagine it would have to be. Drumming for three hours a night on tour is grueling for anyone, let alone someone who would be eligible for retirement benefits in a few years.
Developing the tour playlist
Neil also talks about how the band devised its set list for the tour and on this point he answers why they decided, for the first time ever, to systematically swap out different somgs on different evenings.
To refresh your memory, the band switches out five songs on alternative nights. On the Clockwork Angels part of the show, they’ll play “Carnies” on one night and then “Seven Cities of Gold” on the next night. Other swaps include “The Spirit of Radio” for “2112,” “Bravado” for “The Pass,” “Manhattan Project” for “Dreamline,” and “The Body Electric” for “Middletown Dreams.”
The alternative playlists came about as a compromise. They wanted to play all the songs but to do so would have made the show far longer than any other show they’ve played and would be too grueling to do. So they created the alternative playlists to get all the songs in. They just wouldn’t play them all in one night.
“There were no obvious candidates [to drop from the playlist], and when I mentioned this reality to Alex and Geddy, the three of us couldn’t agree on dropping any,” he says. “So I suggested something different for us: putting together two shows, Show A and Show B, that would alternate . . . different songs each night. . . . This idea seemed more attractive to us [than dropping songs].”
Neil’s Drum Works essay is pretty interesting. You can read it in its entirety by clicking here.
Neil Peart writes like a true fan of postmodern fiction, and of course he’s built not a small number of Rush songs on a postmodern infrastructure. Think “The Camera Eye” in Moving Pictures and a good number of songs on the band’s 1985 Power Windows album. “The Big Money” and “Grand Designs” both borrow from John Dos Passos, as does “The Camera Eye,” and “Bravado” from Roll the Bones borrows from John Barth, who certainly appears to be one of Neil’s favorite writers, based on his admiring comments about his writing.
Postmodernism means different things to different people but a common marker for all of it is reader participation. As the reader, you have to really be engaged and stay with the writer to do the work justice, otherwise it’s just hard to get your arms around. But for the reader who persists, the rewards can be great.
In the first update in quite some time to Bubba’s Book Club, his collection of book reviews, Neil pulls off a remarkable stunt and reviews not one book or two books but 21 books, all of which he’s read over the past year or so, including one from postmodern titan John Barth and one from a personal favorite of mine, Dave Eggers. He threw in John Irving’s latest novel as well, and unlike many casual readers who look at an Irving novel and go, “Oh, no, not another New England prep school with wrestling!” Neil seems to appreciate Irving’s mastery of these recurring motifs, which he uses as a base to explore whatever his latest subject is.
Among the other authors Neil tackles: Michael Chabon, Michael Ondaatje, Barbara Kingsolver, Paul Theroux, and Douglas Coupland.
So, how do you organize a review of 21 books all at once? Well, as it happens, all of the books (19 novels and two nonfiction works) were released in the last dozen years or so and they’re all by living authors, some quite young (meaning anyone under, say, 50).
As a collection they give any lover of good writing a reason to breathe a sigh of relief that the digital era hasn’t put a fatal stake in the heart of literature yet, although, as Douglas Coupland says in a quote that Neil shares, “I kind of miss my pre-Internet mind.” We might all miss our pre-Internet mind, but at least writers are still able to produce great work. Whether we still have the patience to stick with them—that’s another matter.
In any case, Neil tackles the authors alphabetically, starting with Barth and ending with Carlos Ruis Zafón, whose book, The Shadow of the Wind, is a Foucault’s Pendulum-type mystery that exploded onto the literary scene in 2001.
In Neil’s view, all of the books are excellent. As he points out, since he’s doing this only for the enjoyment of it, he chose only the books he loved, so if you’re looking for a recommendation for a book to read, you can pick any of the 21 and know that at least one other person thoroughly enjoyed it.
But don’t look to Neil’s reviews for a summary of the plot; he’s good at whetting your appetite without spoiling anything about the story.
Note: In Barth’s novel Every Third Thought, the title refers to what people think about after the turn a certain age, and it’s death. Before they reach that age, it’s about the process that leads to creating that other thing that’s the opposite of death. If you like good writing, maybe every third thought is about writing. Probably not, but it’s better than thinking about death!
Access his Book Club essay directly.
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”—F. Scott Fitzgerald
On break from the Clockwork Angels tour, Neil has been doing a lot of writing. A couple of weeks ago he posted a review of 21 books he had read over the past year or so and yesterday he posted an essay on what you might call “Thoughts Thunk in a Stately Fashion.” These are the thoughts we have when we’re outside, walking or hiking or, in his case, cross-country skiing in the Southern Laurentians, where he has property.
There’s something about the way the physical activity combines with the setting that our thoughts are less hurried, perhaps more organized, and we’re able to make connections among ideas that we otherwise would miss. “My thoughts ranged from postmodernism to what I might eat for dinner,” he says. “As always, my mind gathered what I saw and felt and played the game of trying to put it into words, into sentences, that might be shared with others.”
Of course, it helps to have a warming fire and glass of whiskey to return to after your exertions to help you collect and record your thoughts.
One of Neil’s qualites as a writer is the way he makes space for you, as a reader, to tag along with him while he gathers up and shares his observations. You certainly find that quality in the lyrics to Rush’s songs, and that might be one of the ingredients to the band’s success over the years, one of the qualities of their music that make it age well.
In any case, Neil splits his essay into two perspectves, the first from a solitary retreat at his Southern Laurentian property, where the mercury drops to -18 Celsius and some of the most compelling stories are to be found not on the TV but outside, in the tracks left by a fox, or the signs that a moose spent the night in the shelter of evergreens.
The second perspective is from another wnter retreat, this one near his home in Southern California, where he gets in a few hikes to places you would never know could be found right there in the Los Angeles metro area, including the Upper Las Virgenes Open Space Preserve.
From both perspectives, he shares his thoughts on what he calls “trailcraft” (much like his “roadcraft” idea he says he wants to work into a book). It’s all about rules for living, and he manages to find a way to quote with approval rules for living from both Jack London and Ernest Hemingway, even though they’re taking what amounts to completely opposite positions. Jack London says, “I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time,” and indeed London was dead by the time he was 40 after an event-filled life. Ernest Hemingway says, “First, one must last”—that is, live long enough to see your dreams fulfilled. And Hemingway lived to a much more ripe old age, 61, although in the end he shoots himself. (If Hemingway’s theme about the need to last over time sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the basis of Rush’s song “Marathon,” on Power Windows, from 1985.
In a way that’s worth pondering, Neil manages to live by both sets of rules, judging by what he says in his writings, and I guess that’s what the ideas of “trailcraft” and “roadcraft” are all about: get out there and live—go on that hike, ski up and down that mountain—but do it in a way that’s tactically smart so you can endure long enough to see your dreams fulfilled.
. . . and write about them, you might add. Its always enjoyable reading Neil’s essays, and this one is no exception. Read “Winter Latitudes” here.
When riding through Wales, Scotland, and other parts of Britain earlier this year for the European leg of Rush’s Clockwork Angels tour, which ended earlier this month, Neil and riding partner Brutus had to ride through miles of little twisty roads that had improbable switchbacks, boring scenery of upland pastures, thickets, and fells, typically terminating at a picturesque inn.
After enduring weeks of that, Neil, in an essay he wrote for a British motorcycling weekly, says all other motorcyclists should avoid rural Britain at all costs.
“Those little lanes are messy and unpleasant, often rainy, and quite possibly dangerous,” he writes in the piece, called “Drummer With a Singletrack Mind.” “Terrible, really. Not scenic or anything. And there are all those sheep. We strongly advise other riders to keep far, far away from those nasty little British singletracks. Trust us, they are not at all fun, and we’re sure you wouldn’t like them.”
Neil wrote the essay, with its tongue-in-cheek ending, back in May and a version of it was published in the British motorcycling weekly. Neil yesterday posted the original version on his blog along with photos. “I decided to present [the piece] here in its original form, which would also fill a gap in the tour’s documentation”—that is, in the monthly installments Neil had been writing throughout the Clockwork Angels tour for his blog.
The piece talks about the challenging riding and the scenery of rural Britain and how he and Brutus plan their “commute” on work days and their “slow touring” on days off.
“Creeping along between the dense hedges and stone walls of Devon or the Cotswolds in first or second gear, dodging sheep and tractors (I call us “hedge-huggers” in country like that), or on a narrow, winding ribbon of pavement laid across the barren Welsh and Scottish mountains (with more sheep), or threading the fells and narrow valleys of the Lake District (dotted ditto), the riding is relaxing, even serene, yet technically demanding. There is definitely an art to riding slowly over dynamic terrain.”
—And definitely something other motorcyclists shouldn’t try unless they’re prepared for relaxing, serene, and technically demanding riding through beautiful countryside.
Read “Drummer With a Singletrack Mind” in its entirety on Neil’s site.
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:
Neil’s ride through Poland and the former East Germany for the last part of Rush’s European Clockwork Angels tour this month became a trip down memory lane as he returned to some of the points he was trying to make in “Heresy” in Roll the Bones, released in 1991, and “Red Sector A” in Grace Under Pressure, released in 1984.
As picturesque as some of the old East German towns and cities are, like Rothenburg (pictured) and Dresden, and as impressive as their economic comeback has been after decades under Soviet influence, the repressive character of their past continues to haunt them, Neil says in his June 2013 blog update, “Shunpikers in the Shadowlands.”
“Everything I saw was colored with the lenses of that shadowy history—what those places had endured, and what the people who lived there had done, what had been done to them, and what they had been denied.”
Neil has suggested previously that “Heresy” is all about wanting to pull your hair out in disgust and frustration that the world for so long was turned upside down by ideologues and sadists who operated under the cover of a perverse ideology, Marxism, and now, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, all we can do is forgive and forget and just write off the experience as a big mistake. “All those precious, wasted years / Who will pay?”
In this latest writing on the topic, he applies the same thoughts about forgiving and forgetting to the holy warriors and fundamentalists who are wreaking so much havoc on civil society today. “Someday, I trust, the same will be said about religion,” he says.
He doesn’t make the connection, but that’s pretty clearly what “Wish Then Well” on Clockwork Angels is all about: moving on rather than trying to exact punishment on someone who so obviously deserves it. And since Clockwork Angels can be interpreted in large part as a critique of religion (it channels Voltaire’s criticism of Leibniz’s “best of all worlds” Christianity), presumably it’s religious fanatics at least in part that we’re supposed to wish well.
In Poland, he reiterates points he’s made in the past about how “Red Sector A” looks at the idea of how people liberated from the death camps believe, as a kind of coping mechanism, they’re the last people left alive because they can’t believe civilized society would allow them to be treated so inhumanely by others. But he also fills in a blank about what he means by the line “For my father and my brother, it’s too late / But I must help my mother stand up straight.” It refers to how the inmates would hold up the sick and the feeble lest they get plucked out of the camp by guards and gassed because they’re too weak to work.
“A memoir by [a] female survivor of Auschwitz filled in more details, like how if anyone appeared too ill or feeble to work, they would be sent straight to the gas chambers,” he says.”So even in that dehumanized nightmare, people showed “grace under pressure,” and tried to help each other appear “healthy.”
It’s interesting that Grace Under Pressure came out in 1984, the title year of George Orwell’s masterpiece about totalitarianism, and of course critiquing authoritarianism, whether secular or religious, is what much of the album is about. That Neil: he is a clever guy.
In any case, the blog post is far from all gloom and doom, and indeed, upon finishing the European leg of the tour, he mentions how Brutus, his good friend and riding partner, was riding for the first time since being treated for cancer.
“I was happy and relieved to see Brutus making it—keeping up with me, and enjoying the ride,” he says. “Out of all our darkness, he and I had emerged purified, ennobled, and enlightened—we knew how to appreciate life.”
And how to write about it. Neil’s post makes great reading, as his writing always does. Access “Shunpikers in the Shadowlands” now.
Aaaand . . . speaking of Caress of Steel, I think the image on the album cover, when looked at from afar, looks a lot like an Indian head penny. Take a look. —Rob Freedman, Rush Vault
Neil in his latest blog post mentions how far down on the radar screen the War of 1812 is to Americans and to the British and yet how far up on the screen it is to Canadians, especially those in Ontario, since some of the war’s most important battles were fought there.
For Canadians, not only was the war not a minor skirmish, but it represented a moment when they got the better of the Americans, defeating them in their effort to “annex” the country.
Of course, as Neil says, whether the Americans really wanted to annex Canada or just give the British a poke in the eye is something that might never be resolved. But the war ended well enough for Canada and for the United States. Canada got to keep the Americans out and burnished its national identity on the world stage, and the United States got to beat the British for a second time. All Britain got was a headache and a memory it would rather forget—and for the most part has.
Which takes us to Neil’s point: whether you’re talking about war or adventure, as long as the outcome is good, the story is fun to tell. It’s the ones in which the outcome isn’t good that the story isn’t fun to tell and indeed rarely if ever gets told. You can bet the British aren’t telling stories about the War of 1812.
In any case, for Neil, his travels around the United States and Canada during the late spring and early summer leg of the Clockwork Angels tour was full of adventure—meaning, of course, that the outcome of his adventure was good. But things could have gone the other way.
In the upper peninsula of Michigan, for example, he and riding partner Michael Mosbach defied their GPS and took a road that looked like a road on a paper map but that was actually a snowmobile trail, and the result was nearly a catastrophe, with both of their bikes slipping out from underneath them. In Michael’s case, the bike took him down an embankment, eventually pinning his leg under the bike frame. Neil was able to lift the bike up enough for Michael to pull his leg out, so the outcome was good.
Later, in Nova Scotia, Neil ran over a nail and had to ride on a steadily deflating tire for the last leg of his ride. With no place to get air, there was nothing to do except hope that the tire would last long enough for them to get to their destination. And it did, and thus the outcome is another good story to tell.
Neil sets this conversation up about stories ending well or ending badly in an interesting way. At the beginning of his blog post, he shows a picture of him in Nova Scotia at a natural landmark, called Balancing Rock (left), and the name captures exactly the rock’s precipitousness: it’s balancing on another rock and it looks like it could easily fall in one direction or the other. Which direction it falls determines whether the story turns out well or turns out badly.
In the end, all of the stories turned out well, and Neil, while he was in Michigan, shows a picture of himself enjoying a glass of The Macallan outside his motel room. The whiskey tasted good because the adventure to get there—with the slipping in the mud and everything—was especially fraught with uncertainty. That’s the trade-off you make.
Neil’s a compelling writer, so it all makes for interesting reading. But he also gives us a little news in his blog post, too. He mentions the misinformation that got passed along after the band’s participation in the July 10 Québec city Festival d’été had to be cut short because of weather. Rush was just one of several acts at the festival, and after it had played about three-quarters of its show, the management directed the band to end its set early. Geddy made the announcement—in English—and the band did what it was told to do.
“I ran offstage . . . while Alex and Geddy, in their cars, drove off to the airport to fly home for the night,” Neil says.
As it turned out, the storm veered away and the festival resumed. But many people were left with the impression that Rush scooted off on its own, because, as Neil tells it, Geddy had made the announcement in English and Quebec City is mostly French speaking. “The Quebec City press spread the impression that it had been Geddy personally who had stopped the show, which was wrong and misleading,” Neil says.
To help set the record straight and to offer up something in return for their mad dash out, the band sent a recording from their next show, in Halifax, of the six songs they didn’t play to the local rock radio station to give away to listeners. “Nothing more we could do,” he says.
The other bit of news has to do with the band’s effort to remix their 2002 studio album Vapor Trails. Back in May, Geddy and Alex spent part of their time off the tour “overseeing a remixed version” of the album. That suggests the project could be in its final stages and possibly ready for release after the Clockwork Angels tour ends, which is in just a few days. (It ends August 2 with the Denver show.)
When the remixed album comes out, that will certainly be a good ending to the Vapor Trails story. The band has never been happy with the production on the album, so getting a new and improved version out there will certainly be a good way to give that tale a happy ending.
Read Neil’s July blog post, called “On Days Like These,” in its entirety.
Neil in his latest blog post says the vibe after the band’s last Clockwork Angels show, in Kansas City August 4, was quite a bit different than on previous tours because for the band members and crew, the last show never feels like a farewell; there’s always the expectation they’ll get together again when the next tour starts. But for the seven string musicians who’ve been Rush’s touring companions for the last 18 months it really was goodbye.
“The ten musicians on that stage knew that, no matter what, there would never be another performance like that,” Neil says in his post, called “It’s Not Over When It’s Over.” “Some of them [the string musicians] told us this tour had been the greatest musical experience of their lives, and the three of us could only agree. For all of us, after long careers, that was saying something.”
To commemorate the adventure of playing together, the string musicians recorded their own version of “Closer to the Heart” and presented Alex, Geddy, and Neil each with their own CD of it. Neil describes the recording as “an intricate string arrangement of our song by cellist Jacob [Szekely, who has just put out a CD]. The disc was packaged with style and detail, accompanied by a signed copy of the score, and, of course, an eight-by-ten glossy. They had also collaborated on a framed ‘award’ for each of us, to commemorate the selling of ‘three copies’—a humorous echo of the Canadian gold records for Clockwork Angels we had given to the stringers at an earlier show. Jonny [Jonathan Dinklage] gave a little speech that was heartfelt and funny.”
The CD and festivities capped off a long tour, one that included a lot of difficult moments, including during the Red Deer benefit concert, which the band played just a few weeks earlier, on July 24.
Rush held the Red Deer concert as a way to raise relief funds for flood ravaged parts of Canada and it turned out to be a smashing success, with more than $500,000 raised, much of that going to Calgary, where Rush had to cancel its show because of water damage to the arena. But the Red Deer show brought its own near-disaster, because the band had to play the first half without its crucial stage monitors.
“Just before showtime we were informed that the monitor board was down,” Neil says. “Talk about a juggling act! . . . each of our pairs of in-ear monitors receives a unique mix of ‘information.’ For myself, I have an ever-changing blend that always includes drums and vocals, and usually bass and guitar, but sometimes eliminates those so I can concentrate on a sequence of keyboard patterns or vocal effects that I need to play in sync with—and set up the tempo for in advance, perhaps the biggest challenge of all.”
As it happens, audio technicians were able to get the monitors fixed by the intermission, so the band had them working for the second half of the show. “As I said to the Guys at Work during intermission, ‘My poor brain! I think we got through it okay—but I wouldn’t want to hear a recording of it!’”
Actually, if you want to hear a recording of it, Rush in the video below is playing “Territories” during the first half of their show that night.
In much of the rest of his post, Neil talks about his adventures motorcycling from show to show for this last part of the tour, much of it in the Mountain West part of the United States—Washington, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. It’s great motorcycling country, with wide open expanses and scenic mountain ranges, but unfortunately a big swath of Washington was marred by what came to be called the Colockum Tarps fire.
“Amid the devastation, a couple of houses had been saved—oases of green lawns around them. One detachment was guarding a roadblock to stop all traffic from entering the area—the very region through which we had just blithely ridden.”
Neil and his road companions put in several big-mileage days, racing from one national park to another, at one point riding 1,000 miles in just two days. And for the second time this tour, he had to ride part of the way with a nail-damaged tire. The problem got so bad that he had to switch motorcycles with Chris Stankee, his riding companion from Sabian, the cymbal company, so he could go on ahead and get to that day’s show.
“Chris, ‘a good man in a storm,’ understood what had to happen,” Neil says. “While I shifted my belongings to Geezer VI [his back-up motorcycle], he was on the phone to Michael [Mosbach, his other riding companion and security chief], who was already waiting for us at the BMW dealer in Salt Lake City. They would send out a truck and trailer to pick up Geezer VII—and Chris. I gave him a hug and said, ‘I’m sorry.’ He said, ‘Hey—we know about “nails in the road.”’”
It sounds like there were plenty of nails in the road during Rush’s Clockwork Angels tour, but like the protagonist of Clockwork Angels, Owen Hardy, the nails were dealt with as needed and the tour, in the end, was a success. Read Neil’s post in its entirety.