Since 1997, Rush drummer Neil Peart has been tight-lipped about the tragic deaths of his 19-year-old daughter Selena and wife Jackie, both of whom passed away within a 10-month period. Now he’s pouring out his heart about the pain and hopelessness he endured and the road he took to recovery in his new book, “Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road,” which is being published by Canada’s ECW Press.
The book features new prose, text from journal entries and letters to friends, providing a personal and emotional day-by-day account of the 14 dark months that followed his wife’s death, and how the support and companionship of friends helped him through the bleakest of times.
At first, Peart was despondent and even contemplated taking his own life.
“In the days following Selena’s death, I had learned for myself how a sunny day could actually seem dark, the sun totally wrong, and how the world around me, the busy lives of all those oblivious strangers, could seem so futile and unreal – as futile and unreal as what passed for my own life,” he wrote.
A rational man who had asked a multitude of questions in his own lyrics and always came up with eloquent answers, Peart was crippled by his horrific misfortune. The guy who always exhibited empathy for his fellow man was suddenly wracked with agony every time he saw people unburdened by such tragedy.
“It was hard for me to accept that fate could be so unjust, that other people’s lives should remain unscarred by the kind of evil that had been visited upon me,” he wrote. “The big question, ‘why?’ was a ceaseless torment, as my brain struggled for meaning (Is this a punishment? A judgement? A curse?), and when I saw other people with their children or with their lovers and mates, or even just apparently enjoying life, it wasn’t so much ill will that moved me, as it was jealousy, resentment and a sense of cruel injustice.”
With the lack of answers to his aching questions, Peart, an avid motorcyclist, hopped on his BMW R1100GS motorcycle and rode 55,000 miles over the next 14 months in an effort to find some meaning in his life. He traveled from Quebec to Alaska, down the Canadian and American coasts, through the West to Mexico and Belize, and then back to Quebec. During his travels he wrote about the minutiae of his life, from the most mundane to the profound. He chronicled conversations with people he met along the way, places he visited and the multitude of feelings he experienced.
“Once I went speeding past an old couple, and smiled as I imagined their conversation: him grumbling about me, and her telling him not to be such an old grouch,” he wrote. “Then, suddenly I was in tears, thinking, ‘I’ll never get to be a grumpy old grandpa!’ ”
As much as the endless driving cleared his mind, it was the compassion of others that proved most healing.
“I felt affection and gratitude not only for their help, but for their understanding, for simply knowing what I had endured, feeling for me, and demanding nothing more than I continue to live.”
By the end of his journey, Peart discovered that, as another musician said many years before, “All you need is love.”
“Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road” is Peart’s second non-musical book. His first, “The Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa” was released in Canada in 1999. He also co-authored “Drum Techniques of Rush” with Bill Wheeler and wrote “More Drum Techniques of Rush (More Drum Superstar Series).”
Rush are currently in the midst of a North American tour.