Review: Rush, R40: The Completist/OCD Set

Review: Rush, R40: The Completist/OCD Set (Anthem, 2014).

Birzer Rating: 10/10

R40, Anthem Records, 2014.
R40, Anthem Records, 2014.

I had a very good and hearty chuckle when I saw that Bestbuy and the official Rush website offered not just R40— a 10-disc set of every Rush concert DVD released over the past decade+—but actually offered a “Completist” set. 

The Completist set provides not just the 10 discs, but an extra disc containing roughly another hour-plus of video.  The non-Completist version already includes over two hours of never-before-seen video.  But, what self-respecting Neil Peart fan or Rush fan would not be a Completist.  To be a Rush fan is to be a Completist!  Being OCD comes easily for us Rush fans.

So, of course, I gritted my teeth and started exploring my local Bestbuys.  20 years ago, I loved Bestbuy.  Now, I find it suffocating.  But, it was worth it.  The Bestbuy website claims that R40 Completist set can only be purchased in the stores, not through the website.  Exploring a bit further, I found that the Bestbuy website won’t indicate which stores actually have the Completist edition.  For more than a few moments, I’d assumed Bestbuy had already sold out of it.  And, perhaps playing up on this belief, a number of editions have appeared on Ebay (and other sites) asking for double and some even triple and quadruple what the Bestbuy price is.  Sheesh.  Uncool, folks.

Again, gritting my teeth, I started to explore the Bestbuys across the Colorado Front Range.  I came very close to giving up.  The young guys working at the various Colorado Bestbuys had no idea what I was asking for.  Rush?  Rush Limbaugh.  He has concerts?  Dear God, no!  Even when they looked it up on the website (I assume they’re privy to one the public isn’t), they couldn’t find it.  No, sorry, we don’t have that in our “media warehouse.”  Will you get it in?  I don’t think so. 


How could I satisfy that perfectionist/OCD nature that has plagued me since 1967???  Heck, Rush is only seven years younger than I am!

Then, after debating whether or not to try one last Bestbuy, I decided to give it a go.  I was tired, disbelieving, and ready to get home.  But, there was the Bestbuy, off to my left.  I even had to swerve into the exit lane, as I couldn’t quite decide whether to try it or not. 

After entering the store, itself overlooking I25, I looked in the music section.  Nothing.  I looked in movies.  Nothing. 

Holiday crowds swirled around me, each with that hungry desperate Holiday look, and insanely bad music blared from the store speakers.  And, then, perhaps guided by a Clockwork Angel, I looked on the floor—a jumble of non-reshelved releases—ready to be stepped on. 

And, lo and behold, there it was.  Huge, gleaming, calling to me—the R40 completist set.  I scooped it up (there were actually two copies, but I decided not to be greedy), and saw that the price was even cheaper than what the official Bestbuy price was supposed to be.  I honestly don’t think these folks know what they have.  And, of course, I bought a copy.

And, now, what do I think?  Holy Moses.  This is great stuff.  Yes, of course, I already have most of what’s being offered.  But, that which I don’t (or didn’t) have— is simply stunning.  I’d expected DVD-size packaging.  No, how could I forget?  This is Rush.  They don’t do anything halfway.  The book is actually a full-size hardback book of the highest quality.  Printing, paper, everything—a gorgeously crafted piece of art.  It even smells good. 

After a nice introduction by one of Rush’s chosen and favorite writers, Martin Popoff, the book presents a series of full-page concert photos.  After two decades or more of just looking at CD and DVD booklets, the full-size photos just pop out of the book.  A flashback to days of immense vinyl collections.  I love the photos.  And, they really do justice to the the three members of Rush.  Geddy at Red Rocks, Alex in full working-man rock mode, and Neil as a G-Nome.  Most importantly, the Rush monkey from Time Machine makes an appearance.  Geddy-monkey never fails to get a laugh out of the whole Birzer family, especially Harry, age 9.  And, our chosen family anthem, appropriately enough, is “The Main Monkey Business.”

After roughly fifty pages of photos, the book presents all 10 main DVDs in very high-quality cardboard.  Indeed, the quality is so high, I have to be careful taking the DVDs out of their firm and tight sleeves.  Very good for the long run.  I was a little surprised that the bonus DVD—“Rush, R40 Completist”—had just been placed in a plain white envelope, stuck haphazardly in the book.  I’ll have to pay special attention to this one so as not to lose it.  Not very Rush-like, but still, overall, an excellent package and worth this one defect.

Rather than describe all of the content, I’ve scanned the content page—complete with the Completist add-ons.  See below. 

Is the set cheap?  No.  Is it of good quality?  Except for the Completist DVD in the white envelope, of the highest quality.  Am I sad to have paid so much for what I already (mostly) own?  Absolutely not.  Some of the best money I’ve ever spent.  I’ll have this set, a thing of beauty until I die.  Then, a little monkey Birzer will get it.

Completist Packaging/Content list, Bestbuy R40.
Completist Packaging/Content list, Bestbuy R40.

Neil Peart: The Most Endangered Species

Some songs just scream “let me reach perfection.”  

Every note, every pause, every ebb, every swell, every silence, and every word just gravitates towards its right place.  It’s as though the cardinal and Platonic virtue of Justice becomes manifest, real, and tangible in this world.

There probably are very few perfect tracks—tracks that never grow old and never cease to cause wonder.  From the 70s and 80s the following immediately spring to mind as candidates: The Battle of Evermore, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, Close to the Edge, In Your Eyes, Thick as a Brick, Cinema Show, Take a Chance with Me, Echoes, and The Killing Moon.

Of all of these great possibilities from those two wild and wholly decades, the one song that comes closest to attaining perfection, such as perfection is understood in this rather bent world, is Natural Science, the final track on Rush’s Permanent Waves.

Well, at least in my humble opinion.  Ok, not so humble of an opinion.

Rush PW cover

Unobjectively Rushed

In a number of previous posts here at progarchy and elsewhere, I’ve talked about my love for all things Rush, perhaps even putting myself in a position in which I simply can’t be objective about them.  Frankly, at age 46, I’m tired of trying to be objective about the things I love.  In fact, I want to be subjective.  Really, really subjective.  I want to spend the rest of my life promoting things of excellence and beauty, and not wasting my time analyzing what I don’t like.  I want to explore how various forms of art have shaped my own life, how they’ve guided me, how they’ve given me strength and comfort, and how best to pass on such nuggets of insight to my children and my students.

So, purely subjectively: I’ve always thought of Neil Peart as the older brother I never had—the cool kid with all the great ideas and, equally important, the guy with all of the good friends.  Most importantly, however, Peart has always had the courage of his convictions.  What an appealing combination of qualities.  Creativity, intelligence, integrity and perserverance.

As much as any person in my life I’ve never met (from Plato to St. Augustine to Friedrich Hayek to T.S. Eliot to J.R.R. Tolkien), Peart has profoundly shaped my view of the world.  I’ve known this since the spring of 1981, when, as a seventh grader, I first encountered Moving Pictures.

And, coming from a very (happily) nerdy and intellectual family which encouraged a love of music as much as it encouraged a love of reading and writing, I started writing my own first little essays on Rush while still in high school.

Perhaps my professors in college shouldn’t have allowed me to do this or encouraged me, but I did get to help lead a discussion on the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, using the song “Tom Sawyer” to explain the significance of the end of Twain’s novel.  The end of that complex novel tries to examine the motivations of Huck and Tom as they decided whether or not to free Jim from his enslavement.  Their humanity tells them one thing, but their cultural upbringing tells them another.

I also, as I’ve mentioned before, wrote my major paper for my sophomore liberal-arts core course examining the philosophy of Neil Peart, using nothing but the lyrics of Grace Under Pressure.  Sadly, I don’t have a copy of that paper any longer, though I might attempt to reconstruct it at some point.

Rush 1980 by Todd Caudle

Natural Science

I can identify almost every single moment in my post-1980 life with a Rush album—noting when I first encountered that album, how it shaped my own thoughts, life, and actions, and what else was going on in my life at the same time.  Certainly, Rush has served as the soundtrack of my own existence for over three decades.  Strangely, the one album in Rush’s entire catalogue I can’t place perfectly—at least when I first encountered it—is Permanent Waves.  I’m guessing that I first heard it shortly after Spring 1981, but I’m not positive.  It just seems to have always been “there.”  There, meaning my life.  This is impossible, of course, as I was 11 when the album first came out, but it does seem to have an uncertain yet certain position in my memory.

I still regard the entire album as a work of artistic intensity and creative genius.  There’s a confidence that exists in every note of this album that had not yet appeared in Rush’s music.  Don’t get me wrong—up to Permanent Waves, Rush had always possessed audacity and integrity.  But, they’d not possessed this level of confidence before.  Songs such as Anthem—so openly declaring confidence—reveal youthful anxiety.  But, the personal aspects of Permanent Waves, such as in “Free Will,” carry with them a rather clear maturity.

To my mind, none of the songs carry as much confidence, however, as does Natural Science.  Originally, as is well known by Rush fans, Peart had hoped to write a saga, epic, or edda about the Court of King Arthur and especially about the character of Sir Gawain.

I had also been working on making a song out of a medieval epic from King Arthur’s time, called ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’. It was a real story written around the 14th century, and I was trying to transform it while retaining it’s original form and style. Eventually it came to seem too awkwardly out of place with the other material we were working on, so we decided to shelve that project for the time being…with the departure of ‘Gawain’ we had left ourselves nothing with which to replace him!…something new began to take shape. It was the product of a whole host of unconnected experiences, books, images, thoughts, feelings, observations, and confirmed principles, that somehow took the form of ‘Natural Science’…forged from some bits from ‘Gawain’, some instrumental ideas that were still unused, and some parts newly-written. – Neil Peart, “Personal Waves, The Story Of An Album” [taken from:]

Though I don’t know this for certain, I assume that Peart was still in a bit of a myth/fantasy/Tolkien stage as he considered the lyrics for this song.  Best known by the world for his fiction, J.R.R. Tolkien was in his professional life the leading scholar of the medieval literature of Beowulf, Sir Gawain, and others.  In the late 1970s, Tolkien’s publisher attempted to capitalize on success of The Silmarillion by re-publishing almost everything Tolkien had ever written, including his academic work, repackaged for a popular audience.

Many of the ideas in Natural Science, at least musically, also came from a “mass of ideas called Uncle Tounouse” [Popoff, CONTENTS UNDER PRESSURE, 76;; and

At 9 minutes, 17 seconds, “Natural Science” consists of three parts: Tide Pools; Hyperspace; and Permanent Waves.  These might have also have been titled, less poetically, Nature; Science; and Integrity.

In Part I, “Tide Pools,” Peart offers a vision of community.  Each person is born into a myriad of factors.  As the great Irishman, Edmund Burke, once said before Parliament: “Dark and inscrutable are the ways in which we come into the world.”  Each person is born into a family, an environment, a language, a set of morality, a religious system (even if atheist), etc.  Each of these factors shapes and delimits our very beings, and we must—from our earliest infancy—learn to move from one realm into another.  From, for example, our family to our school.  We must transition, we must bridge, we must understand, and we must integrate our experiences.  Such a world of communities brings us security, but it might also allow for an insular kind of inbreeding and sloth.  Looking at all of the connections and interactions, though, overwhelms us.

Wheels within wheels in a spiral array,

A pattern so grand and complex,

Time after time we lose sight of the way,

Our causes can’t see their effects.

Part II, “Hyperspace,” reveals how insane an integrated, uniform culture might before.  Peart’s vision of conformity here is not of a communist or fascist variety, but instead of a capitalist, consumerist variety.  It might metastasize uncontrollably.

A mechanized world out of hand.

Computerized clinic

For superior cynics

Who dance to a synthetic band.

In their own image,

Their world is fashion.

No wonder they don’t understand.

Part III, “Permanent Waves,” brings the story and listener to a stoic resignation, a realization that one must somehow and in some way recognize the limits as well as the advantages of an insular natural community and a hyper collectivist consumerism, brought together by (I presume) colossal bureaucracies of corporations, educational systems, and governments.

The true man, whatever the odds against him, will survive.

The most endangered species,

The honest man,

Will still survive annihilation.

Forming a world

State of integrity,

Sensitive, open and strong.

These are quintessentially Peartian themes, and he will return to them again and again in his lyrics.  “Subdivisions,” for example, offers almost all of the same sentiments, but it does so in lyrics that are much more direct.  The lyrics for Natural Science remain far more poetic than intellectual, far more artistic than philosophical.  And yet, they are poetic, intellectual, artistic, and philosophical all at once.

They are. . . well, Peartian. Very Peartian.

Signals Cover

Words of Friendship and Wisdom

In the summer of 1987, having completed my first year of college, I returned back to my hometown of Hutchinson, Kansas.  It was one of the best summers of my life, as all of my high school friends were home, and I had the best job possible—I was the overnight DJ at a local radio station.  In my mind, this really was the last year of my youth.  I didn’t realize that at the time, but I do now.  It was also, though, a summer of immense upheaval.  The following school year, I wouldn’t be returning to the University of Notre Dame.  Instead, I moved to Innsbruck, Austria, for a year.  At home, a number of domestic crises would lead to a divorce.  As much as I loved my mom, I needed to get away from the home front quickly.  All of this added up to a summer of craziness, me being a little more wild than I should have been.

Trying to get me back on track, one of my two closest college friends sent me a letter toward the end of that summer.  Inside, written on rice paper, neatly folded, were the lyrics to Natural Science, with a note of encouragement.

I carried that piece of folded rice paper with me—tucked in my wallet—for about two decades. It’s very hard to put into words what Peart’s thoughts in “Natural Science” did for me.  “Natural Science” did for me in my 20s and 30s, what “Subdivisions” had done for me at 14.  They gave me no easy answers or platitudes, but honesty and courage.  They got me through many, many tough times, never failing to remind me that right has absolutely nothing to do with winning or losing.  Right, instead, has to do with being right.  Nothing more, nothing less.  We do the right thing not for advantage, but merely and simply because it’s right.  It’s not subjective.  It’s either right, or it’s not.  It’s not partially right or almost right.  It’s either right, or it’s not.

Sometimes, we just need a big brother or a friend to remind us of these things.

Neil Peart, moral philosopher, “sensitive, open, and strong.”



For more from Progarchy on Rush

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


Hugh Howey Is A Gracious Man – A Brief Interview

Following my review earlier today of Hugh Howey’s Wool Omnibus, I sent him a note letting him know I had posted it (this was really his idea — he encourages his readers to review his books and get in touch with him, so I had no choice).  He sent me a nice note back, thanking me for the comparison of Wool to Ayn Rand’s Anthem and feeling honored to be, in my review, in the company of that book and Rush’s 2112.  I asked if I could post his response, and he said sure but that he’d also be happy to give a more structured response or answer a few questions.  So here are my “oh my god I have to come up with questions for Hugh Howey” questions and his thoughtful responses.  Hugh Howey is indeed a gracious man.

You’ve told me that you’re a fan of Ayn Rand’s Anthem and Rush.  Do you have a favorite Rush record? What are some other musical and literary favorites?
My favorite overall album is Moving Pictures, and I think that’s because of my age. My older brother got into their music, and I wanted to be as cool as he was. I remember hearing those drum solos go on forever and thinking to myself that these guys must not be interested in being on the radio at all, and that made them even cooler. In a way, I think Rush became commercial without trying to. And that appeals to me. Wool was written and published in a way that never should’ve led to commercial success.
Anthem is one of the grandaddies of post apocalyptic fiction. It gets left out of many discussions because of the controversial life and philosophy of its author, but I think art deserves to be critiqued independent of the artist. I didn’t think about the underground nature of Anthem until you mentioned it, but now I want to go back and read it again.
In the world of the Silo,information technology and mechanical technology play a huge role, and are described in very readable detail without killing the narrative.  Can you describe how you approached your description of these technologies in Wool?
I don’t enjoy science fiction when it gets bogged down in the details of how things work. The great thing about end-of-the-world stories is that the technology is often less advanced than what we have today. That allows the characters to stand in the foreground, which is what draws readers in. My approach is twofold, really: I respect the reader’s intelligence to figure things out as they go, rather than blast them with info dumps. And I don’t have characters marvel over aspects of their own worlds that really ought to be banal to them. Science fiction can do this sometimes: characters appear to be wowed over things that are everyday. That always feels jarring to me.
When you wrote the first novella, did you have an idea of how Wool 5 would end?
Not at all. It was just the one story. But when I set out to write Wool 2, I sketched out the entire saga, which includes the SHIFT and DUST books. I didn’t want to fall into the trap of Lost, where the creator has no idea what’s going on, and the reader/viewer can begin to sense this. I wanted to foreshadow events miles in advance. 
There are elements of wool that seem particularly well-suited for dramatic interpretation.  Are we going to see a movie of Wool?
I hope so! Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian optioned the film rights. The screenplay is in the pipeline right now. I’d say the odds are 1 in 10 that a film gets made, which is pretty damn good by Hollywood standards! 
What are you currently writing, and how can we keep up with it?
I’m working on the end of the SHIFT series. After that, I’ll start the third and final act, DUST, which is where things really go to hell. My website is a good place to keep up with my writing. I even keep my word count updated, so you can see how far along I am in any draft. I try to think of the things I wish my favorite authors would do, and then I do them. Just makes sense to approach things that way.

Hugh Howey’s Wool

ImageI just finished my Christmas reading, Hugh Howey’s Wool Omnibus, having bought it on special for $1.99 (for my Kindle) based on one of those Amazon emails:  “CBreaden, here are books we think you might enjoy!”  Always a leap of faith, going with this kind of marketing, but in a heat-haze brought on by recently finishing Joe Abercrombie’s Heroes and having nothing at hand I wanted to read, I took that leap.

About halfway through the collection of five novellas, I realized I needed to alert the prog world to it, thus uncovering my not-so-hidden geek love (limited as it may be) for sci-fi and prog rock’s connection to it.  I think like a lot of us I first fell under this spell with Rush’s 2112, which I didn’t hear until several years after its release but, when I did, quickly turned to Ayn Rand’s Anthem for the text on which Neil Peart based some of his story.  Rand’s most succinct novel, and to me her most powerful, coupled with Rush’s record, raised a fairly high bar.  Alternate worlds are frequently the stuff of prog, but only on occasion are they expertly wrought in song.

Wool immediately struck me as one successor to Rand’s Anthem, but with a less severe political bent, characters more like the regular people you and I know, and little reliance on metaphor.  What it has in common is a lean narrative and concise style, although the five novellas collected together in the omnibus are far longer than Anthem.  The similarities don’t end there:  like Anthem, Wool has at its center a people being kept from the truth.  It tells the story from the perspective of several characters among a large population who have for hundreds of years inhabited an underground “silo,” which as readers we understand to be an enormously deep, hugely broad, completely self-sufficient bomb shelter.  The only connection to the world beyond the silo is a series of screens that project images of the outside.  These images are produced by cameras mounted to the exterior above-ground portion of the silo, the lenses of which need regular cleaning due to the howling nuclear-desolate wastewinds whipping the landscape.  This task is given to individuals who commit crimes in the silo, which include having dangerous ideas like wanting to know what the outside is like or how we came to be in this blasted silo anyhow.  Okay, so maybe there is some metaphor.

What strikes me about Wool and Anthem, and the reason I bring Wool to Progarchy with a big recommendation to read it, is the imagination of an alternate world, not just by the author, but by his characters.  What happened outside the silo? What are our origins? Is what we see on the screens real? (Plato, anyone?) Howey’s characters are not unsubtle, one-dimensional creatures.  They struggle with these questions with both trepidation and reluctance for committing a crime, and for the mind-bending possibility embedded in “what if?”  This also strikes me as core to the experimentation necessary to successful, progressive music.

– Craig Breaden, December 27, 2012

P.S. Howey has been writing like a madman.  Initially, he self-marketed Wool, beginning in late 2011, almost entirely as an e-book on Amazon.  He’s now been picked up by print publishers, but continues to offer his books online for cheap.  He’s already two volumes in to the prequel to Wool.  Check his site here: Buy his books here: