“A companion, unobtrusive”

As an impressionable 15-year old I was learning guitar theory, the ups and downs of high school girls, and learning to drive in a 1977 Chevy Nova my dad bought for me a whole two years before I’d get to drive it legally. Another thing that was happening was that I was expanding my musical tastes, natch.

I’d been sucked into a Shrapnel Records wormhole filled with guitar noodlers, as well as plenty of thrash and speed metalIMG_0919 thanks to my older brother. But their was one name I’d heard in passing and had wondered what they were all about. Rush was a band I only knew because my brother owned 2112 on cassette. To my eyes, the cover looked like a red pentagram floating in water and I figured they were just some devil-worshiping band my brother was experimenting with. Well that wasn’t the case, but I wouldn’t find that out till a little later. Once I actually heard that album I was kind of blown away. I think it was a Saturday morning drive in my future car with my older brother to our guitar lesson. He played it in the cassette deck and my 15-year old world was shattered. What was this? One whole side of an album was a movement? Like classical music, but heavy as hell? I needed to hear more.

My best friend and I became hooked on Rush at the same time, right at the beginning of our sophomore year. It became a competition see who could buy their albums first. Fortunately for us, two sophomores in high school with no jobs or means of transportation, most of the Rush discography was pretty cheap. A good portion of the output before 1980 was marked as “Nice Price”. You could get their cassettes for $4.99 or $5.99 at most department stores, so every time one of our moms took us to the mall we wouldn’t head to Musicland or National Record Mart, we’d take the escalator up to LS Ayres and hit the cassette bin. Also, in order to purchase these cassettes we’d both starve ourselves at school by saving our lunch money so we’d have enough cafeteria funds to snag one or two albums(I knew exactly how much money I needed to save in order to get a cassette at my local record shop Butterfly Records…$8.40.)

By the time we were well into the 1989-1990 school year we’d amassed quite a collection of Rush cassettes. While 2112 was still a jaw dropper, I had found my favorites in Moving Pictures and Permanent Waves. Permanent Waves came out in 1980, with Moving Pictures in 1981. In all honesty, those records could’ve been put together to create one of the best double albums released…ever. Both felt very much in tune with each other. I’d learned by this point that Rush was what the folks called a progressive rock band, and that most of their records were in some form or another “concept albums”. My best friend was almost OCD about knowing the lyrics. He could recite them like he’d written them himself. I, on the other hand could not. I just wasn’t that kind of listener. I got the stories and the tales of good and evil. The Ayn Rand-isms, the songs about the hierarchy of trees, and kings and their kingdoms. But for me, all of that came in second to the musicianship. The instrumental passages killed me. Tracks like “Cygnus X-l Book l: The Voyage” off A Farewell To Kings, “La Via Strangiato(An Exercise In Self-Indulgence) off Hemispheres, “Natural Science” off Permanent Waves, “YYZ” off Moving Picutres were songs I always went back to, even after I’d stopped listening to Rush all that much(I do know there’s vocals in “Natural Science”, but it’s still just as much an instrumental song to me.)

But for me, with Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures it felt like those were points where all the naysayers that always talked about how over dramatic and silly Rush’ albums were had to take a step back. They’d honed their sound down to this razor-sharp edge of songs. I think those two albums used the synths expertly. Geddy Lee didn’t overpower the songs with them, he used them to help add mood and depth in their already genius rock trio sound. Plus, the songs were just f*****g great, man. “The Spirit Of Radio”, “Freewill”, “Jacob’s Ladder” on side one of Permanent Waves? Bullet proof. Just bullet proof. Side two got moody with “Entre Nous”, “Different Strings”, and finished things out with the freak out called “Natural Science”. Brilliant stuff. And you know what? It sounds kick ass blasting through some Pioneer speakers in a 77′ Chevy Nova. Moving Pictures is equally brilliant. Who doesn’t want to crank it up when “Tom Sawyer” or “Limelight” come on the radio? And I had no idea what a red Barchetta was until I heard this song. Now I own three(okay, I don’t.)

After 25 years, nearly a dozen concerts, and many times where I put them off to the side for years at a time, I can say I’m still a fan. What album still holds up after two decades of scrutiny? I’d have to say Permanent Waves is the one for me. I feel it captures all the greatness of the band: musicianship, lyrics, and taking us on a journey. I still get chills when “The Spirit Of Radio” plays. To this day. Sadly, I don’t personally own any Rush on vinyl at this point. After amassing their discography both on cassette, and then again on CD, I feel I must take control of the sanity and not indulge once more. I do, however, have Fly By Night, Hemispheres, and Permanent Waves on loan from the John Barack collection. John Barack is one of my closest pals and a work mate for the last 16 years. He bought all of these records when he was a teenager, which would’ve been the late-70/early 80s(he’s 10 years older than I.) He no longer has a turntable, so he kindly loaned his Rush albums to me until he decides to indulge in a new platter.

I will keep the spirit of radio alive for my friend John, myself, and anyone else who’s ever gone through an Ayn Rand phase thanks to three Canadians named Geddy, Alex, and Neil.


14 thoughts on ““A companion, unobtrusive”

  1. Excellent! Another band that I’ve only started to listen to. Like some of what I’ve heard, too. Need to keep an eye out for Permanent Waves, it seems!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember being embarrassed having to ask to borrow the cassettes you had that i still didn’t. Your musical diet contained more healthy variety in that era than mine. Hence my monastic memorization of Neil Peart’s lyrics. They really were like my religion for a couple of years. Should I be ashamed? Nah.
    After everyone else went to bed at our house, the living room became my air guitar arena beginning with the opening chord of “Hemispheres” and concluding with Alex’s distorted reverbs that closed “Grace Under Pressure.”
    “Natural Science” is like a hymn to evolution. The very term POWER TRIO was coined because of these guys.
    And those fucking album covers!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Psst … really enjoyed your piece, but (don’t tell the Canadians!) I’ve never really got Rush – apart from the first side of 2112. I may be missing the Rush gene.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you should have yourself checked out. I can’t believe you don’t like Rush. They seem right up your alley. 2112 right through Signals should really float your boat.

      Buy a 6pk of LaBatts, snag a copy of Permanent Waves, and call me in the morning.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Permanent waves is for me the most complete of Rush albums. From the fantastic cover through to the close of Natural science, nothing disappoints. A close contender would be A Farewell to Kings (the best Geddys Rickenbacker ever sounded). 2112 would be the one track that I would take to a desert Island as I never tire of listening to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree wholeheartedly. Permanent Waves is truly a masterpiece through and through, both musically and lyrically. Peart was the most grounded lyrically on this album. And ‘Kings’ is a close second.


  5. Beyond Moving pictures I was often disappointed with Neil’s lyrics but there are some gems. Subdivisions / Chemistry / Losing it / Afterimage / Between the wheels / Middletown dreams / Time stand still / lock and key / Available light / Ghost of a chance and Nobody’s hero. Couldn’t find anything from Test for Echo or Vapour trails but live Driven and Earthshine do have some merit.

    Liked by 1 person

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