Here is a brief outline of the story behind “a song about a car; this is called ‘Red Barchetta’.”
Rush drummer and lyricist, Neil Peart was an astute observer of virtually everything going on around him, at all times. His attention to detail obviously served him well as a drummer, because he is widely regarded as one of the best ever. This trait also translated effectively into his writing. For Neil, ideas for a song could be found anywhere if he looked at it right. His inquisitive and analytical mind was able to transcribe everyday experience into the most profound pieces of poetry and music. ‘Red Barchetta’ serves as an interesting example.
The inspiration for this song jumped from the pages of a 1973 article in a magazine called ‘Road & Track’. An article he read called ‘A Nice Morning Drive’ by Richard S. Foster captured his imagination and took him to another time and place. ‘Red Barchetta’ tells the story of a futuristic time where certain vehicles are prohibited by ‘the motor law’. The narrator’s uncle managed to preserve one of these illegal vehicles. He secretly kept it at his country home ‘for fifty odd years’ without detection. The narrator, who was clearly not one to be tied down by society’s oppressive rule, made a point to escape his mundane city life, and head to his uncle’s ‘country place’ and take the car for a spin. This would become known as his ‘weekly crime’, for which he was unapologetic. The story within the song moves from the background, to the present in a way only Rush can. The band sets the mood through their superior musicianship as Geddy Lee drives the lyrics home. The suspense builds and the listener literally becomes the driver of the ‘Red Barchetta’ as it encounters a ‘gleaming alloy air car’. The chase is on. Soon a second symbol of authority joins the chase and the song builds to a crescendo; an ‘adrenaline surge’, until the skillful driver manages to elude his prey at a one lane bridge. The tiny ‘Red Barchetta’ is able to cross, while the ‘alloy air car’ is too wide to navigate the structure that was erected in ‘a better vanished time’. As his heartbeat eases into a more restful place, the rebellious nephew heads back to his uncle’s peaceful abode where the two are content to sit quietly by the fireside, and dream of better times.
Rush’s ability to blend their musical adaptation to the story was carefully crafted. Typical of this act, they would not present it with a repetitive C-G-D chord structure, chorus and bridge. Nope! Not at all. True to their nature it became a carefully crafted presentation with timing changes that speak to the evolving story. This is effectively communicated in a passage from a book called ‘Rush and Philosophy: Heart and Mind United’ by Jim Berti and Durrell Bowman. I had to share this because it is so well written.
Red Barchetta” itself repeatedly “fixes” its temporal complications at the ends of many sections. In the exciting passage that most closely approximates the feeling of speeding, unhindered, down an empty road (when the protagonist “commits his weekly crime”, 2:28-2:58), the music is filled with syncopated accents that keep thrusting us forward. In addition, each phrase takes away two beats from normative four-measure groups in 4/4; we’re moving faster than can be contained within standard phrases. But the last group, punctuated with Lee’s “adrenaline surge”, brings back those two beats—we’re entering a new zone, where time can now flow freely. And indeed, in the next section (2:58-3:18), while changing harmonies takes us on a bit of a journey, the phrases lock comfortably into relaxed four-bar groups in 4/4. The following guitar solo (3:18-3:41) introduces further metric complications, alternating 4/4 and 3/4 bars for eight units of seven beats each. But again, the last unit brings back the “missing” beat, making for a satisfying conclusion of eight beats before we head back into the main song. And for the final, peaceful phrases built around Lifeson’s guitar harmonics (from 5:10), while the initial groups imply 4/4 phrases lasting a somewhat unexpected two, six and again six bars, from 5:32 to the song’s fade normative eight-bar groups sound the rest of the way.
Jim Berti and Durrell Bowman
People who adore Rush have an incredible ability to dissect every nuance of their music. This analysis makes lovers of the band respect them even more. It is quite a group of fans, truly united by heart and mind.
There are a couple of interesting side stories to ‘Red Barchetta’ and then I will relate a happy ending that ties the significance of this day into the feature.
As I indicated in the beginning of today’s piece, ‘Red Barchetta’ was released in February of 1981 on the classic Rush offering, ‘Moving Pictures’. The band was very pleased with how the song had developed as a track on the album, but Neil Peart was concerned about potential copyright infringements related to Richard Foster’s short story. Ever the honourable man, Peart made several efforts to communicate with Foster, but in the days long before internet, he was unsuccessful. They settled for a liner note that indicated the composition was “inspired by” Foster’s story ‘A Nice Morning Drive’. I have said it before, and I will say it again…Rush defines integrity.
The story continues…When you do things the right way karma has a way of coming around and blessing you. In 2006; yes, over a quarter of a century later, Neil Peart and Richard Foster were able to connect. Richard Foster tells the story in ‘The Drummer, the Private Eye and Me’. Those who are not familiar with the story would be well served to read it below. It is fascinating, to read how it all unfolded, from the time of writing the short story right through to Neil Peart and Richard Foster developing a friendship over their mutual love of motorcycle riding.
If you don’t have time, here is a passage that speaks to Foster’s realization of the connection between his article and the song ‘Red Barchetta’.
“We had just gotten Internet access in my office, and one of the guys entered my name into a search engine just for fun. It promptly took him to a Rush fan site, where there was an online copy of my story. We figured out the connection between “A Nice Morning Drive” and “Red Barchetta” and marveled at how many years we had failed to discover it. (I had heard the song on the radio, but I hadn’t focused on its lyrics carefully enough to make the connection.)”
Richard Foster seems like an interesting gentleman, who describes himself as a music enthusiast who was ‘parked’ in the ‘60s. Once he heard the story behind ‘Red Barchetta’ he became more drawn to Rush as a fan. It is funny to note, he had heard the song many times before. He never drew the connection until it was pointed out to him that day in 1996.
Fast forward to 2006. Here is Richard Foster’s account.
Well, now we have to flash forward again, this time to 2006. At the DC International Motorcycle Show, my friend Dave told me about a book by Neil Peart, titled Ghost Rider. In the book, Neil described how he tried to find himself again following the tragic deaths of, first, his college-age daughter and, subsequently, his wife. Emotionally, he was completely devastated and just empty–beyond any level that most of us can imagine. Eventually, all he could do was to keep moving, so he got on his R1100GS and started riding. Many months and well over 100,000 miles later, he began finding the will to return to life and to stop being the “ghost rider.” My friend Dave thought the book was outstanding and recommended it to me highly. Last Fall, I bought a copy, and I soon found myself in thorough agreement with Dave’s assessment. It was a moving and eloquent story, and I couldn’t put it down. In December, I wrote a letter to Neil Peart saying how much I liked Ghost Rider and explaining that I was the Richard S. Foster from “A Nice Morning Drive” all those years ago. I wasn’t especially optimistic that Neil would even get the letter, since he and the other band members receive thousands every year, but in early January I received a package containing a copy of his newest book, RoadShow. It had a very nice inscription on the title page, and there was also a long letter in the package.”
Have I ever mentioned what a class act Neil Peart is? Please read the article. It chronicles a ride Neil, his faithful riding companion Michael, and Foster took through the rolling hills of West Virginia in 2007 during Rush’s ‘Snakes and Arrows’ tour. The experience details the adventure of back road riding on B grade roads with dubious direction from a GPS affectionately known as ‘Doofus’. The ride ends with Neil, Michael and Richard sharing a group hug. Neil summarizes the experience with this statement:
We have faced DEATH together.”
Only slightly hyperbolic, but that is the writer’s right. Each of the riders agreed. The beautiful thing is, the friendship and correspondence continued. Neil Peart’s life is full of stories much like this one. Another musician and writer that I hold in the highest esteem. I never had opportunity to meet him, yet somehow on some level I feel as though I knew him. That is the highest compliment I can pay.
Submitted by Ted Tock Covers