Rush: The worlds largest cult band

What other band inspires such literary indulgence, or for that matter air-bass?

Well, with the newly released Rush documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage as well as Rush announcing that the band will play Moving Pictures front to back on their newest tour, I decided it was good timing to write a piece on Rush, as Moving Pictures is arguably Rush’s most popular album. Rush as an act is loved by millions, yet has never received the props they deserve. You’ll hear folks rapping on the wonders of Floyd, Zeppelin, and Deep Purple, all great bands I agree, but Rush should be mentioned amongst those names as one of the greats, and they aren’t. Is it the Canadian curse that has eluded such great acts as Max Webster, as well as the groundbreaking 80’s hardcore originators SNFU? Maybe the wires do not completely cross over to the States.

Rush as a band is geared towards intellectuals.  Neil Peart (the bands primary lyricist, as well as drummer) writes from a literary bent that falls on deaf ears for the most part, but the ones who get it, well, we really get it. Led Zeppelin had the mystique, Pink Floyd the pomp without pretension, and Deep Purple rocked without sounding brain-dead.  Rush fans are miles away from the Kiss army, we are inspired to pick up books by Ayn Rand then read them from front to back over and over again.  We might get caught reading Ayn Rand with one hand and air drumming with the other, or air bassing to Geddy Lee’s wicked basslines. What other band inspires such literary indulgence, or for that matter air-bass? I don’t know of any other band that does.

Sure Led Zeppelin inspired folks to read Tolkien, but they never inspired me to read about Hobbits. Led Zeppelin did inspire me to read a few Aleister Crowley’s books, however. I guess the backwards masking in Led Zeppelin’s song did its trick.

Maybe Rush is to smart for their own good? Maybe this is why Rush sells millions of records yet remains a cult band. Something about Rush’s music, especially Moving Pictures remains frozen time, forever sounding like the future yet remaining eerily in 1981. The combination of Peart’s brilliantly precise drumming, Lifeson’s deftly layered guitar lines and Lee’s unique vocals and bad-ass bass playing create magic. Take “Tom Sawyer, ” Track 1 on Moving Pictures ,there is something special going on with this track. “Tom Sawyer” is written around the story of a modern day rebel, a free spirit, wondering through life full of wide-eyed wonder. Even when we hear “Tom Sawyer” every 5 minutes on classic rock radio, the track is still timeless.

Neil Peart  has always written about freedom and the trappings of obligations. With “Tom Sawyer” he continues from where he left off with “Freewill” from Permanent Waves. Our protagonist the modern day rebel, today’s “Tom Sawyer” realizes that Freewill is a choice; we can all choose a path that’s clear. “Limelight” Track 4 is about Neil’s Peart’s reaction to fame, his search for privacy amongst the limelight.  Peart has always been the most reserved member of Rush, the member who prefers to sit alone reading vs. public appearances, as well as fan adoration.

Track 3 “YYZ” is an instrumental track for folks who don’t like instrumental tracks.”YYZ”is the IATA Airport Code for Toronto Pearson International Airport. YYZ starts out with Peart playing the “YYZ” Morse code on the crotales, the track then takes on an instrumental journey through various times signatures and melodic twists and turns. Seriously how cool is this, what band plays Morse code on the crotales?  Well, only Rush my friends.

Rush songs often employ numerous time signatures, yet never sounding forced. These changes are completely natural- many listeners wouldn’t even realize that “Limelight” goes from 4/4 to 7/8 to 3/4-back to 4/4.  Rush seems to communicate in Rush-speak only the band understands. This is kinetic music,  forever in motion.

Track 7 “Vital Signs” is quite possibly Moving Pictures’ highlight, the track shifts between a downbeat reggae feel, to a more upbeat/straightforward rock workout with changing time signatures throughout. “Vital Signs” is described by Neil Peart as a transitional song for the band. “Vital Signs” is upbeat and reggae-esque downbeat feel would play a part direction of the band on their next album Signals. Peart’s lyrical focus is his response to techno speak,’ the language of electronics and computers, which often seems to parallel the human machine, in the functions and interrelationships they employ’.   “Vital Signs” asks the question, do we impose our nature on the machines we build, or do they just merely governed by the same laws of nature we employ? Perhaps a warning sign that one day our machines might end up outsmarting us and taking over civilization.

Is “Vital Sign” a prophetic song about the rumored looming 2012 apocalypse? Is Peart a clairvoyant, or is the song merely just a coincidence? Many a conspiracy theorist would possible argue that “Vital Signs” is indeed a warning to us. The major appeal of Rush is Peart’s highly literate songwriting, by choosing not write about typical Rock N Roll subjects such as woman, cars, booze, etc. Rush’s songs remain timeless as well as relevant into the 21st century.

A great example of Peart’s thoughtful /intelligent writing can be found on Track 5 the “Camera’s Eye. ” This track explores the differences between New York and London.  The songs message is about vision, recognizing these two cities as similar in their hustle and bustle, yet culturally different when it comes to customs and beliefs. The great thing about being a Rush fan is the richness within their vast catalog, we as fans can debate a songs meaning, to the point of no return.

Will the newly released documentary (Beyond the Lighted Stage) finally award Rush the recognition that has long eluded them. Will the sudden media interest attract new fans?  I have mixed feelings about this, part of me would love to see them get nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, yet I would love to see Rush continue on the outer fringes of the mainstream where they belong. With a fiercely loyal fan base they are doing quite well where they stand as of now. Moving Pictures is the album that transitioned Rush into the 80’s full swing, let’s see if the next album transitions them to the next stratosphere.

All the world’s indeed a stage and we are merely players-Performers and portrayers-Each another’s audience-Outside the gilded cage  ~ Limelight


Great, now I have Limelight in my head.

Posted July 12, 2010 04:07 pm

I wanted to add, not sure how I forgot to include it. SNFU also was one of the founders of what we know now as skate-punk, influencing latter acts such as Lagwagon, Nofx, No Use For A Name, Pulley, etc.

Posted July 12, 2010 06:07 pm
lady lascivious

nobody ever remembers SNFU! high-five! you get points.

Posted July 13, 2010 04:07 pm

SNFU is great. I am kind of biased as my Cousin Rob played bass for SNFU from ‘91 till around 2001 he was with them during the Epitaph years, however regardless of this, they are great and never get the credit they deserve, at least here in the States.

Posted July 14, 2010 04:07 pm
lady lascivious

nice. i have an old record of theirs, i’ll have to check and see if he’s on it.

Posted July 14, 2010 08:07 pm

Cool! He was on all the Epitaph records releases. A live release called “let’s get it right the first time” and an EP released on Jello Biafra’s label.

Posted July 14, 2010 09:07 pm
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