pulling into Kathmandu smoke rings fill the air
Last week, Rush played Boston and I know a few guys who attended (and no women who did), giving the show the same reviews as always — great, incredible, sounded amazing, the light of the world shown majestically through sound and rock-n-roll fury. I am pretty sure one friend said Rush played an entire set of just the Power Windows album (yes, that one that made you stop listening to Rush, the album with “The Big Money,” arguably Rush’s worst combination of synthesizers and quasi-Randian political-economic rhetoric. The local hard rock station I listened to in high school, Worcester’s WAAF, refused to play anything off it).
Occasionally I lapse into Rush mode, playing the group non-stop (as long as I am home alone or in the car alone) for a week or so, providing a chance to reflect on those songs that actually stand out. Before revealing the wisdom I’ve gleaned from By-Tor and the Snow Dog, first some perspective:
- Rush has been debated in Congress (ok, its old and fake, but accurate in a truth-y way)
- Speaking of truth-i-ness, the captures some of why Rush is cool
- an old friend from my days at Treasury demanded I download “Headlong Flight” from Rush’s latest album, saying the song would bring me back to Rush permanently, that it sounded like something off Moving Pictures (not only their best album, but the first live concert I ever saw). And “Headlong Flight” is good. Great? Not sure…I need to hear it about 20 more times.
So which songs have withstood the maturation of our ears? Which songs still sound good 20-25-30 years later and probably will still sound good in the year 2112?
Spirit of the Radio — the opening guitar riff is burned into your memory. The opening verses flow with a light pop-ness that Rush never achieved again. The alliteration and internal rhyme made my 11th grade English teacher smile. And the weird transition to the last two stanzas (concert halls and salesmen)…in high school, the guitarist and lead singer I played with couldn’t both sing “salesmen” and start his guitar solo, leaving me to say “salesmen” about 10 seconds late. Somewhere there is a cassette tape with that…
Tom Sawyer — there is no more difficult rock song to play on the drums. Neil Peart folds intricate syncopation into a steady rock beat in a confounding, cool way. And the drum fills and almost impossible to copy. Percussion aside…”what you say about his company is what you say about society”….grunge-like guitar, synthesizers, cool lyrics. Maybe their best song. Yes, I know, that is like saying “Stairway to Heaven” was Led Zep’s best because it was so popular, but its hard to think of what is better (than Tom Sawyer…I’d take “Song Remains the Same” over “StH”)
Bastille Day – some of the longest drum fills in recorded history. A solid rock riff, a weird stop-beat section, the always necessary shift to a slow beat…and then Neil Peart hits ever drum he has (go to the 4:10 mark). “Bastille Day” is like a lot of songs from that era — structured, complicated, ever-shifting beats and solid, crashing guitar riffs. Oh, and lyrics that required an education.
I could go on for a while. “Red Barchetta,” “Closer to the Heart,” “Passage to Bangkok,” “Fly By Night,” hell even “Subdivisions”…But at some point, listening to Rush means accepting Geddy Lee’s terrible voice. Yes. It sucks. But imagine Bob Dylan, Axl Rose, and Geddy Lee covering Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian,” all together, a kind of three-part rock-n-roll harmony. Did your mind just throw up on itself, kind of like when you throw up in your mouth? It could be worse…but, much like the Guitar Hero link above, part of what makes Rush cool is how terribly awful Lee’s voice is. If they were less geeky, they would have recruited David Lee Roth or Ronnie James Dio or some other triple-named rock god who would have growled through “Passage to Bangkok.”
And Rush as a four-person band, with some bleached-blonde muppet singing “Cities full of hatred Fear and lies, Withered hearts And cruel tormented eyes, Scheming demons Dressed in kingly guise, Beating down the multitude And scoffing at the wise.” Yeah, that would never work. But this does...and is so fantastically like Spinal Tap (sweet Abraham Lincoln’s mother, go to the 5:05 mark in this video and simply enjoy).
Ok, so the lead singer’s voice sucks, the lyrics are ridiculously pretentious, the synthesizers show up too much, and the band looked like Spinal Tap (and then like Phil Collins’ nephews), but you know when you hear “Tom Sawyer” its pretty great.