the summer of 1997, when the Canadian rock band Rush last toured,
no one knew that drummer Neil Peart was about to face one of lifes
most personal tragedies. Later that summer, word began to circulate
around the internet that his nineteen-year-old daughter, Selena,
had been killed in an automobile accident. And ten months after
that, word circulated again that his wife of twenty years, Jackie,
had died of cancer.
During the two
years that followed his wife's death, Mr. Peart withdrew from the
life he knew, packed his BMW motorcycle and took to the road. His
experiences on what he calls "The Healing Road" are chronicled
in his new book, Ghost Rider.
Neil Peart is no
stranger to the written word. In addition to playing the drums with
Rush, he also serves as the band's lyricist. His lyrics tend to
look outward rather than inward, leading him away from conventional
love songs and toward political fables and thoughtful songs about
the role of chance in life, the struggle for integrity in the modern
world and other topics.
In 1996, Neil Peart
published his first book, an account of his bicycle journey through
Africa, entitled The Masked Rider.
While that book documented
its share of tribulations, it was marked by a spirit of adventure
in a distant land. But if The Masked Rider
portrayed a man
in search of adventure, Ghost Rider
depicts a man on the
The first ten pages
of Ghost Rider
present a brief but harrowing account of the
night that Mr. Peart and his wife receive the news of their daughter's
death. Following her diagnosis, his wifes decline is swift--hastened,
in Mr. Pearts view, by the loss of her will to live after
their daughter's death.
Mr. Peart is left
with no reason to live, no source of pleasure. He leaves his home
on his motorcycle, takes to the highway and rides, not because it
gives him pleasure, not even to divert himself from his situation,
but because all he can do is keep moving.
And he keeps moving,
from the east to west coast of Canada, north to Alaska, then south
through the U.S. and into Mexico and Belize. Along the way, he is
sustained by little but the faith that eventually, "something
will come up."
He tells his story
through both narrative passages and letters to friends and family.
The narrative passages move the story, but it is the letters that
provide the reader with a portrait of the man.
traveler begins to see life again. He meets old friends along the
way. He sees that he is fortunate to have good friends, including
Rush bandmates Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee. He finds that music begins
to give him pleasure again and returns to playing the drums. He
wrestles with the guilt that accompanies his growing interest in
women. But even that is eventually overcome.
songs have often been criticized for being too nihilistic. It is
therefore ironic that he emerged from a tragic personal loss with
a story that, while sad, is ultimately hopeful, even uplifting.
But it is precisely because he is not a man given to false optimism
that we can believe in his, and in our, capacity to recover from
Neil Peart has
since returned from the "Healing Road." He remarried shortly
before Ghost Rider
was published. Rush reformed in 2001 and
is currently on tour with a new CD, Vapor Trails
, which many
critics regard as their best work in years.
At more than 450
pages, Ghost Rider
is a substantial read. Perhaps it could
have been even more effective if it were a little shorter. Nevertheless,
it remains an exceptionally compelling story and a major step in
Mr. Peart's development as a writer.