Imagine the year is 1975, it’s spring but still a little chilly out so you put your denim jacket on. You’re going to walk down to the local record store and see what’s new. You’re fourteen years old and its 1975, you have no real concept of record release dates, you just know what you like. You love hard rock, when your older brother goes out with his friends for the night you sneak into his room and borrow his records. Kiss, ZZ top, Blue Oyster Cult, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Aerosmith, whatever looks cool. You walk into the record store, and immediately see a bunch of new records on display: AC/DC High Voltage, Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, Alice Cooper – Welcome to My Nightmare, and ooh is who is this Olivia Newton John woman? And then sticking out like a sore thumb is this bright blue album with a giant owl on the cover, Rush – Fly By Night. Your brother had another Rush album that also stood out like a sore thumb with it’s big proclamation in pink letters “RUSH” That album was good, it was new and loud sounding, the singer had an insanely high voice and there was something different about them you couldn’t put your finger on yet and well this new one has to be good. The song titles on this one get weird right away on side one with some multi part song called “By-Tor & the Snow Dog” You, err, rush home to play this new album, and you’re greeted to a completely empty house, it’s a Saturday afternoon in April and you have the new Rush album that came out a couple months ago.
You drop the needle on the record and are immediately punched in the face, and then pummeled over and over by the arrangement of this song, particular the drumming. You don’t remember drumming like this on the other record. Again, it’s 1975 and you are fourteen. You have no concept of lineup changes especially when it comes to the drummer. You check the other Rush album and low and behold it is a new drummer, Neil Peart and strange, he also wrote most of the lyrics on this new one. This album becomes your favorite record of the year, you play it all summer. It’s catchy, it’s weird, the lyrics seem real mature and you don’t one hundred percent get them yet but there seems to be more interesting stuff happening than most of the rock albums you listen to. This is the album that makes you a lifelong Rush fan, you make other friends who love the band, go see them live whenever they come to town. It’s nice to meet you fourteen year-old Rush fan.
Fast forward to September of 1982. I am starting junior high school in Swampscott, Massachusetts. A nice upper middle-class suburb on the ocean north of Boston. My parents have been divorced for two years now, I am twelve years old and have been a “weird kid” for a few years now. My older brother and I had good record collections mostly because we got more of a head start having a dad in the music business. Rush was on my radar, my brother had Exit Stage Left. They sounded dark and other worldly to me.
We had moved to Swampscott in the summer and I would be going to the junior high school there in September. I had no friends there yet but had a skateboard and long hair and found other kids with skateboards and long hair. Once the fall hit we all had Levi’s Denim jackets. There was always that one weird kid that was a little poor that had a Wrangler denim jacket though and he was like the next level outcast. In the winter we switched to those Levis corduroy jackets with the fuzz inside. I fell in with a good group of fellow burnouts (that’s literally what kids like us were labeled in 1982), some of who I am still good friends with today. At this time I was simultaneously discovering heavy metal like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest (I had seen Ozzy in April at the Boston Garden after Randy Rhoads died with Bernie Torme filling in on guitar) and Rush who all of these new friends were into. Hardcore music would show up about a year later. I was nervous to start at a new school and even though I had a good circle of friend I got picked on. My first month there an eight-grader tied my sweatshirt sleeves to the door handles of the theater in the school. I was in the sweatshirt at the time. A lot of crap like that went down. On a side note a year later I would have a substitute teacher named Mrs Quint who was the nicest woman ever and showed off a “fanzine” her son Al published called Suburban Punk. Al would take me to my first hardcore show in 1983. So that was a whole other world of outcasts I would experience. It’s where I felt most at home. Rush fans, metal fans, punk rockers. At the time nobody in any of those groups would admit it but we were all the same.
Rush released the album Signals on September 9th, 1982 and it changed my life. The opening song, Subdivisions immediately spoke to my isolated self in a way nothing else had before it. The lines “Any escape might help to smooth the unattractive truth but the suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth” Not only made me want to leave and explore other parts of where I lived like the city, but also in school and the people I associated with. I didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing. The clean cut American kid, Alex Keaton, the football player, etc. Nothing about that was charming to me. Walking around in the woods with my friends, or playing Dungeons and Dragons was more my speed and seemed more interesting and fun than following a straight path. This record became my soundtrack for that entire first year at Swampscott Junior High, I turned thirteen in November of that year so it was a perfect record for a new teenager to hear. This record is often referred to as their big “synth” record (along with the next couple) which never even crosses my point at this point. It’s Rush in 1982, that’s all it sounds like. The progression makes sense when you think of what was happening in music at the time with bands like The Police and maybe even Talking Heads and think of side two of Moving Pictures. This was the record that led me on my journey, just like the imaginary kid discovering Fly By Night. Signals was the one that did it for me. Rush became my best friends for many years. The later years I still bought every record but they didn’t have the same feeling as the earlier ones did.
Fast forward to present time. In the early 2000’s my friend Jonah invited me to a party at his apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was there I met a guy named Brian, we talked about music and shared a love for Rush so of course immediately hit it off. We became friends on social media after that but never saw each other in person until I started my podcast. I was doing mostly one on one conversations with people so I decided to branch out and do some episodes with Brian and his lifelong friend Guy where we sit around and talk about a specific band or subject. It was later discovered either from Jonah or Brian that Jonah had wanted to get Brian and I together as he knew we’d hit it off and become friends. The first time I hung with Brian and Guy I met them at Brian’s place at 1:00 pm and left at 2:30 am because we basically talked music for twelve hours. I interviewed them as a pair, and we agreed to get together again and record some subject specific episodes and that’s what we did. The next time we got together we had no real plan and at the last minute we all wrote down a list of our favorite Rush songs and hit record. It was natural and a conversation we would have had even had we not hit record as we had already talked for many hours about Rush. I had found two guys with a similar love and passion for this band and how important they were. We are all around the same age and experienced the band around the same time in life, so it has been great having two friends to share all of this with the last year or so. Here is a link to the episode of the podcast if you want to hear it
The first thing I did today when I heard Neil Peart died was text Brian and Guy, and then a little later my friend and former decade long bandmate Breaux. Breaux and I saw at least two Rush shows together and they are also his favorite band of all time. I had an hour left of work and pretty much did nothing. I was in shock. My eyes welled up. I left the office a few minutes early and immediately played Afterimage, the song, on the Signals follow up Grace Under Pressure (which is just a gorgeous sounding 80s record) is about the loss of Robbie Whalen, an engineer on the Rush albums Permanent Waves, Exit Stage Left, Moving Pictures, and Signals. He was killed in a car accident outside the Rush studios one night. The video for this song is intense and you can see the anguish on Neil’s face and the emotional exhaustion he is filled with at the end of the video. I dare you to watch this and not feel that. This is how I felt today and this evening while writing this.
Neil was a friend of mine, or at least it felt like that. I almost had a chance to meet Neil when I was working for Rounder Records and we were invited back stage for a meet and greet with Geddy and Alex who I did meet. One of my co-workers had met with Neil and a few other employees earlier before I arrived. Neil was notorious for keeping his distance from fans (“I can’t pretend the stranger is the long awaited friend”) but a couple of people being brought over to him to say hello was okay. Personally, I’m glad I did not meet Neil Peart. It would have done nothing for him and what could I possibly say to him? What if he told me to buzz off? Instead I got a brief hand shake with Alex and Geddy and asked Geddy about his fantasy baseball team and that was of course a pretty surreal moment I’ll never forget, I touched the hand that plays that bass line in Analog Kid, or that crazy bridge section in Freewll. Fuck. Neil had a tough life later on losing both his wife and daughter in a short period of time. Reading his books after those incidents made it certain there was no reason for me to ever meet him. He was larger than life to my fellow friends who are fans and I. I liked Neil just where he was.
I saw a few of my denim clad friends from the early 80’s posting about Neil on social media today and it made me happy to think back that I experienced this band together with those guys when we did, and now have friends the same age as those guys to share the band with. Rush was never one of those bands I wanted to keep to myself like maybe some of the punk bands I got into later on. Rush is now universal, although for the first maybe twenty years of me liking the band they were considered a band nerds listened to, not so anymore. I don’t think I saw any tired snarky “Wow a lot of you are Rush fans all of a sudden” comments today because really, there are a lot of fans. Diehard and casual, who cares, everyone is allowed to love this music. I imagine the kid who discovered Fly By Night in 1975 is also feeling it today and e-mailing his friends about it (he’s using e-mail mainly because he’s old and still uses e-mail to communicate with people)
There have been two other major music deaths that have inspired me to write words down, Chris Cornell and Jeff Hanneman, both of those artists were huge parts of my life for a long time and still are. Rush was and is just a more important band for me. Rush had pretty much retired from touring after their last tour which I was completely fine with. The fact that it’s now impossible for that to happen is a sad reality to face, but with all of the music still here to listen to and all of the shared experiences with friends new and old I think I’ll be okay.
Suddenly, you were gone
From all the lives you left your mark upon
How we talked and drank into the misty dawn
I hear the voices
We ran by the water on the wet summer lawn
I see the footprints
I feel the way you would
I feel the way you would
Tried to believe but you know it’s no good
This is something that just can’t be understood
The shouts of joy, skiing fast through the woods
I hear the echoes
I learned your love for life
I feel the way that you would
I feel your presence
I feel the way you would
This just can’t be understood