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Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road Format Kindle
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A friend was kind enough to give me the book as a gift, and what a profound gift it was. As a lifelong fan of RUSH, Neil, and being a drummer myself, I took that book everywhere with me...it almost became my security. On planes, in my car, etc...until I finally forced myself to read the book closely.
I feel much closer to Neil and certainly identify with his emotions, his feelings of anger, frustration, self-loathing, his "little baby soul" and everything else. Sure, the book delves too deep into certain things that may come across as "WHO CARES" to the reader, but that's the way grief is. You try to fill as much time with WHO CARES so you don't just sit around and cry and be miserable. I know, because I'm there RIGHT NOW.
At this point, I'm almost feeling an additional loss from having finished the book. I agree that there was unfinished business in this book, but I can't help but feel happy for the guy for getting to the point of moving on. That was bittersweet reading for me and quite hard.
Thanks Neil, for sharing your moving story, and making this reader feel and understand your pain, and through that process, anticipate and justify the feelings that I currently am going through. Well done.
When Neil Peart lost his daughter to a traffic accident in the fall of 1997, and his wife to cancer (though, really, he knew it was a broken heart that took his wife), he was an empty man, a man with no reason to live, and little desire to do so. To save himself from the loneliness and the emptiness of a life alone, Peart took to the roads on his motorcycle on a journey that would cover Canada, much of the western United States, and parts of Central America. As he wrote:
"My little baby soul was not a happy infant, of course, with much to complain about, but as every parent learns, a restless baby often calms down if you take it for a ride. I had learned my squalling spirit could be soothed the same way, by motion, and so I had decided to set off on this journey into the unknown. Take my little baby soul for a ride."
This book is a compelling combination of travelogue, literary journal, sarcastic wit, and honest soul- searching. It provides a number of insights to a complex and intriguing man, one who would be interesting even without his fame. His humor, his pain, his reflections, his irritation, his impatience, his fear... All of it presented for the world to see, and to learn from.
I recommend this book not only to Rush fans, but to anyone interested in seeing how someone survives the losses Peart experienced and emerges a whole person on the other side.
Not surprisingly, Peart's writing on the page-to-page level is witty, literate, and frank. As a travelogue, Ghost Rider is fairly interesting, peppered with details about the various locales he visits and the people who put them on the map, and pithy observations about the local culture. I'm sure he'd do well as a writer at a travel magazine (but being in a successful rock band probably pays better).
As an account of an emotional journey, though, Ghost Rider feels like a journal that was transfered into book form without benefit of a good editing job. It seems like I spent as much time reading about what Neil ate for dinner, what repairs he made to his bike, what (briefly described) old friend he met, etc., than about the process of coming to grips with grief. Understandable that he preferred dealing with day-to-day details to take his mind off the hurt while on the road, but as a final narrative, it gets a bit tedious to the reader who doesn't have much emotional connection to these things, at least not as they're told. Though he clearly misses his wife and daughter, he doesn't say much about them, which makes it hard to empathize with his breakdowns along the way. Flashes into the struggle of the soul are there, but they often get deflected into self-conscious banter which likewise gets a little old. For example, reading about a middle-aged rock drummer chasing after squirrels with a water gun has potential to be comical in an existential way, but Neil manages to deflate the moment by trying to make it sound WITTY. Also, his occasional jabs at fat people, trailer trash, and oblivious Americans left a bad taste -- taking cheap shots at easy targets is not moving writing. He was mostly above that in song lyrics. All of us get lost in the darkness, he said at one point, so he should know better than to write as if he were the only one ever so badly hurt.
Rush fans looking for a more personal connection to their favorite band will probably be disappointed (for one thing, Rush is mentioned mainly only incidentally). You certainly get some insight into the workings of the man's mind and the origins of various song lyrics (which preface each chapter), but the delivery of the book is so workmanlike, it's hard to feel a lot of emotional weight from his experience (though it's obviously there). Ghost Rider really could have a been a fascinating, instead of merely interesting read, if only Neil had taken the time to trim down the breadth and expand on the depth. I'd imagine he wrapped up the book in a hurry to work on the latest Rush CD, Vapor Trails, which, on the whole, is a lot more moving (listen to the SONG Ghost Rider).
Overall, I admire that Mr. Peart drove himself to write this, and I think he's got a good book or two in him (or a slew of articles), if he focuses better on reaching out to the reader, but for now he shouldn't quit the day job! (Please, no!) So, anyone thinking about buying Ghost Rider should carefully read the reviews here and make up his or her own mind.
(Update 2011: added some new thoughts in the comments section)
Let me start off by saying that I was not a Rush fan when I purchased this book. I simply went through a remarkably similar tragedy as Mr. Peart did, and a friend of mine who was a fan of Rush noticed the book (although he didn't read it) and mentioned it to me shortly I experienced my losses. My friend explained that Peart was the drummer and lyricist for Rush, and that Peart's talent's in those fields were unmatched, "deep" in his opinion, and that maybe Peart's experiences would help me deal with mine.
I picked up the book with very few expectations, as I never knew the man, and began to read it.
My first impression was "It sure must be nice to be wealthy enough to take a few years off to mourn such a loss". Most people can't just pick up and abandon much of their "old world" like Peart did. I felt that his hard work over the years afforded him such a "luxury", if picking up the pieces of a tragic puzzle and reassembling something completely new out of them can be called that. I felt confident, since he had so much free time to reflect while experiencing the world in which he chose to travel, that I would gain much insight from his times of solitude and reflection. I did not have that kind of free time, as I had to work mere hours after my losses, and I was looking forward to the insights that Peart had in his years of reflection.
I was unfortunately wrong in my assumptions. While I can personally understand the depths of sorrow, loneliness, confusion, and despair that fate chose to place as an anchor upon Peart's heart, I also was struck by the impression of him as a self-absorbed millionaire who showed great disdain for the very people whose hard earned money made him so successful. The only way that he could have been more obvious in his opinion of his fans is by stating in the foreword, "Give me your money and then bug-off".
While it is understandable that nobody wants to be mobbed by "adoring fans" during every waking and non-waking hour and deal with morons who invade one's privacy, especially during the times of his life covered by the book, Peart was not subjected to such things. I was left with the impression that recognition by a fan was exceedingly rare on the Healing Road. Yet those who felt that he touched their lives by his work, and occasionally crossed his path, were considered by him to be contemptible and unworthy of a few seconds of his time, a gracious smile, or a kind word. His excuse was "they really don't know ME". Apparently, he failed to understand that nobody knows anyone without giving the time to get to know them, and a perpetually hung "No Trespassing" sign is a good way to keep both the boorish louts and kindred spirits off of his lawn.
Indeed, I was quite disappointed by his attitude to most of the fellow travelers and others he crossed paths with on his Healing Road. People who were unable to experience the world in such a way as he did, because they were unable to pick up and leave the real world behind, and were only able to afford a rental RV or a tour bus ticket, were often the target of his often elitist and bigoted reactions. In fact, I slowly began to realize that only those individuals who were useful to him in some way, those who sacrificed for him, those who provided a much-needed service to him, were the only people who he had any use for. I was struck by his quoting of Steinbeck, "sometimes the nicest thing you can do for someone is to allow them to do something for you", and he certainly took that to heart. Anyone who wanted to do something for him was welcome to do so... sometimes. It is not a leap to presume that he considered himself the nicest person around, if that was the standard.
"Rednecks", fat people, religious people, Rush fans, fellow travelers, Highway Patrolmen who had the nerve to pull him over for speeding, "Americans" in general, and many others were fair game on the sharp end of his often poisonous pen. Obviously, drug traffickers are immune from his criticism, as much of the book consists of love letters to his best friend and 3-striker, Brutus, who is incarcerated for his actions. As the libertarian sort, I abhor drug laws, but the law is the law. A few people in his crosshairs deserved such contempt. The vast majority appeared not to be. I found myself wary of turning pages; anxious over where his intolerance would take us next, wondering who would be the next to be judged based on little more than a glance. Such a "deep" individual apparently failed to recognize that beauty, or lack thereof, is only skin deep. What kept me going was the anticipation of some epiphany, or some deep insight from the author on how he overcame confusion, loss, and despair.
As the book wears on, it was nice to find that many of the literary works that he was reading and referenced were ones that I read as well. Unfortunately, the art was lost with regards to his work as a whole. Much of the book consists of journal entries and letters to friends that end up sounding quite repetitive over time. Much of what the reader experiences from those letters is rather disjointed in a way, as we never get a peek into the advice and insights of those friends, as he leaves their letters out of the book. It's half a conversation. Aside from him pouring out his emotions to those friends, at least those people who he describes as being worthy to experience his "new life" with him, much is left to the imagination, as only one side of that story is portrayed, and without the benefit of being an "insider", many of the inside jokes and experiences that led up to the conversations leaves the "outsider", you and I, at a loss to understand what is being said at times.
While I dismissed my initial reactions to what I assumed to be a narcissistic attitude on his part, as being that of his current circumstance, my curiosity compelled me to look deeper into the life of the author. Through interviews, biographies, the opinions of those around him, and other resources, I came out with the impression that the Ghost Rider was little different from the "Old" Neal Peart, except for the Ghostly burden which he carried. All his grief did was sharpen and magnify that which previously existed in him. He noted that he wondered how anyone could like or care for him, and that he sensed a certain "ineptitude or perceived disability" and "social awkwardness" with regards to the social graces. I can, in the end, only take him at his word. That being that, I don't have to feel comfortable with his outlook on his fellow man.
After going through hundreds of often tedious, mind-numbingly boring pages, I found that I was around 10 pages short of the end of the book, I wondered to myself, "He's still a basket case. A more refined basket case, but a basket case nonetheless. How is he going to be "healed" in a mere 10 pages?" Abruptly, a "miracle" occurs. Not the angels singing, "voice from the heavens" type miracle. Not the discovery of some forgotten knowledge of the meaning of life kind of miracle. Apparently the "miracle" he experiences is the miracle which is often reserved by fate for many recently single, well-to-do, middle-aged men with a key to a Porsche and a room at the Ritz. I found that his Healing Road exited onto the toll road often traveled, and that quickly made all the difference... for him. Did I mention "quickly"? Apparently, he found no need to actually complete his book. It undoubtedly served his purposes.
"I ain't afraid of no ghosts".
I gained practically nothing from this book, except for thankfulness that I am not a fat, American, right-wing, redneck, Christian, Harley-driving, Highway Patrolman (insert more bigoted stereotypes here) on a bus tour to a Las Vegas buffet, otherwise, I might have been personally offended. While looking for insight during the darkest days of my life, I instead traveled through arrogance, bitterness, anger, despair, and bigotry, only to be deprived of any enlightenment in the end. No doubt, Peart would say, "That's not my problem", and he would definitely be correct.
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