Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Listen w/o Prejudice: Rush

The third in a four-part series. Click here for the Preamble.

Rush is the Star Trek of rock.

Geddy Lee is the Jewish Kirk. Neil Peart is Spock. And Alex Lifeson's gotta be Bones McCoy. Instead of pointy Vulcan ears, we air drum every detail of Peart's solo from "YYZ" or "The Rhythm Method." Instead of bathing in Shatner's overdone melodrama, we shriek along with Geddy's trill voice.

Those who love Rush are blindly devoted. We can't remotely figure out why their songs aren't blaring out of speakers in millions of homes every day and night.

Just as Trekkies (or Trekkers) can tell you the episode numbers of specific lines or specific villains, Rushies can identify the song -- and probably chorus or verse -- of any given riff or lyrical line from the band's entire collection. Some fans, like myself, have a devotion that is more decidedly Rush: The Next Generation as opposed to Old School Rush. My undying devotion for All Things Rush doesn't really kick in until Permanent Waves, although there's plenty to adore about the older stuff, too.

I am a Rushie mostly because my friends were Rushies. Andy, my three-years-older friend since before I wore my first pair of Underoos, started playing these guys for us on his turntable when he could sneak away Exit... Stage Left from his brother's collection. It probably didn't hurt that, at just the time we were really discovering this band, we were also heavily into Dungeons + Dragons and J.R.R. Tolkein's collection.

Yes, I realize this makes the entire Rush thing pathetically predictable. Didn't Rush's entire fan base come from goobers who played D+D and loved the LOTR trilogy, you may be asking yourself? And if you are asking yourself that, you're a mean person. A bully or a bully wannabe. Go listen to your death metal and leave us geeky prog-rockers alone.

The first song I ever remember making me think, Yeah, this is my kind of band wasn't "Tom Sawyer" or "The Spirit of Radio," but the lesser-known "Red Barchetta." It was about a teen, a car, and an open road. Although I wasn't remotely interested in cars or going so fast I might die in them, it was a story I could connect with, and the music arced so well with the words. And -- let's be honest -- that one dude could pound the crap out of those drums. (For the record, it also most definitely qualifies as a great storytelling song, per Bob's post from yesterday.)

After "Red Barchetta," it didn't take much work to want to listen to "YYZ" and "Tom Sawyer" over and over. And because I only had a cassette tape copy of the concert, this required my rewinding, waiting, and playing. Rewinding, waiting, and playing. Back in the '80s, if you really loved a song, you had to endure silence and the imperfect art of searching for its beginning when you rewound. It was so much more of a dedicated love than you whipper-snappers have now, with your REPEAT button. You kids don't know what love is!

But that's for another time.

What Rush fans adore, what is the pinnacle of Great Rock for us, is instrumental mastery, technical dead-on balls accuracy*, and lyrical poetry that explores topics beyond getting laid... or breaking up after getting laid... or reuniting after breaking up after getting laid.
We drool at their concerts because the only thing more breathtaking for us than masterfully-arranged and tightly-produced recorded songs is to hear them played live, by only three people, missing nary a note, a beat, or a word.

Rush is, for all intents and purposes, the anti-jam band. The magic of their music is not the ability to stretch one song into a 20-minute walk in the woods, but rather to prove that what they executed in the antiseptic confines of a recording studio is no sleight-of-hand. It was really Rush, and they really did it with three dudes.

Just as anti-Trekkies think the original TV show is hamfisted and overdone, anti-Rushies believe their music is over-produced and pseudo-intellectual. Or, even worse, it's just intellectual. Which, like, goes against everything Rawk is about!!

Their albums since 2112 have almost all been either concept albums or albums strung together with a loose theme. Power Windows, for example, explores themes of power and transition -- either socially, geographically, politically, or spiritually. Counterparts explores interpersonal relationships, which might be de rigeur for many bands but is rarely-trolled territory for this Canadian trio. Roll the Bones looks at issues of mortality and fortune. Vapor Trails -- their first album after a double-whammy of tragedies for Peart, who lost his only daughter in a car accident and his wife shortly after to breast cancer -- explores (shocker!) the gamut of emotions in dealing with loss and struggling to overcome tragedy.

My All-Time Top Eleven (Lesser-Known, post-1983) Rush Songs:
  • The Enemy Within
  • Marathon -- Better the tortoise than the hare, right?
  • Prime Mover -- Neil's observations of life as an unexpecting father
  • The Pass -- arguably, musings on teen suicide
  • War Paint
  • Dreamline
  • Between Sun + Moon
  • Everyday Glory
  • One Little Victory (available with this post)
  • Secret Touch -- The risks and rewards of letting others into your heart
  • The Way the Wind Blows (available with this post)
Best post-1983 albums to purchase: Counterparts for overall stupendousness or Vapor Trails for their most musically aggressive and bombastic. If you'd rather hear a wide range of their ouevre, just buy one of their live albums. Exit... Stage Left, A Show of Hands and Rush in Rio are all fantabulous.

This post is dedicated to my fellow Rush fan and co-commissioner of our fantasy football league, Randy. For the Rushies out there, I welcome your respectful disagreement with any of this. For the non-Rushies, I only ask that you go easy on us. We're prog-rockers, not fighters.

Rush's 18 studio CDs, five concert albums, and dozen or so compilation albums are mostly available through iTunes or Amazon.com's mp3 site.


The Big Nichols said...

While I have never been a Rush, I would like to further your Trek connection by recommending the documentary film "Trekkies" to those who haven't seen it. Wow, is it special.

Ike said...

I can't argue with your list (and I've seen them 8 times since '88).

But I would add some great ones for people who need to ease into Rush:

Available Light
Color of Right
Middletown Dreams
Ceiling Unlimited
and the LIVE version of Secret Touch

Billy said...

Thanks for the note, Ike. And you gotta know it was tough trying to narrow it down to just 10 songs. (Or even 11.)

"Available Light" and "Middletown Dreams" were soooo close. If it wasn't for the super-falsetto Geddy hits in "Light," it would be in for sure. "Territories" and "Ceiling Unlimited" are awesome, too, and "Color of Right" falls a little lower on the scale for me. But to have just one slight difference of opinion about so many of their songs says something.

I've only seen them three times. Roll the Bones in Chapel Hill. The Vapor Trails tour in Nashville. And the Snakes + Arrows tour in Atlanta. So I'm jealous!

Bob said...

I saw Rush in 1975. "Fly By Night" tour. They were better than Kiss, the opening act.