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"Ghost Rider" by Neil Peart

For those of you needing an introduction, Neil Peart is the drummer and lyricist for the rock band Rush. Peart’s longtime partner (never married) Jackie Taylor and him had a daughter, Selena. Back in early August of 1997 at the age of 19, Selena died in a single car accident on her way from their part-time home in the woods of Quebec back to Toronto for school. Obviously it was a devastating blow to both. After spending many months in London, England to get away and help heal, Jackie started having symptoms of something that was later diagnosed as a form of cancer that had basically no survival rate. Just eleven months after their daughter had died, Jackie passed away.

After a month of sitting at his house in Quebec, and tying up any issues regarding Jackie’s life that he need to tie up, Peart headed out on a road trip. He had very little planned, just a general idea of what he wanted to go. It took him from the front door of his Quebec home, through all the Canadian provinces west of him, Alaska, many of the northern and “big sky” states, then to New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, California, then eventually Mexico and Belize. The trip started in last August 1998 and ended just after Christmas in Mexico City where he returned to store his motorcycle.

After returning home to Quebec, he further indulged his psyche with cross country skiing and snowshoeing. Eventually before summer rolled around again in 1999, he headed flew to Mexico City to pick up his bike, then turned around and headed out to the Maritime provinces and New England, eventually landing in New York City. He headed back home to Quebec, switched motorcycles, then headed back out to the western states again, eventually getting back to Los Angeles where friend and band photographer Andrew McNaughton lived and introduced him to his second wife Carrie Nuttall.

The book chronicles all of this as a travelogue, though at times it ends up mostly being his letters to his friend Brutus who early on in his trip was arrested for possession at the border in the Buffalo, New York area. Like one reviewer on Amazon said, if you are looking for his inner thoughts of healing from this double tragedy, it isn’t necessarily here. Though there is still some of his inner thoughts about his life and what it had become.

The term “ghost rider” is something that he came up with while on the road. He often spoke in the early days how he was riding with the ghosts of Jackie and Selena, and how he wanted to blend into the scenery and not be recognized (though he feels uncomfortable being recognized in the first place).

So what was my take on the book? There is part of me that enjoyed it because I got to see more inside of a man that I have admired. I think his lyric writing is the best in the business. I have thought this since my first few listens of “Hold Your Fire” and haven’t thought differently since. I have even attempted to write lyrics to songs, working with a few musicians to put them into music. So the “fanboy” part of me enjoyed seeing his sense of humor, his thoughts about the world around him, some of the books he read, and just in general getting deeper into his mind on these tragedies that rocked him.

There is also another part of me that was disappointed that there wasn’t more about his healing process. For many pages he would go on and on about the scenery and his travels, about the meals he ate (and he made me VERY HUNGRY sometimes!), about the small towns that he stayed in. He touched so little about the effects of his loses and about how he was dealing with them. Of course, that may have been the point of traveling like he did, to try and put them behind him. Many of the times he would open up a bit about this feelings where in letters to Brutus. And many times they were peppered with things that only the two of them would know about. Though he would give the reader some idea of what they meant.

One strong point that I applaud him with is when he did open his feelings up to the reader he didn’t hold back. He admitted that he cried everyday, and sometimes for hours. Even nearly two years removed from Selena’s death. He also admitted to his escalating drinking and how it scared him, and his excessive use of valium at a few points in his recovery process from both deaths. There was no macho-ism, or not wanting to hide his faults. It showed the human side that we all may have to face.

I have been familiar a bit with Peart’s writing style outside of lyrics from the programs that the band sells at their concerts. Peart always writes an “essay” about the writing/recording process and some of the ideas of where the songs came from. Also, he writes the liner notes for the albums (except for the live album “Different Stages” which was compiled and released while he was doing the traveling chronicled in this book). I have always enjoyed his style, and it was interesting to see other elements come into light, like his sense of humor and his thoughts on the world. But mostly that enjoyment came from being a fan of the band.

For those wanting to travel in many of the areas that he did, there are probably some great information within this book. And for those that are fans of the band it is probably (like I found it) an interesting read. But other then that, most wouldn’t find anything in this book that would make it compelling reading.

Side note: Neil read a lot. And I mean A LOT. And while on the road he continually read and made frequent stops at bookstores to pick up more to read. I picked up a few good suggestions from reading this of other books (fiction only) to read.

7/10
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Added by Scott
11 years ago on 22 February 2008 15:52