This is my book review on “Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road” by Neil Peart. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s better known as the drummer for the rock band Rush. I listened to the audio version which was nearly 16 hours of content… nearly twice the length of any audio book that I’ve listened to before. The paperback is over 450 pages long.
Neil just recently retired from Rush. The announcement was made in December 2015 so take it with a grain of salt. Many rockers return to the stage multiple times after they retire, so the jury is still out. Learning that Neil had written a few books wasn’t a real shocker to me because he’s known as the quiet, scholarly member of Rush. He is actually the primary lyricist which is unusual for a drummer and non-vocalist. I saw an interview with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of Kiss recently where they talked of the times when they toured with Rush. Most rock bands party like rock stars after a show –imagine that! But according to Kiss, before and after shows, the band members of Rush were in their dressing rooms reading books and other mundane things. I guess it all makes sense that Neil’s love of reading and his talent of writing songs would lead to becoming an author.
Neil tragically lost his daughter to a car crash when she was only 19 years old. Just 10 mnths later, he lost his common law wife, Jackie, to cancer. Neil remarked in the book that she died from a broken heart, but the doctors called it cancer. It was from these back to back tragedies that he left on his BMW motorcycle for a restorative journey of thousands of miles. This “healing road” as he called it lasted nearly two years and spanned across North and Central America.
The book starts during the time just before his daughter’s car crash. She was leaving their Quebec home on her way back to college when the wreck happened. Neil and his wife were notified when a Canadian Mountie pulled in their driveway with the grim news. Neil and Jackie were devastated and spent the next few months in a deepening spiral. Jackie couldn’t function normally and would never get over her loss. It was during this time that Jackie was diagnosed with cancer and subsequently died. Neil was convinced that she had lost the will to live after the loss of their daughter and this contributed greatly to her rapid decline.
After he lost Jackie, he informed the other members of Rush that he would be taking some time off and didn’t know if he’d even return to the band. He packed his bags and jumped on his motorcycle to begin his journey on the “healing road”. This journey would go firstly across Canada up to Alaska, then down to the western U.S., crisscrossing the deserts of the southwest. He then crossed into Mexico and headed as far south as Belize before he turned around. He returned to Mexico City, left his bike at the BMW dealer for a few months and caught a plane back to Canada. After a few months at home, he flew back to Mexico to start again.
He covered much more ground than that, but that was enough to give you an idea of how long of a ride this was. Interestingly, he was only recognized a few times. I guess all those years hiding behind the drums instead of being the front man prepared him for near anonymity as he traveled.
As a trucker who spends a lot of time traveling alone, I was attracted to this book because it chronicled the journey of a confused loner in search of answers. The first half of the book met my expectations. After a while, it seemed the stories were all the same, just different places. He encountered nice people, not so nice people and the scenery changed. He listed what he had for dinner each night and reprinted many of the letters that he wrote to family and friends while traveling.
After the first year, it seemed he was no closer to getting through the grieving process then when he started. I heard someone say recently that a task will take as much time to complete as is allowed before it’s completed. In other words, if he took a 3 month ride to grieve and heal, the process would’ve taken 3 months. Instead, he took nearly two years. I found my sympathy drying up for Neil after his first year of travel. I’ve seen many people go through a lot worse without having the luxury to take two years off to go “find themselves”.
Neil isn’t a spiritual man so it was sad to see how he struggled alone during his grieving. He was truly in a dark place with little hope as he rode on. Hence the name of the book: “Ghost Rider”. The healing finally arrived at the same time that he met and later married his new love. And that’s how the book ended-with his new beginning and new wife.