In 1976 I was 8 years old and my interest in music was blossoming. Mostly what is now considered classic rock, just learning about The Beatles and The Stones, I recall “Slow Ride” by Foghat being in heavy rotation.
At some point that year my older brother, Steve, bought the album 2112 by Rush. Steve wasn’t really a music guy so this was somewhat unusual. I’m not sure where he was exposed to it or who turned him on to it but I remember hearing it for the first time.
I think it was the heavy synth opening that grabbed me first, it sounded like the future to my young ears. I don’t think I appreciated the musicianship as I do now, it was really more the uniqueness of what I was hearing that pulled me in to it. That and the epic-ness of it - 20 minutes long, the futuristic sci-f theme, it really was unlike anything I had heard before.
I wasn’t yet buying music on my own at this time, and I didn’t have the voracious discover and consume mentality that I have now, so while I continued to listen to 2112 I didn’t hear more from Rush for a few years.
Fast forward to 1981 and Moving Pictures was released. I didn’t buy it at the time but it became a radio staple on the rock stations in Chicago. I probably didn’t get my very own copy until 1984 or so when I started frequenting Record Swap, the local used record shop. It’s also when I filled in some holes in the collection.
I saw Rush for the first time in 1986, Row 1 Seat 1, the only concert I’ve ever seen from the front row. I stood right in front of Geddy, in awe of what I was seeing and hearing. (On a side note, Marillion opened this show cementing their place as one of my favorite bands.)
My roommate in college was a fanatic and completist. He had the entire catalog and it was then that I filled in the gaps in my appreciation for the band. I discovered a mixed reaction to some of the 80s work, finding great songs among some albums I had previously dismissed.
As my appreciation for musical craft and performance grew, my love for Rush increased. Not only are all three members accomplished musicians but I consider them among the best at their respective instruments. I loved the intricate arrangements and reveled in the self indulgence of their playing. I listened to a lot of Rush in college thanks to Dave.
I also learned more about them as people over the years. Their struggles with the record companies, their insistence on musical integrity and doing their own thing on their own terms. I read biographical articles, watched the documentaries and appreciated their down to earth personalities. There is an incongruence between the seriousness of the music and lyrics and the humor and personality they presented in interviews and other appearances.
When Rush announced that Neil was retiring a few years back, I was glad that I had had the opportunity to see them live a few times, that I got the experience the band as they evolved and grew - in real time. Unlike say, The Beatles who had already broken up when I hit the age of 2, Rush was always contemporary to me.
Neil Peart’s passing earlier this week explains his retirement, and it hit me hard. Maybe it was because Rush has always been a big part of the soundtrack to my life. Maybe it was because it was cancer that took him and I’ve had my own personal struggles with the disease over the last year. Maybe it was that Rush, being one of the first bands I distinctly remember choosing to listen to harkens me back to an earlier time in my life, I don’t know really, it’s probably all of this and more. Music and the relationships between artist and fan is complicated and multi-faceted, and there are any number of connections between the two.
There’s a certain magic to music and what it brings to the world, occasionally we must face the loss that is the flip side when we lose those creators, those who have inspired us.
May you rest in peace professor, and I wish you the best on your next journey.