The band Rush is the Rodney Dangerfield of music – no respect. Despite dozens of gold albums and decades of consistently sold-out concerts – Rush’s extraordinary musicianship and half dozen bonafide rock anthems are always ignored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (and critics in general) in favor of esoteric critic’s darlings like The Stooges (among others). To some Rush fans, this is an outrage and part of the Hall’s seeming conspiratorial bias against the progressive rock that has kept Yes, and until last year, Genesis, out of the Hall.
But this isn’t the whole story concerning the band Rush.
Rush is an odd band. According to one critic, their vocalist, Geddy Lee, sounds like “a hamster being chased by a flamethrower.” Their lyrics, written by drummer Neil Peart, drawing on numerous literary sources (most famously Ayn Rand) – can be some of the most tedious in rock. When it all comes together, however, as it does on “Tom Sawyer,” “Free Will,” “Spirit of Radio,” and a dozen or more other songs, Rush’s music is something singular and unique in music. And yes, it is music that ROCKS!
I dare say a song like “Limelight” is irresistible to any true rock and roll fan. The opening over-driven guitar riff, the drum fills that have listeners air-drumming along, the lyrics (put aside the alienation, get on with the fascination, the objective relation, the underlying theme – heavy man!), the spacey middle section – all combine to create a song that is epic while being an FM rock-radio staple.
Thanks partly to the bands’ undeniable longevity, some folks are taking a second look at Rush and their place in rock and roll history. Recent appearances by the bar in the movie “I Love You Man” (hilarious), and the TV show The Colbert Report (more hilarious) have brought them back into a bit of, ahem, limelight.
The terrific new documentary Rush – Behind the Lighted Stage furthers the case for revisiting this often dismissed band as one of the actual great bands of rock. Filmmakers Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn, previously of Heavy Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey and Iron Maiden: Flight 666, clearly know their material and have created a most respectful, primarily chronological, documentary of the band.
Having full access to the band and their inner circle, McFadyen and Dunn provide a portrait of Rush’s history from their high school struggles and early gigs, the addition of “new guy” Neil Peart, and their evolution as music makers of meandering concept albums to more radio-friendly tracks.
What emerges from this telling are three regular Canadian guys who seem downright well-adjusted and relatively nonplussed by their fame and success. Despite the constant criticism and a few personal traumas (Peart lost his daughter and wife – Lee’s parents are Holocaust survivors), they seem to enjoy each other, the music they make, and the fans that are crazy for them. No bitterness comes through – they all seem genuinely humble about their success. There is little Behind the Music rehab trauma to unearth, and this documentary’s tone is never tabloid.
What undeniably emerges above it all (no surprise to fans) is their incredible precision as musicians. Says one fan, “If you can play Rush, you can play anything!” These guys are monsters on their instruments. Many seem to agree.
Talking heads like Gene Simmons, Trent Reznor, Billy Corgan, and Jack Black (among others) provide witty and insightful commentary about Rush’s career while showing Rush’s influence on many of today’s musicians. The respect for Rush runs deeper with musicians than the critics.
I hope some members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame view this documentary as they may realize they should show Rush a little more respect – they earned it. Why not vote them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and be done with it?
For everyone else viewing Rush Beyond the Lighted Stage, you are in for a GREAT (not good) documentary, one of the best of this genre. For fans, they might remember how fresh it was to hear “Fly by Night” all those years ago.
From Banger Films on Blu-ray.