Phantom Sway

Vintage Gold: Rush

Honestly, if you’ve never listened to “Tom Sawyer,” well, by God, you just ain’t ‘Merican…

By Enrico Frangi (Uploaded by User:Jonasz) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
This Vintage Gold comes from Chris Carlson-

Since the time I learned to write my own name, there were two things – aside from family and country – that I’ve always cared about: the Minnesota Vikings and music. The former spends its autumns trying to destroy me, but the latter has a peerless four decades of saving me. My first music memory is standing by my parents’ JC Penney stereo in our old farmhouse and hearing a swirling mix of an otherworldly voice, drums, guitars and what sounded like an orchestra of thousands. (Years later, I figured out it was Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” That’s like hitting a 13-run homer in your first at-bat.)

My taste in music is delightfully confused. I’m a “mood” listener, and there’s more that I like than dislike. If you found the 1988 version of me and asked what my favorite band is, I’d rattle off about a dozen names, some of whom I still adore; Zeppelin, The Beatles, Queen, The Police, Fleetwood Mac. But if you asked me to pick one above all the others, I couldn’t. Impossible. There’s too much out there to say, “That one’s the best!”

Then came the early 1990s: the college years. As the cliché goes, the old rock & roll order was busted over the anvil of all things alternative (I see you, Kitchens of Distinction) and grunge (Entertain us!). For a music-worshipping 20-year-old, the reset button was punched with verve. Everything was new, and the idea of a picking a favorite band was, once again, like picking a favorite snowflake out of a Christmas Eve snow. Why bother? Yet into this revolutionary torrent of all things modern came an established band that was at once mainstream and rejected, loved and loathed, classic and new, a band that one of its founding members accurately described as “the biggest cult band in the world.”

Rush. Juste entre nous, je les aime.Rush_A_Show_of_Hands

A friend handed me a copy of Rush’s A Show of Hands live album and said simply, “You need to listen to this.” Of course, I’d heard of Rush, and heard some of their music on the radio. Honestly, if you’ve never listened to “Tom Sawyer,” well, by God, you just ain’t ‘Merican…even though Rush is Canadian. (‘Nadian!) The only other thing I knew about them was a video they showed us in Sunday School about all the “Satanic” bands out there in the early 80s, and Rush made the list because they had a pentagram on the cover of their 2112 album. A shape! Beelzebub has crossed the border!

A Show of Hands. Holy cow. I listened to it for days. Days! It had everything I wanted: expert songcraft, intelligent lyrics, and above all else, a level of musicianship that was unmatched. (And still is, to this day. There is one musical topic upon which I will brook no dissent: Rush is the most musically talented band in rock history. Period, end of story, yo.)

The album was recorded in 1988-89, and is largely a collection of their 80s work: “Subdivisions”, “The Big Money”, “Mission”, “Marathon”, “Witch Hunt”, “Distant Early Warning”, “Time Stand Still”, etc., with a nugget from the 70s – “Closer To The Heart” – closing things out. All wrapped around a drum solo from Neil Peart that takes Tommy Lee’s insipid rollercoaster drum act and stands it on its hollow noggin. Here, the professionals are in the building. My heroes. Peart, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson.

I could describe their sound but, like Frank Zappa once said, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” Music has to be heard. Listen to Rush sometime, if you haven’t. If you love it, great! You’re now amongst millions worldwide who treasure this band like an heirloom. But if you don’t like it, that’s okay. I understand. It’s not for everyone. It’s not an easy listen. It’s layered, dense, proggy, heavy, grandiose, adventurous, and – admittedly, when it comes to Peart’s PhD-level lyrics – too-clever-by-half in places. There’s a real hatred of Rush in many corners of the music world, and I used to return that hatred in kind.

But not anymore.

Life’s too short to hate the haters, or deride anyone else’s taste in music. There’s no room in music for hate. Rush carried on despite the critical disdain, made the music they wanted to make, and in the end, they won. They were voted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, wound up on the cover of the Rolling Stone, and found their way into movies and TV. All the things that need to happen for a rock band to “matter.”

I don’t care about those things, to be honest with you. It’s all about the music, man, and I’ll take Rush’s over anyone’s. Last year’s R40 Tour was their last, I saw two shows, both brilliant, and at tour’s end, Peart announced his retirement from music. Rush is no more, at least as a music-making entity. But I can live with that. Their body of work speaks for itself, and gives me more than I need, including the ability to finally say, this band is my favorite.

Rock on.

  • “Chris Carlson turned his expensive Communications degree into a rewarding career selling cars. In his downtime, he gets into unsold vehicles, turns the radio to an appropriate station, and sets the equalizer properly.”

Phantom Sway

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