Rush. Canada’s beloved power trio. The standard bearer of Prog Rock. Staples of terrestrial classic rock radio stations for decades. Geddy Lee, Neal Peart, and the blonde guy on guitar (Alex Lifeson).
You all know Rush. You always have. Question is…what did you think of Rush? Be honest. When you were a high school kid, didn’t you think of Rush as the band the “weird kids” listened to? The outcasts. The kids who didn’t fit in with the popular and wanna-be popular kids.
In the high school halls
In the shopping malls
Conform or be cast out
In the basement bars
In the backs of cars
Be cool or be cast out” -“Subdivisions”, from the album Signals, 1982
I definitely wasn’t the coolest or most popular kid in high school. In retrospect I painfully admit I was a wanna-be cool or popular kid. Wanna-be cool enough kid not to associate with the music of Rush or the kids who did.
By my college years I didn’t care about trying to be cool anymore, but I still wasn’t bending an ear in Rush’s direction. The early to mid ’90s was a fertile time in the new rock landscape. Many of us were consumed by new music coming out of Seattle and other corners of the country. I wasn’t interested in taking a serious listen to a 20-year-old band I’d avoided all my life to that point.
Fast forward the better part of 20 years and not a lot changed. I mean, I always liked the tune Tom Sawyer. That was the one Rush song most all non-Rush listeners would agree was a good track. Other than that, I just never thought about them. Of course you’d hear them on classic rock stations. But like most of the songs played on classic rock stations, they just sort of play, but you’re not really listening. I mean, it’s the same songs we’ve been hearing for the past 40 years. Sometimes that stuff functions more as white noise than anything else.
Some time last summer I was perusing Netflix for something to watch. I was in the mood for a music doc, but couldn’t find anything that really interested me. Then I stopped on “Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage.” I’d passed over that selection two dozen times the previous few months. I guess I just figured I’m not into their music so why bother? On this particular night I decided to give it a watch. A funny thing happened. Putting the music aside for a moment, I came away having a new-found respect and quite frankly, a strong sense of liking for these three guys. There are a lot of assholes in rock ‘n roll. The guys in Rush came across as really good, genuine people. Three guys who worked their tails off, built their band from the grassroots, paid their dues (big time) on the road, built a loyal following, wrote what they wanted to write, played what they wanted to play, and didn’t ask for permission or beg for forgiveness. In a nutshell, they did it the right way. No compromises. I respect the hell out of that.
As far as the music, I was finally ready to start (ever so slightly at first) to bend that ear their direction. I found their very early sound, though raw, somewhat satisfying to my Led Zeppelin sensibilities. What came next was and is of no interest to me. They spent the lion’s share of the ’70’s making those concept, prog-rock, four 25 minute long songs on an album things. No judgment. Just not my bag.
As I’m sure any rock ‘n roll music fan knows, earlier this month Rush’s longtime drummer, Neal Peart, passed away from brain cancer at age 67. The tributes on social media and the coverage on internet news websites were impressive. Peart was respected by a great many as being one of the best drummers of all time. I read the other day on forbes.com that streaming sales of Rush’s music jumped 776% following Peart’s passing. No, that’s not a typo. Consider me a statistic. Last weekend I purchased their greatest hits album, The Spirit of Radio. The album mainly highlights their early ’80’s period. The sweet spot of their commercial success. AKA, the stuff you’ve been hearing on classic rock stations the past 40 years.
Here I find myself listening for what seems like the first time to songs I’ve heard countless times all my life. Heard yes. But never really listened to. Turns out I do like more than just Tom Sawyer.
There’s a quote from South Park creator Matt Stone in the aforementioned Rush documentary that perfectly sums it all up…..
“Now we’re all so old that even if you hated Rush in the ’70s and ’80s, now you’ve gotta give it up to them. You just gotta. Or else you’re just being an old dickhead.”
Or perhaps more eloquently stated by Smashing Pumpkins’ front man Billy Corgan:
“You can get into all the sociological and cultural reasons why a band like Rush was publicly marginalized and you can say, ‘What was it? Were they too weird? Was it Geddy’s voice?’ I like to think that at the end of the day people will step back and all those labels will fall away because the body of work is significant.”
Billy, I agree.
Thanks for reading,