Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Final Drive: Neil Peart, The Holidays and Shunpiking

I grew up on suburban Long Island in the 60's and 70's and like many kids of that era and location, I found myself in the pastimes of playing in a band and riding mini-bikes and motorcycles. When I was 10 or 11 years old, I thought I wanted to play guitar and my dad got me one, but I couldn't pick up playing it at all. My brother did, as he seemed more musical than me, playing the trumpet since he was seven. For some reason musical ability eluded me. I tried the bass after that and with even quicker negative results, I was again instrumentless. Then something magical happened. I went over my cousin Kenny's house one day and his parents had bought him a Leeds drumset, a four piece kit style that was popular in the 60's and before. When I sat down, picked up the sticks and proceeded to use them, it made sense. Before long my mom got me a used 5 piece set, blue sparkle if I recall and I started taking lessons at the Long Island Drum Center. My first teacher was Bill Cramer. Bill was a striking figure with long red hair and a full beard, not unlike Ginger Baker. Bill also rode a candy apple red 1976 Honda CB750F. It was quite the bike at the time and once or twice he gave me a ride home on it. Bill got married later on that year and moved to California where he still lives. Don Mulvaney took over after that with the occasional Dom Famularo when Don was unavailable.

While Playing the drums came natural, I also picked up some bad habits that Don tried to cure me and I am not sure he did cure me to this day. Having played on my own for almost a year before taking lessons allowed me to learn in ways that weren't necessarily according to Hoyle. I won't get into them here, but I think this extends to a lot of things in life. Around this time, my brother and I got our first bike, a Rupp mini-bike, on which were learned the fine art of riding. I am sure I learned some bad habits there too, but I never had lessons to straighten me out, not in 25+ years of riding full-size motorcycles on my own. It's not a matter of pride I say this at all. If anything, I am frugal and I just never spent the money to get further training on the motorcycle, which I think has hindered me in some ways, like taking full advantage of the capabilities of my motorcycles, at least in anything other than a straight line.

Photo by Rob Wallis

With the year coming to a close, I reflect on this theme, of not only bad habits, but of taking the short way around the barn too. Back when I started to play drums, I had my favorites: Sib Hashian, Gary Mallaber, John Bonham and Keith Moon, to name a few. Then I discovered Neil Peart. I remember being blown away by La Villa Strangiato. Neil and Rush opened my mind to not only better music, but lyrics whose philosophy meant something and still do. It was like I had found music that had made sense to me, just like when I picked up those drum sticks the first time at my cousin Kenny's house. In the intervening years, I have been to at least 5 Rush concerts and I have followed Neil's career if not life and I have been amazed, not only by his continual improvement, but his ability to overcome adversity. He really is an amazing human being that humbles me not only behind the kit, but in most things. One of his terms is shunpiking, which to paraphrase Neil, is taking the road no one would take unless they lived on it. Neil applies this to riding. Being mostly a commuting rider, I don't find myself shunpiking on the bike too much. The reasons are one, time, I never seem to have enough time to explore and riding a R1200RT doesn't lend itself to dirt and off road excursions. I have however done this a little bit with life. In the past 34 years, I have explored many different types of jobs, whether part time jobs when going to school or full time jobs just to make a living. I've worked as a groundskeeper, glazier, auto mechanic, bail enforcement agent, child abuse investigator, and IT worker, just to name a few. I've met people from all sorts of socioeconomic backgrounds in many different roles. I often wonder, what would it be like to stay focused on one thing, improving and perfecting skills, becoming a true master. In fact I envy those that either put in the time with single mindedness or seem to be born with the single passion in life and pursue it with vigor. 

So, during this holiday season, I find myself reflecting on my shunpiking and wonder if I have at times, if not always, tried to take the short way around the barn. The truth is, there is no shortcut to competency or mastering something. It's a process that takes time and that amount of time can vary for individuals as well as the object we are discussing, however, once we make that breakthrough, it is self-evident. The key to this is that mastering or competency is not a destination, but a milestone along the way and the path is continual improvement or evolution. In my own case, I do not understand my own path anymore. At 50 I find myself looking back and wondering what and why. May be I should be looking forward, but as a contextual person, I need to understand the past to proceed forward. I am still trying to figure this out. As far as Neil goes, I think he doing fabulous. I would have one piece of advice for him and this is coming from a fellow introvert (ISTP if you must know): Relax around people and don't be afraid to mix a bit. I think he is a little neurotic about privacy, but then I am an anonymous fool. I wonder what advice he'd have for me? Happy New Year Neil and to all.

Thank you for reading this blog.


Trobairitz said...

Happy New Year to you. Good to see you with another blog post up.

And such a reflective one at that. We make our own way and sometimes we take the path less travelled and sometimes life calls for that short way round the barn.

Just don't focus so much on the past you trip on something in the future instead of stepping right over it and moving on.

All the best to you in 2013.

Jim L said...

Thank you for checking in and leaving a comment. When I worked as a bail enforcement agent, we had a saying that if you have one foot stuck in yesterday and one foot stuck in tomorrow, you end up shitting on today. Ultimately, the past is dead and what matters most is now. Thanks again.