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March 2007 Entry
"The Count of Words"
I have been writing to my friends over the past few weeks, “Sorry
I haven’t been writing—I’ve been too busy writing.”
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.
short pieces for other people’s books, like the introduction
to Kevin Anderson’s story collection, Landscapes, or
the afterword 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.
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 tourbook
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.
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.
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
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!
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
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.
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.
that’s all good. But—it takes time.
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.”
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!).
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.
. . . “I haven’t been writing because I’ve been
too busy writing.”
just look at that—now we’re at almost 1,100 words already!)
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.
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.
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.
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?).
(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
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.
my balaclava hanging on the ski pole to dry for a minute—the
air might be cold, but even by late February the sun starts to
get strong, and after an hour or two of skiing up and down those
woodland trails, I am soaked with sweat.
was only about two weeks ago now, and I can guarantee that no one
around that neighborhood went for a glorious motorcycle ride yesterday,
as I did—now that I’m back in California. Every few
months for the past couple of years, Michael, Greg, and I have
held occasional “Web site meetings” over a seafood
lunch on the Pacific Coast Highway, followed by a motorcycle ride
in the Santa Monica Mountains (it’s business—a legitimate
write-off). Michael on his 1200 GS, Greg on his new V-Strom, and
me on my 1200 GS from the R30 tour, this time
we were joined by Motorcyclist editor Brian Catterson
and guitarist John Wesley from Porcupine Tree, on a pair of KTM
lunch, Brian told me that an article I had written for him a few
months back—about my favorite motorcycle destinations on
the R30 tour—will finally be appearing in their
May issue, along with excerpts from Roadshow. Brian said
he had also written a “sidebar” story about riding
with Michael and me for the second time on that tour.
lunch, Brian led the four of us in a symmetrical, staggered formation
up through the tree-lined tunnel of Old Topanga Canyon Road, then
onto Mulholland and north along several other winding little lanes,
through canyons and along ridgetops. Brian set a perfect pace—sporting
and technically engaging, but with plenty of reserve for sudden
gravel or oncoming traffic around those blind corners. We wandered
way up past Malibu into Ventura County, then meandered along a
tiny road I hadn’t discovered before—Sycamore Canyon.
(Like motojournalists and their favorite roads, you’re sometimes
reluctant to share that information—not wanting to spoil it—but
like most of those writers, I figure it’s better to be generous.)
that one-and-a-half-lane, squiggly little road, through live-oak
trees and dry chaparral, with fewer and fewer scattered ranches,
we climbed high above deep, fingered canyons and monumental rocky
outcrops. Then suddenly the landscape fell away before us, and
we looked out to the wide blue sweep of the Pacific Ocean. The
turquoise shallows and breaking surf seemed so far below. (As Brian
had warned us earlier, “It’s a narrow, dirty little
road, and if you fall down—you fall down.”)
that, it occurs to me, is the Sports Report for this issue. And
the Weather, too.
word for both of those—and indeed, for the News part of the Report (as
in “Colbert”)—is “ni-i-ice” (as
a photo of Michael, Brian, and me in front of the famous Rock Store
on Mulholland Highway. (Wes took the picture, so he’s not
in it, and Greg had to go home early and take care of real business.)
On weekends, hundreds of motorcyclists gather at the Rock
Store, a panorama of bikes you sometimes see in motorcycle magazine
photographs, but as you might expect, I prefer to cruise by on
a weekday, like yesterday, even though the place was closed.
The road was
notice that my tankbag, in the foreground, still displays the directions
to get to the band’s warehouse from when I did “The
Mercer Report” TV show in Toronto last October. That is a
clue that I haven’t been taking any motorcycle trips for
a while, other than errands around town. No adventures like that
coming up in the immediate future, either, because in just a couple
of weeks I will be heading for Toronto (not by motorcycle—it’s
still winter between here and there) to start rehearsing
for the upcoming tour.
I’ll get plenty of motorcycling . . .
who knows much about this reporter will understand that I am not
entirely thrilled about embarking on another long concert tour—but
I am looking forward to preparing for it.
really do love rehearsing—getting in good drumming condition,
playing the songs again and again until I’m strong and accurate,
working out a new solo, meshing with Alex and Geddy as a band,
and playing those songs until we’re strong and accurate.
All that is challenging and satisfying.
it’s exciting to see the whole production come together around
us, and to hang around with “the guys at work.” Likewise,
the first few shows are challenging and satisfying (if they’re good, at
least), but after that . . . not so much.
written before that when I once tried to make a list of “things
I like about touring,” I only came up with two: “1/
Lots of motorcycling,” and “2/ I can eat anything I
want.” (Because I work so hard, and sweat so much.)
that I’m complaining, you understand. It’s not my first
time at the rodeo (I love that expression), and there are plenty
of worse ways to earn a living— nearly all of them, in fact.
My friend Kevin Anderson, a successful and prolific author, wrote
recently, “My worst day as a writer is probably better than
nearly everyone else’s best day at whatever they
do.” Like Kevin, I remain grateful to be able to make my
living doing something I love.
my favorite part of this job has always been the process we’ve
just completed—getting together with my two pals and creative
partners to write and record a bunch of new songs. Not that that’s
easy either, but the rewards are both more immediate, and more
enduring. After struggling for hours with some lyrics, or a drum
part, and hearing nothing but the flaws, there are few better feelings
than coming in the next day to listen, and thinking, “hey—maybe
it’s not so bad after all.”
contrast, touring is the “other” part of the job for
me. I know I keep “quoting previously quoted quotes,” but
I can’t resist Mark Twain’s definition of work, “Anything
you’d rather not do.” And once again I have to repeat
a remark about touring that our manager, Ray, made to me a few
years back, “Hey, how else could you go on a nice long motorcycle
trip, and pick up a little gas money along the way?”
. . .
any case, I will do my best onstage every night, and on two wheels
that’s what I do.
that brings us to over 2,650 words. In case anybody else is keeping
fingertips are getting as callused as my hands will be later this
year, from drumming, and perhaps that’s about enough for
I will take this opportunity to apologize in advance if it’s
a while before I post another one of these little newsletters.
I’m about to get very, very busy. Until—oh—November.
closing, here’s a top secret spy photo of the new drumset
DW is building for me to play on the upcoming tour. It incorporates
several technical innovations developed by John Good since he designed
the tobacco sunburst recording kit I used on Snakes and Arrows (formerly
the “West Coast” kit, originally built for Matt Scannell’s
sessions early last summer). Many people have described those drums
as the “best they’ve ever heard,” but the new
ones are going to be even better.
far it’s just a stack of bare shells, as you can see, but
even they sound amazing when John strikes them in his special “timbre-matching” way.
for the finish and hardware, that’s going to be a surprise.
I’ll only say, “Black is the new gold,” and “Red
is the new black.”
that makes 2,893 words—and three pictures, each of which
is famously worth a thousand words. So I think 5,893 words ought
to be about enough.
the television lawyers say (when they’re trying to act all
badass), “We’re done here.”
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