RUSH drummer Neil Peart has issued the following update:
"As I have been writing to my friends over the past few weeks, 'sorry I haven’t been writing—I’ve been too busy writing.'
The first big job I had to do was the essay I always write to accompany the release of a new Rush album. It might seem fairly easy to put together a few pages about a piece of work like that, but I find it to be the hardest kind of writing—except for lyrics, it occurs to me now. For similar reasons, too, because I’m trying to use the fewest words possible to convey the greatest amount of information. Lyrics are the most difficult, yet have the fewest words—maybe two hundred—and the next hardest are short prose pieces, a couple thousand words or so, because they carry a heavy load.
Somehow short pieces for other people’s books, like the introduction to Kevin Anderson’s story collection, Landscapes, or the after-word for a new edition of Lesley Choyce’s The Republic of Nothing, weren’t as difficult. Perhaps that’s because they were about other people’s work, and the 'audience' is clearly limited to readers of those books. For the album-introduction essays, the intended audience ranges from industry people to journalists, and from casual readers to ardent fans. The story will be sent out with the new CD, at least on the label’s Web site, and the band’s, and will sometimes be quoted in the press and on radio and TV, then be printed (finally) in the tour book. That scattershot target affects the kind of story I try to present, and the way I try to present it.
Thinking of the essay I wrote for Vapor Trails, Behind The Fire, the one for the Rush In Rio DVD, Flying Blind In Rio, and even the introduction for the tour-book anthology, Works On Paper, each of those short pieces took about two solid weeks of hard work. In that same amount of time, instead of a three- or four-page essay, I might turn out forty pages of a book, or even two or three songs.
For those most recent three Rush essays, I even called upon the expertise of my book editor, Paul McCarthy. Paul has an insightful sense of 'the reader’s experience,' and helps me with the chronology, clarity, and completeness of the story he feels I am trying to tell. After I’ve worked at the first draft for several days, I send it to Paul, and he responds with reams of commentary and suggestions. I have described Paul’s editorial method before as “critical enthusiasm”—first telling me how much he likes what I’ve done, then suggesting all the ways I could make it better. I nearly always see what Paul is aiming for (or aiming me for), and try to make those changes. I keep chipping away at the story, word by word and paragraph by paragraph, trying to make it all flow as well as I can.
Because of that method, Paul isn’t the kind of editor who “edits,” as in making things shorter. By the time I incorporate the details he suggests, and find ways to groom them into the story, it only gets longer. My first draft of the Snakes and Arrows piece was about 2,300 words, the same length as the Vapor Trails story, but by the time Paul and I were done, it had grown to 3,300. (To put that in perspective, this little story is already over 580 words.)
Well, no matter. I had no doubt the story’s length was “right,” and that was simply how long it had to be. Still, I was concerned about whether people would want to read all that, and also the number of pages it would take—all those trees!
But I needn’t have worried. Whether or not people will actually read that whole story, hardly anybody actually prints things like that anymore—including our record company, apparently, who will only post it on a Web site so people can download it if they want. Not as nice as an elegant presentation on paper to accompany the CD, I don’t think, but . . . I guess that’s business. Especially in a struggling business like the record industry. (Whether or not they deserve to be struggling is an open question.)
Writing in such a concentrated form, I try to distill everything down to its essence, yet still include every drop of the story. I also follow the advice of Professor Strunk in The Elements of Style, always trying to decide 'What does the reader need to know first?' Paul subscribes to that overview as well, and in pursuing it, I find myself facing many technical challenges—much as I do in composing a drum part.
However, that problem-solving can be a good thing, and sometimes helps with other work. For example, when I was in the middle of the first draft of Traveling Music, I had to pause to write the Flying Blind In Rio essay. It happened that some of the problems I faced in the essay, like the handling of time—present, immediate past, and distant past—helped when I faced the same problems in the book.
So that’s all good. But—it takes time.
And, after all that painstaking labor, no one has ever complimented me on the actual writing in any of those little pieces. Friends praise my lyrics sometimes, or my books, but never seem to notice all of the work that goes into those essays. However, it seems that if I have managed to weave all of those threads together into a seamless story, then the actual writing is transparent—as it should be, of course. Like the quote from Ovid I have used in book reviews, “if the art is concealed, it succeeds.”
When I did finally sign off on the Snakes And Arrows piece this week (it will appear over on the band site when the CD is released), I immediately started working on a story for Modern Drooler (oh, those drummer jokes!).
Editor Bill Miller and I discussed a “drummer’s point-of-view” kind of story about the making of Snakes and Arrows, looking at each of the tracks in terms of composing and creating the drum parts, as well as the technical overview of hardware and recording. So I started working on that, and it’s looking like that story will turn out to be about 5,000 words.
Thus . . . “I haven’t been writing because I’ve been too busy writing.” (And just look at that—now we’re at almost 1,100 words already!)
My friend Michael has created another kind of “Web presence” for me over on MySpace, and I wanted to explain about that. Michael was largely responsible for motivating me to launch this here “official” site (along with Greg Russell, who had registered the domain name long before we met, and long before he designed the site). Apart from being my security consultant and riding partner, Michael is a professional computer forensics investigator, and keeps an eye on internet issues for me. He told me there were many “impostors” masquerading as me on fake MySpace pages, and that made me bristle. I’m sure anyone would understand why—Michael showed me one note from an embarrassed lady who had been corresponding with someone she thought was me for weeks, and she felt humiliated and duped. I can only imagine what those liars might be saying to others while pretending to be me. Ick.
So, in an effort to combat that, Michael suggested we put up an “authentic” MySpace page, so at least we would have grounds to have the others taken down. Fair enough, and he did a nice job of it—though I confess I rarely go there myself. Michael keeps trying to show me the list of “friends,” and make me read the comments, but I get too embarrassed. All that fuss about me? No way.
But don’t take that as anything negative—not at all. Even if I don’t read those messages personally, I believe they still spread “good energy,” as we Californians say.
In any case, I just wanted to explain about that. So far, the only way I’m genuinely communicating with people, other than with lyrics, drums, and books, is through these long, long stories (over 1,380 words so far—see how they add up?).
Otherwise (and weather-wise), the jasmine started blooming here in Southern California just a few days ago. As I described at the beginning of Roadshow, that is one of the most intoxicating smells, especially at night. Already, in mid-March, birds are nesting, trees are leafing, gardens are blooming, and spring is definitely here (it takes a few years of living in California to discern the subtle shift of seasons, for they are discreet, but discrete). Even while spring springs here, my other home in Quebec is buried in snow.
During a recent visit up there (while working on that Snakes And Arrows essay and the details of the cover art, proofreading lyrics and credits, and listening to the final masters), I had a few perfect cross-country ski days—bright sun and powdery snow, -10° Centigrade, two parallel grooves in the snow to follow, and no one else around. Here’s a photo I took one afternoon while taking a break for a chicken salad sandwich and some peanut butter cups."
Source Neil Peart