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2016, available now.

A two-part review of Rush, TIME STAND STILL (2016).

Between May and August, 2015, Rush performed to jam-packed audiences in cities across the United States and Canada.  Rush captured this tour with its own 2015 release, R40 LIVE, a three cd/1-bluray set.  This tour attracted an immense and diverse crowd.  Generations of men in the same family (grandfather, father, and sons) sat together, women attended in larger than usual numbers, and my two oldest kids (Nathaniel and Gretchen) drove with me nearly 10 hours to see the band perform R40 in Lincoln.  That magical show will always remain one of the greatest of my life.  Not just because I was seeing Rush for the umpteenth time, but because I got to share the band with my children for the first time.  They’ve grown up with Rush—listening to the music and watching their concerts over and over again; indeed, all six of my kids can readily name the members of the band, the songs, and the albums—but they’d never experienced the joy of an actual concert.  It was, to be sure, a glorious spectacle.

When I looked out the bedroom window the other day to see Nathaniel shoveling snow and head banging, I could tell he was head banging to 2112.  Every few moments the shovel came up and served as an Alex Lifeson air guitar.  Needless to write, it took a bit for him to complete the driveway.  Regardless, I’m deeply proud that my children recognize the greatness of the three Canadian artists, even older than their dad!

When it comes to the Canadian power trio, there’s little new that can be written, but there’s much—especially in hindsight—that still needs to be noted and recorded.  As Steve Horwitz has shown demonstrably, the band is deeply philosophical.  As Rob Freedman has also shown demonstrably, the band is deeply influential.  Here is Freedman, unrestrained:

The story of Rush is a story of validation.  When the band first started out, the mainstream music establishment largely ignored them.  Geddy’s voice was the brunt of jokes, Alex’s guitar playing got no respect, Neil’s lyrics were pretentious and channeled a kooky Ayn Randian ideology, and he played too many drums, all of them with the passion of a mathematician.  Meanwhile, musicians and music aficionados loved them, so you had this great narrative tension.  Now they’re nearing their 40-year anniversary, their old critics are in nursing homes, their fans are in leadership positions in business, science, government, and the arts, and they’re looked to as elder statesmen of rock.

And, following upon the work of Horwitz and Freedman, I’ve tried to show that the band influenced at least two and maybe three generations of North American men in our choice of careers, our relationships, our politics, and our views of the world.  Far from making us little Neil Pearts, however, Peart asked us to be our best selves in every aspect of life.  He never sought conformity, but leavening.  As a historian and biographer—and, admittedly, a non-objective fan—I would go so far as to argue that Lee, Lifeson, and Peart have done as much as any three persons in any realm of society to shape others in the late 20th and early 21st century of English-speaking western civilization.  A bold claim, I know, but one I firmly believe to be true, even if I don’t have a mass of data to back it up.

In such matters, though, it always best to turn to that master of percussions, words, and repercussions, Neil Peart.  As he best expressed his feelings on the R40 tour: “The blazing lights ahead of me are in an arena filled with something like ten thousand people.  The heat and light of their joyous excitement is an utter contrast to my cold fire of determination and will—as it should be.  It is my job to reward their anticipation—to be all they expect and more.”  And, this is exactly why so many of us admire Peart so much.

It was with great joy, then, that I learned this past fall that Rush would be releasing a documentary of the R40 tour and their career.  It seems to be true that Rush will most likely not go on such a massive tour again, and it’s quite possible that Rush will (or has) ceased to exist as we knew them over the past four-plus decades.  This is nothing totally out of the ordinary for the band, as adding Peart changed the dynamic of the trio in 1974, and the tragic loss of Peart’s wife and daughter in the late 1990s changed the dynamic again.  Up through the R40 tour, Rush had, arguably, gone through three distinct phases: 1) pre-Peart; 2) Peart; 3) Peart reborn.  Now, after R40, Rush seems to have entered a fourth phase, polycentric Rush.

TIME STAND STILL begins with Geddy explaining that the band has served as a cocoon from the terrors of childhood, allowing the necessary shelter for each member to mature, to become what he was meant to become.  As Lifeson states, they’ve not really known any other life.  This is it.  Yet, not atypically for the drummer, Peart notes proudly that the band is ending at “the top, not facing the diminishing of the abilities.”

The ending, however, as Geddy claims, “is not so fun.”  Part II, tomorrow. . .


Birzer, founder and editor of progarchy.com, is author of Neil Peart: Cultural (RE)Percussions, published by Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire Press.