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Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road written by Neil Peart

Review by Steve Alspach

Neil Peart's second book, "Ghost Rider," is an extraordinary document that details an incredibly painful time in his life and the recovery process that followed. In August 1997 Neil and then-wife Jackie Taylor lost their daughter Selena in a one-car traffic accident. Disconsolate, Jackie fell into a deep depression and was diagnosed with terminal cancer, dying some ten months later. (Peart attributes her death to a broken heart, and who's to argue?) Peart documents these events early on in "Ghost Rider", sparing details but leaving no doubt as to the effect these events had on his life. Shortly after Jackie's death Peart, feeling he had little to lose, saddled up his BMW motorcycle and went on a soul-searching journey that covered some 28,000 miles, from Inuvik in the Northwest Territories to Mexico. He had doubts that this journey would help him to recover from those tragic events, but at that point he knew he had to do something. For Peart, motion was the key - just keep moving. Peart chronicles this journey, as well as other journeys that take him from Canada's Maritime Provinces to Los Angeles, mainly through a series of letters written to family and friends, especially with his best friend, at the time in jail for marijuana possession.

"Ghost Rider" appears to be a project that Peart appears to have taken on with relish. The book is full of details regarding his trips, factoids regarding places where he visited and stayed, and a surprising amount of humor, whether borne out of anger (as early on in the book) or a good nature, (Peart's description of an ongoing battle he has with a squirrel in his back yard is hilarious).

Those looking for a book that deals with Rush might be advised to look elsewhere. Band mates Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson are mentioned, though occasionally, in "Ghost Rider." Peart quotes from his lyrics as reference points to begin and end each chapter, and mentions short anecdotes about the band. But the band was the least of his concerns at this point in his life. At Selena's funeral, in fact, Peart told Lee and Lifeson "consider me retired for now."

The risk with a book like this is that the main theme of struggle for acceptance and serenity after such tragedies may get lost against the romantic idea of hitting the open road a la Kerouac or Steinbeck. No doubt Peart would have preferred to take this trip under any other circumstances. And there were struggles during Peart's first journey - sleepless nights, periods of deep sadness (both on the road and in lonely motel rooms), an ulcer, and doubts that the journey would provide him with the solace he was looking for - that prove that the road to recovery is hard, sometimes painful, and at times moves at a snail's pace. Though much of "Ghost Writer" consists of letters that Peart wrote while on the road, Peart is at his most poignant when he addresses the reader directly. Here he seems to open up the most, describing times of intimacy or recording observations regarding his world, both immediate or in general, that indicate a slow but gradual re-awakening of his spirit.

Peart's story, fortunately, has a happy ending. Not only did he rejoin Rush to help make one of the band's best albums in a long time in Vapor Trails, but a stop in Santa Monica led him to Carrie, his new wife, and Peart has learned to treasure each day. "Sweet Miracle," off the Vapor Trails album, comes closest to documenting Peart's return from the abyss. Peart avoided interviews during the "Vapor Trails" tour, but this book answers any questions there could be regarding his losses and recovery.

"Ghost Rider" is more than just a book about life on the road. It is a heartfelt book of life, loss, recovery, and coming to terms with the fact that there are no guarantees in life, even for those things we hold most dear.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2002 Year Book Volume 2 at
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