Hands up who’s a fan of Rush?
One, two, three….okay hands down, there’s too many of you.
For the last thirty-five, or more years of loving progressive Rock music there was never a day I would have ever considered myself a fan of Rush.
No… please, keep hold of your rotten fruit and hear me out….
There was always something about them I couldn’t get my head around. I used to think it was Geddy Lee’s voice. The ear-shattering pitch he could achieve made seemingly domesticated house cats turn Feral.
Yet there was something undeniably attractive about some of the musical dexterity in the instrumental bits. The amazing power of the combined rhythm section of Lee and Peart was sometimes so complex it defied belief, but every now and then it just seemed too overblown, too heavy metal for a whimsical English Genesis fan like myself.
At various points over the years I continued to have a genuine dislike of what I heard at whatever moment I came across it. In the 1980’s it probably happened more so, because of their poppy-synth progression, and yet I’m told by the lifetime fans that this period also reflects some of their greatest moments too.
Even a couple of years back I had another listen and heard something from ‘Vapor Trails‘ and I didn’t like that much either. I was surprised at how heavy they sounded, but I know then that I was too set in my ways to open my eyes or ears and really listen objectively. I’m now told that the mix of the Vapor Trail’s album wasn’t very good either so I’m guessing that it didn’t help though.
It’s been a pattern all along.
My first real taste was when a school friend playing me side one of ‘2112‘ sometime in 1980. Like the cigarettes he also offered me to sample– I hated it. Yes, I know this sounds incredible to ‘you’–a fan of Rush. The many I have met over the years have rated this album as one of the best–a real epiphany moment–and beyond that they have been as fiercely loyal and devoted towards everything the band ever released, more so than probably any fan of any group I have known. At the time I heard ‘Temple of Syrinx‘, and as I have said earlier, Geddy Lee’s voice made my hair stand on end and not in a good way. Described as being similar to ‘A Munchkin giving a sermon’ by one particularly rude American critic, I could see my dislike for his vocal range and unique sound was shared by others.
And now is the time?
My parents always told me, I needed to try something I didn’t like at least once every year in case I changed my mind…
It usually referred to some food that they knew one day I would like the taste of, when I was mature enough to appreciate it. Several years ago I gave up on this philosophy when I finally realised that there was no way in this lifetime, or the next, I would ever, ever like cottage cheese. It’s disgusting. It truly is the work of the devil.
So with Rush I honestly believed they were the cottage cheese of Progressive Rock. Not devils work, but as likable as the revolting, inedible lumpy stuff….with extra pineapple. I was convinced it would never happen, despite the regular gushing recommendations. When it comes to fans, you Rush types can really gush…however in recent years since I have become part of the social media revolution, I have found the voices harder and harder to ignore.
I even toyed with the idea now and then of going into the attic and looking for that dusty old copy of ‘A farewell to Kings.’ It’s been up there for many a year like a pair of crazy, multi-coloured socks that sit in the bottom of your sock drawer. An unwanted gift (that has been with me since 1986) which I would never enjoy even though I did once try…just a little.
One other item of Rush’s catalogue that I owned which I inadvertently bought was a shaped picture disk from 1982 –the single ‘New World Man’. I was a NUT for the space shuttle in the early eighties—and bought the single purely on the basis of the Columbia shuttle-shaped record. I never played it! I pinned the plastic sleeve to my bedroom wall with the record inside and it stayed there pretty much for the rest of the decade, even after I left home for college.
So fast forward to now and here I am… happy in the world of new Prog, minding my own business. There was no need to revisit the past when there was so many amazing bands to be enjoyed in the 21st century. Moreover where would I even start when it came to delving into the forty odd year history of a prolific band? It’s like signing up to do the New York Marathon having never run anywhere beyond a jog to the bus stop. Where do you start?
The niggling feeling that I was missing out on something just wouldn’t go away so I felt it was time to ask you, the fans and friends to help. Yet that was like asking all the salesmen at the sports shop which shoes I should buy to go running the marathon in. Everyone has a favourite and they all seem to be the best–the most definitive.
So one evening it all started with a series of questions which gave me the first album I needed to start with:
Facebook–‘There are a number of ‘different stages’ to Rush, depends on your listening tastes…’
me–Well I don’t know really. I’m not a big fan of eighties rock music.
Facebook–‘Do you like keyboards, widdly prog, more guitar driven …’
me–Well I’m not a fan of metal and widdy is good. I like synth too as long as it’s not too over the top. Not really helping am I?
Facebook–‘Moving Pictures’ – Go for it!’
So that was that. I jumped onto itunes and bought myself a Rush album…
AND WOW! that’s all I can say.
Catch the mystery, catch the drift
So the beginning was ‘Tom Sawyer‘. I realised straight away that this was a track of real familiarity. It’s impossible to go through thirty something years of Prog without coming across this song. It’s a classic tune that has obviously played in many a rock club in my youth and although I wasn’t paying attention I knew the song pretty well.
The first play was the opening of a door to my subconscious and lurking there was this music.
Immediately I can see why it is so loved by the fans. It’s not especially epic or technically challenging, and yet that’s its charm. It’s simple yet amazingly clever and radio friendly, (something Rush seem very capable off) and it was the right choice to start as it’s definitely an easy ride into a new world. Aside from the vocal at the lyric… ‘The River’ reaching some very high note, it was less high pitched than I expected, in fact it all seemed a lot less glass-shattering than I remembered…
I’m doing my best to avoid the obvious Ayn Rand elements to the song and yet the track hits you squarely on the chin in this regard. Using the Rand philosophy of man as the hero, (Tom in this case) the song plays to the central theme of a modern day individualist free to grow when only supported by a limited government, it’s all there in the song in black and white. It’s here at this point I wished I HAD listened to this track when I was younger. My middle-aged mind can’t help but pour over the meaning of songs and it’s not something I can switch off. If I had played this when I was twelve, I would have just enjoyed the way the words sounded instead of their message.
It’s the same going into the next track ‘Red Barchetta’, yet more Rand Pseudo-philosophy with an anti-government message. I’m sure when the ideas that went to form this song were presented, the belief was that we would now be living some Orwellian (1984) nightmare when the government had taken control–2112 as I understand it. Still aside from this, it’s a DAMN FINE catchy song and I find myself tapping my foot along to it.
It’s when we get to ‘YYZ’ that things really do start to sparkle for me, the tightness of the arrangements in those Morse code moments are mind-blowing, and that rhythm section I mentioned earlier shows its amazing strength. The rhythmically strummed guitar of Alex Lifeson is sublime and shows how much he is a versatile player–without doubt the one member who impresses me the most. My guitar tutor was always one who extolled his virtues particularly the flamenco-like way he would hit the strings, a kind of brush technique that raked the strings with a flick. Of course it’s one of many techniques he uses. Looking back, I think it was at those guitar lessons where I started to wonder if I should give Rush a chance.
With ‘Limelight‘ I get the subject more than most. The intensely private man that Peart is obviously is at odds with the success of the band. His own social awkwardness (is there a hint of ASD to him?) is the key to the song and that’s the level I am happy to leave it. The synths are good on this track too, they just seem to strike the right balance for me.
Something lost on me as the dazzling ‘The Camera eye’ opens is that this would have been the start of side two. As this is my Ipod it’s just track five instead. It has the feeling of a song that nicely starts a second side and this thought and inspiration by the artist is lost in the digital age. The song also impresses me and I feel the album is beginning to grow on me as it goes along. I like the Steinbeck quote and the viewpoint of the Camera eye as a stream of consciousness. It’s a tale of two cities and romantic in it’s delivery.
‘Witch hunt’ has the subtitle ‘Part III of Fear’. What is this about? a quick look on the internet reveals that this is part of a four part series that was released in reverse order. I realise at this point how confused my daughter Annika felt when she asked me about Star Wars.
A–“But it’s part four daddy, we need to start with part one…”
Me–“Sweetie, it’s supposed to start with part four and then it goes forwards to six before it goes backwards to one and then goes forwards again to three.”
How can ‘Witch Hunt‘ start with part III in 1981 and then progress to Part II in ‘Signals’ in 1982 before part I in ‘Grace Under Pressure’ in 1983.
Ouch my brain hurts. Am I supposed to listen to the three albums in reverse order to their release? Apparently the three songs were performed on the ‘Grace Under Pressure’ tour in the right order so maybe that’s the answer? Is there a live album of that tour? It’s a cynical song as it goes, the track really points to the choices we make based on fear that something bad is going to happen to us.
The last track on the album, ‘Vital Signs’ is a very different style from the rest of the album. I am told that this piece lays the ground work for the later albums such as ‘Grace’ and ‘Sub Divisions’. So maybe that’s where I need to go soon. It’s a lot more synth than the rest of the songs on Moving Pictures and I can see that Alex Lifeson has been relegated to a rhythm player more so. It’s a very short track and completes what feels like a short album, but 40 mins was typical for the time.
Touched for the very first time…
So there you have it. I popped my cherry!
In the space of a few tracks I have been set on a course towards understanding Rush and dare I say, I have liked what I have heard.
It’s just a little off-putting for me that Ayn Rand was the basis for some of the early work and I feel I will probably approach it at some point, but with caution. Rather refreshingly though, I see that Peart has recently tried to put some distance between him and the Rand right-wing ideologies.
“I know where I fall politically. And I define it better now: I’m a libertarian, but a bleeding-heart libertarian.”
More clearly he says:
“It’s enlightened self-interest. Free will.”
Whatever ‘enlightened self-interest’ is, I am guessing that Peart wants to shift slightly away from an ideology based entirely on self-interest with capitalist values that empower’s the individual at the expense of a healthy, government supported society as a whole.
I never really noticed before, but politically there was maybe a blockage towards me liking Rush because of my dislike for Rand and the fact that Peart was very much invested in it. As I said, I should have listened to it all much earlier–as a young teen, unaffected by theme and lyrics , instead feeling the pure energy and the power of the music and those iconic sleeve covers.
In short, I may never like everything they ever wrote, but there’s 40 years worth of music to have a go at so I should find something more to enjoy. It’s time for me to fast forward to the 21st century now and start on my second Rush album, ‘Snakes and Arrows’
I’ll be back to let you know…..
Other great reads on Progarchy…
A new review from Thaddeus Wert
Hold your Fire -Rush’s finest?
The first Rush album reviewed by Craig Breaden
A review of A Farewell to Kings by Kevin McCormick
A review of Power Windows by Brad Birzer
Kevin Williams on Clockwork Angels Tour
Brad Birzer on Clockwork Angels Tour
Erik Heter on Clockwork Angels Tour Concert in Texas
A review of Vapor Trails Remixed by Birzer
A review of Grace Under Pressure by Birzer