Rush is a Band

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Neil Peart, Geddy Lee & Alex Lifeson

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Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage film review

Sun, Apr 25, 2010@2:16PM | comments removed/disabled

by Todd Garbarini
(RIAB handle: RushSignals1982)

Everyone has their own story about how they first become acquainted with Rush. Mine began at the South Plainfield Middle School in late 1981 when I saw some older kids in the hallway sporting "Moving Pictures" t-shirts. I figured that it referred to some sort of band but being a follower of the pop hits on the radio I didn't give it a second glance. It was no doubt music that the tough kids listened to, and I certainly didn't fall into that camp.

It wasn't until Friday, December 3, 1982 after Rush's stint at Madison Square Garden the night before that my interest was piqued. Several students I knew came into school the following day all wearing the "Signals" tour shirt. I was intrigued, and I asked myself a basic question: What does an album that features the image of a dog sniffing a fire hydrant sound like? On a whim, I pooled my last few weeks' worth of allowance together and bought the original Polygram "Signals" cassette and listened to "Subdivisions" for the first time. I was fourteen and this song was unlike anything I had ever heard before. The entire album took me on a journey of sonic eclecticism that shined through the acoustical shortcomings of my Sears tape recorder's single speaker. Geddy Lee's voice was pleasing, Alex Lifeson's guitar riffs were intricate, and Neil Peart's drumming was inimitable. I didn't quite understand the words coming out of Geddy's mouth, and the cassette's inner sleeve and liner notes were virtually non-existent. I was oblivious to the fact that I had just begun a lifelong love of one of history's greatest rock bands.

I followed up "Signals" with "Moving Pictures" and after hearing "Tom Sawyer" I was completely hooked - there simply was no turning back. I slowly amassed the remainder of their discography over the coming years. Like many fans, I joined the Rush Backstage Club. They produced a quarterly newsletter wherein Neil graciously answered selected questions from fans - something we all looked forward to with anticipation in the days prior to the instant gratification nature of the Web. There were several books written about the band over the years, in addition to the availability of videos of their best-known songs, as well as live concert videos. When I finally saw the video for "Subdivisions," the song's theme was made abundantly clear to me. I identified with the bespectacled and under-confident protagonist, portrayed by David Glover, and his feelings of being on the outside looking in.

But I wanted to know more - who were these three talented people, who sound like a sextet when they play, and what drove them to create the most amazing, air-guitar/air-drumming-inspired music that I have ever heard? How is it possible for three people to have written and recorded just over 150 songs, nearly all of which I love? RUSH: BEYOND THE LIGHTED STAGE, which premiered on April 24, 2010 as part of the Tribeca Film Festival, attempts to answer this question. Over the course of nearly two hours, filmmakers Sam Dunn and Scot Mcfadyen take the audience on an awe-inspiring, entertaining and informative journey documenting the history and philosophy of Rush. They talk to musicians of disparate backgrounds. Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater, Jack Black of Tenacious D, Billy Corrigan of Smashing Pumpkins, and Gene Simmons of Kiss are among those of many admirers who give their impressions of what Rush means to them. Sebastian Bach is the most amusing interviewee, who professes to not only have been the third subscriber to the Rush Backstage Club, but was inspired to read Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead" at age 12 after hearing "2112," and marvels at how Geddy sang in French on "Circumstances" - even though, like yours truly, he couldn't understand what Geddy was saying in English!

This is the documentary that Rush fans have been waiting for. How can you not like a film that opens with a drumstick being dropped on to Alex's foot, with him screaming in mock pain? It begins with credits over one of Rush's most well-known tunes, "Limelight." In chronological order, we are given an overall history of the band starting at their beginnings. Geddy talks about growing up in Willowdale, Toronto. Alex (who is from Fernie, British Columbia) and his family moved to Toronto and met Geddy around the 8th grade. Their mutual feelings as outsiders and their love of listening to and playing music solidified their friendship to the point that with John Rutsey, a neighbor, they formed the band, and they made ten dollars(!) playing their first show on Wednesday, September 18, 1968 in a church basement. Sadie Hawkins dances and high school dances followed but, not surprisingly, most kids couldn't dance to the music being made by these three guys! We are treated to actual footage of Rush playing during these early years. A real treat is seeing footage of Alex when he was about 17, complaining to his parents that he doesn't care about making a lot of money, and just wants to play music (according to an interview with Alex, Canadian filmmaker Allan King was auditioning kids from different parts of Toronto for a film wherein he would put them onto a farm for three months - "The Real World" 1970 if you will!).

Alex talks about how, in 1971, Toronto lowered the drinking age from 21 down to 18, which was pivotal to the band's early success as they were able to now play in clubs and bars and make a lot more money. This landed them considerable exposure not afforded their previous engagements. All of this was frightening to their parents, who never heard music like this before and probably associated it with drugs and bad crowds. We get comments from Geddy's mother - who remarks how loud the music was, nothing like the Perry Como she followed! - and Alex's parents.

The absence of record companies in Canada forced Rush to look to the United States. Donna Halper is featured and recalls how, while working as a DJ at WMMS in Cleveland, she received a copy of Rush's self-titled and self-produced debut album on Moon Records and looked for the proverbial "bathroom song," which is industry jargon for a song that would be long enough to give the DJ time to use the facilities. "Working Man," which runs just over seven minutes, not only managed to get the job done, but was also deemed a great song for the working class city of Cleveland. When it hit the airwaves, WMMS' phones lit up with people thinking that it was the next Led Zeppelin album. This put Rush on the fast track to success until drummer Rutsey was diagnosed with health problems which precluded him from touring. His premature but necessary exit from the band gave way for The New Guy, drummer and lyricist extraordinaire Neil Peart who, interestingly, was born on a farm and grew up in St. Catherines, Ontario, and also felt like an outsider, and only gained confidence and self-esteem through his prowess at his drum kit. Neil left his band, J.R. Flood, to join Geddy and Alex and the rest, as they say, is history - that almost wasn't. The success of the "Rush" and "Fly By Night" albums nearly came to a halt when "Caress of Steel" (a great album, IMHO) was released. People didn't respond to it, and Geddy, Alex, and Neil reflect on how this "failure" nearly forced them back to working regular jobs.

Billy Corrigan admits that at one point he learned every lyric and every note to "2112," the album that Rush made in protest of their record label's request that they write popular material. When "2112" was delivered, the record company panicked, feeling they had another "Caress of Steel" on their hands. The critics didn't like it but the fans loved it and responded enthusiastically via word-of-mouth, and Rush exploded back into the limelight. Alex explains that "2112" bought Rush artistic freedom and a lassez-faire relationship from the record company. To this day, Rush does what they want with no external interference. Gene Simmons sums it up quite eloquently when he says, "What makes Rush unique is fearlessness. It's the quality of starting to write a song and not caring about what's popular and what's not. There's only one kind of band that's sounds like that, and that's Rush."

As the film explores the successive years, Rush talks about writing music so intricate that even they had a hard time playing it! "La Villa Strangiato," a masterful piece of music, is a tour-de-force for Alex, and they tried to record the song in one session (they had to do it in three).

Neil admits that the different types of music that he listened to (such as reggae and The Police) inevitably made their way into his own compositions and he really feels that Rush was born with "Moving Pictures" since they learned so much about songwriting and arrangement. At this time, their concert audiences doubled, and Rush was playing 130 cities on a single tour.

After "Signals," producer Terry Brown thought that they were going in the direction of an electronic band and Rush decided that it was time for a change, so they amicably parted ways. Over the next few albums, Geddy points out that as they got more into keyboards and electronics their fans diminished somewhat, but they also realized that their core fans followed them no matter where they went musically. Alex admits frustration over this period, and Neil felt stiff from all the electronics and sequencers they had used, so much so that he decided to work with jazz drummer and drum teacher Freddie Gruber, whose roommate was drummer Buddy Rich. Under his tutelage, Freddie shows Neil how to breathe and give motion to his technique.

"Test for Echo" reintroduced Neil with a new drumming technique, but also to several of the worst moments of his life, as he suffered unfathomable personal tragedies that put Rush on hiatus for nearly four years (all three admit they thought the band was finished). The film touches on this dark period in the life of all three band members, and is the most moving and inspiring portion of the film. Their love, friendship, mutual respect and care for one another have enabled them to flourish in an industry that generally cripples and destroys other bands. The film ends with the triumph of Rush returning to the limelight with "Vapor Trails," the success of the "Snakes and Arrows" album, and their plans for the future.

RUSH: BEYOND THE LIGHTED STAGE briefly covers the making of every consecutive Rush studio album with the exception of "Roll the Bones," which will be included in the hour-plus supplemental section when the film is released on DVD and Blu Ray. The film contains a handful and-a-half of f-bombs delivered off-handedly and good-naturedly, so you'll want to keep the young ones out of earshot. This is most likely the closest that Rush fans are liable to get to their Holy Triumvirate short of an invitation to dinner with them. Kudos to Sam Dunn and Scot Mcfadyen for all of their hard work. RUSH: BEYOND THE LIGHTED STAGE makes a great companion piece to FOR THE LOVE OF RUSH and BACKSTAGE SECRETS.

Rush means many things to many people. Rush is about individualism, longevity, tenacity and not going down without a fight. To me, Rush is a four-letter synonym for Life.

NOTE: You can also check out Todd's interview with filmmakers Sam Dunn and Scott McFadyen at this link.

NOTE: Posts over 10 years old are partially archived. All comments, images and other embedded media have been removed.

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