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Members include Geddy Lee (born Geddy Weinrib, July 29, 1953, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada), vocals, bass, keyboards; Alex Lifeson (born August 27, 1953, in Surnie, British Columbia, Canada), guitar; and Neil Peart (born September 12, 1952, in Hamilton, Ontario; replaced John Rutsey, 1974), drums. Addresses: Manager-- Ray Danniels, SRO Management, Inc., 189 Carlton St., Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5A 2K7. Record company-- Atlantic Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.
The Canadian power trio Rush attracted a large international following in the mid-1970s with their eclectic brew of metal, progressive rock, and fantasy-oriented lyrics. Since then the group has kept up with the times, gradually developing a more pop-oriented sound, but their career approach has remained more or less the same: bypass the critics and Top Forty radio and sell records by touring constantly. In the wake of their enormous success--a 1991 Maclean's profile revealed that the trio had been "a multimillion-dollar entity for 15 years"--Rush has earned grudging respect from some of their harshest critics. Perhaps more notably, though, the once unfashionable fusion they pioneered in the 1970s has emerged as an influence on many cutting edge rock acts of the late 1980s and early 1990s, including Faith No More, Jane's Addiction, and Fishbone. What critics of the 1980s derided as "dinosaur rock" gained a new relevance in the 1990s, causing many fans, musicians, and critics to reassess Rush's work.
Rush's success has allowed them to take a more relaxed approach to their careers; all three live quiet, domestic lives. As bassist-singer Geddy Lee remarked in Maclean's, "it's a darn good job and we do very well. But now, I'm not afraid to say no to Rush. My family's extremely important to me." This mellowed perspective has also permitted Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and drummer-lyricist Neil Peart to demonstrate that their reputation for taking themselves too seriously has been exaggerated. "People have always accused us of being deadly serious, but we all can look back at our albums and see the jokes," Lee insisted in an interview with Musician' s J. D. Considine, though he admitted this perspective came with time. "It's funny, when you're younger you seem to have this intentional furrowed brow when you're writing your music. It's like, 'This is serious music!' God knows what serious music is, but when you're a little bit older, you seem to have a lighter hand."
Lightness of touch would probably not have been the attribute that leapt to the minds of Rush fans or critics of the 1970s who attempted to describe the trio. The group's early albums featured science fiction opuses and songs based on the work of ultra-individualist writer Ayn Rand, all set to music jammed with complex time changes, extended solos, and bombastic riffing. Lee's voice, which Rolling Stone' s Michael Azerrad called "a shrill screech," has had many detractors over the years. With 1980's Permanent Waves, however, the band turned a corner; the album contained their first radio hit--appropriately titled "The Spirit of Radio"--and drew their first respectful press. Though reviews were mixed over the next decade, the group retained a loyal core of followers and managed to make new converts with each tour and record.
The Rush enterprise began in the late 1960s. Lee and Lifeson met in high school in Ontario, Canada. Influenced by the heavy psychedelic rock of Cream and Jimi Hendrix, the guitarist and bassist began playing together; by 1968 they had formed a group with Lifeson's friend John Rutsey on drums. The group struggled on the club scene until a major legislative development--the lowering of the legal drinking age to 18 in Canada--increased their schedule threefold. Soon they were playing gigs throughout the week, and were not constrained to dances that required them to play oldies. After several years and numerous frustrated attempts to generate record company interest, they elected to make their own album. Their debut LP, Rush, appeared on the Moon Records label in 1974, sold surprisingly well in the United States--thanks in part to substantial airplay on a Cleveland, Ohio, radio station--and led Mercury Records to sign them. Soon the group had booked a U.S. tour. At that point, however, a falling out led to Rutsey's departure.
Desperate, Lee and Lifeson auditioned and hired drummer Neil Peart; soon the trio achieved "international band" status by playing in such exotic places as Florida and Pennsylvania. For the first several years their touring schedule would be incredibly rigorous. As Lee explained to Rolling Stone' s David Fricke, "The strategy was, 'There's a gig. We'll go play it.'" Ray Danniels, who managed the band from its inception, elaborated: "It was the drive-till-you-die philosophy." Peart's drumming had given breadth and complexity to the group's sound, and his lyrics were ambitious and unusual, as witnessed by fantasy excursions like "By Tor and the Snow Dog."
In 1975 Rush released Fly by Night, the first LP with their permanent lineup. But neither Fly by Night nor the subsequent release Caress of Steel sold impressively. According to Fricke, these two records "bear the scars of the group's naivete." Rush wasn't succeeding, at least by rock business standards. "Then we realized how stupid we were," Lee remembered. "Because of all these people putting pressure on us, we were looking at ourselves through their eyes. From then on, we knew exactly what our direction was going to be, and were determined to have success strictly on our own terms."
1976's elaborate concept album 2112, according to John Swenson of Rolling Stone, "marked the band's evolution into spokesmen for a lost generation of Seventies rockers influenced by groups as disparate as the Who, Cream, Procol Harum and King Crimson." Featuring songs like "Temples of Syrinx," 2112 grabbed a whole new audience, as did the subsequent Rush tour, which included the group's first appearances in the United Kingdom. Melody Maker' s Steve Gett reported that Rush, "for a relatively unknown band, went down tremendously." Chris Welch, writing for the same publication, noted that the trio "surprised a lot of people by selling out and getting a standing ovation at their gigs--not bad for a band virtually unknown here until recently." 1976 also saw the release of a double live record, All the World's a Stage.
The following year the band came out with A Farewell to Kings, which Melody Maker' s Michael Oldfie called "Rush's best yet." Oldfie was particularly enraptured by "Cygnus X-1;" he summarized the song as "the story of a doomed journey through the universe to the Black Hole of the title." This was only "Book One" of a continuing story, however: "for those of us waiting to get to Cygnus X-1, the next album can't come soon enough," the reviewer continued.
The sequel to A Farewell to Kings arrived in 1978. Hemispheres, which took longer than the band had anticipated to complete, featured a title track that was meant, according to Rolling Stone' s Michael Bloom, to complete "Cygnus X-1," although "the musical and thematic references are only tangential." Bloom approved of much of the record's musical content--especially the instrumental "La Villa Strangiato," but had reservations about Peart's lyrics and Lee's "often unnecessarily strident" voice.
Rush's real breakthrough came in 1980 with Permanent Waves. Fricke claimed that "Rush demonstrate a maturity that even their detractors may have to admire," and expressed particular admiration for the single "The Spirit of Radio;" his review concluded with the contention that "this band is among the very best in its genre." Soon Rolling Stone ran a feature about the group's new access to FM radio--thanks to "The Spirit of Radio." The band members owned that the new album reflected a more earthbound set of concerns; ironically, the single and another Permanent Waves track--"Natural Science" --were critical of the industry that had given the band the cold shoulder in the past. According to Swenson, the two songs "carve up the record industry as a pack of charlatans."
Peart admitted that the tone of Permanent Waves was "a bit angry," summarizing its message as "Stop bullshitting." Years later he told Bob Mack in Spin that he still considered "Radio"--a song that mixed reggae, pop, and metal in a radical new way--"a valid musical gumbo" designed "to represent what radio should be." Swenson observed that "The Spirit of Radio" in all likelihood had "gotten more airplay than Rush's entire catalog put together, and it's brought them a whole new audience." The album made the Top Five.
The band's critical popularity, such as it was, didn't last long. Gett, reviewing 1981's Moving Pictures for Melody Maker, called the LP "self-indulgent.... The album may be technically superb but it really doesn't generate much excitement." He concluded that "A lot of fans will feel betrayed." Rather than presenting more radio-friendly material, the band had put together longer, more difficult music at a time when critics were hoping for greater simplicity. But, as Fricke had noted, "critics don't count at all" in Rush's genre. As Lifeson explained to Brian Karrigan in Melody Maker, "the media isn't something that we tend to worry about in the band any more. It's more of a management or record company thing." 1981 also saw the release of a double live album, Exit...Stage Left, that sold tremendously.
But Rush's albums always had a substantial audience, whether reviews were favorable or not. Harrigan called Signals of 1983 Rush's "major breakthrough," observing that "the album was packed with diverse musical strands and had such an aura of celebration about it that it suggested the band themselves had found a great release and allowed everything they had to come through." Harrigan reported that British concert audiences "greeted Rush in complete awe." By 1984, with its new release, Grace Under Pressure, Rush was--according to Derek Oliver of Melody Maker-- "one of the world's most popular rock bands."
Rush's new sound was influenced by British new wave pop from the likes of U2, Simple Minds, the Police, and Ultravox. Oliver was struck by Grace Under Pressure' s "accessibility," while acknowledging that it was "seen by many as Rush's most adventurous album to date." And like numerous other interviewers, Oliver commented on how "immensely likeable" he found Geddy Lee.
The following year Rush released Power Windows, which Rolling Stone' s Fricke praised as a record that "may well be the missing link between [English progressive-rockers] Yes and [seminal English punk band] The Sex Pistols." The reviewer referred to the LP's single "The Big Money" as "the best of Rush's Cool Wave experiments to date"; he commented that on Power Windows, as on Grace Under Pressure, the band "tightened up their sidelong suites and rhythmic abstractions into balled-up song fists, art-rock blasts of angular, slashing guitar, spatial keyboards [played by Lee] and hyperpercussion, all resolved with forthright melodic sense."
1987 saw the release of Hold Your Fire, which contained the single "Time Stand Still," featuring singer Aimee Mann of the group 'Til Tuesday on backing vocals. According to a Maclean's reporter, after the tour for this album the three members of Rush returned to Canada sick and virtually estranged from their families. At that point, according to Lee, he, Lifeson, and Peart "discovered that we didn't have to be obsessed about Rush 24 hours a day." They arranged to spend more time doing other things; Lee would get ten days off with his family for every three weeks of touring, while Lifeson and Peart devoted themselves to athletic pursuits.
Hold Your Fire-- along with Power Windows-- provided the material for 1989's double live set A Show of Hands. Azerrad panned the record as a sterile, bombastic marathon, observing that "the music has the emotional emptiness of bad jazz fusion." By this time Melody Maker had fallen out of love with Rush's sound; Mick Mercer's acidic review of A Show of Hands revealed the group's lowered status with the publication: "The removal of Rush from society," Mercer fantasized, "as with the eradication of tuberculosis, was greeted with the establishment of internationally agreed public holidays." Though the album was rather unpopular with other critics as well, a People reviewer spoke highly of the 1989 Show of Hands videocassette: "Even those who don't usually enjoy Rush may find this 14-song concert video by the Canadian power-pop trio to their liking."
Rush earned some accolades for their 1989 studio album Presto, released by their new label, Atlantic. Stereo Review called the record "proof that progressive rock is alive and well and in capable hands." The LP included the single "Show Don't Tell," the message of which was so popular with some American schoolteachers that the video for the song was actually shown in their classrooms. David Hiltbrand remarked in People that the band's "rock formalism has never been better realized," though he had less admiration for "the cartoonishly high pitch and overwrought intensity" of Lee's voice.
Another Atlantic album, Chronicles, was released in 1990, and by 1991 Rush had a new hit album on their hands, Roll the Bones. The latter LP entered the Billboard album chart at Number Three, and if it didn't please everyone--Craig Tomashoff of People called it "audible proof that dinosaurs still roam the earth"--it sold faster than any previous Rush album. In addition, the single "Dreamline" was for a time the most requested song on U.S. rock stations, and the concert tour that supported the album was a smash in a dry concert season. The admiration expressed for Rush by a variety of groundbreaking alternative bands of the early 1990s---and the trio's clear influence even on many bands that did not mention them--gave Rush a new respectability in the music world.
From their days as a teenaged blues-metal act to their international fame as progressive rock's longest lasting big act, Rush have stuck to their vision; critical attitudes have changed, but the trio's commitment to themselves and their audience have paid off handsomely. As Lee remarked in a Guitar Player interview, "It's such a satisfying musical situation that, whenever push comes to shove, we always count our blessings. It's something you appreciate more the older you get."
by Simon Glickman
Group formed in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1968; recording and performing artists, 1968--. Released independent debut LP, Rush, 1974; released first Mercury album, Fly By Night, 1975.
- Selective Works
- Rush Moon Records, 1974.
- On Mercury Records
- Fly by Night (includes "By Tor and the Snow Dog"), 1975.
- Caress of Steel 1975.
- 2112 (includes "Temples of Syrinx"), 1976.
- All the World's a Stage 1976.
- A Farewell to Kings (includes "Cygnus X-1"), 1977.
- Hemispheres (includes "La Villa Strangiato"), 1978.
- Permanent Waves (includes "The Spirit of Radio" and "Natural Science"), 1980.
- Moving Pictures 1981.
- Exit...Stage Left 1981.
- Signals 1983.
- Grace Under Pressure 1984.
- Power Windows (includes "The Big Money"), 1985.
- Hold Your Fire (includes "Time Stand Still"), 1987.
- A Show of Hands 1989.
- On Atlantic Records
- Presto (includes "Show Don't Tell"), 1989.
- Chronicles 1990.
- Roll the Bones (includes "Dreamline"), 1991.
- Guitar Player, September 1991.
- Maclean's, September 30, 1991.
- Melody Maker, July 23, 1977; November 5, 1977; May 12, 1979; February 28, 1981; November 7, 1981; May 28, 1983; May 5, 1984; January 28, 1989.
- Musician, April 1990.
- People, April 24, 1989; January 22, 1990; November 18, 1991.
- Rolling Stone, March 22, 1979; May 1, 1980; June 26, 1980; May 28, 1981; January 30, 1986; April 20, 1989.
- Spin, March 1992.
- Stereo Review, April 1990.
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