Scifi Pulse has just posted a really strong review of the latest novel by sci-fi master Kevin J. Anderson and Rush drummer Neil Peart, CLOCKWORK LIVES.
The final line: Reading the first book is not necessary to enjoy this novel; it is in a completely different format than the previous book and is equally satisfying. Anderson and Peart have created a magnificent journey for Marinda and I’m glad they returned to this universe. In fact, after the pleasure this book brought to me, I would be disappointed if they did not return for further tales. Recommended. Overall grade: A+
In his best-selling book, Ghost Rider, the Canadian drummer not only proves to be an excellent writer (imagine Willa Cather and Jack Kerouac as one person; a bizarre combination, I know, but an accurate one), but he also reveals himself, yet again, a serious and stoic social and cultural critic. Here are two sample passages from Ghost Rider.
The first day in Mexico was Selena’s birthday, and I had made careful plans on how to ‘memorialize’ that day. Early in the morning, I walked to the big cathedral in the Zocalo, went inside and bought two princess-sized votive candles (the biggest they had, of course) and lit them in front of the chapel for ‘Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe’ . . . . I sat there awhile, and cried some (well, a lot), amid the pious old ladies, tourists, and construction workers.
Later in the book, in a less autobiographical nature, he explains his own vision of what art is.
I once defined the basic nature of art as ‘the telling of stories,’ and never had I felt that to be more true. I played the anger, the frustration, the sorrow, and even the travelling parts of my story, the rhythms of the highway, the majesty of the scenery, the dynamic rising and falling of my moods, and the narrative suite that emerged was as cleansing and energizing as the sweat and exertion of telling it.
Each of these passages shows Peart at his deepest. The side the craves beauty and the side that craves telling the world about the beauty he has seen.
His travels also opened Peart to a number of personal revelations. Overall, he believed that “the elemental ‘faith’ in life I used to possess is completely gone,” and that with such an erasing of the past and its securities, “every little element of my former life, behavior, interests, and habits, was up for re-examination.” Two specifics also emerged in this rebirth. First, he had to accept the help of others, recognizing it as the gift it is and was intended to be by the giver. Pride had to give way to charity. Second, he came to see a more mystical side of life, well beyond his previously steady devotion to late eighteenth-century European rationalism. In one incident—that would greatly influence the next three albums—Peart encountered a man who read his fortune through Tarot cards. The reading proved so accurate that Peart ‘s “jaw dropped, and it’s still dropping.”
Though most orthodox religions forbid the reading of Tarot, artists as diverse as T.S. Eliot and Russell Kirk have employed its meaning—however tragic and deep or superficial and meaningless—effectively as a form of story telling, especially when regarding character and morals. Peart does the same through his lyrics over the next several albums.
As any Neil Peart fan well knows, the great man just celebrated his 63rd birthday and his sequel to his co-authored novel, CLOCKWORK LIVES, comes out tomorrow. We all eagerly await with intense and immense anticipation this new work by Peart and Hugo-nominated science-fiction author, Kevin J. Anderson.
I must also proudly note that my intellectual biography of the world’s greatest drummer comes out tomorrow as well. NEIL PEART: CULTURAL (RE)PERCUSSIONS (WordFire Press). It will be available in paperback ($14.99) and ebook ($5.99) but is now available for pre-order.
I have to thank a lot of folks for their encouragement with this book project, and I hope I give everyone due credit in the book. When I read the works of Steve Horwitz and Rob Freedman, I just knew that I had to write a book on Peart. I’ve loved Neil Peart’s words and musicianship since first encountering MOVING PICTURES in March 1981. I was in seventh grade, and I’ve never been the same. To me, Peart fits in the same category as J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula LeGuin, Ray Bradbury, and Milton Friedman as influences on my young life. As Peart has grown, so have I. And, so, I presume have most of us.
This book also turns out to be my fifth published biography. The other biographies, however, have been almost completely academic. When I first started to write this book, I’d wanted to write an autobiography with the emphasis on how Peart shaped my own life and thoughts on a variety of things. Even during the first draft, I started deviating from this plan. By the final product, I’d left in only a few personal experiences. There are two reasons for this.
First, almost everyone who reads the book wants to know about Peart, not me. Second, some of the experiences are still too painful to make public fully. I can only state that Peart’s art and example has meant as much to me and my life as any figure outside of my family.
In the book, I focus on Peart as a man of letters, one of our greatest in the English language. I was pretty thrilled when PROG’s Johnny Sharp wrote:
But author Bradley Birzer does go a little over the top in his gushing praise of his subject. When an intro mentions Peart in the same sentence as Socrates and Cicero. . .
He’s completely correct, of course. But, you should’ve seen earlier drafts! Ha. Anyway, if you like what we do at progarchy, you’ll like the bio.
Actually, I was just thrilled that my favorite magazine reviewed my book! Even if Sharp had hated it, I’d still be pretty honored that Jerry Ewing and Grant Moon took it seriously enough to review. Still, I’m so glad Sharp actually enjoyed it!
A huge thanks to Johnny Sharp, Jerry Ewing, and all of our friends and allies at teamrock.com. A perceptive review (very perceptive!) of my forthcoming intellectual biography of Neil Peart. Out September 15, 2015, NEIL PEART: CULTURAL REPERCUSSIONS will be available as an ebook and paperback.
While Birzer doesn’t include any first-hand original interviews with his subject or his bandmates, his research is extensive, seeking out insightful quotes and stories from the band’s four-decade existence as he successfully divides their work into distinct eras (Rush 2.0, 2.1, 3.0, etc). No doubt Peart himself would initially scoff at the idea of such an in-depth analysis of his work. But secretly, I think he’ll feel Birzer has done him proud here.
And, best of all, Sharp labels my thesis “over the top.” And, he’s absolutely right. To finish Sharp’s interview, please go here. Link requires free registration to read the full review.
I’m really happy to announce that my biography of Neil Peart, NEIL PEART: CULTURAL (RE)PERCUSSIONS, is now available for pre-order.
Released silmultaneously as a paperback (WordFire Press, $14.99) and an ebook (WordFire/Baen, $5.99) on September 15, the biography considers Peart primarily as an extraordinary writer and author–of lyrics, fiction, and travelogues.
If you like what we’ve accomplished with progarchy, I think you’ll like the bio of Peart. For what it’s worth, I bring fifteen years of writing professional biographies, a decade of reviewing rock and prog rock, and thirty-four years of intense admiration for Neil Peart to the book.
[Please be warned: this is a serious essay with an advertisement at the end—so, don’t feel ripped off!–Brad]
A week ago, I tried to explain—in the first of a multipart series—why I decided to write a book about Neil Peart, lyricist and drummer for Rush. Biographies of rock musicians generally either become fanboy lovefests, People-magazine exposes, or clinical dissections.
I pray and assume I’m guiltless when it comes to the second and third reasons. I’m sure, however, that I will rightly be accused of the first.
The youngest of three boys, growing up in central and western Kansas, I happily had a mother who allowed us to listen to whatever we wanted and read whatever we wanted. Television was never huge in our house, and I’m still rather mystified when peers of my age group quote The Brady Bunch or The Partridge Family. If I had the choice between tv and listening to an album, the album won every time. I don’t remember a time in my life when music wasn’t playing somewhere in the house or in the car. And, it wasn’t just rock. We listened to classical and jazz. Never opera, and I despised musicals and county music. I did come to love opera, but only in my adult years. Almost every room, however, had some form of stereo system, album collection, and headphones. From the age of 10 or so, I could hook up a fairly complicated stereo system, splice speaker wires, etc.
Though my brothers have long given up their love of progressive rock music, they did love it immensely in the early 1970s. My oldest brother is 8 years older, and my older brother five years older. From around 1971 or 1972 (I was born in 1967), I remember Jethro Tull and Yes. Soon, it would be ELO, Kansas, and Genesis, too. Rush, though, I’d never heard—or, at the least, if I had heard them, the band did not make an impression on me until the spring of 1981.
For some reason that I have since long forgotten, I got in trouble in the spring of 1981 while at school Back then, when discipline was still a central part of junior high education, any one of us could get any trouble for almost anything. No one questioned it back then. If the teacher or an administrator decided you were in trouble, you were in trouble. I was a very good student when it came to academics, but I could care less about rules. In fact, I hated them. Regardless, in the spring of 1981, I earned a detention—which meant sitting in the school library around a wooden table with the other kids who had earned detention. That day, it was me, another kid named Brad, and Troy. I’d know each of these guys since first grade, and I’d always been friendly with them. We weren’t, however, close. Troy, if I remember correctly, was wearing a Duke (Genesis) pin on his jacket. Of course, I was immediately taken with it. You know Genesis? I know Genesis! Exactly moments for a 13-year old. It turned out that Brad and Troy knew as much as I did about prog, but they had definitely embraced harder prog, while I had always gone for more symphonic prog.
Have you heard the new Rush yet, one of them asked me? Rush? No, never heard of them. Oh, Brad, you have to listen to Rush. Moving Pictures might be the greatest album ever made.
I’d had a lawn mowing business for several years at that point, and I was rather frugal with my money—except for books, Dungeons and Dragons stuff, and albums. Of course, as soon as I left school that day, I purchased Moving Pictures. I can still remember staring at the album, taking off the cellophane, and removing the vinyl from its sleeve. There was something so utterly magical about dropping the needle on side one of a new album. Drop, crackle, hiss, pop, DUN, Dun, dun, dun “A Modern-day warrior, mean, mean stride”!!!!!! Where on God’s green earth had I ever heard anything so good? At that point in my life, nothing could rival Tom Sawyer. Then, Red Barchetta. Oh yeah, who wouldn’t want to get into a car and drive at outrageous speeds while escaping from authority? Even then, I was rather instinctively libertarian. YYZ reminded me of a lot of jazz my brothers had played me, and I thought every drum crash was the drummer (a guy named Neil Peart, I soon discovered) throwing glass bottles at a wall. Limelight seemed great. Camera Eye was utterly mysterious, especially for someone who had only known the big cities of Denver, Wichita, Dallas, and Kansas City. Witchhunt seemed appropriate, and I thought of the hypocrites I’d known who often acted with outrageous righteousness. Vital Signs seemed the perfect ending, catchy and a bit weird with words I’d never heard before, such as “evelate.”
I can still see my 13-year old self reading the lyrics of Moving Pictures. I read them again. And, I read them again. And, again. And, again.
And, the pictures of the three guys who made up the band? They looked so cool. They didn’t look hippiesh and all wizardy like the Yes guys on Yessongs. No, these three guys looked like they could’ve grown up around the corner from me.
So, there you have it. Neil Peart has been my hero since detention at Liberty Junior High School, Hutchinson, Kansas. He taught me not to be him, but to be myself. Thank you, Brad and Troy. Thank you long forgotten teacher who thought I was a trouble maker. You were probably right. Little did you know, however, that you were the catalyst that lead me to Rush and to Neil Peart. And, here I am, thirty-four years later, and I’ve just written a book on the guy.
[And, here’s the advertisement:]
On September 15, 2015, WordFire Press, founded, owned, and presided over by the incomparable Hugo-nominated science fiction author, Kevin J. Anderson, and his equally amazing wife and famed author, Rececca Moesta, will be publishing my biography, Neil Peart: Cultural (Re)Percussions.
It will be $14.99 for the paperback and $5.99 for the ebook (all formats).
For another 48-hours, however, you can order it as a part of the Humble Bundle Music Book Bundle. For $15, you can get an advanced review copy of NEIL PEART: CULTURAL (RE)PERCUSSIONS as well as a number of other fantastic books, including CLOCKWORK ANGELS: THE NOVEL. And, you even get a preview of the sequel, CLOCKWORK LIVES. It’s well worth it, especially for just $15.
[Be forewarned, this is a serious essay that leads to an advertisement. Proceed at your own risk!!!!]
A year ago, I had the great privilege of reading a fine history of Rush: Robert Freedman’s RUSH: LIFE LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF EXCELLENCE. It was a very satisfying read, and, as I finished it, I sighed to myself. . . “I wish I’d written this.” I don’t think my reaction was one of hubris, but rather one of joy. I was glad to see Peart taken so seriously at an intellectual level. All too often, even in a culture that can go utterly ga-ga over the most trivial things, Americans still tend to dismiss rock music as a fad or rock musicians as a low form of artist.
For those of us who love prog and art rock, we cringe at such slights, and yet, in our heart of hearts, we’re kind of glad that we are among the few who know—as almost a secret treasure we possess—that good rock as art most certainly does exist. Sure, we’ll argue until we’re blue in the face about what makes art good. But, in the end, we’re somewhat satisfied that we’ve chosen the past least taken.
I’m as guilty of this as anyone, and I know that much of my life, I’ve been a total music snob. Sure, being from Kansas, I can do it with manner and a smile, but I’m still a snob.
When the four editors of progarchy and I started this website, we dedicated ourselves to promoting—as widely as possible—the beauty of music in all of its forms. We’re each music snobs, of course, but we so want to make our snobbery general and widespread. That is, we’d love to have Big Big Train playing on every rock station across North America. Rock music is at a crossroads, and we think we can destroy the mediocrity and corporate vanilla the so prevails and gives rock a bad now. Now, this truly is HUBRIS on our part!
One of the persons I find most intriguing over the last half century is Neil E. Peart. Whether you agree with his political views or hate them, whether you think he’s a god among drummers or just a guy dealing with his ADHD, you have to give Peart credit for making his own way, no matter the cost and no matter the obstacles.
Just a few nights ago, Rush played their final show of R40. The chances are pretty good that that show will be the last normal Rush show ever played. After 41 years of constant success and considered artist endeavors, that’s huge!
[Remember, I warned you above!]
So, why Neil Peart? Well, I try to answer this very question in NEIL PEART: CULTURAL (RE)PERCUSSIONS. The biography comes out officially on September 15 from Kevin J. Anderson’s Word Fire Press. For another 9 days, however, you can get an advanced review copy of the Peart bio for $15 from Humble Bundle.
I’m biased, but I’m really hoping you’ll purchase a copy. I could explain to you that every time you buy a book, you put food on the table for my huge family. But, this isn’t quite true. Still, it would help for the college funds!
Mostly, though, I wrote this book to spread my love of all things Peart.