VH1 Classic Albums: Rush - 2112 and Moving Pictures
2010 Eagle Vision
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
If there's two things I wish I could've changed about my high school years, one is going out for football instead of working my spare time away in pursuit of a hunk of shit car that gobbled all of of my savings in repairs. The other is giving Rush better audience than I did. In my teen years as a student in a farmland school, whatever my adversaries liked, I automatically rebuffed. Rush was king amongst the toughies, the potheads, the farmers and even some of the jocks. At that time, Power Windows had been released. I admittedly gave Rush a chance on that album's merits and walked away, stupidly dismissing them and even Led Zeppelin for the same aforementioned reasons.
Later in my twenties I smartened up, corraled each band's catalogs and I own t-shirts of each. I saw Rush live on the Vapor Trails tour and laughed at my younger self, having been treated to a top-10 all-time live performance from one of the greatest bands ever assembled on the entire planet. Better to wake up late than not at all, right?
What kills me in retrospect is realizing what I'd missed out on while banging my head to W.A.S.P., Testament and Raven back in the day is how freaking heavy Rush's 2112 album is. Heavier than most bands' finest hours. Yeah, I'm talking heavy as in sound, but more so the intense Orwellian-meets-Rand story of "2112." It's beyond the word "epic." If Iron Maiden's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" has a superior, it's "2112."
As noted in this outstanding VH-1 Classic Albums documentary behind Rush's 2112 and Moving Pictures albums, "2112" speaks to generations and continues thus to newcomers. In my opinion, the message of "2112" is even more imperative in a tech-ruled society altering how we've consume and generate music. Sure, Neil Peart and Rush created a fantastical element to tell "2112," which the documentary astutely points out the group's affinity for Ayn Rand's sci-fi classics. The muse stumbles into a barren cave to find the out-of-tune guitar Alex Lifeson brilliantly tinkers with out-of-key and tunes up in mid-recording to breathe life into the "Discovery" stanza of "2112." The explosive acumen Rush thunders into the remainder of "2112" to shake up the dystopia they've created and proverbially state the power of music will save our souls has resonated since its release in 1976. Too bad I wasn't listening then.
Depending on how you look at it, the changes in the music world is harboring a dystopian undertone as much as it's freed up the airwaves to damned near anyone seeking to dial in. Clear Channel being one form of mind control through its brainless 15-20 song playlists, the new world order is creating less of a demand for hard copy and tangible, hand-felt artwork. To imagine "2112's" creation in a society looking to minimize the listening experience to pocket-size is well, blasphemous if you honor what Rush was trying to tell their listeners. Even "Lessons" from 2112 sounds like AM chicken scratch on an iPod, when it was meant to boom, to crow, to vibrate the walls with such humanity you can't ignore it. Now, you can go from desk-to-desk in a corporate office and barely discern what people are spinning through widgets barely larger than cigarette lighters.
Not that VH1 Classic Albums: Rush - 2112 and Moving Pictures goes this far in its recounting of two perrenial albums in recording history. Still, if you want to parallel "Tears" from 2112 to the early Moody Blues or damn near every rock band following "Tom Sawyer" from Moving Pictures, it's hard to sit back and see where we are as a collective soul musically-speaking. Frankly, the world is growing more and more soulless and if Rush didn't speak to the masses against allowing a dead heart control system to steal its freewill, then go straight to their song of the same name on Permanent Waves or even the sullen "Losing It" from Signals.
At least this documentary opts for a more celebratory spirit of Rush's esteemed careers. Really, the only drama it posits is how Rush nearly lost their label and fan interest (shockingly so) with their Caress of Steel album from 1975. Even in this day and age, such brilliant songwriting as Rush extolled on Caress of Steel goes ignored and unappreciated. Though hardly their most accessible album, Caress offers "Bastille Day," one of Rush's most bombastic cuts forevermore and their fans literally leap from their seats within the first few grinding riffs.
Can you imagine writing music of such complexity and grace as Caress of Steel and Fly By Night where you're still pressured to come up with a commercial megaseller or get out of Dodge? It happens every day and though they didn't mean to write a power anthem that has stood the test of time, "Tom Sawyer" was the unintentionally demonstrative answer back to the shareholders at Mercury Records. It has an undeniable kick, a strut, a vibe, yet "Tom Sawyer" was at-heart a dark song that somehow became a hard rock rally call for Generation X. Is it the hammering chords, the tougher 'n leather groove, the insane tom rolls and rat-a-tat cymbal clangs by Neil Peart or Geddy Lee's enigmatic choruses?
Whatever "Tom Sawyer's" appeal was initially, it is now held as a staple for Rush like "War Pigs" for Black Sabbath and "Rock 'n Roll All Nite" for Kiss. At least for Rush's and Moving Picture's purposes, "Tom Sawyer" is the icing on the cake for an album wielding gem after gem after gem. VH1 Classic Albums: Rush - 2112 and Moving Pictures accents this point and brings in the testimonials of Peart, Lifeson and Lee (along with producer Terry Brown) to give a few happy anecdotes behind a creative period in their lives even they treat reverentially.
You get to hear whimsical stories how "Yyz" was conceived while landing home in a Toronto airport (it does have that choatic feel of a busy terminal beneath the funk jam, doesn't it?), as they discuss the origins of "Red Barchetta" and play around with title's enunciation. They revel over Rod Serling behind the conception of "Twilight Zone" and if you were ever curious whether "A Passage to Bangkok" was a stoner song, they come clean. It is. On a personal note, I was taken by the band's breakdown of "Limelight," particularly Alex Lifeson's singled-out solo, which delivered live on camera rings as one of the most heartbreaking you'll ever let past your inner defenses.
On this DVD, you get 112 minutes of interview footage mingled with each member noodling on their instruments in conjunction with the recorded audio, but pay attention, because the feed switches to them live in random increments and it's simply beautiful how the live sound transitions fluidly from the album overdubs. You're going to want to kick back with your favorite drink on the bonus features, because you get a large dose of "2112" played live, plus the hilariously-titled "This Is Not a Drum Solo (Neil Warms Up)." If everybody warmed up by belting out an intricate ode to Gene Krupa, Peart might be out of a job at this point. It's a smoker of a laydown session and mandatory viewing.
Without flagging specific album titles, Rush poke at their mid-to-late eighties work (inherently suggested by Power Windows and Hold Your Fire), but they note the key to their long-standing success as the definitive rock trio (not to diss Motorhead) has been their unwavering dedication to experimenting and challenging themselves. They dared to try synths, they dared to splash things up with reggae, they dabbled in cyber fuse before it was hip. They get funky, they get jivey, they get jazzy. Still, in the proverbial limelight, Rush are the quintessenial prog pros whose tab books will forever be found in the bedrooms of the aspirant.
Though 2112 and Moving Pictures are the two singular bodies of work discussed here and beheld as Rush's finest moments, for the Rush purist, you can't omit Hemispheres, Permanent Waves, A Farewell to Kings, Caress of Steel and even Grace Under Pressure from the list of masterworks Rush has bestowed upon us. Their core body of work deserves a semester of study in Rock 102, and even Counterparts and Test For Echo later on showed signs of their previous glory. Agreed that 2112 and Moving Pictures are bigger than themselves, but recorded in a studio resembling a mini-atrium with a gorgeous snowscape behind them, how could Rush not have benefited from such aesthetic majesty?
I may not have taken my shot at football beyond intra-neighborhood sandlot scrimmages, but I did get hip to Rush at an apporpriate time of my life and the grandeur of "2112" and "The Camera Eye" still astonishes. Don't be like a younger me. If you've resisted Rush, be smart. This DVD's a great way to get acquainted. There'd be no Dragonforce without Rush, bank that.
Monday, November 08, 2010
VH1 Classic Albums: Rush - 2112 and Moving Pictures