Tomorrow, I’m going to see Rush for the fourth time.
It’s surprising that I haven’t seen them live more often, since I’ve been a fierce fan since way back in the early 80s when a redheaded kid named Sean introduced me to their Signals album in elementary school music class. I don’t remember which song finally hooked me into Rush — was it Subdivisions? Might have been. I remember one of my friends that year was obsessed with one-hit wonder Toni Basil, and went around singing:
Oh Mickey, you’re so fine
You’re so fine you blow my mind
Hey Mickey, hey Mickey.
In that context it’s less surprising that my elementary-school self would appreciate a song like Subdivisions which tended to be a bit more… sociological:
Sprawling on the fringes of the city
In geometric order
An insulated border
In between the bright lights
And the far unlit unknown
Anyway, I remember the music class. We were supposed to try to play some popular music, in some kind of effort to make music education a little more personal for the students, or something. Well, we get split up into pairs, each group of two with a xylophone, and my partner Sean suggests that we learn to play Subdivisions on the xylophone.
Subdivisions would sound fine on the xylophone. Oh, yes. Sean, you were one ballsy motherf*%cker.
Signals will always be my favorite summer album, perhaps because I played it so much that first summer when I stumbled into Rush, or because of the reggae vibe on so many of those songs, or because of the summertime lyrics on songs like Analog Kid:
A hot and windy August afternoon
Has the trees in constant motion
With a flash of silver leaves
As they’re rocking in the breeze
The boy lies in the grass with one blade
Stuck between his teeth
A vague sensation quickens
In his young and restless heart
And a bright and nameless vision
Has him longing to depart
So many of the reasons that I’ve become a lifelong Rush fan, and a fan of almost all their work, is because I started off, as a kid, with Signals.
Think about what I had to do after I’d fallen in love with Signals. I had to listen to more Rush, of course, and that meant checking out their previous albums. So I immediately started listening to the album that came out just before Signals. This was Moving Pictures, which was, and is, Rush’s most popular album. It’s is an album that caps off most of what I think of as “early” Rush — the epic-rock Rush, the Rush of Fly By Night and 2112. That Rush was a lot of guitar and headbanging drums and screaming vocals, which on Moving Pictures was refined into classic hits that every rock fan knows even if they don’t know Rush at all — Tom Sawyer, Limelight, Freewill. As a kid, once I’d digested Moving Pictures, it was a short leap to digesting Permanent Waves and Hemispheres and Caress of Steel. So I did, and I became a fan of all of that stuff.
Meanwhile, as I was learning about the older music, Rush was releasing their first post-Signals album, the dystopian but oh-so-awesome Grace Under Pressure. They were changing their s0und, using more keyboards, getting the reputation of being a “prog-rock” band. Many of the older fans that had already spent years listening to 2112, or that had been hooked by Tom Sawyer, weren’t really thrilled by what Rush was doing in the mid- to late-80s with Grace Under Pressure and Power Windows. Songs like Mystic Rhythms were being played as background music on episodes of ABC’s news show 20/20, and that just wasn’t very head-bangy rock and roll.
But for me, as a kid entranced with Signals and carrying none of the baggage that old Caress of Steel fans probably had, I didn’t care. All I cared about was how cool Alex Lifeson was in the VHS video of one of their Grace Under Pressure shows. He had the Miami Vice look down cold. I liked Duran Duran too, of course, but who could touch Rush? And if those guys were playing stuff like Middletown Dreams, I was not going to object. It would be incoherent for any fan of Subdivisions to object to the Power Windows album when it has Middletown Dreams:
The middle-aged madonna
Calls her neighbour on the phone
Day by day the seasons pass
And leave her life alone
But she’ll go walking out that door
On some bright afternoon
To go and paint big cities
From a lonely attic room
For me, then, Rush was always both hard rock and prog rock. They couldn’t ever disappoint me when they made an album like Presto, which came out during my first year of college and managed to rope in a whole new generation of fans that hadn’t ever been real fond of Tom Sawyer. And unlike those fans who might be lost by the band’s current turn back to hard rock, I can say that songs like Earthshine are as good as any they’ve ever done.
My youthful choice of Rush fandom has turned out pretty good for me. I’m glad they keep recording and touring. And now I can browse YouTube for hours and hours of concert bootlegs (of varying quality) from the past thirty years.
For example, this is a mellower song from an energetic show in Albany in 1991:
And from when the current tour stopped in Chicago on July 5th: