Rush’s career in the 70s was defined by them finding their sound and establishing themselves as a progressive rock band. The debut album having a clear influence from Led Zeppelin, the introduction of Neil Peart’s lyrics and drumming prowess on their second album ‘Fly by Night’, a flop that was critically panned in their third album ‘Caress of Steel’ and then a ferocious response that could be considered more of a double down than a pivot in their breakthrough album ‘2112’.
The band was relentless in their work ethic. Making records, then touring and they had started to pay their dues towards the latter half of the 70s with the subsequent releases ‘A Farewell to Kings’ and ‘Hemispheres’ which include some of the most fascinating, fantastical concepts and outright crazy musicianship.
Towards the beginning of the 80s, Rush went through a more stylistic transition with the biggest transformation in Neil Peart’s approach to lyric writing with less of a concern on big fantastical concepts and more of the human condition. The 1980 album ‘Permanent Waves’ certainly did this extremely well and then the overall sound aesthetic was taken up a notch with the 1981 album ‘Moving Pictures’ where the band truly captured lightning in a bottle.
Tom Sawyer is an absolutely iconic way to open an album and demonstrates an extraordinary level of focus and artistic execution.
Red Barchetta is a rocking nostalgia trip on the thrills of driving in an old school car.
YYZ is one of the best instrumentals that Rush ever penned down (Along with La Villa Strangiato) , based on the morse code for Toronto airport.
Limelight is one of Rush’s most poignant songs, where Peart explores his notions of fame and the difficulty he had with it interfering with his personal life.
Camera Eye is the epic number and one of the last songs that Rush would use extended form and focuses on city life in both New York and London.
Witch Hunt is a fantastic meditation on the Salem witch trails that covers the theme of discrimination and prejudice in a way that is as relevant as ever.
Finally, Vital Signs is about adaptability and the way in which humans can ‘elevate from the norm’.
Rush elevated from the norm and beyond with Moving Pictures and I keep my description of the record sparse for the experience of listening to it is where the magic is.
Every track is superb and the whole album is a masterpiece.
We are still in lockdown and unable to get together in a room to play together which really is rubbish!
Nevertheless my band, Kinky Wizzards managed to pull together a performance of ‘Leave that thing Alone’ by Rush. They were recorded using our phones and hobbled together in editing by our very own Jiffy who spent the entire time kicking and screaming with Imovie.
Neil Peart was an artist in every true sense of the word, and the impact and influence he has had on me as not only as a musician, but as a person is profound.
He was regarded by many as the best drummer in the world, and for good reasons. He could hit the hell out of the drums, his technique was astonishing and his musicality was adventurous and audacious. Furthermore, he never stopped refusing to learn. At the height of his career, he teamed up with Freddie Gruber to enhance his drumming skills further. Over the 4 decades he played with Rush, he was always evolving.
He was also the lyricist for the band and has penned some of my favourite songs of all time. There is of course the highly conceptual and fantastical lyrics of the albums they did in the 70s but their transformation into the 80s led to truthful observations with pinpoint accuracy. In ‘Limelight’ he explores the notion of fame and his difficulty coming to the terms with it. He never wanted to be famous, he just wanted to be good. In ‘Subdivisions’ he tackled the idea of being an outcast within school and society, an anthem for every Rush fan who has felt that sense of alienation. I could go on for hours about this. Within Peart’s lyrics were a curiosity for the way the world and humans work. You will only find a minimal amount of love songs amongst the 167 songs that they wrote.
Neil Peart was also an avid reader and a motorcyclist. He is not your typical image of the rock and roll star. He would motorcycle between gigs, spend his downtime reading and turned up to each show with an untempered sense of professionalism and discipline.
Neil Peart was also an author. He wrote travel books about the time he spent on his motorbike and it was actually travel that offered him catharsis and healing when tragedy struck. In the late 90s he lost his daughter to a car crash and his wife to cancer ten months later. In response, he retreated into a solitary journey that took him across Canada and all the way down the west coast of America. The book that documents this (‘Ghost Rider’) digs deep into the world of what commenced afterwards and how he found the will to carry on and start a new family.
Undeniably, the most tragic part of his untimely passing of 67 years old is that he had not had more time with his family and his young daughter. He had done everything and more for Rush and their loyal fanbase.
As I continue my career as a musician, I often think about the values that Neil Peart held and how he presented himself to the world. Although he is gone, his legacy remains with the many musicians and people he has inspired.
‘Hold your fire Keep it burning bright Hold the flame ‘Til the dream ignites A spirit with a vision Is a dream with a mission’
Mission, from Hold Your Fire (1987)
This band is part of my DNA.
Earlier this week, Alex Lifeson had revealed that Rush had spent two years no longer recording and touring and there were no plans to do so in the future. A totally quiet and un-rockstarlike way to bow out gracefully and to be honest, I would expect no less from such a band.
I discovered the music of Rush at the age of 9. The same time I had just started learning to play the guitar. My Mum had decided to buy me and my brother one of those Portable CD players each. The year was 2001 and the mp3 players and iPod had still not quite hit UK stores. My Mum decided to test the CD player with ‘Presto’. Now every Rush fan knows how that album starts; ‘Show Don’t Tell’, those quiet drums, at which point she is convinced that the CD player is a bit quiet, whacking up the volume at the point to which the full band is about to kick in with the riff and subsequently, having the shock of her life.
There you have the introduction of Rush into my life. I listened to ‘Presto’ religiously, and my teenage years saw me embark on a journey of discovering their entire catalogue. From the weird and wonderful 70’s era that saw the band dressing up in Kimonos delivering sci fi concept albums, 2112, ‘A Farewell to Kings’ and ‘Hemispheres’ to the thought provoking more concise and synth dominated records of the 80’s to the heavy guitar driven records of the 90’s.
The band ignited my love for physical records at a time where it was swiftly disappearing for my generation. I couldn’t just listen to the music, I had to own it, unpack the concepts within the artwork and the deeply thought provoking lyrics. Listening to their music became a way of life.
For those who like myself, had Rush as a pivotal soundtrack in their lives, there is just so much to admire about them. For a start, their untempered ambition to do whatever they wanted to do, despite the initial pressure in what was a considerably shaky start to their career. Three albums to their name and a fair amount of negative criticism, particularly with ‘Caress of Steel’ and less than satisfactory sales. Their label pushed Rush to develop a more commercial friendly album and how did they respond? By making ‘2112’ a twenty minute Ayn Rand inspired epic about a futuristic totalitarian state! The result…unprecedented success.
The second is their musical prowess. All three musicians are simply insane at their instruments, Alex Lifeson is one of my favourite guitarists, Geddy Lee’s driving bass and his ability to simultaneously manage singing and playing bass and synths…with his feet! Of course, Neil Peart’s presence behind the kit needs no introduction.
The third is the philosophy and the lyrics. Not to say I don’t love Led Zeppelin and AC/DC but unlike most rock bands, Rush were willing to dig deeper into a wide range of themes. I can think of four love songs that they wrote off the top of my head! Beyond the initial records where they let their imaginations fly, they managed to explore so many dimensions that covered science, society, suicide, ambition, probability, fame and conflict. ‘Subdivisions’ is often mentioned with praise for the way in which it captured that feeling of alienation in an incredibly heartfelt way for those who felt like an outsider. It was an anthem for me in my high school days. That is one of many songs I could delve into. There is so much about Rush’s music that resonates.
The final point that has to be made is that Rush were a definitive rock band, but they carried such a sense of humility about them. All three members are intelligent individuals who have always been weary of the weight that fame could have had on them. They never took themselves too seriously, and are just seriously cool and interesting people and always remained captivating, grounded and funny in interviews and documentaries.
Rush is a band that not everyone knows, yet they are the third most successful band in terms of gold and platinum albums, behind The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. Arguably, they are the biggest cult band ever. The ones who do know of them and are fans truly stand as one of a kind in terms of the abundance of passion they have for Rush. So much so that it became a central theme in the 2009 comedy ‘I love you, Man’ where the two main characters share a crazy love for the band. Admittedly there is much of that sensibility in myself and my fellow Rush fans. Take one of my Science teachers as example. When he found out I was a fan, he grabbed every opportunity to talk to me about 2112. My brother also told me small anecdotes of times he would play the record to the entirety of his form group, trying to convert unimpressionable teenagers into embracing the trio.
I saw Rush three times. 2007’s Snakes and Arrows tour, 2011 The Time Machine and 2013’s Clockwork Angels tour. The first time I saw them was one of the most exhilarating live shows I have ever been to. Their live show is utterly mesmerising, the power they can carry as a trio was just unbelievable as is the overall production of each tour they did. To have seen them live three times was a privilege.
And then there is the influence they have on my Music.
The first time I met the Kinky Wizzards, I distinctly remember myself and Miffy talking about our love for the band after commenting on the R30 T shirt he was wearing at the time. Incidentally, one of the first songs we learned to play together was YYZ and we still cover it live to this very day. The first song I played when trying to find musicians for Eden Shadow was ‘Tom Sawyer’. There is no surprise as to why so many listeners and critics of my own music often compare it with Rush.
Rush is part of my DNA.
And I am eternally thankful that this band exist. They have taught me so much and have inspired and continue to inspire me. After four decades of music, the band are done with their work, but their legacy will remain a long, long time.