GHOST RIDER:
TRAVELS ON THE HEALING ROAD

NONFICTION BY NEIL PEART

ECW Press, 2002
ISBN: 1-55022-548-0
In 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 life’s 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 run.
         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 wife’s decline is swift--hastened, in Mr. Peart’s 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.
         Gradually, the 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.
         Neil Peart’s 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 crippling loss.
         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.