Phil Speakman reviews a book which wanders from the subject of classic bikes, but which reflects the journey of one particularly distraught motorcycle rider…
As someone who is unmarried, with no children, I think it is fair to say that it’s near impossible for me to really appreciate just what Neil Peart has been through.
Selena, Neil and Jackie’s daughter died in a car accident aged 19. Within the year Jackie succumbed to cancer, leaving Neil as little more than ‘a ghost’. In order to try and rebuild his life and in an attempt to nurse his ‘little baby soul’ back to a point where he could resume some semblance of normal life and return to work (as arguably the world’s greatest drummer with the Canadian rock ban Rush), he took to the road.
In fourteen months Neil covered over 55,000 miles on his BMW R1100GS, staying in hotels and visiting friends and relatives, travelling as the Ghost Rider whilst gradually attempting to re-unite his alter egos of Elwood (good time party guy), Gaia (14 year old girl with a romantic weepy outlook and a love of boy band singles) and John Elwood Taylor (blues man and Neal’s travelling pseudonym) into something near a whole person again.
Much of the book is a monologue of letters written whilst on the road to friends and relatives, but primarily to his best friend and riding companion Brutus, residing in jail awaiting trial on drugs charges. Through those letters a picture coalesces of Neil’s thoughts, emotions, memories and aspirations for the future.
Much of the prose Neil uses in his letters to Brutus is the sort of macho bonding language you’d expect to hear in a Wasssup Budweiser advertisement. It does become hard work after a while and the letters often left me feeling that they’d conspicuously missed out on half of the conversation as little effort is made to fill in the holes left by the missing dialogue.
During the travels, Neil’s interest in the flora and fauna (birdlife in particular) of the Americas develops, as does his interest in US authors and their place in history and within the local environment that the Ghost Rider journeys through.
His writing style aside from the letters is easy to read and his observations on life, hotels, restaurant food and tourists are well written and easy to empathise with. Or at least I thought so, although maybe that means that I’m just as intolerant of other people as Neil is. Quite possibly!
If you buy this book with the expectation that it will be about motorcycles, you’ll be disappointed. Apart from the very occasional mishap and the need for regular servicing at one of the BMW franchises that extend throughout the US, the bike barely gets a mention and very much plays the role of a backing musician.
I didn’t exactly find it a page-turner all the way through either, indeed I put it down for long periods simply because I found the middle hard work — the letters to Brutus in particular.
Whilst I appreciate that the letters open a window into Neil’s mind and ongoing emotional redevelopment, I do feel another editor could have distilled their contents into a much easier-to-consume cordial. Once past that point though, the developing story once again got its hooks into me and the speed with which the end arrives left me unexpectedly wishing for more.
Amazon Classic Bike Books
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Did I enjoy the book?
Yes I did, and my unfamiliarity with many of the lyrics from Rush tracks chosen to illustrate individual chapters has re-awakened my interest in Rush. Until now I’d not bought any of their work since ‘Power Windows’.
Will I be reading Neil’s follow up novel ‘Roadshow – Landscape with Drums’?
I’ve already started it.
Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road by Neil Peart
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