High school was an experience of melancholy for me. My parents moved from northern Illinois and the only town I had ever known. Next thing I knew, I was living in western Illinois in a town of 3000 people. I felt like I had stepped back in time. Fortunately, at the age 15, and in 1979, I soon discovered three new friends that summer. Their names were (are) Geddy, Alex, and Neil.
The state of music on top 40 radio in the summer of 1979 was nothing short of abysmal. There was a mix of new wave, disco, some rock, and other tragic songs. That summer I discovered album radio, and in doing so, Rush. For most of my life, I had followed music but it was not something I lived for. Sure, I had my Beatles records, some Steely Dan, but the summer of 79 brought The Police, Tom Petty, Cheap Trick, AC/DC, Pink Floyd, Neil Young, Pat Benatar, REO Speedwagon, The Cars, and The Clash into my basement bedroom.
What made Rush different was the just sounds the three of them could make. They did not release a record in 1979, but from 1980 to 1986, I grew up with the band. As they grew musically, so did I. I learned to play guitar, I went to college, and I fell in and out of love – several times. But Rush was always there, always. They were always challenging me as a fan. I didn’t always like every record but I still bought them and listened to all the songs. They brought me comfort, a soundtrack to the 80s and the “what was I thinking?” decade. I may look back and question a lot of things about that decade, but not my allegiance to Rush.
It all began with Dungeons and Dragons. Some kids down the street got it, and I got hooked. The first time I played Dungeons and Dragons, Hemispheres and 2112 provided the soundtrack. Soon playing Risk meant Rush. Everything meant Rush. That fall saw me buying the back catalog of Farewell to Kings, Caress of Steel, Fly by Night, and Rush.
1980 and 1981 saw Rush at a career high (one of many). Permanent Waves hit the stores and I bought it. I always loved the songs Spirit of Radio, Entre Nous, but my favorite is Freewill.
1981 saw the release of the classic Moving Pictures. It provided the soundtrack of the summer before my senior year in high school. Sure Tom Sawyer is a great song, so are Red Barchetta, Limelight, and Witch Hunt, but my favorite still is the instrumental YYZ. The record fused the music of the day with Rush. To try and define what Rush is, is pointless. They are technically proficient musicians who are influenced by only one kind of music according to Geddy Lee – Good music. For Lee there is only good and bad music. He chooses the good regardless of the genre.
When most people find out I like Rush, they don’t get it. I tell them there is really nothing to get. Rush is just three guys, superior musicians, who challenge themselves by writing hard rocking pieces of music in different styles and time signatures. The lyrics are intelligent, but not always musical or easy to understand. They are a thinking man’s band. There is no magic formula. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Some of the 80s albums didn’t do it for me. Subdivisions relied heavily on the synthesizer while Grace Under Pressure was filled with classic rhythms and songs. Then Power Windows showed glimpses of returning to form only to have Hold Your Fire totally disappoint me. But then the band bounced back with Presto in 1989 and disappointed me with Roll the Bones in the early 90s.
As my life began to evolve so did Rush. In 1993 and 1996 Rush released two hard rock records which I still love to this day – Counterparts and Test for Echo. Unfortunately, tragedy struck Neil Peart with the loss of his daughter and then his wife passed away. Rush would not release a record again until 2002. When they released Vapor Trails in 2002, Rush was back with a force. Vapor Trails is as hard as Rush has ever sounded. It was as excited as I have ever been to hear a Rush record. Geddy Lee talks about making the record:
I mean it wasn’t all easy and there was a lot of crafting that went in after the initial period of inspiration or spontaneous jamming. But a lot of these songs were born out of, I think, a desire to almost state to each other proof that we still have a great feeling and intensity for what we do. In a way, it is kind of a celebration of a return of spirit, which of course was a huge question mark for quite a while.
There is not just one thing I like about Rush. Geddy is not the greatest singer, Neil doesn’t write the greatest lyrics, Alex is not the world’s greatest guitarist, but combined, the whole is more than the sum of their parts. They are a tour de force sonically and technically. And they wrote some pretty damn good songs along the way.
Unlike most bands that have been around a long time, Rush is still making relevant music – still influencing new generations of musicians. 2007’s Snakes and Arrows saw the band kick out the jams and finds the band in high spirits and playing to packed houses every night. Check out Far Cry from that record….
2011 will find Rush releasing a new CD, Clockwork Angels. The record is being approached in a unique way. Where most bands tour, write new songs, record the new songs, and then tour behind the new record. Rush has written some new songs, is touring now, and recording the new songs at the same time. The band is operating under the assumption that they are in their best playing shape out on tour and not in the studio. Thus the resulting record is being recorded while they tour. Caravan will be the first single.
Nearing 60, the trio is still making significant quality records. This fall I turned 47. I got the DVD documentary of Rush called Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage. It was three of the best hours of my life spent reliving the dream of Rush.