Hopping into the car for the drive home from work on Friday, Jan. 10, I did my usual scan of the pre-set radio stations to hear what was on and when I tuned into CHOM-FM, which usually gets about a minute of my time before I settle in on NPR, I heard a old song from Rush. So I left it on 97.7. When a second Rush song was played I remembered that CHOM used to have a Two-For-Tuesday promo. Maybe they still do, but since it wasn’t Tuesday I happily wondered what was up.
You might have guessed by now that I love Rush — old Rush, to be specific. But when the second song ended, I heard the news. Drummer and lyricist Neil Peart was dead — at age 67.
Like many other fans, I was in shock. Because CHOM devoted the entire drive home playlist to the band’s repertoire, the next 45 minutes was filled with memories both happy and sad. So was the rest of that Friday evening.
Below is a column that I wrote almost 10 years ago years ago for The Suburban. On June 16, 2010 to be specific. Confessions of an Early Rush geek was in fact a review of the then newly-released documentary, Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage — with a tad more added.
Rest in peace Neil.
Confessions of an early Rush geek
If you happened to be at the old Montreal Forum on the night of December 27, 1978, and saw two gangly teens (one black, one white) sporting silk Japanese kimonos (one red, one powder blue) each holding a snifter filled from a concealed bottle of Rémy Martin VSOP cognac, well, that was me and my friend Zvonko.
We were there to see Rush, a band that we had looked forward to seeing since the last time they were in town — some nine months earlier. And we didn’t care how silly we looked on the subway ride into downtown Montreal. It was all about paying respect to the then-kimono-clad gods of prog rock.
This distant memory came back a few days ago during the screening of Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, a new documentary about one of rock’s most influential bands.
Formed in Willowdale, Ontario in 1968, Rush, believe it or not, ranks third for most consecutive Gold or Platinum studio albums after only the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
I attended my first Rush concert at the Forum on Friday, March 31, 1978. I know because I still have the ticket stub. And yes, they hit town twice in the same year.
While many of my classmates were into the likes of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Genesis and Kiss, an awkward few — who would go on to become engineers, physicists, convenience store clerks, cartoonists and newspaper editors — were into Rush. With their complex music, lyrics that spoke of mythology, space travel, black holes and philosophy, the band even introduced me at age 14 to the writings of Ayn Rand.
Sure they were made fun of and often dismissed by critics. It didn’t help that Geddy Lee’s voice often sounded like that of a cat caught in a blender. But so what?
Bassist, keyboardist and lead vocalist Lee (born Gary Lee Weinrib), guitarist Alex Lifeson (born Aleksandar Živojinovi), and drummer and lyricist Neil Peart (born Neil Peart), are rather unlikely rock idols. Directors Scot McFayden and Sam Dunn trace their lives from the moment Lee and Lifeson meet in junior high school through Peart’s emergency audition to replace their original drummer and all the ups and downs of their four-decade career.
The film also features never-before seen archival footage. Who knew the Živojinović and Weinrib families were prescient enough to film the moment a young Alex tells those seated at the dining room table that he’s dropping out of high school? Or a young Geddy transforming the family basement into a practice room filled with long-haired suburban Toronto teens? “My parents thought I was probably a drug-taking freak,” says Lee, as a dated photo of him looking like a drug-taking freak appears on screen.
Beyond the Lighted Stage is interspersed with reflections and testimonials from some big name rockers, including Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins) Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), Kirk Hammet (Metallica), Gene Simmons (Kiss), as well as the quite looney Jack Black, and the certifiably demented creator of South Park, Matt Stone,
The film also introduces us to some really hard-core fans. One goateed boomer gleefully boasts about seeing the band more than 100 times, which puts my eight pilgrimages to shame. In the film, Lee correctly describes Rush as “the world’s most popular cult band.”
My friend Zvonko still takes in the occasional Rush concert with his sons. Me? I let go in the mid 1980s when the band began to experiment a bit too much with synthesizers and electric drums. Ironically, that’s when I became a Depeche Mode fanatic