Some loves are too big. These are the kind that affect you so completely, so profoundly, that to talk about them becomes daunting, almost embarrassingly difficult. So it is with me and Rush, the Canadian prog-rock trio, my most constant and enduring musical love. But recently, in the context of what may be Rush’s last big tour (or tour, period), I was given the chance to talk about them on the radio. It was a gift, and the person who so kindly gave this gift to me probably only has a small idea how special this was for me.
Not many people will have listened to that interview, but what it meant to me was that I was given a voice, the chance of finally being able to elaborate on my fandom, on my admiration and love for a band that has been with me practically all my life. And it was all positive, in respect and in honour for this band.
I say this because despite having been a major musical force for the last 41 years, having released 20 studio albums and numerous live recordings, having an enormous cult following around the world, and having become three of the most recognized, admired and distinguished musicians in their respective instruments (Bass, drums and guitar), Rush has never had the respect that many bands of similar scope and history have enjoyed, both in music circles (i.e. critics and music writers) and in the mainstream among music fans. It is a fact that has baffled me for decades, ever since I moved to Canada and discovered that South Americans’ love and respect of Rush was not universal.
I have been made fun of many times for being a fan. But throughout it all, my heart never felt any less love for them, these three men whose names evoke a treasure of memories and emotions, from very early adolescence into adulthood. So last Friday, when we attended Rush’s show at Rogers Arena, I was almost overcome with emotion. It could well be the last time they tour. And if it isn’t, all celebrations of this type have this element of pathos, of looking back and reminiscing about times that will never be back.
One of the things that makes it so difficult to talk about Rush, is that my love for their music conflates with my admiration of what this band stands for and my affection for the musicians that make it up. And it is because Rush, from the start, was a truly unique band, resistant to trends, “rock lifestyle” temptations, and commercial compromises and demands.
And this was seen, heard, and perceived both through their music’s mind-bending form and lyrics–forever in a lane outside the rock mainstream–and their personal conduct. Integrity, humility and dignity are three words that perfectly describe Rush. Respect would be another one, for themselves, their instruments, their music, and most definitely, their fans.
Growing up in Venezuela, I dreamed of going to a show, any show, but mainly a Rush show. I have realized that dream many times now; not as many times as I would like to, but definitely a few precious times. After moving to Canada, as I have tried to understand this country and its culture, I have often felt curious about its past. I have tried to imagine what it would have been like to grow up here. Rush represents that as well. A link to a culture I have yet to fully understand. But the main qualities are there: Canada, a place where individualism is valued and respected above all, a nation of profoundly decent, fantastically diverse and humble people. A nation that does the right thing in its own way, as Rush always has.
Last Friday’s concert was extraordinary. The show’s concept was simple yet genius in its affective power. It was probably the closest any of us will get to time travel.
The show started with songs from Rush’s most recent album, Clockwork Angels, and then proceeded to move backwards chronologically through a catalogue that saw them change in style, ideas, musical influences and instruments; from the heavier, boomier sound of 2010s and 90s Rush to the synth-heavy and pristine 80s, to the dry but heavy, spectacularly complex 70s.
And not only did the music change in sound (they were not happy just to “play” the songs again, but recreate them faithful to the period they were created), the stage did as well, with the stagehands coming in throughout the show and adding, moving, changing the set as if going back in time. Almost imperceptibly, the music started to sound younger and younger, the stage to look simpler and simpler, familiar props and lights I have seen in countless concert videos sending tingles of recognition through my heart.
If I never had the chance to be a Rush fan in the 70s or early 80s, I felt then what it must have been to be there. An imagined memory, one that I have often dreamed about, came to me: that of being a nerdy kid living in the suburbs in the early 80s, holding onto “Subdivisions” as a beacon of hope, walking to my local arena on a rainy night to see Rush.
Real memories also poured back, as when the band launched into a perfect, emotional rendition of “Jacob’s Ladder,” of the many times I had listened to it looking at the liner notes of Exit…Stage Left, dreaming one day of being inside that arena with that lucky, far away audience.
The musical prowess of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart is universally acknowledged. That is the real spectacle of their live performances. How they continue to push themselves to ever higher peaks of ability, subtlety and emotional resonance. It was all there on Friday. From “Far Cry,” to “Animate,” to “Distant Early Warning,” to a very rare performance of the moving “Losing It,” to “Jacob’s Ladder,” “2112,” “Cygnus X-I,” and “Lakeside Park”–it was all real, played with love, joy and most of all, generosity.
Forty years of music behind them, Rush continued to teach me and to move me, as relevant as ever. What they have taught me is this: believe in yourself, believe in humanity. Believe in difference, ambition, complexity and excellence. Try to look for it, strive for it, understand it and embrace it.