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THINGS I LOVE: A BEACON OF POSITIVITY IN A WORLD OF YUK



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WHY I LOVE RUSH SO MUCH: HOW 3 CANADIAN ODDBALLS BECAME MY FAVOURITE BAND


In 1985 I was thirteen and perusing a collection of albums on cassette in Woolworths (if you're under twenty you'll probably have to google a few of those words). In those days I would often receive Woolworths vouchers in birthday and Christmas cards. I saved them up and took them with me on the family summer holiday so that I could buy myself something to listen to or read to distract me from the constant arguing over map reading or the board games we played in a damp, tiny caravan in various parts of North Wales.

On this occasion I felt in need of something fresh to put in my Walkman (google it). The previous year I had chanced upon in another Woolworths what would quickly become my favourite album, 'Heaven and Hell' by Black Sabbath. Seeking to repeat this triumph I looked through a large array of albums and for some reason my eye was drawn to 'Caress of Steel' by a band called Rush. At that point I had never heard a Rush song but I had read a lot about them in music magazines and I think I was aware that they were a bit different to most bands. Looking at the track titles I saw that side two was one 20 minute song with very long, wordy section titles. At the time I didn't really have any concept of progressive music, I just liked heavy music and electric guitars. Anyway, I took a gamble, bought the tape and it was soon in my Walkman. What I heard through the orange sponges that were ubiquitous on headphones at the time was unlike anything I had ever encountered before. The whole tone of the album was so dark, heavy and intense that I was almost afraid to listen to it. The high-pitched vocals were totally new territory and the lyrics were impenetrably obscure to me at the time. The guitar, bass and drums were so amazing and so ahead of anything else I knew about, and yet I didn't quite know what to make of it all. When the holiday ended the tape remained in a drawer, unplayed, for a year.

Then a friend asked me if I had heard any Rush. I remembered 'Caress of Steel' and gave it another listen. My musical tastes had expanded considerably during the intervening 12 months: now that I was listening to Metallica, Anthrax and Metal Church, this album no longer sounded too heavy and impenetrable. I listened with fresh ears and loved it. I began playing it on heavy rotation and the sound grew on me. It still sounded unlike anything else I'd ever heard (and it remains so today, 35 years after I exchanged a £4 Woolworths voucher for that cassette) but now I could really appreciate the musicianship. By this point I had my first electric guitar so I paid special attention to the insanely original riffs and solos of Alex Lifeson. Much as I loved the songs I couldn't make sense of them musically – they didn't appear to fit the template presented in the guitar books and magazines of how a song should be structured. I knew it worked but I didn't know how. The following year I heard 'Permanent Waves' and became a fervent Rush devotee. The frenetic, melodic bass lines, the highly inventive idiosyncratic guitar playing, the insightful, often existential lyrics, and the unparalleled complexity and musicality of the drums all seeped increasingly into my consciousness: Rush became an ever-more important part of my life. In another Woolworths I bought '2112' and was taken to another world. Around the same time I heard 'Show of Hands', the live album of mainly 80s keyboard-driven material. Although I listened to it often I would lament the fact that Rush had 'gone soft' and preferred the 70s heavier stuff.

Throughout my 20s my musical tastes expanded greatly in all directions: I got increasingly into heavier bands like Slayer and Pantera while also being drawn towards mellower stuff and progressive bands like E.L.P., Yes and King Crimson. I also grew to appreciate and enjoy all aspects of Rush, including the 80s albums like 'Power Windows' and 'Hold Your Fire': yes they had a lot of synthesizers and some light-weight, poppy production, but they also had brilliant songs, incredible musicianship and a unique sense of inventiveness in the arrangements. Alex Lifeson's left-field guitar solos and riffs always lifted the songs far above any sense of being poppy or commercial. Geddy's bass lines remained as distinctive as ever and the keyboards never sank to the irritating depths of many 80s productions. Even when using a partially electronic drum kit Neil Peart remained a masterful powerhouse of rhythm and constant, wonderful invention.

As the years went by Rush became my favourite band and I proselytised about them at every opportunity. In the early 2000s I didn't much bother with the interwebs and had long given up on music magazines, so when I first heard 'Vapour Trails' I knew nothing of the story behind it. My first thought was that it was the heaviest album they had made in twenty years, and my second thought was how positive and uplifting the lyrics were. I was therefore surprised to discover that many of the songs directly referred to lyricist Neil Peart's experience of losing his only child and his wife within ten months. I'd always related to Peart's natural shyness and his literary and intellectual interests and his lyrics, especially 'The Pass', have literally saved my life on more then one occasion. Reading his book 'Ghost Rider: Travels on The Healing Road' was a deeply emotional experience.

In 2010 I eagerly attended the one off cinema showing of 'Beyond The Lighted Stage', the superb feature length documentary on the band. I bought the DVD as soon as it came out and it soon became my favourite film. In the depths of depression and despair I have often watched it to help me regain a sense of perspective: not only Neil's personal losses but the heroic struggle of the band to maintain their unique musical identity in a world of short-term-thinking record company executives. In 2011 I finally got to see Rush live on the 'Time Machine' tour. I knew it would be great but I wasn't prepared for just how mind-meltingly superb they were. Three men in their late 50s gave me the most powerful experience of my life. It was the day before my birthday and I got the train to London and walked eight miles to the O2 arena in Greenwich. Afterwards I walked back and took the 5am train home to Cardiff. I was on such a high that I couldn't sleep so when I went out for birthday drinks I had been awake for thirty six hours and was delirious with joy. Two years later I saw them again with 'Clockwork Angels', on what would turn out to be their last UK appearance.

Around Christmas 2019 I met up with my friend and his 12 year old son. I have been highly complicit in encouraging his emerging taste in rock and metal since he was five. He is now a drummer and we talked about Rush and Neil and how 'Tom Sawyer' is now his favourite song. Then, a couple of weeks later, I was nosing half-heartedly around the interwebs on my phone during a period of insomnia. I went to the BBC website and the third story was 'Rush drummer dies at 67'. I sat up in bed, screamed 'Noooo!!!', checked a couple of other sites and then cried for two days. I knew they would never tour again but for someone who has been through so much and always been such a great intellect and enthusiast for life and art to get brain cancer just seems too fucking cruel an irony. Writing this nearly three months later and listening to 'Vapour Trails' I can feel my eyes welling up. The emotional effect his lyrics and the band's music have on me will never leave me. My life is truly better for having had Rush at the centre of it for the last few decades. Long live Rush. R.I.P. Professor.

 

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