Jim Riley is used to wearing many hats in The Ghost Inside: bassist, self-proclaimed “band dad”, sometime touring manager. For this weekend’s comeback show, he has taken on the dual role of creative-director-cum-production-manager, not only shouldering responsibility for conjuring up the stage show, but seeing it through to delivery, too. If his constantly ringing phone doesn’t illustrate the demands of the job, the stress etched on his face certainly does. “Not that I’m a control freak,” he smiles, “but if I had trusted it to someone else, it would have been their vision for it. It may have been quicker, easier, cheaper, or whatever. But all the stuff that’s ever come out of this band is a reflection of our friendship and our relationship with each other.”
It’s a far cry from what was required of him in the hours following the events of November 19, 2015.
“I was needed to go and identify all the other guys in the hospital,” he reveals. “We were in the middle of nowhere when we had the accident. We were asleep in our pyjamas. No-one had any ID on them. Most of them were in medically induced comas. So I sat there with the overnight manager and I was like, ‘Okay, Jonathan is the guy with the reddish hair and the three Xs tattooed on his left arm. Andrew is the tall blond guy with ‘hopeless’ on his leg. Zach is the guy with the tattoo on his neck.’”
The injuries sustained in the crash that day are still scarcely comprehensible, no matter how many times you try to digest the words or wrap your head around the photos of the bus wreckage that leave you feeling like you’ve been punched in the gut.
On top of the injuries expected of a motor vehicle accident, Jim himself had escaped with one badly broken ankle; Chris had broken two, as well as “shattering” his foot. Jonathan suffered a fractured neck and back, knee ligament damage, a pair of broken ankles and much more besides, including an elbow injury that required a skin graft. Andrew could add fractures of the ribs, spine and hip, plus extensive shoulder and neck ligament and nerve damage, to his amputated leg. (“He should have been dead at the scene, if not by the time he got to the hospital,” was the assessment of one doctor.) There was little of the lower half of Zach’s body that wouldn’t require rebuilding with metal screws, plates and rods. A large portion of his left foot, including multiple toes, couldn’t be saved.
Their recoveries would range from the slow to the outright tortuous. Zach himself counts “13 major surgeries, and maybe double that in smaller procedures”, which only came to an end last August and left him feeling at his lowest “like a rag doll that was just getting beaten up and sliced open”. Reconstructing his pelvis alone required back-to-back surgeries totalling 18 hours, bookending many more hours of excruciating pain in-between. “The second day, that is probably one of the worst days of my life,” he sighs. “They had to put me under so deep that I was almost dead, and then I awoke to such pain. I wasn’t able to eat, drink, I couldn’t sleep – and I knew I was going to be doing it again the next day.”
The physical torment, however, is only half the story. The guitarist described the physical and mental recovery as “like two separate roller coasters, both going different ways yet intertwined with each other”. He admits there were days when, laying in a hospital bed on his own, his spirit and resolve all but broken, he wondered whether life was really all that worth it.
Jonathan’s initial reaction was to tell his mum he would never return to being in a band; even the slightest chance that the accident could be repeated was a nightmare from which he would rather flee forever. His voice is soft yet heavy as he describes how his mental recovery was harder than any of the gruelling physiotherapy sessions or surgeries he went through in his exhausting, near-two-year-long bid to walk unaided again.