As followers of my tweets know, I was really excited to see Rush in concert this week at Shoreline. Naturally, since the band is over 30 years old now, a bunch of people around work had no idea who they are. (And I got a bunch of questions like “You’re going to see Rush Limbaugh?? Why??”)
Anyway, the truth is, Rush is about my favorite band ever, and I could listen to them pretty much all day long, every day. They’re the only band I can listen to and sing along to, while reading a book about something completely different. The lyrics of their twenty-odd albums are that deep in my brain.
I think we all tend to be musical products of the years we were in high school, and more than any other bands, Rush and R.E.M. were the definitive ones for me. R.E.M., of course, were the guys you wanted to be as cool as — they were hip, were talking about things that didn’t really make sense to a teenager (or R.E.M. themselves, apparently, as Stipe later said he mostly made up the words because they sounded good).
Rush was different, though. They wrote music about things that mostly misfit males of my generation cared about. They struggled through Ayn Rand, wrote music about The Lord of the Rings, about science fiction. They worked through a lot of what then seemed like important existential questions, but now seem a little embarrassing to have struggled through in the first place. But in the middle 80s mostly what they wrote about was what it felt like being out of the mainstream — really, they sang about what it meant to be a nerd, and the things that nerds went through as they figured out how to become functioning parts of society.
I always felt like they were writing for me and people like me, and it really struck a chord. I loved the music, too — they wrote some of the most complex music of the times (ever?), with lots of moving time signatures, lots of unusual arrangements where the bass led, things like that. A lot of people have always been critical of the band for being a little too perfect, a little too soulless — in pursuit of technical perfection rather than connecting at an emotional level. (To make this article even nerdier than it already is (!), the claim is that they’re sort of the rock band equivalent of the font Helvetica — a little too perfect to have much character.)
But I never felt like that. I just loved the music, loved the lyrics, and as uncool as it is now to like a prog rock back, I still really love listening to them. (Other bands of the era like Yes haven’t held up nearly as well for me.)
Watching the recent documentary on them (Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage — highly recommended) was a bit of a revelation for me — it tells the story of these 3 guys from Toronto (Alex & Geddy & John Rutsey, with Neil coming along after the first album) who were nerds themselves growing up, who never really fit in either. [Yes, I know this fact is/was obvious to even the most casual of outside observers. It took me a little while to deconstruct my own feelings, I guess.] And the doc was great in that it had other rockers — from Pantera, the Smashing Pumpkins, others — who were clearly also outsiders and nerds, and admired what the trio from Toronto had done.
Anyway, it’s way past being cool to like Rush, if it ever really was, but they and their music still means a lot to me. Really glad to get to see them in concert again, after a few years, and hope to get another chance. (For the record, they sounded really terrific Monday. I think that if Geddy’s voice can hold up, they should be around for a few more tours, and I like their new material as much as anything they’ve done in probably 20 years.)