“Invisible Airwaves!”

OMG—

I’m 41 years old and I’m going to see Rush on Saturday. That should be depressing but I’m so excited. It’s been more than 25 years since I sat in my best friend Tim Haney’s basement and boggled over the mystery of Cygnus X-1, a song that ends “to be continued…” Whoa. Tim had filched older brother Jaye’s copy of A Farewell to Kings and it was just one of the most intriguing things either of us had ever seen or heard. What would I have thought if I’d known that I’d be going to see Rush so many years later?

There’s something about Rush that fires the furnace inside of teenage boys in a way that cannot be denied. I barreled through my teens listening to “Tom Sawyer” and “Red Barchetta” thinking that there was nothing in the world that I couldn’t do if I really wanted to. The music of Rush assured me that I had an important place in the universe —that in fact, we all did should we chose to accept such a mantle. Does that sound breathlessly grandiose? Of course it does! That’s what Rush is about somehow.

What really excites me is that I’m going to see Rush with some of my oldest friends and, while our friendships are somewhat disparate and we don’t always spend a lot of time together these days, we still have Rush. And while we listen to all manner of music (I am an ultra-hip-on-the-newest thing college radio deejay, I must belabor), obscure, mainstream, in a variety of genres, we still have Rush.

So why is it then that Rush inspires a kind of timid or reluctant endorsement as we get older? There’s almost “the Rush smirk,” the sideways look you know you’re gonna get if you bring up Rush among those who claim any degree of modern music fandom or scholarship. It’s as if my briefcase (if I had one) fell open and was full of Tinker Toys or Legos.

And what’s funny is that this attitude will frequently be adopted by people who quite possibly loved Rush when they were younger. Almost as if we’re saying I’m so much more sophisticated now, but when I was a kid… sure! Maybe it has something to do with that delicious burning with which we once felt those Objectivism-inspired Neil Peart lyrics (who among Rush fans wouldn’t have given anything to have dinner with our teenage intellectual god? if only to say “Neil, what should I do with my life?”) coupled with the oft-repeated — and so inaccurate — labeling of Rush as a ‘metal band.’ Please. Nothing really against metal for the purposes of this point; it’ s just so wrongheaded as to miss the entire point. Which is: There really isn’t any other Rush. What’s weird is that so few bands ever even come out into the light with their Rush inspiration. (The Smashing Pumpkins used to do “Limelight” in their encore, and Mixmaster Mike of the Beastie Boys does this great “Tom Sawyer” cut-up prior to Beasties shows). Recently, Chuck Klosterman, epic and hilarous rock writer that he is, wrote a fantastic essay on “The Spirit of Radio” for Esquire magazine.

So where am I going with this? Maybe it’s this: Rush is just like Star Wars for me. That elemental. And just as I don’t tend to watch Star Wars very often these days, neither do I tend to listen to Rush. But they both resonate to this day. They’ve both lost little of their sway over me and the way my brain works and really the values that I hold.

Recently, I’ve been reading, for the first time, The Lord of the Rings. I have always felt that not having read the Tolkien tome was an oversight by any supposedly well-read person. And one of the treats of this reading is seeing some of Rush’s own influences. “Rivendell” is obvious, and even somewhat hamfisted, one must admit. But “The Trees” shines still, in both word and music.

The point really is what Rush introduced me to: Rush introduced me to literature. Rush introduced me to intellectualism. Rush songs aren’t about girls, they’re not about partying, they’re not about drugs (okay, okay except A Passage to Bangkok), they’re not about being depressed. They’re about ideas and dreams, and the epic nature of the world around us. And for a band to inspire unshakeable starry-eyed optimism in teenage boys, well, there are worse things.

I learned so much from Rush, and I can’t wait to see them for the 3rd and probably last time. I doubt that I’ll need to see them again, honestly; this is kind of a “touching base” with my roots. It’s less a testament to any continued adulation, than it is a celebration of who I am in my 40’s. This person—this person who takes pride in a renaissance attitude, in a continuing zeal of discovery—owes plenty of that attitude to Rush.

And I don’t expect them to be the same band that I loved (although I of course can’t help but want them to be), but that’s mostly because Rush taught me not to expect that. “Changes aren’t permanent, but change is,” was just one of the many little life lessons that peek through those overwrought lyrics. This from a band that has, unbelievably by any measure, had the same roster for over 30 years. Almost no other band can claim that. Name one band. By and large they’ve always been married guys who have shunned the spotlight outside of touring (okay, Alex did get arrested with his son awhile back). I remember hearing, many many years ago, when they played Rupp Arena that they were seen playing tennis at the Hyatt. I’ve always held the funniest mental image of boney gargoyle-like Geddy Lee in tennis whites with a headband on. (And thanks to the Internet, here it is)

Rush just carries on. They are the essence of what one might call progressive rock. They just keep progressing and kids keep graduating from the school of Rush. It’s not like they ever sold out. It’s not like they’ve ever had a bigger hit than “Tom Sawyer.” But they have made million-selling record after record and have a die-hard audience of — guess who?— teenage boys full of fire, ambition, and what might be called intellectual angst, I’m guessing.

The funny thing about Rush, is that despite having “outgrown them,” I’ve always trusted them. How does a band inspire trust? I’m not really sure. I have just always felt that Rush wanted me to be the very best person that I was brave enough to be. In Rush’s music, the message was always Go! Do! Be! whether in my personal odysseys or even in relationships.

I’m still trying to do that, and I will always love Rush for their unflagging encouragement.

Last note on “The Starman,” the longstanding emblem of Rush. Neil Peart says: “All it means is the abstract man against the masses. The red star symbolizes any collectivist mentality.”

0 Replies to ““Invisible Airwaves!””

  1. Hmm… now that I’ve read this I’m slightly sorry I won’t be attending the show. I have to work (in a completely different state) anyway. Rest assured, if I was ever going to see Rush, I’d want it to be with you!

    Happy weekend Rush spew follows:

    I recently read a book by Neil P all about his motorcycle journeys while on tour. Sounds pretty swank, as he rides with a roadie & has pre-planned pick up & drop off points with the Rush equipment trucks. Like lots of rawk books, it was a bit like a car crash…terrible, but you just can’t look away.

    I also recently endured an unbelievably detailed dissertation from my current band’s drummer on why Neil P sucks! It’s too much to go into here, but basically revolves around the fact that he notates his drum solos ahead of time. (I think that’s kind of cool actually.)

    no point to this, just weekend Rush spew.

    –jT (of NYC)

  2. Holy smokes, Mick, what a great essay. I feel very warm and fuzzy, and you spelled Jaye’s name right, too.

    I’m not totally sure it was my basement where we broke “Farewell” in–it might have been on my swinging 8-track/turntable/radio combo rig in my room, but it is amazing that music we first heard in 5th or 6th grade could entertain and inspire for so long.

    A very tiny subset of your readers may be interested to know that Rush was the opener for KISS at the last rock show that ever played in the big O (we were too young but my brother was there!). KISS burned the roof with their satanic fireworks!

    Keep up the good work!

    Tim Haney

  3. From Paste Magazine’s New Rock Lexicon: GEDDICORN – A beautiful but possibly mythical creature – a woman who goes to Rush concerts without coercion from a male significant other.

  4. What a create write up on the influences of Rush on your life.

    It’s amazing how many people resonate with a band that has received such critical disdain.

    Just goes to show that critics don’t necessarily have their fingers on the pulse of what really matters in the musical community.

    -John
    http://www.cygnus-x1.net

  5. I am going to see rush in one week 9 days and some odd hours and i am so excited. I realized a few months back that i needed to get back to my musical roots having been inundated with the current music my teenage daughters listen to. I thought of course! Rush can bring me out of this music hell. And sure enough they did. They have inspired me to once again pursue my dreams that I had back in the day when I knew and loved them so intimately. They are and always will be the greatest band in my rock and roll heart.

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