40 years ago today, Rush’s Moving Pictures album was released. Setting aside the fact that I find it somewhat disturbing that I can clearly remember something that happened 40 years ago, I have to say, I’m glad I was around to experience that moment in music history.
See, even though I was only ten years old, I was already a longtime Rush listener. My brothers – who, as an aside, all have wicked taste in music – introduced me to the band simply by playing their records when my parents got them a stereo for their bedroom. They didn’t play their music super loud, but I could hear it well enough from my room to know that I liked it. Sometimes they’d let me hang out with them. The deal was that I could stay for the length of one album. And I got to choose the album.
2112 was one of my favourite choices. Which is some pretty complex stuff for someone single digits in age. But I’d sit on the bunk bed with the album cover and liner notes and read along with the lyrics, trying to understand what it all meant. I’m not sure I ever did … but I fucking loved The Temples of Syrinx.
Few of my friends had ever heard of Rush, and none of the ones that had knew a thing about their music. But all of that changed when Moving Pictures came out, and the song Tom Sawyer hit the airwaves. That song was ubiquitous in the early ’80s, and suddenly all of my friends, many of whom were just starting their listening journey into music that wasn’t geared specifically towards kids, were turned on to this band that I’d been listening to for, quite literally, as long as I could remember.
Most of those friends never listened to anything by Rush other than Tom Sawyer. But I never stopped listening. My focus shifted sometimes along the way. As a teenager I developed a huge crush on Geddy Lee. (It was the hair. And the glasses.) But at the base of it all was always a respect for their talent – a fascination with just how much sound that three-man band produces, the complexity of both music and lyrics, and their strategic use of silence.
And I’m not going to lie. The fact that they’re Canadian makes me feel a surge of national pride. That’s not something I often bother with. I love Canada, and consider myself lucky as hell to have been born here. But pride? National pride has always seemed rather gauche to me. But when I’m wearing my Rush tank top while standing in a farmer’s field in Germany, at the world’s largest heavy metal music festival, and a fellow attendee walking past points at my shirt and gives me a thumbs up? Yeah, I’m gonna indulge a wee bit.
Speaking of pride, the only time I’ve watched the Junos, Canada’s music awards show, was the year Rush was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. My husband, his best friend, and I all crammed ourselves onto the sofa, all impatiently bouncing in our seats through the broadcast, waiting for Rush’s appearance. I’m not sure exactly how many times we said, “It’s about time,” that evening, but it was well into the double digits.
All this being said, I very nearly never saw Rush perform live. I’d had a couple of near misses over the years. I’d even signed a petition started by one of Ottawa’s radio stations, when Rush announced a tour that wasn’t stopping in that city. A date got added – and I already had tickets to see something else that night. I think it’s telling that I have no idea what I did see, but still remember that I missed seeing Rush.
I nearly missed them again in 2013, when they visited Halifax for the first time in 25 years. I didn’t get tickets for the first show, and when it quickly sold out and they added a second date, I nearly didn’t get tickets for that one, either. I told myself I’d catch them next time. And then I realized that I was in my 40s and the band’s members were all pushing 60, there might not be a next time, and this near miss might be my last one. So two days before their second show, I found myself at the box office inquiring about tickets. In what many would call a ‘meant to be’ moment, I’d arrived just after someone had returned two tickets and ended up with some pretty great seats.
That was a very special night. In a rare Fuck Eardrums move, I didn’t wear earplugs so I could hear the music unmuffled. That music, of course, was incredible, as was the musicianship of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart. The energy of the crowd was as vibrant as I’ve ever seen. And the air drummers. Just … air drummers everywhere. When people talk about a band blowing the roof off the venue, they’re talking about the kind of magic that happened during Peart’s first drum solo that night, when the crowd lost its ever loving mind.
Rush did two encores that night. One was 2112. I blew up my throat, belting out the line, “We are the priests of the Temples of Syrinx.” But when they played the second one, and it was Tom Sawyer, that didn’t stop me from singing along. Maybe not everybody in the venue joined in, but certainly everyone in the section where I sat did.
I was right to listen to that inner voice that told me there might be no ‘next time.’ It turned out that this was Rush’s next-to-last tour. They took to the road once more a couple of years later, but there were only a few dozen dates, none of which I would have been likely to travel to.
And then a few years later, Neil Peart died. I cried for hours, as hard as I ever have for anyone I’ve known personally. That night at work, I carried my iPod and speaker around with me my entire shift, listening to nothing but Rush. Come morning, I felt at peace with the loss, and accepting of the fact that there while there might not be any more new Rush music to come, I’ve been fortunate enough to have experienced a lifetime’s worth already.
Y’know, maybe I won’t set aside the fact that I can remember when Moving Pictures was released. Maybe I’ll embrace it, instead.
To read more posts in the “Music Is My Oxygen” series, click here.