Tuesday, 3 June 2014

May 1979

Rush hour

I arrive at the Newcastle hotel where Rush are hanging out before their second-night concert at the City Hall.

Outside there are a dozen fans jumping in front of anything on wheels to catch a glimpse of the Canadian capers. They’ve been on ice all day − school’s out and this is dole-queue rock, sonny. This is the punter’s paradise. This is what mitigates their unconditional surrender to the inevitable grey. This is the early pay cheque, the visit to the movies, the undignified grope in the back row.

Rush and their ilk tamper with their dreams. Epic allusions, day excursions to Parnassus (where the nuts come from), huge diaphanous characters battling for Good in a galaxy far, far away.

Rush’s music is an extravagant, electronic enema, complex and facile, gross but with the occasional delectable nuance.

One critic recently condemned the whole operation (and it is nothing less) as fascist. But there’s no attempt to indoctrinate. Rush are simply true purveyors of pomp-and-circumstance heavy metal. Three-piece suites are their forte: some may be a little chewy and difficult to digest, but their music is a glorious overkill. In fact, it’s a two-hour maim.

Alex Lifeson (‘Hey, isn’t that Schencker?’ asks the air steward, peering over my shoulder as I read a Rush review on the flight from Heathrow to Newcastle), with the glittering Gibson solos, Geddy Lee of the stoned-choirboy voice and multifarious moogs, and drummer Neil Peart.

Neil has just ordered a steak, with sherry trifle to follow, in the hotel restaurant a few hours before the concert. ‘It’s really difficult to get trifles on the other side of the Atlantic.’

He’s Rush’s lyricist and was instrumental in changing the band’s direction from a bottom-of-the-heap HM a-go-go band to top-flight spectacle when he joined four years ago. Neil, with the Edwardian moustache and Georgian barnet, came to London from Canada in the early seventies to seek fame and fortune as a musician. After bumming around with a few bands he eventually ended up selling souvenirs in Carnaby Street.

His rock-star ambitions thwarted, Neil returned to Canada and started work with his father, a farm-equipment dealer. He was promoted to parts manager, selling the odd tractor track or combine cog and looked assured of a fairly affluent life in the agricultural world. It was around this time he was approached by Alex and Geddy who were on the lookout for a drummer after the departure of original percussionist John Rutsey.

There then followed a series of albums that showcased Peart’s predilection for the myth, the fantasy, the sci-fi scenario, the magic.

They toured Britain early last year to a tumultuous reception. Their last two albums −
A Farewell To Kings and Hemispheres have now gone silver over here and the current tour sold out weeks in advance. Yet their songs have been dismissed as immature and pretentious.

‘That’s ridiculous,’ says Neil. ‘I’ve matured a great deal during my association with Rush and managed to maintain my integrity. I’ve come to understand a whole new aspect of life which I’ve never been able to articulate before.’

Hence the ‘message’ accusations.

‘Okay, maybe there are messages in the songs. I just write about anything that seems important to me. If I have a "pure" idea to express I’ll put it over in grand style to blend in with the structure of the whole thing and to illustrate my point. The songs are specifically aimed at people my own age, twenty-six, and younger.’

Another accusation leveled at Rush is that their songs praise capitalism.

‘To make it clear once and for all, I believe totally in personal freedom. As long as I have the choice I don’t care. I went through the stage when I was interested in politics but now I’m interested in other, more spiritual, things. Our integrity is not for sale, our art is. It costs us a lot − both financially and personally − to produce our music and we deserve a just reward. We are, first and foremost, a hard rock band − and the cornerstone of all hard rock is excitement.’

Neil in a nutshell: he’d like to write a novel if he ever gets the time. He reads voraciously, anything from Agatha Christie to Plato. The Who were the first band he ever really got into. He has a sweetheart and a child back home and he visits them every fourth week during the tour. He never drinks before a gig and smiles when he talks about anything he considers important.

Then I get this headache.

It thumps through the journey to the Newcastle City Hall of the crimson kings, does a Chinese burn on my brain during the support, devours rational thought during Rush’s two-hour set, and totally blinds me in the
apr├Ęs-gig Rush dressing room. As I crunch a clutch of Anadin, I try to convince Geddy Lee that it wasn’t their music that caused it.
Rush leave early and decide to drive through the night to the next concert in Glasgow.

I stagger back to the hotel. No dreams for me that night. No Apollo. No Dionysus. No Xanadu. No mighty oaks or shimmering palaces.

Just a world of pain.

(Rush went from strength to strength in the eighties and nineties but then hit a brick wall in 1997 when Neil’s daughter Selena was killed in a car accident and his wife Jacqueline died of cancer ten months later. Neil took off on a motorbike, rode across America and clocked up 55,000 miles. He remarried in 2000 and the band released a new album,
Vapor Trails, in 2002. The album Snakes & Arrows was released in 2007 and sold 100,000 copies in its first week. The band also embarked on an extensive world tour to promote it. Their last studio album was Clockwork Angels released in 2012. A June 8, 2013 show the band played at the Sweden Rock Festival was their first festival appearance in thirty years. To date, Rush have sold over 40 million records.)

Next: The Tubes in New York

Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain

© Barry Cain 2013

Check out Barry’s new novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00H0IM2CY


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