By Ben Birchard
Music Programmer (RX Music)
Arrogance. Narcissism. Cockiness. Egomania. All are qualities commonly associated with “Rock Stardom”. A healthy serving of those traits are required, and even revered, in our Rock Stars. We often wish for those we idolize to be that which we find distasteful in ourselves and our peers; it’s a contradiction that has informed our relationship with Rock Stars since Elvis could only be shown from the waist up while gyrating on Sullivan.
The contradiction, that is the band RUSH, is that none of those labels could ever be applied to them. Not even a little bit. They are Rock Stars of a different breed: a stereotypically polite Canadian breed. After 20 studio albums, 8 Juno Awards (with over 50 nominations), 7 Grammy Nominations, 24 Gold, 14 Platinum with 3 Multi-Platinum Records and 7 Songs cracking Billboard’s Hot 100, the news that RUSH had been elected to Rock and Roll’s Hall of Fame was met by their legions (and legions may be the only appropriate word to describe them) of fans with a collective refrain: “Finally!”. RUSH’s response? Perhaps best summarized by their bassist Geddy Lee in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine “It made my mom very happy, so that’s worth it”.
Lee, along with other RUSH members Alex Lifeson (guitar) and Neil Peart (drums) have all been crowned “The Best” at their given instrument by different publications numerous times. In the case of Peart, who also writes the lyrics for the band, it might be easier to note the years he has not been named the best at his craft. Rolling Stone just cut right to the chase and named him the Greatest Drummer of All Time. These three giants are regarded as musician’s musicians.
Yet, to try and define this trio, by simply listing their accomplishments, is to miss the point. These guys did everything wrong if you want to become a rock star. They looked funny, they were humble, they played in weird time-signatures and they didn’t sing about love or getting the girl. They weren’t even playing music to try and get the girl! In the pantheon of Rock, RUSH are the misfits. Often their fans were too. If you weren’t one of the “cool kids” RUSH was a rock band you could relate to. They spoke directly to you.
“In the high school halls, in the shopping malls, conform or be cast out. In the basement bars, in the backs of cars, be cool or be cast out” (from ‘Subdivisions’ off the album Signals – 1982).
While KISS was telling you to rock and roll all night and party every day, RUSH was telling you it’s okay and you’re not alone if you don’t want to (rock and roll all night). If Rock is temple at which jocks worship, then RUSH has been the refuge of the damned. And their fans love them for it with a fervor usually reserved for guys named John, Paul, George or Ringo. Go to a RUSH show – the crowd isn’t just singing along to the choruses, they’re singing along to every word and every note of Lifeson’s epic guitar solos. If you could sing a drum solo, you can bet that Peart would have a backing choir, as well. It’s really something.
For over 44 years, RUSH has been doing things their way. When they were pushed by their label to come up with a more commercially friendly and accessible record, they responded with 1976’s ‘2112’, an album which featured a 20 minute title track divided into seven different sections. It would go on to sell over 3 million copies.
RUSH may never have a seat at the table where Mick Jagger, Prince or Bowie dine, but they’d fit right at your Sunday dinner table. They’d probably mind their P’s and Q’s, too. And they’re right at home in Cleveland’s storied Shrine to rock’s greatest legends. Finally.