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Reviewed by David Lynch, August 16, 2002, Music

Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road

by Neil Peart

ECW Press, 460pp., $19.95 Behavioral scientists have taken stressful events -- good and bad -- and ranked them. There's no agreement on the precise order of such a list (is getting married or having a serious operation more stressful?), but death of a child and death of a spouse are always at the top. So imagine enduring both tragedies -- in less than one year. Sadly, this happened to Neil Peart, famed drummer/lyricist for Canadian super trio Rush. After working through the sheer numbness of such bottomless loss, the drum doctor prescribed himself the only medicine he knew, taking his motorcycle and his "little baby soul" on a trip. A long trip. Peart biked more than 55,000 miles (over twice the circumference of the Earth) in just over a year, from Quebec to Alaska to Belize, and eventually, back to Quebec, grieving, reconnecting with nature's goodness, visiting friends and family, and philosophizing about life's meaning. Peart is Rush's respected lyricist, and in Ghost Rider he uses his formidable writing gifts to tell his traveling and healing tale. In contrast to Rush's often abstractly philosophical lyrics, Ghost Rider is full of insecurities, confessions, sometimes admittedly (and certainly understandable) bitchy and bitter observations, and epiphanies. The 400-plus pages also cover topics like farm machinery, indigenous flora, influential American authors, motorcycle maintenance, and bird watching -- a cross between Bill Bryson, Robert Pirsig, and Harold Kushner. The tome could, however, be successfully sliced by including fewer excerpts from the author's correspondence. These letters -- to family, friends met through one of his many bicycling trips (well-told in his first book, The Masked Rider, about pedaling through West Africa), his jailed-at-the-time friend Brutus, band mates in Rush, other writers, and himself via journaling -- are worthwhile inclusions, yet become repetitive. While not needed, a map would be a helpful addition, if only to help comprehend the sheer distance and variety of terrain traveled. Rush fans will undoubtedly pick up Ghost Rider to read about Peart's saga, but don't expect passages about music; Peart didn't even pick up his drumsticks for more than two years. Given the subject nature and the way Peart chose to deal with his loss -- not to mention his easy-to-read yet erudite prose -- Ghost Rider will appeal to travelers, motorcyclists, and those who have, or will, suffer the pain of loss. Everyone.

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