Updated: Jul 3
Everyone has that song or that band that transports you back in time with images of places and of people who shared your stage. Rare is it when a single band dominates the soundtrack of your life. Rarer still is when that same band can be found filling arenas after nearly four decades.
In April of 2012, I celebrated my 40th birthday by traveling to see Rush on the aptly-named Time Machine tour. I brought a new girlfriend who had met pretty much everyone in my life except for “the guys”—it’s one small way to measure if your lady’s a keeper.
My girlfriend was vaguely aware of the Canadian ensemble, but when the Greensboro Coliseum exploded with light and music, she was surprised at both how many Rush songs she knows, and at the enormous sound the band produces.
“I can’t believe it’s only three guys.”
It’s been the same three guys since 1974—no rifts, no drug problems, no lineup changes and no plummet to obscurity resulting in occasional performances at county fairs.
You know this band too:
“A modern-day warrior, mean, mean stride, today’s Tom Sawyer mean, mean pride.”
Even if you’re not a fan, most anyone who enjoys classic rock knows that song as well as Spirit of Radio, Freewill, and probably a half dozen others. Earlier this year I saw a Volkswagen commercial where some guy plays air drums to the title track of Rush’s Fly by Night album—the first Rush song I ever heard. I got the album as a birthday present in 1978, and it never fails to conjure images of wood paneling and shag carpeting.
Especially in the 1980s, Rush produced a slew of music videos, but I refused to watch them because I have my own. Red Barchetta—a song about racing through the wilds of Canada in a Ferrari—elicits for me pictures of the North Carolina countryside slipping by as I traveled to meets with the Sandhills Track Club.
The video for Closer to the Heart is my friend Ken Shepley on guitar in a small club. He introduced me to Rush’s earlier work and gave me a vinyl copy of A Farwell to Kings, the album on which that song appears.
I celebrated high school graduation by making Rush my first-ever concert. Avoiding them on MTV made seeing the band in person magical. Drummer and lyricist Neil Peart seemed diminutive when sitting behind his enormous array of percussion. Guitarist Alex Lifeson and I appeared to have the same haircut. I was overwhelmed with adrenaline watching Geddy Lee play both the bass and the keyboards while singing. It was the year Geddy donned his now ever-present, wire-rimmed shades. I didn’t cheer or sing along. I couldn’t do anything but stand in awe. Appropriately enough, the title of both the tour and the album of that year is Presto.
While in college I saw Rush in Philadelphia and in New Jersey. The songs Cold Fire and Dreamline are forever linked to distance runs along the canal by Bethlehem Steel and past the Amish farms near Kutztown University. My cap and gown were still in the backseat of my car the night I saw the guys at the Meadowlands. It wasn’t long after that show that I accepted my first real job. As adult responsibilities assumed control of my life, It was difficult to get away to see them, but from 1997 to 2002 Rush laid low—Neil had lost both his daughter to a car accident and his wife to cancer within a year of one another, and thus he and the band didn’t have much to say.
Then suddenly they were back with albums and movie and television appearances.
In April of 2013, I watched Rush accept entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In May I walked into PNC Arena to catch up with the guys. As they played a song off the new album called Headlong Flight, I looked over at the young lady who accompanied me to the show—same lady who was with me last year but with a new last name. I knew she was a keeper. My Rush videos get better with every album.