Pigs fly. Hell freezes over. Rush makes the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The first two may not have happened yet. But, pinch yourselves, Rush fans -- the third one just did.
The legendary Canadian progressive rock band will be enshrined in the Hall's class of 2013, along with rock band Heart, rap pioneers Public Enemy, pop tunesmith Randy Newman, and two posthumous inductees -- blues guitar legend Albert King and disco queen Donna Summer. (Record producers Quincy Jones and Lou Adler will be inducted in the non-performer category.)
This was Rush's first time on the ballot, and fans were allowed to vote for the first time. It appears Rush's fiercely-devoted fans stuffed the ballot box, as the band won the online vote. But that gave them only the tiniest of pushes toward the finish line. The fans' top five picks were lumped together as a “fan’s ballot” which counted only as one among more than 600 ballots that determined who got in. (For the record, only three of the fans' top five picks -- Rush, Heart, and Albert King -- made the final cut. Deep Purple and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts will have to wait until next year.)
Rush -- bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer/lyricist Neil Peart -- had been eligible for the Hall of Fame since 1998 but had been repeatedly snubbed. And although many fans have worn that as a badge of honor, and the band members themselves have said they don't care whether they get in or not, one thing is clear, and has now been validated: a band of Rush's quality, longevity and influence deserves to be enshrined.
Yes, I have an opinion on this one. I’ve been listening to Rush for 31 years, and I don’t see that ever changing. Their music has been the soundtrack of my life, through good times and bad, and I’m so much better for it.
Being a Rush fan is not a casual endeavor. You either love them or you hate them. And loving them was never really cool. In high school, they weren’t heavy enough for the metal kids, and they were way too heavy for the pop and new-wave kids. The things that attracted me to the band -- progressive songwriting, sterling musicianship and lofty lyrics -- went right over most people’s heads.
And there was just something about being a Rush fan where people thought you were weird. Like, if you’re into Rush, you must spend all your free time playing Dungeons & Dragons. You’re a Rush fan, and you have a girlfriend? How did you even meet a girl? (Maybe at RushCon.)
It’s true that the band’s audience historically has been almost 100% male, although more female fans have been coming around lately. Lifeson recently told Guitar World magazine he thinks that might be a result of the excellent 2010 documentary "Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage," which aired on cable TV music channels and introduced a whole new group of people to the band not only as players, but as people – warm, funny guys who have been friends for life and, despite their music’s weighty instrumental and lyrical content, never take themselves too seriously.
Indeed, the last few years have provided a bit of redemption for hardcore Rush fans like myself. Yes, the band is still together. Yes, they’re better than ever. And yes, they finally might be gaining wider recognition.
In the documentary, "South Park" co-creator and Rush fan Matt Stone theorized the band was becoming more popular because people like him who were fans early on are now in positions of power and influence. While Rush has been name-checked in pop culture since their early days (click here for an exhaustive list) it’s become more frequent lately, with appearances or mentions on "South Park," "Family Guy," the movie "I Love You, Man," a recent Volkswagen commercial, and a hilarious interview on "The Colbert Report," during which host Stephen Colbert famously asked, “Have you ever written a song so epic that by the end of the song, you were actually being influenced by yourselves at the beginning of the song?”
It’s funny ‘cause it’s true. After Rush’s 1974 debut album, which sounded like a Canadian version of Led Zeppelin, Peart joined the fold and the band quickly began finding its own voice – not only in Lee’s high-pitched wail, but in epic, multi-part compositions (“2112”, “The Fountain of Lamneth”, “Cygnus X-1, Book II”) that consumed entire album sides. Those two factors combined to turn off a lot of listeners, who never gave Rush another chance. They might be surprised to know the band writes shorter songs these days (since 1980, actually) and Lee’s voice has mellowed to a soaring tenor, although he can still hit the high notes when he wants to.
Although they’ve always had their own musical identity, Rush also has changed with the times. At the end of the '70s, the band abandoned the side-length epics in favor of tighter arrangements. The ensuing string of albums – "Permanent Waves," "Moving Pictures" and "Signals" – is considered by many fans to be the band’s best work. Even non-Rush fans know the songs from this era, many of which became staples on FM radio – “The Spirit of Radio”, “Tom Sawyer”, “Limelight”, “Subdivisions”, “New World Man.”
In the mid-'80s, the band adopted an era-appropriate, synth-heavy sound (along with new-wave clothes and haircuts) that found Lee playing less bass guitar, trapped behind mountains of keyboards while Peart added electronic drums and Lifeson’s guitar took on a less-prominent role. As the '90s dawned and harder-edged music came back into style, Rush was right there, stripping away the synths and returning to its roots as a three-piece rock band.
That sound has continued to present day, with the band’s 19th studio album, the critically acclaimed "Clockwork Angels," released in June. Rush recently launched a massive tour to support the new CD.
(I’m going to pause here, because I know you just went back to re-read the last sentence. Yes, that’s “Rush” and “critically acclaimed”, sharing real estate. Even Rolling Stone, never a supporter of the band, gave the album three and a-half stars.)
Rush’s albums are spaced farther apart these days, and it was a five-year wait for "Clockwork Angels". I’d be lying if I said I didn’t go into it with huge expectations. And they were met. A concept piece comprised of songs that stand equally well on their own, the album embodies everything Rush fans have come to love about the band: strong songwriting, heady arrangements and top-flight playing, alternately hard-rocking and beautifully plaintive.
The capper for me is the way the guys now quote themselves from two or more past sonic eras within the same song, yet manage to make it sound completely fresh. Several songs from the new album have verses that sound like Rush from the '70s, while the choruses sound like their work from the early '90s. But it always sounds organic, never forced. It works on every level, and it’s exhilarating.
I’ve been smitten with Rush’s music since I was 13, and although I’ve become obsessed with other bands during that time, I always come back to Geddy, Alex, and Neil. Rush is my favorite band, and, cool or not, they always will be. And I don’t feel the need to defend it anymore.
As KISS bassist Gene Simmons, a frequent tour mate of Rush in the '70s, put it in "Beyond the Lighted Stage": “What kind of band is Rush? It’s … Rush!”
Sorry this was so long. I always liked the '70s stuff the best.