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Ghost Rider: Travels On The Healing Road

Sometimes a book comes along just when you need it to. You turn the first few pages and it grips you, refusing to let go.

More than eight weeks ago, Neil Peart’s “Ghost Rider: Travels On the Healing Road” finally arrived from the library’s city-wide hold shelf. I’d been meaning to pick it up for many years, but for whatever reason, never followed through. It was mid-June, a crazy time at school like no other in the calendar, and I already sensed there would be at least one renewal before I got through the thick memoir. I was optimistic as it turned out, and it has taken me up until this morning to finish my reading.

None of the sluggish pace is any fault of the book, in fact, quite the opposite is true: I didn’t want my journey with Neil to end, and I know I deliberately slowed my pace to savour it, to carefully read every word, going over some of the descriptions of landscapes more than once because they were so evocative and vividly portrayed. Sometimes I stayed away to absorb the ideas and reflections he put across, and at other times I got too involved in my own work-in-progress to give it the proper attention it deserved. Even so, it stayed with me these last two months in a way a book hasn’t managed to do in a long time.

I’ve not suffered the loss this man has endured, although like everyone else, I have lost family dear to me in years gone by and I could thoroughly identify with his feelings of helplessness and intense grief. It took me a long time to “get over” my father’s death, and reading this account reminded me of that emotional journey in many ways. I have always found that each death in one’s circle brings back all the previous ones, making one relive what we think of as long-settled grief back to the surface in unsettling ways. As I read the book, it brought me back to 2001, and my own healing road, which was a two-week holiday in Scotland after my father had passed away. Much like Neil, I found peace and acceptance in the midst of stunning landscapes and the company of someone I cared for deeply. His advice to “keep moving” is certainly sound, and I also nodded at his other four directives for coping with grief: kicking one’s own ass gently, avoiding replay syndrome, making peace with others where you could, and allowing others the pleasure of helping you. All of these tips are remarkably simple as statements, much harder to implement in actuality, but likely instrumental in getting whole again.

These last few months, my loss has been one of a friendship I valued, a big nothing when compared to the death of two family members, but difficult in its own way. It is perhaps with this on my mind that reading this book was so personal to me, but time and place are often what attaches you to a song, a piece of art, or some writing. And so it has been with me, and I am a better person for having turned the last page, as I suspected I would be midway through. His words leapt off the page, so raw and brutally honest, so eloquently written and framed with dry humour and hilarious anecdotes, especially those in the letters he wrote to a dear friend who was in prison for a good part of his riding days. He helped me to put things in perspective, which has allowed me to put the ghost to bed and genuinely accept that life, though often unfair, is what it is and there’s no sense in fighting against what has already happened. Again, though he phrased it very differently, I am reminded that ‘things will be some way’, and that this may not be ideal, but it’s certainly okay. So thank you, Neil, for reaffirming that notion, which I hope to carry with me through any other difficult days that may lie ahead.

One thing that freaked me out a little, as these things often do, is that the journey he undertook was eerily similar to that of one of my novel series’ characters, who was actually modelled after Neil as a band lyricist (though I made him a bass player and not a drummer). What made the connection give me goosebumps was that I wrote the parallel scenes in 1979, long before they happened in Neil’s actual life. As I told a friend yesterday, meeting my first husband after I’d written my first book gave me the first goosebumps because his young life mirrored my main character’s difficult childhood right down to the same timeline of horrific trauma, and my recent trips to Scotland have rekindled those bizarre feelings because Edinburgh was long established in pivotal scenes of my current work-in-progress long before I fell in love with the city last summer and last spring. Life is indeed stranger than fiction sometimes.

As I get ready to return this library copy back, I am overwhelmed with a strange sense of gratitude for having read it at the right time. I’ve got a personal copy that will follow me to Scotland in a few weeks’ time, not because I want to reread it, but because I know just the person who will appreciate it and maybe get out of it as much as I did and because, to quote my favourite lyric from the book,

We are islands to each other building hopeful bridges on the troubled sea.


Mumford and Sons at Butler's Barracks, Niagara-on-the-Lake, June 15th, 2015 and Rush at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, June 19th, 2015: A Tale of Two Concerts

My week started and ended with a concert, both sold out and highly anticipated by the respective fans of each band. The first, on Monday night, took place in picturesque Niagara-on-the-Lake, across the U.S. border on the Niagara River, and headlined Mumford and Sons at Butler’s Barracks. Friday night, Toronto’s Air Canada Centre welcomed hometown favourites Rush for a second night. The only statement I can make to link these two evenings is that I enjoyed myself tremendously at both shows.

Part of the fun of concerts for me is getting to and from the gigs and milling about outside the venue with fellow fans. The last time we saw Mumford and Sons, in the summer of 2013, it was also a long drive to a rural festival destination. For the ride down to Niagara, we were in the comfort of our own car with control of the radio and in possession of good food and drinks; it helped make the horrific four-hour journey in heavy, rush-hour traffic palatable. Once on the grounds, we made our way past the vendors towards the main stage. Our wait was very short due to the horrendous commute, and we found ourselves off to the left side with a decent spot on the lawn; as the sun went down at 21:00, the Mumford Tramps (as I affectionately call them) took to the stage and a wonderful two hours of solid entertainment began.

Heading towards the main stage from the main doors. A beautiful night in Niagara-on-the-Lake begins.

There have been grumblings about the new Mumford and Sons record, as the band has left its banjo folk-roots and moved towards what can best be described as a U2/Coldplay hybrid sound. While I will admit to preferring what a close friend calls the “jingly-jangly” music of their first two albums, I don’t mind that bands shake things up and try to evolve with their music as they mature. The group cautiously began their set with two familiar favourites then switched gears to present their newer songs. The evening went back and forth between the recent release and old numbers, and each piece was well-received by the audience of 30,000. While I still prefer the first two albums, I’m warming up to the new one and loved how rich the sound was in the live renditions of “Snake Eyes”, “Wilder Mind”, and “Tompkins Park”.

The main stage at the Gentlemen of the Road stopover.

Much was made on social media about the nightmare that ensued as 30, 000 patrons tried to leave the parking area, and the organizers rightfully deserve the blame they received for the fact that it took two hours to emerge onto a main road. The disaster was inexcusable and we will likely never attend another festival at this venue. That said, I found it more amusing that across the Niagara River, in Youngstown (maybe let’s rename it Oldstown?), the sheriff was besieged by calls to somehow make the loud music stop over in Canada. The actual drive back to Toronto took an hour, with a detour through Niagara Falls, and it’s no overstatement to say that Tuesday was very rough for those of us who had to work.

Friday night was a different beast altogether. Having missed the initial sale, we didn’t pick up our Rush tickets until Wednesday night, once the stage had been erected for the first of the two shows and a late block of seats were released. There weren’t weeks of anticipation like I’d felt with the Mumford and Sons gig, but by Friday night, I was excited; news of the amazing retrospective setlist from the first local concert had leaked out, and we knew we were in for a magical night.

The train ride into the city lasted 17 minutes, where I mingled with other fans and we chatted about past experiences with Rush and other classic rock bands. In front of the Air Canada Centre, I was reunited with two lovely gentlemen who work for Toronto’s Rock Station Q107 and are arguably the company’s best ambassadors. We took a great picture together and soon it was time to get inside. It wasn’t until we made it to our seats that I realized we were in the last row of the highest section, lurching above everyone on Alex Lifeson’s side. Luckily, we had four hilarious, jovial kilted friends in front of us to banter with until the curtain rose. It helped bring ambience to the dizzy heights of our seating area, and we were pumped by the time the house lights went down and the band came out to roars of delight.

Yours truly with Q107 ambassadors Harrison Mercer on the left and Johnny “Flairboy” Garbutt on the right.

How does one describe an evening with Rush? I’ve seen three times before—on the 1978 Hemispheres Tour, at Sarstock, and most recently during the Clockwork Angels tour—and each one holds a unique, special memory. The first time was special, Sarstock brought Neil Peart back after such personal tragedy, and the last show allowed me to introduce the band to the young son of a good friend. Friday night, it was the possibility that they were gracing the Toronto stage for the last time with a chronological retrospective spanning 40 years that had all the makings of a magical show.


And there was magic. So much magic! The first of two sets featured newer material, and the mastery of each musician was on full display right from the start. The gem of the first set was the first ever live presentation of ‘Losing It’ from Signals, with Ben Mink on the electric violin. Have a listen to this gem.

A fun panoramic shot from high above the crowd.

The second set went back in time to classic Rush: the songs were more familiar (huge hits such as “YYZ”, “Tom Sawyer”, “The Spirit of Radio”) but the rarely played “Jacob’s Ladder” was thrown in before fans were treated to music from “Hemispheres”, “A Farewell to Kings”, and “2112”. It was a feast for the senses as lasers and video montages enhanced the performance of each iconic song; in contrast to the light show, the stage itself grew more bare as the band went back to a simpler time before they had their washing machines and electronics with them. The audience pumped their fists and played air drums and guitars from the front rows to the rafters, and you felt at times like the roof would burst.

Towards the end of the second set.

The encore of four songs included “Lakeside Park,” which Canadians warmly associate with the long Victoria Day holiday weekend, and the show ended after three solid hours with “Working Man”. I still hold the hope that we will see this power trio grace their hometown stage again, but should this have been their farewell tour, we can at least take comfort in the knowledge that it was filmed for a future DVD release.