The Rush Paradigm

Part 1 – High School

I got into Rush during a time when my mother and I moved from our safe Ann Arbor apartment to Roselle Illinois during my freshman year of High School. We stayed in the townhouse of a friend of my mom’s, Rose. In this arrangement I shared a room with Dave her son. I actually really dug this roomie experience and we shared a lot of music. We shared the stereo well together and turned each other on to a lot of new bands. He first introduced me to Frank Zappa and Rush.

Nights often went something along the lines of we each played the side of one record, alternating, until one or the other of us was asleep and the full control was passed to the other. I remember playing a lot of new stuff that I got from the library during those days. There are only a few records I remember specifically from those days. “David Bowie – Pinups” was playing one day when we cleaned our room. Another day “Frank Zappa – Sheik Yerbouti “ was Dave’s pick. He thought it was hysterical. I didn’t think much of it then, but came to love Frank years later.

One night Dave came home with “Rush – 2112”.

I hadn’t really heard of Rush before, but there were some denim jackets at our school with the Rush logo penned on them. The album cover was simple with the band’s name,  the 2112 title and the circled star. The song titles read like some concerto or fancy orchestra piece. Then I got a look at the photo of the band. They were dressed in white late 70’s outfits and I was not impressed. Dave assured me that I was going to love it.

Dave turned off the lights. This was a clear indication that he was ready for a semi-religious experience. I skeptically lay on my bed and listened. The intro was, I had to admit, despite my snobbish review of the album cover and band photo, amazing. The music was rocking and changed tempo and was really good, not at all what I had expected. When I heard Geddy exclaim “and the meek shall inherited the earth” and then start screeching out the lyrics I instantly became a Rush fan. We listened to the whole album side in silence and awe. Though it is only half an album, I think it was my first concept album. It was amazing. At the end the hypnotic repetition of “We have assumed control” totally blew my mind.

Weeks later, I found myself in the record store in front of the R’s and by a stroke of luck they had a 3 LP set of their first 3 albums, “Rush”, “Fly By Night” and “Caress Of Steel”. I greedily bought it.

These albums changed my life. Literally.

“Working Man” – “Fly By Night” – “Finding My Way” –  “By-Tor & the Snow Dog” –  “Bastille Day” –  “The Necromancer”  – “The Fountain of Lamneth”… in short mind blowing.

These songs set me on a course that steered me away from my David Bowie / Beatles phase and towards the harder rock and guitar player worship that was my later high school years. I followed Rush’s every release. I eventually got the entire back catalog and loved every single one.

When “Rush – Moving Pictures” came out, it was an event in my life. I took it with me when I went to spend a summer at my father’s place. I rocked out his little apartment with my stereo which I dragged there with me. I couldn’t be without my music. All the songs that were on the radio from this album were the best Rush had ever done.  The entire first side of the album gave me the feeling that I had back in the days of discovering 2112. Amazing beyond belief.

But, side 2… I noticed a shift to using more synths and keyboards. This bothered me for some reason. It was like they were giving up on the guitar god stature of Alex and using keyboards to fill more. Side 1 was so good that I overlooked my misgivings about side 2. I tried to shake it off.

During my senior year, I got “Rush – Signals” from the Columbia record club. I loved it, but still, I got that “we are going computer/synth/techno” feel murkily hiding in the background. I had a bad feeling that Rush was going down, or at least their sound was becoming less defined and more like everything else.

Part 2 – College

During college I went a whole different way, sold most of my albums, got into Elvis Costello and UB40 and got away from Rush. I knew there were albums that I didn’t have but no one I was hanging out with had anything past Moving Pictures and so I contented myself with the “early years” Rush that I had on some library tapes and some that I recorded from friends.

This was a desolate time in my life for Rush. It wasn’t them, it was me.

Part 3 – Real Life

I got a job at Marshall Erdman in Waunakee. I met there my friend Dalton. Now as I recall, he and I started talking music one day and just sort of became friends without even really realizing it. We had a love of a lot of 80’s big hair bands in common and over the years grew our music collections from tapes and CD’s to DVD’s and beyond. We also had Rush in common.

Dalton had kept up with them over the years and I got all the old stuff from him. The new stuff, though he recommended it, with the caveat that it was not all grindy guitars and hook laden grooves, I passed on. I still had it in my head that it was bland techno rock that I wouldn’t like. This was more a factor I think of the bands that I was listening to at the time. I needed the hook during these days. I didn’t have the time or sustainable attention for smart rock with a message and classic style. I needed Motley Crue and Nirvana and Guns and Roses. Looking back at that time in my life… Rush was too good for me.

I think Dalton understood my dissatisfaction for later Rush, but never gave up on me.

When Rush released Vapor Trails in 2002 and they toured…Dalton got us tickets.

They came to Milwaukee to the Summerfest Grounds and we had awesome seats. They jammed hard that night and I had a revived sense of connection with them. They played stuff from the new album and it was great. They played old stuff and it sounded great. They played By-Tor & The Snow Dog! It was a magical show (thanks Dalton) and though the guys looked older, they sounded better than ever. They played a video on the big screen of a dragon and when it breathed fire like the cover of the album, flash pots shot flames above the crowd and I could feel the heat. Geddy was backed by a line of clothes dryers (?) onstage and a few times he would stop and open one, grab a t-shirt, and throw it into the crowd.  Alex was clearly middle aged, but wailed and made sounds come from that guitar that I didn’t even think were possible. Neil, he was just a blur of sticks and beats. It was a new revival of Rush for me.

I still avoided their mid to late catalog however, despite this awesome show.

Dalton attempted once again years later to get me to try the Rush albums from “Grace Under Pressure” to “Test For Echo”. He compiled all the Rush CD’s he had onto one MP3 CD and offered it to me in hopes I would see the light. I liked “The Big Money” and “Mystic Rhythms” but I guess the time wasn’t right for me to accept the brilliance of Rush during this middle phase.

Part 4 – Recent

Over the last couple years 2 things happened that brought me back to Rush. One was buying the book “Roadshow: Landscape With Drums: A Concert Tour by Motorcycle” by Neil Peart. I had no idea he wrote. This book is a sort of journal of the early days of Rush and touring and Neil’s experiences while touring with Rush and travelling by motorcycle. It is very well written and along with the book “Smile You’re Traveling” by Henry Rollins, it is probably equally responsible for me starting this blog after years thinking about it.

Then about a year ago, I saw on cable “Beyond The Lighted Stage” a documentary of the evolution of Rush that went through a little history of all their albums. It was very very good, and touched on some of the things I had thought about Rush and their middle phase; the keyboards and synths. I knew I was right! However, as they played snippets of songs from these middle phase albums I found myself digging them. Then to find out that Neil lost his wife and child in the span of a year and went out on his motorcycle to try and keep his sanity, and everyone though that Rush was done. Only he came back and came back stronger than ever. They made and toured with Vapor Trails, the very tour Dalton and I saw. It brought it all home for me. The next day I loaded all the Rush albums… ALL of them, onto my I-Pod.

I began listening to the middle phase Rush albums with an insight into their origin, and what the band was trying to do and learn from each subsequent album. They were more docile and smooth than the earlier stuff, but, I found that I was in the right frame of mind to accept them for what they were. I wrote Dalton and let him know that I was finally on board with “Hold Your Fire” and “Counterparts” and “Presto” and “Roll The Bones”.

Even Rush has gone back in time. Check out “Feedback”.

I have been thinking about this shift in me that allowed me to come to appreciate Rush’s full catalog. I have to confess it was me that had to mature and learn to slow down and accept that Rush had just matured faster than me. Their sound wasn’t depleted and weak, it was smart and honed into something you just needed to open your mind to. It wasn’t party music. I finally understood. It was good music.

So, the Rush paradigm is simple; not everything is right for you at the moment you hear it or it comes into your life, but wait long enough and you will find the place that it fits best.

We are all Rush fans deep down.

Sorry I doubted you boys.

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