It would make sense that Neil Peart’s forays into prose writing would be of a remarkably high standard, not only because he was such a brilliant lyricist, but because he was such an able craftsman. Like his meticulously constructed drum parts, Peart’s books are the work of an artist paying close attention to detail while he composes something to make you think and also feel.
That word, “compositional,” which is so often used to describe Neil Peart the drummer, also applies to his written word outside of the songs he wrote for Rush. A quick internet image search of the band in the 1970s will yield multiple photos of Peart’s face buried in a book of some sort, and aside from his own pure enjoyment, it was years of study of countless writers that led the drummer/lyricist to eventually try his hand at becoming an author.
And if Peart’s songs tackled everything from fantasy to technology to religion to relationships, and everything in between, his seven books, inspired mostly by his adventurous excursions by bicycle and motorcycle between Rush tours, paint the picture of a more or less independent inland traveler, all-too-human, dealing with life’s mysteries and tragedies and beauty. For those looking to go beyond the lyric sheet, below is a quick guide to the Professor’s excellent output of books.
The Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa (1996)
Peart on a 1988 bicycle tour through Cameroon. This travel memoir describes the journey and his experiences, from contracting dysentery to a confrontation with an armed soldier to navigating dirt roads off the beaten path. Peart explores his own emotions along the way, the different “masks” that he discovers he wears. And though he always had a reputation of being fiercely private, it’s in his books where you get to see what he was like in his personal life.
An excerpt from The Masked Rider: “I am sometimes overly concerned about people who don’t really matter to me emotionally. For example, I would rather be early for an appointment and have to wait myself than inconvenience anyone else (though I naively expect the same consideration in return). But at the other extreme, I am jealous of my time and work, and am sometimes short even with friends when a phone call interrupts me in the middle of something ‘important’—when it’s not convenient to speak with them.”
There’s history, culture, interesting people, all told in a likeable first-person narrative style that puts you in that sub-Saharan country you’ve only seen in National Geographic, but now your favorite drummer was there and reporting back.
Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road (2002)
In a ten-month period spanning 1997 and 1998, Peart lost both his nineteen-year-old daughter in a car accident and his wife to cancer. Faced with overwhelming sadness and isolated from the world in his Canadian home on the lake, he was left without direction. Neil told his Rush bandmates that he was “retired.” Early in the book, Peart writes, “I was going. I still didn’t know where (Alaska? Mexico? Patagonia?), or for how long (two months? four months? a year?), but I knew I had to go. My life depended on it.”
This memoir tells of the sense of devastation that led Peart on a year-long, 55,000-mile journey by motorcycle across much of North America, down through Mexico to Belize, and back again to Quebec. It’s personal, heartbreaking, funny, and tragic at the same time, a journey from grief to healing during which our hero is constantly reminded about his losses, but where he triumphs in the end. Like with his previous book, if you didn’t know Peart personally, you will feel like you did after reading this one.
Traveling Music: Playing Back the Soundtrack to My Life and Times (2004)
This time Peart’s vehicle of choice is a car, as he drives his BMW from Los Angeles to Big Bend National Park in Southwest Texas while acting as his own DJ. Traveling Music is nicely autobiographical, as Peart reminisces about his upbringing and inspirations before joining Rush and shares his thoughts about everything from Frank Sinatra to Linkin Park to Radiohead. You get the sense of being in the passenger seat with Neil, and lines in Rush’s “Red Barchetta” come to mind: “Wind in my hair, shifting and drifting, mechanical music, adrenaline surge.” Ever wanted to know what Peart thought about Manu Katché’s drumming or Jeff Buckley’s Grace? Look no further.
Roadshow: Landscape with Drums: A Concert Tour by Motorcycle (2006)
In 2004 Rush embarked on its 30th-anniversary R30 tour, and Peart traveled between shows by motorcycle, chronicling his journey and delivering with a sharp eye and great care almost everything you’d want to know as a fan of the band. Roadshow acts as a behind-the-scenes memoir, and as a travelogue, and it details the challenges of big-time rock touring. No, Peart didn’t like touring. No, he didn’t really love meeting fans. He certainly didn’t want to see us air-drum to “Tom Sawyer” if we met him at a diner. But his reflections are always touching and poignant, and we get an inside look at Peart’s constant strive for perfection. It might sound perfect to you, out there in section 300, but it’s interesting to read how critical the man behind the kit is of himself.
Far and Away: A Prize Every Time (2011)
Following in the tradition of Ghost Rider and Traveling Music, the twenty-two “open letter”–format stories making up Far and Away originally appeared as blog posts on Peart’s website, NeilPeart.net. He shares his experiences as he travels along the back roads of North America, Europe, and South America, in journeys that span almost four years. There are observations about nature, the birth of his daughter, and learning from Freddie Gruber and Peter Erskine.
Far and Near: On Days Like These (2014)
More stories gathered from Peart’s website. In this second volume of a trilogy of books, the voice in Far and Near “still aims at the feeling that someone you know took the time and care to write the best letter he could— to share his life, work, and travels.” Peart writes of outdoor life, receiving honors, and drumming, drumming, drumming. Another look into the inner workings of Peart’s ever-inquisitive mind.
Far and Wide: Bring That Horizon to Me! (2016)
The third and final book in the trilogy follows the R40 tour, Rush’s last, and Peart reflects on five decades of drumming with an eye on the finish line. There’s more insightfulness and humor sprinkled throughout, and even before Peart’s retirement from touring and subsequent untimely death in 2020, there was a definitive sense of closure to the book. The last chapter ends with the band’s final bow after their final song of their final show. Collectively, all of Peart’s travel books are really an Odyssey. He’s our Ulysses, and we were along for the ride.