Rush’s Clockwork Angels (It Can Get None More Prog!)

Rush’s 19th Studio Album.  Six years old today.  Art by Hugh Syme.

Today is the sixth anniversary of the release of the final Rush studio album, CLOCKWORK ANGELS.  It can get “nun more” prog.  

[This piece is dedicated to my great and brave friend, Steve Horwitz, fellow Rush-ian]

Rush’s nineteenth studio album, Clockwork Angels, came out on June 12, 2012.  It was the first album to be distributed by heavy-metal label, Roadrunner, and the second to be produced by Nick Raskulinecz.  As mentioned at this beginning of this book, the story of Clockwork Angelsis such an artistic success—as a story, a concert, a novel, a sequel to the novel, a graphic novel, an audio book, and a series of comic books—that it really overshadows not only the actual album but much of Rush’s other art.  It is, of course, the culmination of forty years of care, of love, and of purpose.  However much the Clockwork universe has dwarfed the album itself, it is very much worth considering the original source material.

Clockwork Angelscame out a full six years after Snakes and Arrows, a break between albums even greater than that between Test for Echoand Vapor Trails.  Still, few worried as hints came out frequently about the forthcoming Rush album during that time, and Rush even released versions of the two opening songs as singles, performing them on the Time Machine Tourof 2011.  As few would disagree, the wait for the final product was well worth it.  While Moving Pictures—because of its time and place in history—might always remain the iconic Rush album, Clockwork Angelsis arguably the best, cohesive piece of art the band has ever made. It reveals a maturity in lyrics and music understandably absent in the first few Rush albums, but it also possesses every explosion of energy those albums expressed.

Continue reading “Rush’s Clockwork Angels (It Can Get None More Prog!)”

The Trilogy Complete: Kevin J. Anderson’s ETERNITY’S MIND

Out today, and available from Amazon.

I wish I had a review ready, but I just received the book today!  So, sadly, no review yet.  Just a notice.  This, however, is the conclusion to Anderson’s brilliant, Saga of Shadows trilogy.

For those of you who don’t know, Anderson is not only one of Neil Peart’s closest friends, but he’s also the co-author of Clockwork Angels and Clockwork Lives with Peart.  Much to celebrate in the prog world.

What else to write about Kevin?  I mentioned he’s brilliant, but did I mention he also writes lyrics for Roswell Six, is a great guy, has an equally great wife, and has been nominated for the Hugo?

To order Anderson’s’s latest, please go here:


anderson and peart clockwork (1)
Clockwork Angels, the Graphic Novel; and Clockwork Lives. By Kevin J. Anderson and Neil Peart.

Scifi Pulse has just posted a really strong review of the latest novel by sci-fi master Kevin J. Anderson and Rush drummer Neil Peart, CLOCKWORK LIVES.

The final line: Reading the first book is not necessary to enjoy this novel; it is in a completely different format than the previous book and is equally satisfying. Anderson and Peart have created a magnificent journey for Marinda and I’m glad they returned to this universe. In fact, after the pleasure this book brought to me, I would be disappointed if they did not return for further tales. Recommended. Overall grade: A+ 

To read the full review, go here:

Kevin J. Anderson: Well Beyond a Clockwork Imagination

A review of Kevin J. Anderson, CLOCKWORK ANGELS: THE COMIC SCRIPTS (Monument, CO: Wordfire Press, 2014); from a story and lyrics by Neil Peart.

Birzer rating: 10/10.

From WordFire Press (December 2014).

Two things need to be stated before I even get into the heart of this review. Well, ok, let me put this in active form, before my students yell “foul!” I, Brad, need to state two things before getting into this review.

First, one could write a long and interesting article just about the convoluted and circuitous publishing history of CLOCKWORK ANGELS. And, why not? What a fascinating history. In the beginning, CLOCKWORK ANGELS was an album by Rush (remember, though, the first two songs came out almost two full years before the album itself).

Then, it was a best-selling novel by Kevin J. Anderson and Neil Peart.

Then, it was a huge worldwide rock concert tour, a live album, and a live concert DVD.

Then, it came out from BOOM! Studios in comic book form, illustrated by the extremely talented Nick Robles, over six issues. These six issues, of course, will be released in graphic-novel form in the spring (April 2015) with, I’m guessing, an intro or conclusion by Peart.

Now, however, CLOCKWORK ANGELS has come out from Anderson’s WordFire Press as THE COMIC SCRIPTS.

Soon, there will be a sequel, CLOCKWORK LIVES, which Anderson has only recently happily finished with the equally happy blessing of Neil Peart.

It’s possible the whole cycle might start over with the sequel.

And, if Rob Freedman is correct, CLOCKWORK ANGELS will probably grab the fancy of some Hollywood producer, direct, and acting talent, and it will be made into a major motion picture. If so—and, let’s pray this happens—the script is completely written, the scenes already storyboarded by Anderson, a true master of the art.

Second caveat. It’s no secret—at least to readers of progarchy—that I’ve been following the career of Neil Peart very closely since the spring of 1981. Since the age of 13, Peart has been as much a part of my life as has Ray Bradbury, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mark Twain, T.S. Eliot, and the list could go on.

Sci-fi demigod, Kevin J. Anderson.
Sci-fi demigod, Kevin J. Anderson.

Since some time in the early 1990s, however, I can also state the same about Kevin J. Anderson. Among modern science-fiction writers, the only other person I’ve followed as closely is J. Michael Straczynski. I’m absolutely fascinated by their writings as well as the trajectory of their careers.   Each is a expert of his craft and an imaginative perfectionist. Each is also very much in-tune with his audience and the possibilities the internet presents. And, as probably well known, each has advanced the cause of progressive rock in a variety of ways. Straczynski had done so by promoting the career of Christopher Franke and Anderson by writing with Peart, producing the story and lyrics (along with his wife) for Roswell Six, and through a myriad of other ways. Each, also, fully embraces the comic and graphic novel worlds. Straczynski tends toward horror and the gnostic, and Anderson tends toward science fiction and the mythic, but, otherwise, the two have a great deal in common.

So, these two caveats stated, let’s get back to Anderson’s latest, THE COMIC SCRIPTS.

Even from a cursory examination of Peart’s song lyrics, the story of CLOCKWORK ANGELS seems a nicely updated version of 1978’s HEMISPHERES. There’s the side of order, and there’s the side of chaos. The hero, choosing not to embrace either extreme, finds a via media, making his own path and his own choices. He finds, in reality, that his choices are limited, however, but choice does exist. So, free will exists, but it does so only within certain bounds.

Anderson’s novel offers a wondrous exploration of Peart’s universe. Employing the literary devices of utopia and dystopia, Anderson, a sci-fi demigod, gives the story a much needed and beautifully executed Tolkien-esque and Chestertonian fairy-tale ethos and atmosphere. We discover why the Clockmaker craves surety and the Anarchist disorder. We also discover why Owen must reject both and become, for all intents and purposes, the everyman version of Cygnus.

Not limited to lyrics for twelve songs merely, Anderson explores, lulls, mulls, and lingers. With his deft hand, the world of Owen and the CLOCKWORK ANGELS becomes rich, full, and tangible. Though many have labeled this world as Steampunk—a label neither Anderson nor Peart would deny—it is much more than Steampunk as well. The pastoral quality of parts is truly pastoral and adds the Tolkienian fantastic to it all. Indeed, Anderson’s best writing—while always superb—truly shines when he is detailing the cultures that arise in distant and rural landscapes.

Equally important, though, is that Anderson is not only a great friend of Peart’s, he’s also a huge fan of Rush (and Hugh Syme). These loves show in almost every word and on every page of CLOCKWORK ANGELS. For those of us obsessed with Rush, Anderson ably rewards the reader, throwing into his novel (and the comics, and, thus, THE COMIC SCRIPTS) Easter eggs galore.

What surprises me most about THE COMIC SCRIPTS, however, is how utterly and brilliantly visual Anderson’s imagination is. Frankly, after having read much of his science fiction and some of his detective fiction, I really have no right to be surprised by any of this! Anderson is a genius at nearly every level, but he is especially excellent in and at creating a MYTHOS around, behind, and near every one of his novels. There’s a reason major international serials praised his own renditions of the XFILES as some of the best sci-fi of the 1990s. Sure, the XFILES was a great TV show. But, Anderson’s skill made the characters and the MYTHOS a thousand times better. I suppose my surprise at Anderson’s ability to visualize and imagine is, if anything, an indication of my own lack of imagination.

Looking at THE COMIC SCRIPTS, one readily sees that Anderson anticipated and then directed every single panel of the comics. He describes the emotions on the faces as well as the technology that will (certainly) jolt the reader into a sort of glee. Anderson presents every aspect of the CLOCKWORK world in all of its alchemical madness and glory.

By describing every thing visually, Anderson paints an interesting portrait of this world that could tease the Rush fan and the sci-fi/fantasy reader without end. Some day, lit crit folks will have a field day deconstructing all of this. For example, per both Peart’s and Anderson’s desires, the reader never actually sees the faces of the angels. This must be left to the individual mystery and imagination. Or, one sees that the symbol of the order-loving Clockmaker is a beehive and honeybee. The beehive looks suspiciously like the symbol of Utah, the Mormons, and the former State/Empire of Deseret. Is this intentional? I don’t know.

Or, how about the description of our hero, Owen? He is truly everyman—“He is non-ethnically specific,” Anderson explains. He “should have darker/olive skin, dark eyes, dark hair.” Anderson describes the cities of his world as Manhattan with a twist of old Berlin with a huge touch of the art deco. Could this be Gotham? Metropolis? Dark City? Of course.

Ok, but what surprises me most? That Hollywood hasn’t snatched up Anderson in a major way. Holy Moses, this guy can think, he can write, and he can imagine.

So, should you buy this latest offering from Anderson?

Do you like Rush? Yes.

Do you like science fiction? Yes.

Do you like intelligence and imagination in your fiction? Yes.

Do you like the visual arts? Yes.

For me, THE COMIC SCRIPTS is another brilliant exploration of the CLOCKWORK world. But, even if you’d never heard of Rush or even if you’ve never read the novel or the comics, this is still well worth owning. Anderson’s writing is so good, and his visual imagination is so fascinating, that THE COMIC SCRIPTS could easily (and does) stand on its own as a screenplay or as an actual stage play.

I promise—you’ll be riveted from pages 10 to 253.

Enjoy. And, Merry Christmas.

Time Warp in Boulder and Clockwork Angels

Clockwork_Angels_01_Cover_BAfter spending my first afternoon at the University of Colorado, I stopped by Time Warp Comics (  As it turns out, Neil Peart, Kevin J. Anderson, and Nick Robles have been producing a six-part comic book series of Clockwork Angels.

The first three issues are out, and I was even able to purchase a signed (by Anderson) copy of issue 1.

And, equally important, I found out that several of the guys working at Time Warp are proggers.  They were also just–not surprisingly–fantastic guys (and a gal).  So, a huge thanks to Clayton, Garrett, Michael, and Georgia!

What a store.  I’ll certainly be stopping by again.

If you’re in Boulder, make sure you check out Time Warp.

Time Warp Comics, 3105 28th Street, Boulder, CO 80301.
Time Warp Comics, 3105 28th Street, Boulder, CO 80301.

Rush’s “Clockwork Angels” Concert Video To Be Released November 19th


Attention Rush fans: Have room on your media shelf for yet another Rush concert tour video?

In what is now a familiar pattern of documenting every tour, the recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees announced a concert video from their 2012-13 Clockwork Angels tour over the summer.  Today, the 2-DVD/single BluRay received a release date: November 19th.

Captured in November 2012 at the American Airlines Arena in Dallas, the “Clockwork Angels” setlist pulls heavily from Rush’s 80’s output with tracks such as “Middletown Dreams,” “The Body Electric” and “Grand Designs,” as well as a predictable, heavy dose of material from “Clockwork Angels,” Rush’s first-ever concept album, released last year.

Of course, Rush fans know that a highlight of this tour was the eight-piece string ensemble that added their touch to the “Clockwork Angels” music as well as classic Rush tracks such as “YYZ,” marking the first time in their career that the trio brought additional musicians on tour to enhance their music.

Another big highlight was not one, but three drum solos from Neil Peart, all of which are featured in the video.  What’s more, fans will be treated to numerous special features including a new documentary, “Can’t Stop Thinking Big,” profiling the behind the scenes goings-on.

For years, Rush fans lamented how few DVD’s the group released, but since “Vapor Trails,” the group has been prolific in getting both current and past releases out. “Clockwork Angels” figures to be a must-have for both hardcore Rush fans and prog enthusiasts.

You can view the trailer here.

DVD/Bluray tracklisting:

Set One
The Big Money
Force Ten
Grand Designs
The Body Electric
The Analog Kid
Where’s My Thing?/Drum Solo #1
Far Cry

Set Two
Clockwork Angels
The Anarchist
The Wreckers
Headlong Flight/Drum Solo #2
Peke’s Repose/Halo Effect
Seven Cities of Gold
Wish Them Well
The Garden
Drum Solo #3
Red Sector A
The Spirit of Radio
Tom Sawyer

Bonus Tracks
Limelight (soundcheck recording)
Middletown Dreams
The Pass
Manhattan Project

Special Features
Can’t Stop Thinking Big (tour documentary)
Behind The Scenes
Interview With Dwush
Family Goy
Family Sawyer
The Watchmaker (intermission tour film)
Office Of The Watchmaker (closing tour film)

You Can Do a Lot in a Lifetime, If You Don’t Burn Out Too Fast – Rush, April 23, 2013 at the Frank Erwin Center, Austin, Texas

ImageJust one week after a long-overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Rush opened the second leg of their ‘Clockwork Angels’ tour – and fortunately for myself and thousands of other Texans, they did it right here in Austin.

For long-time Rush fans, a Rush concert is more than just an event where we see musicians performing their catalog in a live setting.  For us, it is something that gets into us the way dye gets into a shirt and alters its color; something that affects each of us right down to the molecular level.  This show certainly did that for me, more for reasons I will get into below.

The steampunk aesthetic of the stage setup was spectacular.  It was refreshing to see a big visual presentation to accompany the music, which is a rare thing these days.  In contrast to the 70’s, when progressive rock was bigger and had more backing by the record companies, most contemporary prog shows are played in smaller venues without the type of visuals as were present in some of the gargantuan shows of that earlier time (think ‘Yes’ on the ‘Relayer’ tour).  Rush is the rare band from that era that can still play large venues with a corresponding stage set and light show that turns the presentation into more of an event than just a live music performance.

After a long break from the road, the band seemed rested, recharged, and ready to go.  Some of Rush’s typically humorous opening video greeted the audience when the lights went down, featuring the band’s trademarked slightly bizarre humor.  The concert proper then opened with a rousing version of ‘Subdivisions’, followed a number of 80’s works.  In the first set, they did three songs from ‘Power Windows’, including ‘The Big Money’, ‘Grand Designs’, and ‘Territories’, while also managing to squeeze in ‘Limelight’, ‘Force Ten’, and ‘The Analog Kid’.  After the latter tune, the band moved into the 90’s with ‘Bravado’ and ‘Where’s My Thing’ and then into the 00’s with ‘Far Cry’, which closed out the first set.

After a short break, the band returned to the stage, this time with eight additional musicians collectively known as ‘The Clockwork Angels String Ensemble’.  This tour has been the first in which Rush has brought extra musicians on stage, and they were used to good effect here.  The string ensemble filled in some spaces while enhancing others, remaining on stage throughout the performance of ‘Clockwork Angels’ and for several songs afterwards, including a blistering performance of ‘YYZ’, which is captured through a smartphone (not mine) here.

Beginning with another entertaining bizarro-humor video (with Neil, Alex, and Geddy playing dwarfs) the second half of the show kicked off with ‘Caravan’, and followed through with most of the songs from ‘Clockwork Angels’.  Regrettably missing from that list was ‘BU2B’ and ‘Wish Them Well’, the latter being a favorite of mine not only for the music but for the life lesson within the lyrics.  A guitar snafu during ‘The Anarchist’ was a minor hiccup that left Geddy alone without melodic accompaniment for a moment, but Alex and his guitar tech had the presence of mind to quickly swap out instruments.  The performance of ‘Clockwork Angels’ concluded with a spectacular performance of ‘The Garden’, the visuals of video working great with the music here.

After concluding ‘Clockwork Angels’, the band went back into the 80’s again, with ‘Manhattan Project’, a short drum solo, ‘Red Sector A’, and ‘YYZ’.  The string ensemble exited the stage and the band closed out the set with ‘The Spirit of Radio’.  The band returned for an encore including ‘Tom Sawyer’ and ‘2112’ (‘Overture’, ‘The Temples of Syrinx’, and ‘Grand Finale’) before calling it a night for good.

I don’t have much to critique for the show, but I do have to say that the soundman could have done a better job with the mix.  It was very bass-heavy, and this caused a bit of muffling of notes, particularly on a few of Alex’s guitar solos.  But overall, that wasn’t enough to dampen the experience, which was still overwhelmingly positive.

All in all, an outstanding show, played with the energy and intensity that belied their age.

ImageAfterward, according to their Facebook page, Neil, Alex, and Geddy got in touch with their inner cavemen by devouring some Texas barbeque, as shown in the photo.  At this point of the review, you’ll have to excuse me while I go off on a tangent, but there is something in that photo that I think I need to address with the band members.  Geddy, Alex, Neil – I’m glad you enjoyed your barbeque during your most recent visit to the Republic of Texas.  The ribs and brisket are hard to beat.  However, I have to say I am a little disturbed in looking at some of the bottles on the table.  You three are Canadian boys, and therefore have Canadian genes – which means like other great Canadians, such as Bob and Doug McKenzie, you are drinkers of hearty beer.  Thus, seeing several bottles of Corona on the table gives me pause.  Corona is more or less a summertime beer – I could give you a pass on this if the gig was an outdoor gig during the sweltering months of July or August.  But last night was an unseasonably cool April night, and thus I just cannot understand the Corona.  Even more disturbing is what appears to be a bottle of Bud Light on the table.  Perhaps one of you reached for a water bottle and didn’t notice the difference?  Now, in fairness, toward the upper right corner, it does appear that some redemption is present, as I am about 90% confident that’s a bottle of Shiner Blonde.  I’ve compared the portion of the label I can see in the picture to an actual bottle of the same in my refrigerator, and the lack of a bar code on my bottle appears to be the only difference.  I’ll do more research of the label tomorrow night as I watch the NFL draft – just to be sure, you know.  Nevertheless, Shiner Blonde is a beer befitting of your Canadian DNA, guys, so I would recommend you use that to wash down your next Texas barbeque dinner.  Ok, tangent over.

This Rush concert was special in a way that says something both about Rush and their fans alike.  Not only was this my fifth Rush show, but it was the fifth different decade in which I had seen them.  Previously I had seen them in 1979 (Rupp Arena, Lexington, KY, Hemispheres tour), 1984 (Hampton Coliseum, Hampton VA, Grace Under Pressure tour), 1990 (Charlotte Coliseum, Charlotte, NC, Presto tour) and 2007 (Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, San Antonio, TX, Snakes and Arrows tour).  The 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s. Now I can add the 10’s.  I’m comfortable in saying that I’m not alone among the Rush fan base, and in fact know there are fans that have seen many, many more shows than I have, and moreover, within the same five decades.  There are not many bands out there that one can say the same about.  There are even fewer (if any bands) that one can say that about while also saying that it was with the same lineup each time.  That’s a testimony to their longevity, as well as to the loyalty of the fans that have stuck with them all of these years.  As many of you will recognize, the title of this piece is drawn from the lyrics of ‘Marathon’ off of the ‘Power Windows’ album.  And those words, written by their philosopher-drummer nearly 30 years ago, appear to be even more true now than when that album was released.  Rush, despite some serious ups and downs, has persevered and continued to make great music far beyond the time when most bands lose their creative edge.  And fans like myself and countless others, we’ve lived our lives and had our own ups and downs for all of these years, and yet we kept coming back, keep buying the albums, and keep going to the concerts because we appreciate the excellence, the professionalism, the creativity, and the wisdom inherent in the lyrics. That neither Rush nor their fans have burned out, that both have shown the endurance to stick with one another throughout the decades only proves the wisdom of the lyrics from which this review draws its title.

Thanks, guys.  Not just for last night’s show. But for everything over all of these years.