Rush – Beyond The Lighted Stage

Release Date 28/06/2010 (Universal Music)

By Chris Gilliver

For Gene Simmons, Billy Corgan, Metallica, Rage Against the Machine etc. it all comes back to Rush. As Jack Black states:

“Rush is just one of those bands that has a deep reservoir of rocket sauce. A lot of bands – they only got so much in the bottle. They use it up sometimes in only one song. These guys are the real deal. The bottle was so big, so filled to the brim, they were shaking it literally for decades and still there was sauce coming out”.

Rush rocked long and hard, no question. The DVD establishes this with little difficulty. Yet the central premise of the DVD as a whole is not just to celebrate their glorious music, but to establish why they are and were a band made up of outsiders, playing outside the mainstream for other outsiders. More centrally still it seeks an explanation for why Rush achieved a sustained, moderate level of success, but not critical acclaim.

Whether through design or bloody-mindedness from the start it seems that they were destined to always be something outside the mainstream. Geddy Lee’s parents were holocaust survivors who moved to Ontario with $10 in their pockets. Geddy himself grew up in fear of being beaten up for being Jewish. Alex Lifeson’s parents came over from a tumultuous Yugoslavia. And Neil Peart was a geeky misfit whose first show was in front of 11,000 people.

Supporting Kiss was a big gig for Rush. The bands are obviously friends. Simmons notes that, while Kiss partied with women outside their hotel rooms, Rush never “indulged”, always returning to their hotel rooms for quiet nights. While Simmons wondered whether they were gay, for the viewer it consolidates this image as a band outside the mainstream – an image that the band did their best to encourage. When Fly By Night saw the band falling on its ass and Mercury telling them to commercialise or die, Rush released 2112, an album with a twenty minute opener. Rather than send them back to farm jobs in Canada it bought them their independence. It wasn’t just that they felt different, the very existence of Rush depended on them pushing themselves away from obvious, easy direction.

Rush’s career went on from there, achieving a sustained level of success, neither slipping away quietly or becoming a mainstay of the arenas. Overwhelmingly the answer given for this protracted state of affairs is that they were the victims of an intellentsia that never accepted them and stopped them from reaching the high levels of success they so richly deserved.

La Villa Strangiato (An Exercise In Self-Indulgent) provides a more obvious answer. It is cited by many celebrity musicians as a bench mark of musicianship. You would have to be unbelievably skilled to play this song. It’s a point that belies a deep flaw in metal and hard rock as a whole. That technical, complex music does not necessary (or usually) sound good. And though the talking heads scratch for reasons why the band were not embraced by the media the answer is obvious. Rush and metal is all about showing off the speed and skills of the musicians, often at the expense of the quality of the song writing, and if anything this DVD proves that Rush weren’t successful because their songs were not that good. This, combined with running around in kimonos, playing twin-necked guitars, and shrieking out often ridiculously overblown lyrics about spaceships flying through Satan’s arse in a super massive black hole, makes for something more laughable than laudable.

But let’s not be too harsh. If the search to find an explanation for why Rush were always cult and never colossal only succeeds in making them look substandard and absurd, the unintended outcome is an impression of a genuinely nice trio of guys that just wanted to rock, not for fame, fans, fucking and financial gain, but because for them there was never any other choice. When Neil Peart’s daughter tragically died in a car crash, the other two’s only thought was primarily for the welfare of their friend, and if Neil Peart could not come back to Rush after such a traumatic event, then Rush would no longer exist.

For Rush and their fans Billy Corgan gets it right, “Whether some guy at Rolling Stone decides they are (any good) is completely irrelevant, because at the end of the day rock is a people’s game, and the people have generally, consistently voted for them”.

For the rest of us they will not be great musicians. Just three amiable guys doing what they love. The establishment of this image is both heart-warming, and the DVD’s real success.

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