Rush was a very significant part of my adolescence. No, not this guy. These guys. Really, there was no way to have avoided it. I was a well read teenaged drummer/poet living in what I saw as the endless conformity of suburbia. Neil Peart was (and is) a well read drummer/poet (with more chops than a steak house), writing about (among other things) the endless conformity of suburbia. Even before then, though, I had been a fan of the band’s work, since some of my friends had introduced me to 2112 when I was getting ready for ninth grade. Along with folks like Frank Zappa and Jim Bouton, Rush taught me that it was OK not to fit in with what I saw around me — that it was OK to be an individual (no mean feat at a school where the superlative “most individualistic” was an insult.)
Another part of the attraction of Rush was that it was hard to play. In fact, it was typically impossible for me to play — I never had the necessary technical skills. However, I spent lots of evenings listening and trying to figure out what made the music work, and how the parts of a song worked together, and thinking about not fitting into a world that was much more interested in AC/DC and Lynyrd Skynyrd. And because when you’re 14, a taste in music can become a shibboleth, there was a part of me that divided the world into the people who “got” Rush and those who didn’t.
Thomas Disch has said the “golden age of science fiction” is typically whenever the speaker was 11. Likewise, I suspect the golden age of popular music is whenever the speaker was an adolescent. I’m a little odd in that regard, having discovered the Beatles in my early adolescence, although they were no longer active by then. Still, songs like “The Spirit of Radio” and “La Villa Strangiato” are triggers for many of the memories of my teen years. This marks me as a member of a tribe of sorts, the tribe of Rush fans, many of whom were musicians and smart kid/misfits like me. And in a way, something that brought us closer to the band was the sense that the members of Rush were part of the tribe as well. We studied the liner notes, and saw references to things like SCTV and other of the pop cultural elements that we misfits shared. Such elements became further tokens of tribal membership.
That brings us to a movie I watched last night on VH1 Classic, a new documentary on Rush called Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage. Drawing on extended interviews with the band, their friends, family, and musicians who have been influenced by them, the filmmakers tell us the story of the band, from Alex and Geddy’s high school friendship to the struggles of the group to recover from the back-to-back deaths of Neil Peart’s daughter and wife. It’s a story the fans know, of course, but one of the things that makes it work (along with footage that we haven’t previously seen) is the genuine affection that permeates the film. We repeatedly see that the members care for each other, their fans, and their work. The filmmakers clearly love the band as well, and combine affection and honesty throughout.
A theme that shows up several times in the movie is that Rush never seems to condescend to their listeners, which allows a connection that most other groups don’t achieve. Likewise, this movie treats its subject and viewers respectfully, and I think it succeeds in a manner that many other “rockumentaries” don’t. If you’re a fan, you need to see the movie. If you aren’t, you may want to watch it anyway. There’s always room for new members of the tribe.