Thirty five concerts. Seventeen thousand motorcycle miles. Three months. One lifetime. In May 2015 the veteran Canadian rock trio Rush embarked on their 40th anniversary tour, R40. For the band and their fans, R40 was a celebration and, perhaps, a farewell. But for Neil Peart, each tour is more than just a string of concerts; it's an opportunity to explore backroads near and far on his BMW motorcycle. So if this was to be the last tour and the last great adventure, he decided it would have to be the best one, onstage and off. This third volume in Peart's travel series shares all-new tales that transport the listener across North America and through memories of 50 years of playing drums. From the scenic grandeur of the American West to a peaceful lake in Quebec's Laurentian Mountains to the mean streets of Midtown Los Angeles, each story is shared in an intimate narrative voice that has won the hearts of many listeners. Thoughtful and ever engaging, Far and Wide is an elegant scrapbook of people and places, music and laughter, from a fascinating road - and a remarkable life.
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As a drummer myself, I am well aware of Neil Peart’s status as one of the most talented players around, respected by both fans and peers around the world. So you can imagine my reaction when I saw the cover of this title; A lonely desert road stretching to the horizon, a powerful motorbike and a drummer on his way to play a gig with one of the most successful and loudest rock bands around. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, quite a lot, actually. I am aware that my illusion that this book would be all “rock ‘n roll and lock up your daughters” was mine and mine alone, and bearing in mind the members of his band Rush are all well established family men, there was always a chance that this may not be the walk on the wild side I was anticipating. But all the same, he doesn’t actually get on the bike until Chapter 9! The first 8 chapters are used up with background information and meandering observations on the environment in general and the author’s in particular, with long sections talking of the little island he owns in a lake in Quebec, and how enjoys the peace and solitude there. That’s all fine and dandy, but I personally have a taste for some road stories.
Finally, at Chapter 10 they saddle up, and the whole book shifts to, for me, a more engaging and entertaining gear.
Neil has a real taste for going off the beaten track, and during his long trip planning sessions he does extensive research to ensure he and his biking buddies get the most from each leg of their cross-country rides. And it’s fair to say that when Neil does go off the paved highway he doesn’t do so by halves. Winding gravel roads give way to deeply rutted muddy tracks and, in one case, no actual road at all when a sink-hole removes the actual pavement of the road and Neil and his biking wingman on that day have to edge their bikes gently around a very precarious drop. The fact that this hazard was marked by a large road sign some miles earlier which Neil chose to ignore just adds to the occasion.
Interspersed with tales of adventures and obstacles on the road, Neil also shares his observations on the vast land known as the USA; the farms, the small towns, abandoned factories and welcome diners along the way. As a Canadian who only recently took American citizenship he has an interesting view of the people and events that impact the country during his ride, and is repeatedly surprised and yet touched by the simple kindness of strangers. On one occasion he discovers that one of his saddlebags has fallen off the bike, containing a very expensive watch, his wedding ring and other personal items. He places an ad in the local paper and receives a voice message from a person saying they found it. Unfortunately, Neil then accidently erases the message and the caller never calls again. Almost ten years later, with the event all but forgotten, he receives a message from a person who heard him tell the tell as part of a book launch, and they’ve still got the saddlebag, its contents intact, and soon they are returned at last to their very grateful owner.
There are a couple of places where I laughed out loud as Neil recounts, with not a little self-deprecation, tales of his well-known reputation as not exactly being ‘Mr Sunshine’. This disposition has not mellowed as he entered his 60s, and his consequent run-ins with photographers, selfie-hunting fans and local law enforcement in the deepest heart of the country are brilliantly told and highly entertaining.
Narration by Paul Hecht is engaging throughout, his rich delivery putting you right on the saddle of the bike with Neil.