August 12, 2020

IM Review: Ghost Rider

So there I was in New York City for a book convention, staying in a hotel in Times Square. The first night I walked down the street and found a Virgin Music Store. In the lower level of this store were several shelves of books, including one by Neil Peart, the drummer for the Canadian rock group Rush.

I thought, I never knew drummers could read, let alone write. I stood and read a few pages of this book and knew I needed to buy it. Then I stayed up until about 2:30 a.m. reading it. I read it on the plane ride back to Oklahoma. I read it when I got home. And the more I read it, the more astounded I became.

“It” is the book Ghost Rider by Peart. Let me make it clear up front that this is not a “Christian” book, if by that you mean a book filled with Christian words and phrases, with answers to every question, with solutions to every problem. And yet if by “Christian book” you mean one that deals with life honestly, that tells stories that sound suspiciously like what Jesus would do, that watches as someone looks for his soul—well, then I guess this could be considered a Christian book.

Nevertheless, Peart is not a Christian when the book starts, and he is not a Christian when the book ends. As far as I know, he is not a Christian today. He deals with the pain that comes to him by self-medicating, primarily with The Macallan scotch whisky. In his anger he uses a good deal of profanity and wants to kill people. So if you can’t deal with that, then you ought not read this book, or even any more of this review.

But if you find that real life is the place to meet with God, by all means read on.

“Real life” hit Peart between the eyes in August of 1997 when his daughter was killed in a single-car accident as she drove back to college. Nine months later, his wife died of cancer—or, as Peart puts it, of a broken heart. At this point he was left with nothing. He told his bandmates in Rush to consider him retired. He got on his BMW 1100 series motorcycle and began riding across Canada, through Alaska, into British Columbia, back into the United States, then through Mexico. He was searching for his soul while trying to escape from himself. Peart says,

Without knowing it, I had identified a subtle but important part of the healing process. There would be no peace for me, no life for me, until I learned to forgive life for what it had done to me, forgive others for still being alive, and eventually, forgive myself for being alive.

The travels Peart takes us on were part of his healing. If his descriptions of these travels don’t awaken even the slightest amount of wanderlust in you, I recommend a visit with your doctor. Or undertaker.

Peart, however, warns us against a romanticized version of travel. It’s not the way it looks on TV or in the travel magazines. He writes,

Travel writers often feel compelled to try to explain and justify the difference between being a tourist and being a traveller. They cite the etymology of “travel” in the French word travail, labor, and point out that any independent journey outside the well-worn tourist routes requires extreme will and endurance simply to keep moving forward. One of the most indefatigable of serious travellers, Paul Theroux, explains that after one of his journeys, he hasn’t had a vacation; he needs a vacation. But for most of his readers, the “armchair travelers,” it’s only the vicarious, pristine experience they want to share, not the unhygienic, exhausting reality.

Watching a movie or reading a novel might make you feel sad, or frightened, or inspired, but at the end of that experience, nothing has actually happened in your life. The experiences of real life were not like that, as I had certainly come to know. The fantasy image of a free spirit drifting without care of effort through some IMAX movie of breathtaking scenery not only ignored the darker possibilities (breakdown, accident, injury, death), it also omitted the simple joy-killers of bad weather, indigestion, toothache, or diesel in your fuel tank. Anything can happen, and scenery is never “neutral.”

(A drummer knows the word “indefatigable”? Get out of here.)

His descriptions of riding in all kinds of weather, slipping on a muddy road in Alaska and breaking his mirrors, then having to have help in getting his bike upright, changing his oil at rest areas, and—yes—having someone put diesel in his non-diesel gas tank help us to feel the realities of the road. They also take away, for me at least, the desire to see the country on a motorcycle. Give me a nice, fun car, thanks.

Peart stays in simple motels, eats his meals alone, and stays away from crowds. He buys postcards at souvenir stands. He doesn’t visit the “tourist spots,” but goes out of his way to visit towns with interesting names like Telegraph Creek. He takes dirt paths instead of interstate highways (which he refers to as “mileage disposal units”). Peart is certainly a wealthy man by most material standards, but he does not live by his wealth. He doesn’t stay in luxury digs or eat in five-star restaurants each night. He goes out of his way to treat others the way he would like to be treated—when possible.  And he covers his pain with The Macallan each night. Is this the best way to do so? I don’t know. But it is very real—and Jesus only deals in reality.

We walk—or perhaps it’s better to say ride—with Peart not only on roads he traveled to various towns and national parks, but also on the roads he travels in his heart. He gives us glimpses of his childhood growing up in his father’s farm implements business. We meet his daughter and wife in happier times. And we are with him when he learns his best friend and riding partner, Brutus, has been arrested for trying to transport, um, an agricultural product across the border from New York to Canada. Peart writes to Brutus often while he’s in prison, as well as instructing his accountant to send money to Brutus’s wife to cover all of their bills. Would Jesus expect us to do any differently?

There is a great amount of sadness in this book. Asked why I was reading such a tome, I answered, “It’s like watching open heart surgery and watching the surgeon peel away one thin layer of tissue at a time.”  The book ends with Peart meeting Carrie, who is now his wife.

Why am I recommending this for you to read? Because once again, Jesus only deals in reality. Who among us does not know someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one. Or perhaps we are the one grieving. Death hurts. Sometimes living hurts even more.

 

Comments

  1. [sniff…]

    🙁

  2. Sounds like I need to read this one since I’m among the Grieving. Unfortunately, I am unemployed and broker than broke or else I would find myself on the road to nowhere, too. Or, as the verse I love that expresses it best states, “Oh that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.” Ps. 55:6

    • Brendan H says

      you know, being broker than broke…if you don’t have a lot to lose, at this point….maybe going for a drive for a summer

      • Brendan H says

        ugh…autopost…

        maybe going for a long, aimless drive over the summer would be a good way to spend some of your time. Assuming it didn’t wind up costing you more than you can “afford”.

  3. Paul Davis says

    I read this book when it came out years ago, and actually picked it up at a concert. It’s a fabulous read, and a very gritty account of how he dealt with such enormous pain. The insights into his persona have stuck with me, he can be fully irreverent in one moment, and touchingly warm in the next. He has written other books that are really just as good, I’ve been a lifelong fan of both Rush’s music and of Neil. We would not agree on Christianity or a number of other topics, but I deeply respect the man for his honesty and candor.

    Very Good Stuff indeed.

    -Paul-

  4. I had quite a different reaction to this book. The genesis of his journey – the loss of his wife and child – set the stage for a remarkable story, but Peart did nothing with it. His anger is understandable, but after a while one begins to doubt that there will ever be any sort of transformation. He overlooks his own privileged position – how many people who suffer such loss have the freedom to drop out of life for a couple of years, allowing someone else to manage their affairs? And he never expresses appreciation for that gift from friends. He is extremely judgmental of others and never tires of name-dropping. Standing by his friend (or more importantly, his friends family) is good, but it seems to me that Jesus pointed out that anyone could do that; if Peart had shown some generousity, even generousity of spirit, to others unlike him I might feel differently. While my heart aches for his loss, I found this book to be incredbily self-indulgent and were he not the drummer of a famous rock band, I doubt any publisher would have touched this poorly written manuscript.

    • It may be narcissistic, but hey, there is a narcissist deep down inside each one of us, and he needs to be spanked. Learning to be selfless and focused on blessing others is hard, and the journey is a struggle. Expressing that struggle is a healthy way of dealing with it, and hearing other people express their struggle is a good way to learn from their experience. If the church were more conducive to this type of activity (hey, come to think of it, it almost sounds like confession and absolution!) more people would feel safely at home in them.

  5. “He was searching for his soul while trying to escape from himself”

    Been there. Done that. Vodka was my choice of escape.

    And yes Jesus deals in realities. That’s one reason I like Him so much. And wrestle with Him too.

    The book is intriguing, but I’m with Deborah…..I’m so broke I can’t even pay attention.

    I’m sorry, what was the name of the book again?

    • “I’m so broke I can’t even pay attention.” Cute, Rebekah!

      I have started getting more books through the library rather than buying them. I was going to read a novel for a change of pace and got one that had good reviews, but I read 50 pages and gave up. It was The Girl WIth the Dragon Tattoo. Now I picked up True Grit and will try that.

  6. Jeff, you made my day. I am a huge fan of Rush and Peart’s lyrics. The album “Vapor Trails” followed that turbulent period after the deaths of his daughter and his wife and his cross-continent motorcycle trip. Powerful stuff.

    BTW: Peart will be on Letterman tonight for drum solo week.

  7. Well, I downloaded the book and began reading. I understand why you couldn’t put it down. I will be up late tonight and tomorrow night, most likely, but the book will be read by Saturday. I will probably purchase it for my son, who is a drummer in a band and an avid Harley owner. Where did you get the idea that drummers are inarticulate? Mine can discuss most any subject with insight and he regularly helps the homeless and disenfranchised. And, he has several tatoo’s and hates institutionalized religion.

    According to Bridges, who writes about transitions, living in lliminality is one of the most important things a person can do to reach the other side. I think he’s right. It took me months of living in Ecclesiastes and Psalms and Job and a lot of nothingness to get me through the mourning process when my other son was killed.

    thanks for recommending the book.

  8. Neal Peart is the greatest drummer in rock history! Never expected to see him here on internetmonk though. I didn’t even know he wrote a book! Though, I did certainly watch the documentary about the band. Thanks for the recommendation, the review even makes it sound like a fantastic read for where I’m at in life right now. This is going to the top of my reading list, right after I finish Capon.

    • The old joke about drummers:
      “Q. How can you tell when the stage is level?
      A. The drool comes out of BOTH sides of the drummer’s mouth.”
      …never applied to Peart.
      He was the primary lyricist for Rush, as well as a phenomenal percussionist. Watch almost any YouTube video of him, you won’t be disappointed. There’s a CGI animation of Peart playing the instrumental “YYZ” (which the airport code for Toronto, their hometown, tapped out in the song intro), and the animator just about exhausted himself trying to get it right… now imagine playing that in real time…

  9. “Carry all those phantoms
    Through bitter wind and stormy skies
    From the desert to the mountain
    From the lowest low to the highest high
    Like a ghost rider
    Keep on riding North and West
    Then circle South and East
    Show me beauty, but there is no peace
    For the ghost rider”
    – Neil Peart

  10. “Sweet Miracle”, by Neil Peart

    I wasn’t walking on water
    I was standing on a reef
    When the tide came in
    Swept beneath the surface
    Lost without a trace
    No hope at all
    No hope at all

    Oh – sweet miracle
    Oh – sweet miracle
    Of life

    I wasn’t walking with angels
    I was talking to myself
    Rising up to the surface
    Raging against the night
    Starless night

    Oh – sweet miracle
    Love’s sweet miracle
    Of life

    Oh salvation
    Oh salvation

    I wasn’t praying for magic
    I was hiding in plain sight
    Rising up from the surface
    To fly into the light

  11. Across several Rush albums is what Neil Peart referred to as the “Theaters of Fear”:

    how fear works inside us (“The Enemy Within”- from “Grace Under Pressure”);
    how fear is used against us (“The Weapon” – from “Signals”);
    how fear feeds the mob mentality (“Witch Hunt” – from “Moving Pictures”);
    the fine line between running away and/or standing up to encounter one’s fear (“Freeze” – from “Vapor Trails”).
    – reference: “Fear Series” Wikipedia article. (dubya, dubya, dubya,…oh google it).

    I don’t think a Christian could have written such songs, and I don’t mean that as a compliment. We read “Fear not” in the Bible, not as an exhortation or a promise of hope, but as a law (the Bible says fear not; therefore, fear and doubt is sin). It isn’t that Christians aren’t afraid; they just can’t admit it. The tension between fear and hope is real; it never goes away. As so many famous quotes state – from Mark Twain to John Wayne – courage isn’t the absence of fear, it is moving forward IN SPITE OF fear. Sometimes that fear within is the most debilitating – even more than the fear of the mob.

  12. Johnny Blaze says

    How can they call it the same name as the comic book Ghost Rider? Isnt that illegel?

    In the 1970’s comics they almost had Ghost Rider healed because he accepted Jesus as his savure, but they didn’t print that comic because Stan Lee was a Jew, and besides, it was stupid when you think about it. (If Jesus exists in the Marvel universe, then Thor could fight him.)

  13. I’m a huge Rush fan but I’ve never gotten around to reading this book. Peart is actually quite a vehement atheist and it’s kind of frustrating to see him swallow stuff like Dawkins without ever hearing the other side of things. But regardless, he’s been through a lot so I’m not going to give him a hard time. And, he’s a great drummer!

  14. Wanderlust, from which I frequently suffer, is upon me again, in spite of the fact that my travels have always been filled with “opportunities.” My trips are always exhausting, and sometimes frightening. And yet, I’m ready to go again. I’m pretty sure they have helped me with my shyness, and desire to hole up away from the pains of the world.

    I recommend road trips for taking your mind off the things that don’t matter in this life. Just you and God and the pavement.

  15. Louis du Plessis says

    Not awl of uz drammers ar nuckkel draggin’ yawpers, but some are sure in there pitching. Look at a magazine like “Modern drumming” and see how dark it can be , but then so are many of these bands.
    Hope I can find this book somewhere.