An outstanding performance by the boys from Norway. Even through tricky time signatures that require lockstep coordination of playing, Gazpacho delivers an emotional and beautiful show. Jan Henrik Ohme’s vocals are spellbinding – delicate and tremulous one minute, powerful and commanding the next. While he’s caressing the microphone, his bandmates play their hearts out. Songs I thought I knew take on new meaning and accessibility. This set is a perfect introduction to someone curious about this somewhat enigmatic and definitely magical group.
As light as Gazpacho is dark, Glass Hammer has been riding a high for the past few years – Ode To Echo and The Breaking Of The World are both instant classics. Double Live features the best cuts from those albums, as well as a terrific rendition of the epic “The Knight Of The North”. Steve Babb and Fred Schendel have been together so long they are telepathic onstage. Aaron Raulston is excellent on drums while Kamran Alan Shikoh has matured into an astonishingly inventive guitarist. Carl Groves is the best male vocalist GH has ever had, and Susie Bogdanowicz steals the show with her performance. No fancy camera work here – the music and performance are strong enough to speak for themselves.
This is a fine collection of Spock’s Beard tracks. The first disc features the best of the “Neal Morse Years”, while disc two has six tracks from Beard versions 2 and 3 (featuring Nick D’Virgilio and Ted Leonard) and a new epic featuring a big reunion of everyone. You might think that losing your lead vocalist and sole songwriter would mean the end of a band, but the Beard is nothing if not resilient. The songs from the post-Morse era certainly hold their own against anything from the first six albums. I wish they had included “The Great Nothing”, but there’s only so much space on a compact disc! Of course, long-time Beard fans want to know how the new epic, “Falling Forever” stacks up. To my ears, it’s a pleasant listen, but not particularly memorable. It’s clear that Neal’s path has diverged from the Beard’s, and each camp has its own strengths that don’t necessarily mesh into a powerful whole anymore. The DVD features performances from 1997’s Progfest interspersed with contemporary interviews of the band. It’s illuminating for the hardcore fan, but not essential.
Phenomenal growth from this band. As mentioned in the interviews included in the Blu-ray, the first album had the members somewhat tentative about critiquing each other, while during the recording of Second Flight they were much more collaborative. This is set is a terrific performance that showcases the talents of each member. Casey McPherson is a very confident frontman, and an amazing vocalist. Steve Morse’s guitar work is jaw-dropping good, and Dave LaRue almost steals the show with his bass solos. Mike Portnoy is, as usual, controlled chaos on the drums. Neal Morse plays more of a supporting role in this group, keeping in the background for the most part. “Cosmic Symphony” and “Mask Machine” are highlights, while the segue from “Colder Months” into “Peaceful Harbor” is one of the most beautiful musical moments I’ve ever heard. The quality of the Blu-ray is top-notch, both in sound and video. An excellent choice for the prog fan who enjoys the likes of Boston, or even classic Journey.
Which brings us to the big release of the year: Rush’s R40 Live. I have every live DVD Rush has released, and this isn’t the best performance. But there is something so special about this show that it will probably be the one I return to most often. There were times I caught myself thinking, “Gosh. they are looking old!”, but then I had to remind myself they’ve given of themselves so generously for 40 years. 40 years! How many bands have kept the same lineup for that long, and are still talking to each other? ZZ Top is the only one that comes to mind. The fact that this show is from Toronto makes it even more moving.
This is a top of the line production, with every possible camera angle a fan could ask for. The sound on the Blu-ray edition is outstanding; there are two surround mixes to choose from: front of stage or center of hall. The show itself is masterful – it is a trip back in time from Clockwork Angels all the way to “Working Man”.
The animated intro is hilarious – I had to go through it practically frame-by-frame to catch all of the visual puns. Every album and tour is name-checked somewhere in it. The initial stage set is very elaborate, but as the band goes back into their history, you can see workers slowly dismantle it. At the start of the second set, Alex is front of a huge stack of Marshall amps, and we’re transported to the 1970’s. By the time of the encores, Alex and Geddy are down to single amps on chairs in a high school auditorium.
My only quibbles are selfish – I wish there was at least one track from Power Windows/Hold Your Fire, and I don’t know why the bonus tracks at the end couldn’t have been inserted into their proper places in the concert video. Other than that, it’s a very good setlist.
What comes through most clearly as the concert progresses is the love and respect Alex, Geddy, and Neil have for each other. They look like they’re having the time of their lives, and they’re so glad to have several thousand fans along with them. Thanks for the ride, boys. It’s been a great one.
“We interrupt our PROGramming to bring you this prog-related aside…”
When not dominating stages throughout the land with Rush, you’re likely to find Geddy Lee occupying choice seats behind home plate at Toronto Blue Jays games, seeing as how he’s a HUGE baseball fan.
With the band having wrapped their R40 tour and with the Jays having reached the American League playoffs for the first time since 1993, it’s pretty much a given that Dirk will be there if he’s in town.
In case you missed last night’s mayhem in Toronto, feel free to Google “Blue Jays Game 5,” find the highlights, and then click below to hear Geddy’s reaction to what he saw at last night’s game.
Geddy also talks about his baseball memorabilia collection, Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson’s photographic contributions to the band, compares lead singers to starting pitchers and, if he could get into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame or the Baseball Hall of Fame, which would he choose…and is Rush really done touring?
By the way, the Jays eliminated the Texas Rangers to advance to the American League Championship Series, so it’s a safe bet that we’ll see our favorite bass player even more this October!
“We now join our regularly-scheduled PROGramming, already in progress (and still on the same epic song, no doubt).”
Following up on the recent release of the “Roll The Bones” video from Rush’s upcoming “R40 LIVE” concert film, the boys have posted a clip to one of the highlights of the R40 tour (and “Permanent Waves,” for that matter): “Jacobs Ladder.”
Spoiler Alert: If you are planning on attending an upcoming Rush concert on this tour and don’t want the setlist spoiled for you, then it’s advisable to not read this. But even if somehow the setlist does get spoiled for you? It won’t make any difference. It’s not the surprise of what they are playing on this tour that makes the show great – it’s that they are playing these songs. At that moment, you won’t be caring whether the surprise was spoiled or not, you’ll just be thrilled that you are there as a witness to greatness.
During the months from May through September, I usually welcome rain. Anyone who has endured the heat of a few central Texas summers (which start early and last a long time) will understand exactly what I’m talking about. But it’s important to remember the old saying about “be careful what you wish for”. We have received a much greater than normal amount of rain lately, including a torrential downpour the day before the show, and a good soaking rain on the morning after. But for May 16, the weather gods smiled upon us. The clouds did part, and legions of Rush fans were treated – and I do mean treated – to a concert for the ages in the relatively new outdoor venue of the Austin 360 Amphitheater.
In defiance of Albert Einstein, Rush started at the present and took the audience back in time, album by album, dusting off some long unplayed classics along the way. Of their 19 studio albums, 15 were represented in the setlist. Only Test for Echo, Presto, Hold Your Fire, and Power Windows were left unrepresented. Of course, that meant every album from their debut up to and through Grace Under Pressure had at least one song. It also meant that some classic albums, such as 1977’s A Farewell To Kings, had multiple entries in the set. And as the show closed, they even gave us a taste of a song that predates their first album.
Starting out with three songs from Clockwork Angels (The Anarchist, The Wreckers and Headlong Flight), the band then worked backward to Far Cry, The Main Monkey Business, How It Is, Animate, Roll The Bones (with some very entertaining video in the rap section), Between The Wheels, and closed out the first set with Subdivisions. It was a strong first half, and the inclusion of songs like Animate and Roll The Bones (which I had never seen performed live) and How It Is (never performed live before this tour) made it even better. The band was tight and yet having fun as well. But the best was yet to come.
The second half opened with Tom Sawyer (complete with the South Park introductory video), and things just got better from there. The first real stunner of the show came when the introductory synthesizers of The Camera Eye bubbled up from the background noise and led into another gem I had long wanted to see performed in a live setting. And man, did they deliver the goods. As the band played through the portion leading up to the first verse, fellow Progarchist Kevin McCormick turned to me and exclaimed on how “meaty” were the power chords of Alex Lifeson. Indeed, they were, meaty enough to throw on the grill and make a meal. The entire performance of the song was nothing short of scintillating.
Things just got better. After an obligatory (and excellent) rendition of The Spirit of Radio, we were treated to another rarely-performed-live gem: Jacob’s Ladder. After being threatened by the weatherman with real thunderstorms, this was the only one that actually occurred, and it was most welcome. By this point, my fellow concertgoers and I were beside ourselves with joy, showing our appreciation between songs with the same enthusiasm – and loudness – as we all must have at our respective first Rush concerts back in our teenage years.
The next one really threw me for a loop, as the band gave us a live performance of the first part of Hemispheres. Despite standing for the entire show, my jaw momentarily hit the ground when this one started. I was fortunate enough to see Hemisphere played in its entirety at my first Rush show in 1979, but I don’t believe they’ve played any of this epic since then. But on this night they did give us at least a piece of it, and the best part at that.
From there, they moved back to A Farewell To Kings, and gave us some instrumental sections of Hemisphere’s prelude, Cygnux X, Book I, with the song punctuated by a Neil Peart drum solo. Closer to the Heart followed, and after that, another highlight of the show for yours truly, Xanadu. Both Geddy Lee and Alex pulled out the double-neck axes for the performance of this piece, and had the donned their kimonos of the era, I would have sworn it was 1977 all over again. The irony was not lost on me that during a song about the inability to create Heaven on Earth, Rush seemed to do just that.
Following that, we were treated to Parts I, II, IV, and VII of their breakthrough classic, 2112. That led us to the end of the show proper, but there was no question that an encore was coming. As such, they closed out the show with Lakeside Park, Anthem, What You’re Doing, and Working Man – with a snippet of Garden Road thrown in for good measure. The show was over, but the euphoria was not. I cannot speak for the rest of my concert-going entourage, but despite being tired when I arrived home, it was only with great difficulty that I finally fell asleep. I was simply too wired from what I had witnessed – quite simply, the best Rush concert of the six I have been fortunate enough to attend, and one of the best (if not the best) concert of all those I have seen. There is some tough competition from a few Yes shows I have seen, but this one is definitely in the running for my best ever. And as much I have loved Yes for many years, there is no way at this stage that they could put on a show as incredibly fantastic as this.
The Last Man Standing
Of all the progressive rock bands that emerged in the 1970’s commercial heyday of that genre, Rush truly is the last man standing. Yes is still around, but in a diminished form (and I mean no disrespect to current vocalist Jon Davison, who is a great talent). With the split between Ian Anderson and Martin Barre, Jethro Tull is no more. King Crimson s touring under the Mk 7,396 lineup – or is it lineup Mk 7,395 (King Crimson being the one band that could make a current or former Yes member exclaim “damn, that band goes through a lot of personnel changes!). And Genesis is long gone from their glory days of the Gabriel/Hackett era. But last night, here was Rush, still in the same form as they were when “new guy” Peart joined prior to their first US tour, still touring big venues, still putting on not just a concert, but a spectacular multimedia presentation that is beyond the reach of virtually any other prog band currently in existence. This leads me to a few additional thoughts.
Much has been written here at Progarchy and elsewhere regarding the changing of the music business and the effect of the internet on the same. For those of us who love prog, this has mostly been a boon, an incredible boon at that. The current prog scene is alive and very vibrant, matching the glory days of the 1970’s in terms of quality while overwhelming that era in terms of quantity. Back then, one could keep up with the new releases. Nowadays, there are simply too many.
But while the music industry has changed in many ways for the better of us prog fans, one of the few laments I have is that I won’t likely ever get to see many of the current acts I like perform in a live setting. I most definitely will not get to see them put on a show like Rush still does, in a larger venue with the lights and big screen video that enhances the concert-going experience. But rather than dwell on that too much, instead I will choose to be thankful. Thankful that I did get to experience such a thing. Thankful that in a 35 year span within their 40 years plus career, I’ve been lucky enough to have seen Rush six times, and thankful that one of my favorite bands of my youth is still relevant, perhaps even more relevant.
This wasn’t lost on me as I thought about some of my fellow concert goers. The group with whom I attended ranged in age from 15 to 50 (with yours truly being the geezer of that bunch). The two youngest members of the group have not been alive long enough to experience many concerts of this magnitude, and with the change in the music industry, will probably not experience too many more, unless they want to see record company creations like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. For them, they were fortunate enough that they were able to see this show, and in time, they will realize how lucky they were.
For the older members of the entourage, we are lucky that we have been able to follow Rush for decades, much longer than most bands ever last. We have seen them continue to stay relevant and make music of the highest excellence through shifting musical trends and technological and economic currents that have upended the music business, morphing it into something unimaginable when they first started. Consistency and excellence, fueled by integrity that allowed them to benefit from the old order without being swallowed by it. And for that, they were able to give us, the fans, a career retrospective that will not soon be forgotten, and one that they seemed to enjoy playing as much as we enjoyed witnessing. Just as Geddy thanked us fans before leaving the stage the final time, let me turn around and say Thank YOU, Geddy and Rush. While I don’t like to presumptuously speak for others, this is one time I’m confident I’m speaking for everybody who had the good fortune to be there last night.
Hat tip to Kevin McCormick for the original idea for the above meme 🙂
N.B. This post should be approached with caution. It is at least PG-13, if not NC17. Not for language, but for personal revelation and content. Additionally, I’ve written about one or two of these things before, especially about Peart as a big brother. Please don’t fear thinking—“hey, I’ve read this before.” But, even the few things I’ve mentioned before are here rewritten. Final note: for an exploration of Peart’s Stoicism, see Erik Heter’s excellent piece on the subject, here at progarchy.com.
As I’ve mentioned before in these pages and elsewhere, few persons, thinkers, or artists have shaped my own view of the world as strongly as has Neil Peart, Canadian drummer, lyricist, writer, and all-around Renaissance man. I’ve never met him, but I’ve read all of his words and listened to all of his songs. I’ve been following this man since the spring of 1981 when two fellow inmates of seventh-grade detention explained to me the “awesomeness” of Rush. My compatriots, Troy and Brad (a different Brad), were right. Thank God I got caught for doing some thing bad that day. Whatever I did, my punishment (detention) led to a whole new world for me, one that would more than once save my life.
Having grown up in a family that cherished music of all types, I was already a fan of mixing classical, jazz, and rock. Rush’s music, as it turned out, did this as well as any band.
While the music captivated me, the lyrics set me free. I say this with no hyperbole. I really have no idea how I would have made it out of high school and through the dysfunctional (my step father is serving a 13-year term in prison, if this gives you an idea how nasty the home was) home life without Peart. I certainly loved my mom and two older brothers, but life, frankly, was hell.
I know that Peart feels very uncomfortable when his fan project themselves on him, or imagine him to be something he is not. At age 13, I knew absolutely nothing about the man as man, only as drummer and lyricist. Thus, even in 1981, I absorbed his lyrics, not directly his personality. Though, I’m sure many of Peart’s words reflect his personality as much as they reflect his intellect.
Rush gave me so much of what I needed in my teen years. At 13, I had completely rejected the notion of a benevolent God. He existed, I was fairly sure, but He was a puppet master of the worst sort, a manipulative, Machiavellian tyrant who found glee in abuse and exploitation. As a kid, I was bright and restless, and I resented all forms of authority, sometimes with violent intent. Still, as we all do, I needed something greater than myself, a thing to cherish and to hold, a thing to believe in.
I immersed myself in science fiction, fantasy, and rock music. Not a tv watcher in the least, I would put the headphones on, turns off the lights in my bedroom, lock the door, and immerse myself in the musical stories of Genesis, the Moody Blues, ELO, ELP, Alan Parsons, Yes, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, and, especially, Rush. I could leave the horrors of my house for roughly 44 minutes at a time.
Scratch, scratch, side one. Zip, turn. Scratch, scratch, side two.
Rock music was the sanctuary of my world. But, not just any rock. ZZ Top and REO Speedwagon might be fun when out on a drive, but I needed a work of art that demanded full immersion. I needed prog. I was not only safe in these rhythmic worlds, I was intellectually and spiritually alive, exploring innumerable realms. Pure, unadulterated escape. But, escape into a maze of wonders.
The first time I heard the lyrics (at age 13, the spring of 1981) to “Tom Sawyer,” I knew Rush was MY band. It seemed as though Peart was talking specifically to me, Bradley Joseph Birzer. That’s right. To 13-year old Brad in Hutchinson, Kansas. Peart was 15 years older than I, and he must have gone through the same things I had. Or so I thought. Again, I knew him only through his lyrics. But, did I ever cherish those lyrics. I lingered over each word, contemplated not just the ideas, but the very structures of lyrics as a whole.
Though his mind is not for rent
Don’t put him down as arrogant
His reserve a quiet defense
Riding out the day’s events
No, his mind is not for rent to any God or Government
Always hopeful, yet discontent [corrected from my original typos]
He knows changes aren’t permanent, but change is
Though I’ve never given any aspect of my life to the Government (nor do I have plans to do so), I long ago surrendered much of myself to the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity and to His Mother. While I’m no modern Tom Sawyer at age 47, I still find the above lyrics rather comforting. And, I do so in a way that is far beyond mere nostalgia.
Armed with Peart’s words and convictions, I could convince myself to walk to Liberty Junior High and, more importantly, to traverse its halls without thinking myself the most objectified piece of meat in the history of the world. Maybe, just maybe, I could transcend, sidestep, or walk directly through what was happening back at home. I could still walk with dignity through the groves of the academy, though my step father had done everything short of killing me back while in our house.
[N.B. This is the PG13 part of the essay] And, given all that was going on with my step father, the thought of killing myself crossed my mind many, many times in junior high and high school. I had become rather obsessed with the notion, and the idea of a righteous suicide, an escape from on purposeless life hanged tenebrous across my soul. After all, if I only existed to be exploited, to be a means to end, what purpose did life have.
What stopped me from ending it all? I’m still not sure, though such desires seemed to fade away rather quickly when I escaped our house on Virginia Court in Kansas and began college in northern Indiana. Not surprisingly, my first real friendship in college—one I cherish and hold to this day—came from a mutual interest in all things Rush. In fact, if anything, my friend (who also writes for this site) was an even bigger Rush fan than myself! I’d never met such a person.
Regardless, from age 13 to 18, I can say with absolute certainty that some good people, some good books, and some good music saved my life, more than once. Neil Peart’s words of integrity and individualism and intellectual curiosity stood at the front and center of that hope.
Perhaps even more importantly to me than Moving Pictures (“Tom Sawyer,” quoted above) were Peart’s lyrics for the next Rush album, Signals. On the opening track, a song about resisting conformity, Peart wrote:
Growing up, it all seemed so one-sided
Opinions all provided, the future predecided
Detached and subdivided in the mass production zone
No where is the dreamer or misfit so alone
There are those who sell their dreams for small desires
And lose their race to rats
Even at 14, I knew I would not be one who sold my dreams for small desires. I wanted to be a writer—in whatever field I found myself—and I would do what it took to make it through the horrible home years to see my books on the shelves of a libraries and a bookstores. Resist and renew. Renew and resist. Again, such allowed me to escape the abyss of self annihilation.
Indeed, outside of family members (though, in my imagination, I often think of Peart as one of my older brothers—you know; he was the brilliant one with the goofy but cool friends, the guys who did their own thing regardless of what anyone thought). From any objective standpoint, as I look back over almost five decades of life, I can claim that Peart would rank with St. Augustine, St. Francis, John Adams, T.S. Eliot, Willa Cather, Ray Bradbury, Russell Kirk, and J.R.R. Tolkien as those I would like to claim as having saved me and shaped me. If I actually live up to the example of any of these folks, however, is a different question . . .
I also like to say that Peart would have been a great big brother not just because he was his own person, but, most importantly, because he introduced me as well as an entire generation of North Americans (mostly males) to the ideas of Heraclitus, Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Cicero, Seneca, Petrarch, Erasmus, Voltaire, Adam Smith, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, T.S. Eliot, J.R.R. Tolkien, and others.
During my junior year of high school, I wrote an essay on the meaning of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, based on Peart’s interpretation. I earned some form of an A. In one of my core humanities courses, while at the University of Notre Dame, I wrote my major sophomore humanities term paper about the cultural criticisms of Neil Peart as found in his lyrics to the 1984 album, Grace Under Pressure. Again, I received an A.
I’m not alone in this love of Rush. The band is, of course, one of the highest selling rock acts of all time, and they are just now crossing the line into their fortieth anniversary. Arguably, no other band has had as loyal a following as had Rush. Thousands and thousands of men (and some women) faithfully attend sold-out concerts throughout North and South America to this day. This is especially true of North American men, ages 35 to 65. Now, as is obvious at concerts, an entirely new generation of Rush fans is emerging, the children of the original set.
Telling, critics have almost always despised Rush, seeing them as having betrayed the blues-based tradition of much of rock, exchanging it for a European (and directly African rather than African-American) tradition of long form, complexity, and bizarrely shifting time signatures. Such a direction and style became unbearable for the nasty writers of the largest music magazines. They have felt and expressed almost nothing but disdain for such an “intellectually-pretentious band,” especially a band that has openly challenged the conformist ideologues of the Left while embracing art and excellence in all of its forms. Elitist rags such as the horrid Rolling Stone and equally horrid NME have time and time again dismissed Rush as nothing but smug middle-class rightists.
That so many have hated them so powerfully has only added to my attraction to the band, especially those who came of age in 1980s, despising the conformist hippies who wanted to mould my generation in their deformed image. Rolling Stone and NME spoke for the oppressive leftist elite, and many of my generation happily made rude gestures toward their offices and their offal. I had no love of the ideologues of the right, either. But, they weren’t controlling the schools in the 1980s. Their leftist idiotic counterparts were in charge. They had no desire for excellence. They demanded conformity and mediocrity.
[The best visual representation of this widespread if ultimately ineffective student revolt in the 1980s can be found in “The Breakfast Club” by John Hughes (RIP).]
To make it even more real for me, the parents of Geddy Lee, the lead singer and bassist of Rush, had survived the Polish holocaust camps, and the parents of Alex Lifeson, the lead guitarist of the band, had escaped from the Yugoslavian gulag. Peart came from a Canadian farming community, his father an entrepreneur. No prima donnas were these men. They understood suffering, yet they chose to rise above it. And, of course, this makes the British music press even more reprehensible for labeling the members of Rush as rightest or fascist. Again, I offer the most dignified description for Rolling Stone and NME possible: “ideological fools and tools.”
Enter Rob Freedman
In his outstanding 2014 book, Rush: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness (Algora Press), author, philosopher, and media specialist Rob Freedman has attempted to explain not just Peart’s popularity among his multitude of fans—some of the most dedicated in the music world—but also the Canuck drummer’s actual set of ideas and explored beliefs in his books and lyrics. Not surprisingly, Freedman finds the Canadian a man deeply rooted in the western tradition, specifically in the traditions of western humanism and individualism.
As Freedman notes, one can find three themes in all of Peart’s lyrics: individualism; classical liberalism; and humanism. It’s worth observing that Freedman has formal training in academic philosophy, and this shows in his penetrating discussion of the music as well as the words of Rush.
Relying on interviews with the band, the music journalism (much of it bogus and elitist idiocy) of the last forty years, and actually serious works of Rush criticism, such as that done admirably by Steve Horwitz in Rush and Philosophy (Open Court, 2011), Freedman offers not so much a biography of the band, but rather a map of their intellectual influences and expressions. Freedman possesses a great wit in his writing, and the book—relatively short at 164 pages—flows and flows, time standing still until the reader reaches the end. For all intents and purposes, Freedman’s book serves as an intellectual thriller, a page turner.
As a lover of Rush, I have a few (very few) quibbles with Freedman’s take. Mostly, from my not so humble perspective, Freedman gives way too much space to such charlatans as Barry Miles of the English New Music Express who claimed Rush promoted neo-fascism in the late 1970s. Freedman, while disagreeing with Miles, bends over backwards defending Miles’s point of view, as it did carry immense weight in the 1970s and wounded the band deeply. From my perspective, there is no excuse for Miles. He maliciously manipulated and twisted the words of Peart—using his lyrics and a personal interview—which were as deeply anti-fascistic as one could possibly imagine (paeans to creativity and individualism) and caused unnecessary damage to the reputation of three men, two of whom who had parents who had survived the horrors of the twentieth-century ideologues, as noted above. Miles’s take on Rush is simply inexcusable and no amount of justification explains his wickedness and cthluthic insensibilities toward three great artists. Dante best understood where such “men” spent eternity.
I also believe that Freedman underplays the role of Stoicism in his book. The venerable philosophy barely receives a mention. Yet, in almost every way, Peart is a full-blown Stoic. In his own life as well as his own actions, Peart has sought nothing but excellence as conformable to the eternal laws of nature. This is the Stoicism of the pagans, admittedly, and not of the Jews or Christians, but it is Stoicism nonetheless. Freedman rightly notes that Plato and, especially, Aristotle influenced Peart. But, so did Zeno, Virgil, Cicero, and Seneca. This comes across best in Peart’s lyrics for “Natural Science” (early Rush), “Prime Mover” (middle Rush), and in “The Way the Wind Blows” (recent Rush). In each of these songs, Peart presents a view of the world with resignation, recognizing that whatever his flaws, man perseveres. Erik Heter and I have each attempted to explore this aspect of Peart’s writings at progarchy. Heter has been quite successful at it.
As the risk of sounding cocky, I offer what I hope is high praise for Freedman. I wish I’d written this book.
Peart as Real Man
In the late 1990s, Peart experienced immense tragedy. A horrible set of events ended the life of his daughter and, quickly after, his wife. Devastated, Peart got on his motorcycle (he’s an avid cyclist and motorcyclist) and rode throughout the entirety of North America for a year. It was his year in the desert, so to speak.
Then, in 2002, Rush re-emerged and released its rockingly powerful album, Vapor Trails. The men were the same men (kind of), but the band was not the same band. This twenty-first century Rush, for all intents and purposes, is Rush 2.0. This is a much more mature as well as a much more righteously angry and yet also playful Rush. This is a Rush that has nothing to prove except to themselves. The last albums—Vapor Trails (2002); Snakes and Arrows (2007); and Clockwork Angels (2012)—have not only been among the best in the huge Rush catalogue, but they are some of the best albums made in the last sixty years. They soar with confidence, and they promote what Rush has always done best: excellence, art, creativity, distrust of authority, and dignity of the human person.
Peart is not quite the hard-core libertarian of his youth. In his most recent book, Far and Near, he explains,
The great Western writer Edward Abbey’s suggestion was to catch them [illegal immigrants], give them guns and ammunition, and send them back to fix the things that made them leave. But Edward Abbey was a conservative pragmatist, and I am a bleeding-heart libertarian==who also happens to be fond of Latin Americans. The ‘libertarian’ in me thinks people should be able to go where they want to go, and the ‘bleeding heart’ doesn’t want them to suffer needlessly” [Far and Near, 58]
If he has lost any of his former political fervor, he’s lost none of his zest for life and for art. “My first principle of art is ‘Art is the telling of stories.’ What might be called the First Amendment is ‘Art must transcend its subject’.” [Far and Near, 88]
These twenty-first century albums speak to me at age 47 as much as the early albums spoke to me at age 13. I’ve grown up, and so has Rush. Interestingly, this doesn’t make their early albums seem childish, only less wise.
After my wife and I lost our own daughter, Cecilia Rose, I wrote a long letter to Neil Peart, telling him how much the events of his life—no matter how tragic—had shaped my own response to life. I included a copy of my biography of J.R.R. Tolkien. Mr. Peart sent me back an autographed postcard as thanks.
I framed it, and it will be, until the end of my days, one of my greatest possessions.
After all, Neil Peart has not just told me about the good life, creativity, and integrity, he has shown me through his successes and his tragedies—and thousands and thousands of others—that each life holds a purpose beyond our own limited understandings. As with all things, Peart takes what life has given and explodes it to the level of revelation.
Just today, our own progarchist and professional classicist and philosopher, Chris Morrissey, challenged us to name our top ten Rush albums. Not alphabetically, but actually in the order we love them.
So, I feel up to the challenge.
As I hope I’ve been clear in my writings here and elsewhere—I love Rush, and I have without interruption since I first heard MOVING PICTURES back when I was in detention in 7th grade! Yes, that was the spring of 1981, only a month after the album came out.
I can never offer enough thanks to my fellow junior high detainees, Brad and Troy, for introducing me to this band. At the time, they were shocked I knew everything about Genesis and nothing about Rush. Thank God for their evangelism.
Now, thirty-three years later, I would give much to call Neil Peart my older brother. That said, I can state unequivocally that in my own life, Peart’s lyrics have shaped me as much as any other great artist and thinker. Really, he’s up there with St. Augustine for me. As a Catholic boy (well, middle-aged, graying, Catholic man), this is saying a lot!
Of course, such a list is subjective, and I might be tempted to follow up tomorrow with a slightly different list. Regardless, here it is: as of June 30, 2014.
Grace Under Pressure. Coming out in 1984, this album has ever since defined the meaning of excellence and seriousness for me. I love the music, the flow, and, especially, the lyrics. Not only have the lyrics prompted innumerable great conversations with friends, but I proudly wrote my major liberal-arts core paper (sophomore year in college, 1987-1988) using nothing but the lyrics from this album. I argued that Neil Peart was a modern stoic, a philosopher of antiquity born in the modern world. I earned an A!
Moving Pictures (1981). I’m sure this isn’t controversial, except that most Rush fans would probably rate it number one. It means a great deal to me, and it has formed me—for better or worse—in my own understanding of integrity.
Clockwork Angels (2012). What a feast for the mind and the ears. The flow of the album is gorgeous as are the lyrics. Really, a great story—more of a fairy tale than anything else. The story is essentially the story of Hemispheres, but it’s told with much greater finesse. That it came at 38 years into their career is astounding, and it proves that the desire of each member of Rush to improve himself and his skills has not been a pipe dream. Highlight, the single most un-Rush like song, is “The Garden,” a statement of republican liberty and individualism. And, “Wish Them Well,” is the closest Rush will ever get to hippie/Beatle lyrics. Let the air drumming commence!
Power Windows (1985). As someone who loves both prog and New Wave, I heartily approve of Power Windows. Lifeson’s guitar has much more in common with The Fixx than it does with Rush’s output in the 1970s, but it demonstrates and reveals a real willingness to explore new areas of music. It’s fusion of New Wave and Prog was rivaled only by Yes’s Drama. And, the lyrics. . . sheesh. Neil is at his best.
Signals (1982). I know a lot of old-time Rush fans think little of this album, as they see it as a betrayal of the “true Rush.” But, schnikees has it meant a great deal to me. The lyrics, especially, have given me great comfort. Even this spring as I had make a major life decision, Peart’s words, “there are those who sell their dreams for small desires.” The entire first side is masterful musically as well. I don’t think side two is as strong, but it’s still quite good.
Caress of Steel (1975). Man, is this album wacky or what? And, in large part, I love it for being so weird. Musically, it’s unlike almost anything else out there—by Rush or anyone else. There’s as much acid folk on this album as there is hard rock and prog. But, really, By-tor? Snowdog? The Necromancer? I have no idea what Geddy, Alex, and Neil were thinking or smoking when they made this, but, wow, does it all work.
Vapor Trails (2002). This album is nothing if not a pure statement of life. “I’m alive,” Neil screams in every beat and every lyric of this album, especially after the horrific tragedies he suffered. And, he most certainly is a live. From the opening drums to the massive swirl of guitars and Geddy’s vocals throughout, this is a work of artistic brilliance, meaning, and drive. I never tire of this album.
Snakes and Arrows (2007). Again, this is part of Rush 2.0, the band that remade itself after Neil’s double tragedies. Everything in Snakes and Arrows is perfect. Again, the flow of the album just works brilliantly. And, the fusions and various styles are just fascinating. Neil’s lyrics are a bit angrier than usual, but still quite a effective.
A Farewell to Kings (1977). What’s not to love? The entire album reeks of integrity. Kevin McCormick, on this site, has explained in loving and intricate detail the musical importance of the album in ways I never good. But from the first notes of the guitar to the dire plight of Cygnus, I’m in!
2112 (1976). As Drew commented on Chris’s original challenge, 2112 is a tough one to rank because side one is so radically different from side two. I agree. But, side one is so incredible that it makes up for any flaws in the album. Who can’t just start head-banging when the Overture begins? Who doesn’t want to just hate the priests? And, who isn’t disheartened when the Solar Federation reassumes control. Sigh. . . sci-fi loveliness.
Long to longish progarchist posts on Rush Hold your Fire -Rush’s finest? by Tad Wert (*progarchy’s single most popular post ever)
Foggy skies may have stood in the way of Rush’s Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson from receiving their honorary doctorates from Nipissing University yesterday (June 12th) in person, but it didn’t stop them from recording very insightful speeches for the graduating class.
Embedded below, Lee and Lifeson’s speeches reflect on their past experiences, both personal and as bandmates, and drove home to the graduates the value of hard work and perseverance.
Clocking in together at just over five minutes, their speeches are short and straight to the point but pack a heartfelt punch. If anyone in your family is set to graduate soon (or just needs a boost of inspiration), you’ll want to pass these videos on.
I don’t know how many people can actually point to a single moment that changed their lives forever and for the better. Yes, many would point to traditional milestones such as a graduation, wedding day, the birth of their children, etc. All valid events and experiences, to be sure.
I’m talking about something different. Something that might be best termed, to quote Robert Fripp, a “point of seeing.” A singular experience that truly alters your life’s course, where you can look back on that point, that one moment in your life where “your earth” seemingly moved under you. Everything in your world, everything you know, the very lens in which you viewed the world forever changed because of that moment.
Many might cite a religious experience as fitting the bill described above. For me, it was a musical experience.
First, a little backstory…
As a pre-teen kid from around 1978 to 1980, my musical “sun” rose and set with KISS, a band I spent hours upon hours listening to, reading about and talking about. I drew their iconic logo on anything I could find, thumb-tacking any poster of them I could come across on my bedroom walls and ceiling, playing air guitar and drums to them, dressing up like one of them (Ace, circa “Dynasty”) for Halloween, and just staring at their album covers for hours on end. As a beginning drummer, I first picked up the basics of rhythmically separating both hands and feet playing along to “Strutter” while on a family vacation.
Despite this level of fandom, my level of music appreciation probably wasn’t too different from most kids growing up at that time. Having been born in the late 1960’s to parents who parents who kept a couple dozen albums – “Meet the Beatles” and “Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite” among others – in the record bin of their furniture-sized record player/stereo (yet didn’t really use it), I cut my musical teeth on late-70’s pop, AOR and disco that came across AM radio. Artists such as Styx, Foreigner, The Bee Gees, Cheap Trick, AC/DC, and a couple others were among my first active musical experiences as opposed to passive ones.
That all changed In the spring of 1981 in a Northern California suburb, when a kid two doors down from me invited me over one afternoon following school to hear some music from a band called Rush. I knew nothing of Rush save for an entry in a late-70’s World Almanac that showed a number of their albums going gold or platinum. That was it.
I walked into my friend’s parents’ family room, sat cross-legged on an off-white, plush carpet floor as he took out an album, placed on the turntable and sat down near me.
The next 4 minutes and 33 seconds changed me forever.
It was “Tom Sawyer,” the leadoff track from Rush’s new album, “Moving Pictures.”
The blend of instruments, how every instrument fit perfectly into this new (to me) music, the spacey sound that triggers throughout and, of course, a level of drumming I hadn’t heard before. It was rock and roll, yes, but the sound that spilled out of the stereo speakers was on a level of which I had no prior knowledge.
Without knowing anything about Rush, without knowing anything about the genre of music I was experiencing for the first time, I was hooked on this music.
I hadn’t even begun to decipher what was sung, but no matter; to paraphrase another quote of Fripp’s, “…music leaned over and took me into its confidence. I honestly can’t remember if my neighbor played it again after the first listen or not; for all I know, I probably went home in a daze.
Whenever I “came to,” I’m certain my first order of business was to ask my parents for some money so I could go to my small town’s record shop and see if they had “Tom Sawyer.” Despite it not quite being a Top 40 single in the U.S., it had been released as a single and the store had a copy in stock.
So, for the next month or so, I proceeded to listen to my “Tom Sawyer” 7-inch single over and over (not so much the B-side, “Witch Hunt,” at the time), never tiring of it and surely wearing out my family who heard the same song from my bedroom every weeknight and weekend.
Later, with school out and with some half-decent grades, I was rewarded with the opportunity to buy a couple albums and “Moving Pictures” was, of course, the only album I really cared about owning. The rest of my summer was mostly spent holed up in my bedroom, playing one side of “Moving Pictures” and then the other, over and over, every day.
With what was possibly my first album lyric sheet, I first memorized the lyrics to the six songs with vocals and later began to draw mental pictures of what Neil Peart wrote (with Pye Dubois’ help on “Tom Sawyer”) and what Geddy Lee sang, most of those pictures still vivid all these years later, available simply by playing any of the songs on the album…the “repeatable experience” that Peart has commented on.
I’ve never been able to recreate that first-listen experience, no matter how many hundreds times I played it again that year and the (likely) thousands of times I’ve heard it in the last 33 years. It was almost like the Nexus in “Star Trek Generations,” where Guinan explained to Captain Picard that being in the Nexus was like “being inside joy,” prompting one to do ANYTHING to get back to that place.
“Tom Sawyer” gave me my first exposure to a philosophy put to music:
“No his mind is not for rent…to any god or government.”
What a WAY of thinking for an impressionable teen! Only years of maturity keeps me from determinedly thrusting my fist into the air any time I hear that line sung.
“Red Barchetta” was the first telling of a short story put to music I had heard, “YYZ” was my first rock instrumental (rock bands PLAY instrumentals?) and “Limelight” seemed like the perfect side closer. Really, is there a better album side (of songs) in progressive rock? In all of rock?
“The Camera Eye” was the first epic I ever heard; the intro to it remains one of my all-time favorite intros. “Witch Hunt” initially served as a perfect soundtrack to drawing up AD&D adventures in my bedroom – yes, I was THAT kind of kid – and much later I came to really appreciate Alex Lifeson’s riffs on that track. Finally, while reggae was an unknown genre to me, I came to like “Vital Signs” as something different, more “digital” in the sequencers, shimmering chords and tight snare in the track – and boy, would we be treated to something different on their next album!
The front and back covers of “Moving Pictures” are legendary images to me, as are the sleeve notes, lyrics (down to the fonts) and the images of the band playing their instruments; until that point, the only pictures of them I saw were the ones from the “Tom Sawyer” single and I didn’t who played what!
Aside from being exposed to a couple Rush classics such as “Fly By Night” and “Working Man” – both doing almost nothing for me as they lacked the modern sounds and playing of “Moving Pictures,” my next Rush album was “Exit..Stage Left,” then I moved backwards to take in – in order – “2112,” “Permanent Waves,” “Hemispheres” and “A Farewell To Kings,” all before “Signals” came out in the fall of 1982.
“Moving Pictures” turned out to be the first of four albums that would define and dominate the soundtrack of my life: 1982 brought me “Asia,” in 1983, Yes’ “90125” was released and soon after I got my first listen to their previous masterwork, ‘Drama.” While these albums might not carry the same level of adoration for many that numerous progressive rock albums of the ’60’s and ’70’s do, they set me on a musical journey that continues today, pointing me towards a genre of music where MUSIC is valued above all else.
However, I can trace my love of music in general – which, to me, is like breathing – as well as anything I do musically, back to those 4 minutes and 33 seconds on a spring day in 1981, when I experienced “Tom Sawyer” for the first time…