Book Review: The Masked Rider by Neil Peart

I finally got around to it.

I’ve had The Masked Rider by Neil Peart on my bookshelf for several years now. It was purchased more as a way to complete the “Neil Peart Collection” of books rather than to read, though eventually the plan was to read it.

That plan jumped off the book shelf a week ago. I looked at it, looked at it and said “Why not?” Let’s read it before we get too far down the road in life and it becomes harder to read. The Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa is 20 years old and recounts a story nearly three decades old.

I find it perhaps eerie to read a true story that occurred so long ago. Peart is in his mind-30s and reading about others in a present tense sort of way but who are now 30 years older brings on a touch of gloominess. Elsa, the oldest of the traveling companions is approaching 90 now if not passed already. And, you know eventually Peart’s likely to mention his wife and daughter, and he does, who have also since passed.

I remember this book sold during the Test for Echo tour and I did not want to become one of those fans. Gobble everything up Rush even that which has a minor scent of the band. Besides, while I was sure about Mr. Peart’s ability as a lyricist I wasn’t sure about his prose as an author.

The front cover also turned me off, it’s not exactly attractive, and the idea of reading a book about someone else traveling by bicycle across West Africa was also a wall. It sounded, well, boring.

Was I wrong.

So why now? Someone once told me you know you’re a writer because you have to write. That’s how this blog started. OK, but the book is two decades old! That’s the beauty of the Internet: the ability to provide emotional feedback, on a timeless wavelength that can bear gifts and is, for now, still free. Heck I can always back date it and make it look like I reviewed this in the following months of the book’s release but that would be a question of my honesty. Yes, my honesty.

Enough of the opening color and on to the book.

Procrastination also arrived after reading Mr. Peart’s other books. Their magnet included a more up-to-date feel and more relevant to what I wanted to read therefore they got first billing. After digesting them it was clear the author indeed enjoys writing his thoughts on paper. Perhaps a bit too much. While I mostly enjoyed all of them, at times they could be a bit verbose, sometimes offering innocuous details that failed to move the narrative forward.

However, I couldn’t put The Masked Rider down. In fact, I finished it three weeks ahead of my mental schedule.

It is a delightful read and comes across as a fictional novel full of adventures and colorful characters. Plus, any book that makes you feel smarter as you turn the pages certainly counts for something.

Peart offers vivid details of the African landscape, peppering the book with splashy words (some of which I had to look up!) and recounts interactions with his riding group and the natives like a seasoned reporter.

As his frustrations mount and at times boil over – he brings you there. You feel the assault on his skin color, the rising pulse during border interrogations and the grumblings in his lower intestines. No, he doesn’t paper over what happens afterwards, either. Well, he actually might but still writes about it.

Why Peart ever ventured on this adventure perhaps is another book or maybe just a novella. It’s primitive living, to say the least, and the “guide” if you can call David that, wings it, or at least that’s what it feels like. The party of five often ride alone, sometimes even an hour or two spaced apart so if feels less like a touring group and more like mere acquaintances getting from Point A to Point Z via the same route. It begs the question why anyone would bike ride, much less bike ride alone, in an ostensibly lawless country. The hotel “accommodations” make crashing on your buddy’s couch in a musty basement for a month look like the Four Seasons.

If you’ve not read this book you’ll learn Rush nearly came to an end in 1988 if not, quite possibly, for Leonard, the black American in the traveling class who “saved” Peart’s white skin from a gun wielding, drunk and belligerent military official. If not for the perceived fellow countryman, how Peart would have escaped that encounter probably crosses his mind every now and then.

Even without the assault rifle toting commando who could have gunned down the drummer of Rush without so much of a shoulder shrug much less a murder trial, learning how Peart and the rest of his clan manage to get out not only mostly unabated but unhurt keeps the pages rolling.

Refreshingly, Peart is not PC in his assessment of Africa. Of course, that new religion was probably in its infancy in the 80s and just starting to gain steam in the 90s when the book hit shelves, but what is published is published. Visiting Africa, much less traveling by bike, is not for the faint of heart. At least back then, maybe things have changed in 30 years, but doubtful. Based on this book, I don’t care find out first-hand.

What’s more, Peart does not sanitize the characters central to the story. In many respects, The Masked Rider also serves as a catharsis for Peart to release some pent up annoyance and resentment on the power hungry authorities he encounters, the sometimes irritating natives and the selfishness of his fellow riders. Really, Elsa, not even an apology after accidentally kicking Peart as he dozed off during an afternoon nap? That’s just one illustration.

Peart also airs own dirt laundry, interjecting personal reflections throughout the book, at times recognizing his own shortcomings and insecurities. Additionally, this book “introduces” you to the person that is Neil Peart, at least in the mid-80s. He intersperses his opinions and beliefs and the “argument” scene with his fellow riders not only is a pivotal moment in the book that decidedly ends any chance of post-trip friendships, but provides a chance to cheer on the percussionist, assuming you too tire of bitter Westerners trashing their homeland in favor of more oppressive regimes romanced by domestic media.

When you’re not learning the lay of the land, getting to know Peart’s riding companions or soaking in African food and culture, you get a bit of history and some explanation of why things are the way things are. It’s a different way of life on the African continent and you wonder why the people seem content living in squalor.

Then you’re just happy everyone gets to their final destination, safe and sound, and as Peart relishes in western living to close the book, you too feel a sense of peace, harmony and thankfulness for running water, air-conditioning, clean plumbing that works and the freedom to walk, bike or drive anywhere you choose without the looming presence of armed guards demanding your papers.

Written By: AndrewT

Book Review – Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir by Dave Mustaine

Legions of rock fans everywhere owe a great debt to delinquent and absent fathers whose inability to man-up left the children in their wake full of anger, bitterness, reckless abandon and a desire to take all this out in the form of music.

And sometimes through self-destruction these children make great music, get famous and tumble through life living on the edge of death. And once in a while redemption not only blindsides the star but the fans as well.

Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir (released in 2010) is an entertaining, very raw and yet a self-indulgent account of Megadeth founder and front man Dave Mustaine. Mustaine pulls no punches (and in some of the stories he literally pulls no punches) when it comes to his drug use, alcohol abuse and philandering ways. He also has no problem and almost obsessively explains his side of the story from day one. In one paragraph he may exalt himself, in the next he’ll tear himself apart. Metallica still bothers him and you can see why if what he says is indeed accurate. Metal fans have to wonder what Metallica would be today with Dave Mustaine on-board.

Mustaine (the man) however is a rare breed. Who would have thought the singer/guitarist for the band Megadeth would have ever found faith in Jesus Christ. And then continue with Megadeth! The chapter recounting his conversion is gripping yet somewhat anti-climactic. You’d think a man who lived the stereotypical rock ‘n roll lifestyle, hit bottom multiple times, had anger issues and has spent his life fighting the demons of his childhood would have a story of seeing Jesus.

But he didn’t. His conversion was no more theatrical than most who find God which in hindsight is probably a good thing. After two decades of self-destruction Mustaine finally, in rehab of course, realized he needed help:

I sat there that evening, staring at the flames, thinking about my life…about the choices I’d made and the consequences of those choices, both positive and negative. Something was missing. I can’t do this anymore. This has to be the end of it. – Page 306

Mustaine walked to a nearby chapel, held hands with a chaplain and invited Christ into his life. No doves, no thunder, no vision. Just a simple conversion from a broken man who finally discovered the Truth. He told his estranged wife what happened and she laughed. Not because it was funny but because this already godly woman had friends telling her it would happen.

It’s truly amazing how God works in our lives. Mustaine, like many rockers from the 80s, is very lucky to be alive. He does not re-tell stories of a near-death drug overdose though he clearly had some harrowing close calls. But he abused enough substances (usually at the same time) that would likely kill a weaker man. It’s amazing he ever had the strength to record such great records. (If you’re not a metal fan than you can’t appreciate his music.)

Megadeth lives on and so does Mustaine. Now in his 50s, Megadeth released its 13th album last year aptly titled Thirteen and continues to tour. In Mustaine one cannot miss just how much his sudden departure from Metallica really bothers him even after all these years. Empathetically, it’s certainly understandable how building the foundation of one of the biggest music acts today only to be kicked off stage just as Metallica began its ascendancy into the stratosphere could be the proverbial thorn in his side. I too have felt slighted by people in the course of my lifetime, albeit nothing to the extent of what was done to Mustaine, and I too have wanted to somehow set the record straight, at times hoping for their failure just as Mustaine fastidiously watched for Metallica’s downfall.

Here’s the thing. Christian doctrine understands God to be an all-knowing, omnipresent being who lives out of the confines of time. To put it simply, God already knows the beginning and the end. For example, once you’ve read a book you know the beginning, middle and the end of the characters’ lives and you can return to the book anywhere in the timeline of the book. This is how it is with God in our lives.

In 1986, Metallica’s bassist Cliff Burton died when the band’s tour bus overturned in Sweden. I am not hear to debate why and when God does or does not intervene, but I have to wonder if it’s ever occurred to Mustaine that perhaps he is alive today because he was not on that tour bus.

Instead, God, who knows the pages of our lives, saw that sometime in 2002 the world famous heavy metal guitarist Dave Mustaine would turn to Him. And then in 2010 His child would write about his conversion introducing the Gospel to, what one could argue, an untapped segment of society who desperately needs to hear some Good News.

Written By: AndrewT