Rush: The Last Taboo

Rush in 1978


As the redheaded, one-eyed stepchild in the Mondo Globo omniverse, I’ve written about some really fucked up shit; pretty much everything this side of fecalphilia.

And while I’m generally not shy about exposing my own proclivities, I’m about to reveal one that pushes the very boundaries of counterculture sensibility.

I love Rush.



Now, upon revealing this in person to some, I’ve seen the color completely drain out of the face, in a way that could only be rivaled by a revelation of secret daughter dungeon proportions. In terms of relationships, you definitely don’t want to let this cat out of the bag to a prospective mate until sometime between the farting in the bed phase and marriage.

The band is currently on tour to promote its latest release Snakes & Arrows. The tour is actually an extension of last year’s summer outing, which ended up being the sixth highest-grossing tour of the season.

With such evergreen success (Rush has been playing the same venues since I first saw them … in 1982), why does going to a Rush show still feel almost like sneaking into a NAMBLA convention?

Because much of their material showcases the instrumental prowess of drummer Neil Peart, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and bassist/vocalist/keyboardist Geddy Lee, that’s bound to alienate some listeners right off the bat. And while the band has taken strides to make their music more accessible over the years (and Snakes & Arrows has a sharp, fresh sound that’s remarkably contemporary for such a, well, old band), they ain’t gonna be mentors on American Idol anytime soon.

But I suspect it has a lot to do with the amount of baggage that Rush carries with it. The mythology of this legendary Canadian trio is fed almost as much on misconception as it is on their worthy musical achievements (including multiple Grammy nominations) and rabid fan base.

Because of their willingness to play with their sound over the years (evolving from the Cream/Zeppelin power trio blueprint to Yes-like sprawling masterpieces to a full embrace of synthesizers and MIDI technology in the ‘80s before stripping back down to a purely guitar-based rock sound), Rush means different things to different people. Even fans argue about “which” Rush is the “real” Rush.

Allow me to demonstrate:

Rush = Dungeons & Dragons. Thematically speaking, Rush never were a sword-and-sorcery band, though that perception thrives among the unwashed. They did use sci-fi narratives, but only to advance a larger theme, as demonstrated best in their seminal album, 2112, where futuristic elements are dwarfed by the Ayn Rand-ian perspective.

While there’s no doubt that plenty of RPG nerds have been into Rush since those bones were first rolled, you can file this one under “All puppies are dogs, but not all dogs are puppies.” That is to say, in especially the small towns of America, when considering the circle of life that is high school ass-kicking, it has just as often been the case that the one listening to “2112” has been the ass-kicker as he has been the hapless, bespectacled victim.

Rush is a heavy metal band. Wait, Rush is an ‘80s synth-pop band. It seems unlikely that these two misconceptions could co-exist in the popular culture terrain, and it is. However, I have heard both of these assertions made, and not just by the average yahoo, but by the media (below-average yahoos). Obviously age is a factor in determining which false statement you subscribe to. If you’re between the ages of 40 and 50, and all you know about Rush is “Working Man,” I guess you might call that heavy metal. I mean, you could also call it afro-funk if you wanted to, but whatever. On the other hand, if you’re between the ages of 30 and 40, and your first exposure to Rush was the MTV video for “The Big Money,” you could be excused for thinking they were … uh … The Fixx?

Girls aren’t into Rush. Okay, so there’s probably about as many girls into Rush as there are guys who watch “The View,” but let the record show that they do exist. I dated a girl last year who, to my amazement, was into Rush, and proclaimed it so defiantly my big toe jumped up in my boot. (She dumped me because I smoke too much pot. Go figure.)

Black people don’t like Rush. I remember the claim being made that you're more likely to spot RU Sirius in da club with Young Jeezy than a black person at a Rush show. This made me understandably self-conscious given my sensitive liberalitude, so I made a point of looking around at the last couple of shows and was relieved to see some color in a sea of pale flesh. I mean, there are probably more blacks at a Dave Matthews concert, but then again there are more white people at a Michael Franti show, so again, go forth and figure.

Geddy Lee isn’t human. He’s some kind of chipmunk. The aforementioned ability of Rush to tinker with their sound is one of the things that endears them to their fans. Hell, there have even been times when critics have been in synch with the band’s sensibilities (Grace Under Pressure, for example, was very in touch with its time, 1984, and appealed to critics for about a minute.)

Of all these phases, however, the most recognized, and paradoxically revered and reviled, was the first seven years of the band’s career, when Geddy Lee’s high-pitched yelps defined Rush’s music. And while Lee has spent the last 25 years proving he could also emote with more warmth in his voice, one could argue it still dogs the band. But at the same time, it is that original quality that would go on to influence vocalists like the Mars Volta’s Cedric Bixler-Zavala.

So let it be known that when I see my favorite band at their stop at the Sleep Train Pavilion (!) in Concord in the Bay Area this weekend, the sense of rapture that will somehow manage to overtake the copious amount of booze and weed in my system comes from unashamedly indulging in something the masses will never understand: The taboo of Rush.

See also:
Top 10 Pillars of Led Zeppelin Mythology
The End of Internet Radio?
The Satanic Cosmology of Jack Chick

2 thoughts on “Rush: The Last Taboo

  1. I share your pain, Steve, as an “in the closet” Rush Fan. Of course, having my teens as a beginning drummer in the 80s, worship of Neal Peart was a prerequisite. And while decidedly not a Rand-ian, I appreciate a band that can write songs about something intellectual that still rocks.

    My funniest Rush story… as a drummer I watched a lot of wanky drum videos over the years. The most amusing was the Tribute to Buddy Rich. Neal Peart played at it and was — Terrible. The man just could not swing to save his life. Despite being (arguably, but only if you really feel like arguing) the best technical rock drummer on earth, you put him near Jazz and it all falls apart. It made me feel slightly better about the fact that I couldn’t play one of those monster fills from “Tom Sawyer” even with a week of practice.

    Last time I saw them in concert was the Roll the Bones tour with Primus, which seemed like a strange pairing, but actually worked pretty well.

    Glad to see 10Zen back online, was wondering where you had gone to. Is the RUS show coming back ever?

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