Rush: Geddy Lee, Asterix and The Geneva Convention

There are many reasons why you should listen to Rush.

They’re incredible musicians. They have, over the years, been as experimental as Radiohead. Neil Peart is unquestionably the best rock drummer alive today. Better even than John Keeble.

But there is just one fly in the ointment…

Back in 1986, undaunted by my premature teenage rejection of 2112 as “hippie nonsense” my Rush-loving friend tried once again to interest me in the band, this time with their new record Power Windows.

It was nothing like the earlier records. In a good way. Synths layered between the clean guitar sounds, an electronic drum kit – it sounded modern. Eighties.

Thankfully, the band had scrubbed up a bit too. They no longer looked like they had covered themselves in glue and gone twirling into a kimono factory. They’d had something of a make over, like Gok Wan had come to see them whilst having an off-day…

I didn’t think much of the cover. In my humble teenage opinion I thought the basic concept of a person sitting on a chair in a room was done more effectively by Ratt’s Invasion of your Privacy.

Rush – Power Windows

See if you can spot where Rush went wrong.

Schoolboy error guys. That’s right. The furniture’s too modern.

The lyrics of Big Money and Territories eschewed rock’s fashion for talking about vehicles (Bomber, Wheels of Steel, Aces High, Heading out to the Highway) or girls (just about every song by Kiss, Mötley Crüe, Van Halen). Rush sang about the cheery subject of the cold war: fair enough: for those of us growing up at that time it was considered highly probable that a nuclear war would break out before too long.

Manhattan Project sang about “the pilot of Enola Gay/ flying out of the shockwave/ on that August day”… I looked up “Enola Gay” in an encyclopaedia. Never had to do that with a Kiss lyric. Unless Joy of Sex counts as an encyclopaedia.

You could accuse Rush of being a “thinking person’s rock band”. Before we do that, however, there’s a more fundamental type of band they need to be. And that is a “doesn’t object to Geddy Lee‘s helium-pitched-voice person’s rock band”.

I think of Geddy Lee as being like Cacofonix the Bard from the Asterix books. If you remember, Cacofonix suffered because opinion was divided as to his talents. “He thinks he’s a genius. Everyone else thinks he’s unspeakable…” so the introduction told us. The bard would end up being bound and gagged every time he threatened to burst into song…

Geddy Lee, Yesterday

Like the fictional Cacofonix, Geddy’s voice (to some people) is as toothache-inducing as hearing knives scratching china, fingernails scraping down a blackboard or seeing a photo of Justin Beiber. I have literally seen someone visibly wince when hearing his singing (and that of Justin Beiber’s for that matter).

When the Allied troops invaded Iraq, there were reports that tank stereos blasted out Metallica’s Enter Sandman to shock the opposition into surrendering. Error. A bit of Rush’s 2112 perhaps or anything from Fly by Night certainly, would have wrapped up that conflict in two weeks. Although it may have contravened the Geneva Convention.

Such is life however. Like beer, Durian Fruit and Scientology, it’s certainly an acquired taste. But I’m not sure Rush would be Rush without it. And The World Needs Rush. If only to show Justin Beiber what a dreadful little pop puppet he is…

Rush’s first album for five years, Clockwork Angels, is released today, 11th June inside a special Rush-devoted issue of Classic Rock Magazine.

Record #56: Rush – Manhattan Project



Categories: Hard Rock

Tags: , , , , , , ,

8 replies

  1. I got Clockwork Angels today (a day early in Canada) and this post fits the mood. Perfect! Thanks!

  2. I can be seen in the Rush30 video shot in Frankfurt, just a couple of days before I went into hospital with cancer. I stayed for a couple of months. I was extremely ill, but decided to go anyway. Fortunately, I was at the front where I could lean on the railing. I later saw them in Mannheim on the Snakes and Arrows tour, and then again in Frankfurt on the Time Machine tour. This was after a long break: I had seen them at two consecutive shows in Dallas back on the Signals tour. I ran into them around the time of Moving Pictures (a bit before, actually) and this was the first chance to see them. I would have liked to have seen them in the late 1970s.

    For the first quarter of a century, they stuck to their plan: 4 albums, live album, change of style. The first phase is too derivative, too mainstream, too similar to mediocre 70s bands, though there are a few good bits. I prefer the second phase, though some of it is a bit too science-fictiony (I am a science-fiction fan, Isaac Asimov etc, which is perhaps why I think it is not well suited to rock music). I was certainly glad Peart had started leaving Ayn Rand behind.

    In the third phase, they sort of lost me. The over-produced 80s sound, the image makeover etc—it was a bigger change from Selling England by the Pound to Invisible Touch! There are some live videos from this time which are actually quite good, despite the electronic drums. Signals hast its moments. Grace Under Pressure fewer. Power Windows (the last one I bought for a long time) even fewer, though still some good lyrics (“so much style without substance/so much stuff without style”). I still haven’t bought Presto or any newer albums except Counterparts and the stuff since Rush in Rio (something of a return to form, though I still like the simpler production and, yes, the sound of yesteryear); a friend with excellent musical taste informed me that Counterparts is good, even though it is not like old Rush. True. Other than that, I don’t know anything about the fourth phase. Interestingly, in the last few live shows they play very little from the third and fourth phases.

    Few if any bands are as technically proficient and still manage to avoid letting technique get in the way of the music. Few bands have such a balance of importance among the members. (Everyone agrees Peart is the best rock drummer and that Lee is among the top 5 rock bassists. Lifeson is usually not seen in such a light, but I think this perceived imbalance is due to the fact that there are several excellent guitarists, fewer excellent bassists and very few excellent drummers. Even fewer drummers who write almost all of the lyrics.) Rush got where they are with little radio play or popular exposure. Like Einstein or Jethro Tull, they were above the fashion of their time. (I do wish Peart would grow his moustache again.) Especially their second-period stuff sounds like no-one else. On balance, I would prefer A Farewell to Kings and Moving Pictures, though Hemispheres and Permanent Waves are essentially just as good. All sound quite different, by the way, despite all sounding very second-period (i.e. quite different to what came before and what was to follow). And, yes, no songs about girls. Lee and Lifeson have been together with their wives since they were 16 or 17 (Lifeson became a father at 17 or something); Peart was not much older when he met his girlfriend, who died about 15 years ago. Why sing about something you don’t need? :-)

    Only the Beatles, Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd have managed to continuously interest me as much. I listen to a wide range of music and enjoy all of what I listen to, but the quality of these 4 bands is somehow a cut above the rest. They are also the first 4 rock bands I became interested in (well, Jethro Tull soon replaced the Moody Blues), but in my case I am sure that it is not a case of still preferring listening to what I listened to when I was younger (especially since they were not part of the popular culture at the time; I am not that old and came to rock music relatively late in life) but rather these 4 got to me first because they are the best. I was certainly exposed to 1970s rock music, but didn’t come to appreciate it until later. Today, I do enjoy Kansas, Boston, Heart, Journey, Foreigner, Uriah Heep etc but not quite as much as the Big Four.

    I’ve also read all of Neil Peart’s books: recommended.

    Quote of the day:

    I don’t know how we got this image, maybe we wore too many robes in the ’70s…

    —Geddy Lee

    • Phillip, thanks for your thoughtful comments – and I hope your health is improved. Coincidentally I had written about the band’s “phases” in my latest post, so I hope you enjoy that one too.

      • Yes, I seem to be healthy now. (The cancer came back a few years later, but was caught early, and after more treatment it should be gone for good now.)

        I will comment on the phases in the other thread. Also, sorry about the embedded YouTube stuff there; it’s not clear to me what determines if a link gets embedded. They are all worth watching, though.

        Rush will be in Cologne a year from now; I’ll probably make the drive to attend (on the last three tours, they were much closer to where I live).

      • Cool.

        I’m sure fans of Kansas (both of them) will consider it worthwhile doing the cut-and-paste thing…

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