Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Jagger-Richards songwriting team

If you know anything about the musical philosophies of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, a.k.a. the "Glimmer Twins" and the songwriting team behind the Rolling Stones, you might be amazed the band has lasted as long as it has.

It certainly hasn't been without some turmoil...but then again, no long-lasting songwriting team has smooth sailing 100% of the time.

In the early 1960s, the Rolling Stones were born out of American musical styles such as R&B and traditional delta blues. Their influences originate in American artists such as Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry, to name a fe
w. They are graduate students of that genre of music, to say the least. The very name of the band was founded on a line from an song by one of those artists in the 1950s.

However, as time passed and the 1970s emerged, Jagger had the philosophy that the Stones needed to evolve and change with the times. It's Mick's direction that prompted the progress of the band into directions in the vein of "Dance Little Sister" from 1974's It's Only Rock and Roll, and "Miss You" from 1978's Some Girls.

Richard's philosophy was always more oriented in traditional blues, as he was less adventurous about noodling with the classic Rolling Stones sound that had ingrained itself in classic rock by the 1970s...songs that come to mind that are of the Richards forte might be things like "Sway" from 1971's Sticky Fingers and "Ventilator Blues" from 1972's Exile on Main St.

As the Stones entered the 1980s, these differences in musical philosophy -- in addition to a different philosophy of how to spend their time in their personal lives -- began to create a deepening rift between the two. As a result, the quality of output from the Stones in that decade suffered greatly...it got so bad that nearly all the material from 1986's Dirty Work was written independently, and even in some cases vocals and guitars were recorded in separate studios.

The results of this discombobulated approach reflected in the music, and the Stones essentially ceased for some time to be a living, breathing entity as they didn't tour for the better part of eight years.

Such a lack of exposure would normally mean certain death to most rock bands -- but hey, these are the Stones.

Luckily, Jagger and Richards realized that the results from working together was greater than the sum of its parts; so they had a reconciliation by the end of the 80s. By compromising on the makeup of songs on albums, agreeing to disagree, and utilizing their individual strengths, the band flourished once again. There is also no denying the mutual respect the two have formed for each other over the years as artists and friends.

While the material from the band since 1989's Steel Wheels has never really been up to par with their classic material from the 1960s and 70s, it has certainly produced some gems in their massive cannon and has given Stones fans plenty to chew on in the last 20-some years.

Hopefully we'll get a little more from this timeless and legendary songwriting team before their flame goes out.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rush's Alex Lifeson on the new Snakes & Arrows Live DVD

Alex Lifeson doing his thing at the 2003 SARS Festival in Toronto
You may recall a prior post recently involving a lengthy interview with the guitarist of Rush...well here's another interview with Alex Lifeson.

While it's over
a week old (came out on 12/11), Big Al always gives an interesting and insightful interview.

This is the work of Greg Prato at UGO Music Blog.

It’s no secret that over the years Rush has had its fair share of detractors - namely, in the music press. But the veteran Canadian group - which has long consisted of singer/bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and drummer/lyricist Neil Peart - certainly has gotten the last laugh, as they are still scoring hit albums and selling out arenas worldwide, nearly 35 years after the release of their self-titled debut. Recently, Rush has issued their latest live DVD, Snakes & Arrows Live, which chronicles a pair of sold-out shows at the Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam, Netherlands, on October 16 and 17, 2007, and features a heaping helping of classics, album cuts not played in eons, and newer material. Lifeson recently gave UGO the scoop about the DVD, as well as Rush’s future plans.

Let’s start with the new DVD, Snakes & Arrows Live...

Alex Lifeson: Well, towards the end of the [2007 European] tour, in Rotterdam, we had two days there - we had a day off before and a day off after. So it allowed us to get in on a set-up date, and having the second date, gave us the opportunity to get some really cool long shots and crowd shots. I think we had a fourteen-camera set-up - shot all in HD. It sounds really, really good. It’s funny with us - we always wait until the last minute to do these things, and I don’t know why we do that. We would probably be better off to think about doing something earlier in the tour. But it always turns out this way. Actually, one of the advantages is we’re pretty confident with our playing and the set feels pretty good. We’re quite pleased with it.

Why didn’t the DVD come out at the same time as the Snakes & Arrows CD (which was released in April)?

Alex Lifeson: The CD came out just prior to us going back out on the road - it gave us a little boost I think, in terms of making everybody aware that we were going back out for the second half of the tour. But these things take a while. To do the 5.1 mix is always time-consuming. So, we were able to get a stereo mix out quite easily.
How would you say that particular tour compared to others - as far as the band’s playing?

Alex Lifeson: I think we played the best we’ve ever played. As we get older - as we “mature” - there is a newfound confidence in our playing and the way we approach what we do. I thought we were really settled night-to-night - tempos were very consistent throughout the whole tour. You’re always making little improvements sonically. And there was a really good crispness and clarity to the sound - both out in the house as well as in internally in our monitors. And that always gets you playing a lot better. It was really night-to-night very settled - not often do I feel that way, or any of us feel that way. You come off a tour, and you figure you’ve done a dozen shows where you feel you played really well. This was night-to-night - we felt really confident and really good about the shows.

What about standout memories of that particular performance that night in Rotterdam?

Alex Lifeson: It was a very relaxed night - which is unusual, for that kind of “pressure” night. Whenever we’re recording, there’s always a sense of tension on stage. But we were really relaxed that night, and I think it was because we had the two nights. We were in the European portion - halfway through it - and we really enjoy traveling through Europe, so we were all in a pretty good headspace and relaxed. And I think it shows - there are moments throughout the DVD where there is interplay between the three of us and the audience - and you sense that we’re having fun.
Over the past few tours, Rush has brought back songs that have rarely been played live. How was it playing songs such as “Digital Man,” “Entre Nous,” and “Mission” again?

Alex Lifeson: It was fantastic. To play those songs that we hadn’t played before - or in a long time - was really nice. And the reaction from the crowd was great. I think Rush fans really enjoyed hearing some of those things that you don’t normally hear. On the second half of the tour, we switched things around a little bit and brought in some other ones - “Ghost of a Chance,” for example, and that exists on the DVD, as well. It’s almost like a bootleg session on the DVD, so there’s a nice variety there. And then all the “comedy stuff” that we try to do between the songs and at the opening and closing of the show is really fun, and there are some outtakes from those film sessions. It gives a whole different perspective on us and the individuals in the band.

Any obscure songs that you’d like to see make their way into the set in the future?

Alex Lifeson: I’m always toying with that idea - of really doing a tour, or a set, of more obscure stuff. Kind of stay away from “Tom Sawyer” and “The Spirit of Radio,” and explore some more obscure songs. I think the thing with us is, it’s “An Evening With,” and these are Rush fans that are there to see us play, and I think we can play just about anything we’ve written, and it would be accepted and there would be great interested in it. It would be really great to play those songs - for us to go on tour and play material that we haven’t played in 20 or 30 years...or ever. It would be a different tour, and something I hope we’ll consider seriously. It would be really interesting for us, I think. Playing “Ghost of a Chance” live, I felt like the song was reborn. There was a power, intensity, and dynamics to the song, that don’t come across quite the same as the recorded version. And when you play it now - or any of these older songs - we attack it differently. It’s kind of cool.
Looking back on the early years, I’ve read that Rush toured with Kiss in 1975.

Alex Lifeson: That was our first kind of “big tour.” We had started touring in ‘74 - we were opening for a few different bands. But the Kiss tour...and this was the start of their career, as well. The tour that we did with them, we opened for them, and we were playing 3,000-5,000 seat halls. They were a new band, and no one had really heard of them. So we did a lot of work with them - we probably toured with them for 60 or 70 shows. Back in those days, we were doing 200 to 250 shows a year anyways. But we toured with them over a fairly long period of time. We were very close and we had a lot of fun. We were both young bands, and quite different from each other - I think that was a nice compliment playing together. But like a lot of things, you sort of drift apart over the years. We stayed in touch for a while, but not so much in the past ten years or so.

Any specific memories of that tour?

Alex Lifeson: It was always a crazy scene at the end of tours - they’d plaster us with cream pies, there was always some sort of surprise lurking around a corner! And certainly, there were some fun nights - parties and things like that. They lived a little more of a “rock n’ roll lifestyle” than we did.
Big Al with a favorite axe

I’ve noticed in recent years, you’ve made the jump back to Gibson guitars - what prompted that switch?

Alex Lifeson: I just felt like a change, to be honest - it came down to that. I didn’t have any problem with what I was using - I was using primarily Paul Reed Smith guitars before - and I’ve always said that I love those guitars, they’re so beautifully built. But there’s something about a Les Paul in particular that’s so classic and traditional. I just felt that I wanted to go back to that place. I started working with Gibson, and they were very open and helpful - in developing the things I wanted, and worked very closely with Pat Foley at Gibson. I’ve been very happy with that relationship. We’ve been working on some models that have been inspired that some of the guitars that I have and some of the needs that I have. So it’s been a pretty good relationship with them of late.

I’ve also heard that you’re a big fan of the TV show ‘Family Guy.’ Is this true, and which other shows are your favorites?

Alex Lifeson: Oh, everybody watches ‘Family Guy’! It’s become so popular. What else do I watch… jeez, my wife and I started watching ‘Boston Legal’ for some reason - the first season, and really liked the writing. So we got the whole series and we’ve been watching it. ‘Dexter’ I enjoy quite a bit. I just got a Blu-ray player, so I’m building up my collection of Blu-ray discs, and watching a lot of that stuff. I got that ‘Planet Earth’ series - it’s just so stunning! And I got a series on dinosaurs that I watch with my grandson. ‘When We Left Earth,’ some IMAX stuff.

Recently, Rolling Stone featured the band in its magazine - how does it feel to be embraced all these years later by magazines and media that were once not so kind to the band?

Alex Lifeson: That’s nice, it’s a nice compliment. It was nice to do the interview for that - the writer was really a very pleasant guy and smart. We spent the better part of a week during rehearsals, and Chris [Norris] got into different aspects of our lives - I thought he did quite a good job. We didn’t have a very good relationship with Rolling Stone for a long time, so it was nice to be over that, and we couldn’t even remember why it was like that in the first place. Maybe it’s because we’ve been around for as long as we’ve been, and we’re still at it, and we like to think of ourselves as a “vital” kind of a band. We don’t do these nostalgia tours - there’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s not for us. I think begrudgingly, a lot of these non-supporters give us a little bit of respect for sticking around for so long.
What are Rush’s future plans? A new studio album?

Alex Lifeson: We finished the tour in July, and we were exhausted. We had been working hard for the last seven or eight years - I think we’d done four tours, four albums, and a bunch of DVD’s. Constantly working. And we all just need to get away from it. So our plan for the next year is to not even think about the band. And then jump into it fresh. I mean, there’s a bunch of stuff that we have coming out - the DVD, and we were part of a film called ‘I Love You, Man,’ that is coming out in the new year. A couple of other film things. There’s lots to keep us “plugged in” for the next little while, but we just want to clear our minds of the whole business for a little bit, and jump into it with a renewed energy. Maybe not this late next year, but sometime in the fall of next year, I think we’ll get together. Having said that, Ged and I have this habit of getting together sooner than later, and casually starting to do some work. So if we get bored in the new year, we might advance that schedule a little bit. But right now, we’re thinking about next fall.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

FROM THE VAULT -- Taking Sandler's "Ode to My Car" for a new spin

Back in 1996-97, this Adam Sandler tune "Ode to My Car" (off the album What the Hell Happened to Me?) was all over the radio.

For those of you who are big Sandler fans or were paying attention at the time, you might recall the song came in a few versions. There was the uncensored version on the CD, then there was a version with standard bleeps, which can be found on a CD single (long out of print, I believe)...then there was the version common on the radio -- which I consider the best -- where the bleeps are in the form of an "orchestra" of car horns.

Apart from an Adam Sandler SNL greatest hits video that's floating around out there, I'd argue What the Hell Happened to Me? is his best work. I have the CD with the uncensored version.

I've been unsuccessful in finding a CD version of "Ode to My Car" with the car horn bleeps, until I thought of looking it up on the tube, and voila! I still get a laugh out of this...and the video, seen below, gives some added interest.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

THE STAGE HECKLER: Milan's Teatro La Scala was a fitting introduction to opera

2006 was a big year for travel, and part of it involved venturing across the pond to Italy.

While Milan, in northern Italy, represented the gateway in and out of the country; research and advisement revealed that it didn't provide much in the way of tourist attractions...at least not like the other places Italy is known for.

As a matter of fact, Milan was considered rather unfriendly to tourists, as experience would also reveal.

However, like everything else in life, there are exceptions to that notion. While there weren't many attractions in the nation's fin
ancial capital, there was still a beautiful Cathedral (the third largest in Europe), the Arcadia (touted as the world's first indoor mall), and a fresco many of you might have heard of called The Last Supper.

Then, last but not least, there was the La Scala opera house.

While I'd studied up on a small degree of opera, I had never witnessed one live...so why not start with one -- if not THE -- most revered opera house in the world?

Hey, why not. We're here, aren't we?

La Scala was more about the history and the facility than the opera of that evening; it was about admiring a classic locale that countless operas had been performed in for literally hundreds of years.

The performance that night had lots of variety -- although I couldn't tell you a single word that was sung, as it was all in Italian, of course.
The choice that evening was Dido and Aeneas, which blended together a creative balance of singing, acting, and ballet. It had a little bit of everything, which provided a colorful smorgasbord for newbies (yes, my hand is raised).

Our tickets were at the top row, waaaaaaaaaaay in the back, and definitely NOT on the railing, as the view was a bit obstructed. This wasn't like the upper deck of Yankee Stadium, this was the view from the circling blimp above the ballpark (hey, at least we weren't in the HORRIFIC BLIMP SHADOW...uh, inside joke). Needless to say, the quality of sight lines didn't seem to be on the minds of opera house architects and designers hundreds of years ago; at least not for the pobrecitos in the upper deck.

Nevertheless, the opera was enjoyable despite the fact that the story was difficult to follow (I'm not exactly up on my Italian, let alone understanding it while sung at a high octave). The idea of the story was more or less followed through the dancing and acting, which was very interesting and a feast for the eyes.

When the final act ended and the actors/singers took their final bows, I snuck up to the balcony and got a few shots of the massive chandelier that hung down from the high ceiling (see photo above).

I'll leave you with a rather comprehesive history on La Scala, courtesy of wikipedia...come on, get cultured, peeps! You'll learn something new today...and if you're here already, do you really have anything better to do with your time?:

Teatro La Scala

The Teatro alla Scala (or La Scala, as it is known), in Milan, Italy, is one of the world's most famous opera houses. The theatre was inaugurated on 3 August 1778, under the name Nuovo Regio Ducal Teatro alla Scala with Salieri's Europa riconosciuta. La Scala's season traditionally opens on 7 December, Saint Ambrose's Day, the feast day of Milan's patron saint. All performances must end before midnight; long operas start earlier in the evening if need be. Ticketholders are not allowed to enter after the performance has begun.
The La Scala Museum (Museo Teatrale alla Scala), accessible from the theatre's foyer and a part of the house, contains an extraordinary collection of paintings, drafts, statues, costumes, and other documents regarding opera and La Scala's history.
La Scala also hosts the Accademia d’Arti e Mestieri dello Spettacolo (Academy for the Performing Arts). Its goal is to train a new generation of young musicians, technical staff, and dancers (at the Scuola di Ballo del Teatro alla Scala, one of the Academy's divisions).
A fire destroyed the previous theatre, the ancient Teatro Ducale, on 25 February 1776, after a carnival gala. A group of ninety wealthy Milanese, who owned palchi (private boxes) in the theatre, wrote to Archduke Ferdinand I of Austria asking for a new theatre and a provisional one to be used while completing the new one. The neoclassical architect Giuseppe Piermarini produced an initial design but it was rejected by Count Firmian (the governor of the then Austrian Lombardy).
A second plan was accepted in 1776 by Empress Maria Theresa. The new theatre was built on the former location of the church of Santa Maria della Scala, from which the theatre gets its name. The church was deconsecrated and demolished, and over a period of two years the theatre was completed by Pietro Marliani, Pietro Nosetti and Antonio and Giuseppe Fe. This theatre had a total over 3,000 seats organized into 678 pit-stalls, arranged in six tiers of boxes above which is the 'loggione' or two galleries. Now the stage is one of the largest in Italy (16.15m d x 20.4m w x 26m h).
Building expenses were covered by the sale of palchi, which were lavishly decorated by their owners, impressing observers such as Stendhal. La Scala (as it soon became to be known) soon became the preeminent meeting place for noble and wealthy Milanese people. In the tradition of the times, the platea (the main floor) had no chairs and spectators watched the shows standing up. The orchestra was in full sight, as the golfo mistico (orchestra pit) had not yet been built.
Above the boxes, La Scala has always had a gallery where the less wealthy can watch the performances. It is called the loggione. The loggione is typically crowded with the most critical opera aficionados, who can be ecstatic or merciless towards singers' perceived successes or failures. La Scala's loggione is considered a baptism of fire in the opera world, and fiascos are long remembered. (One recent incident occurred in 2006 when tenor Roberto Alagna was booed off the stage during a performance of Aïda, forcing an understudy to replace him mid-scene wearing street clothes.) As with most of the theaters at that time, La Scala was also a casino, with gamblers sitting in the foyer.
La Scala was originally illuminated with eighty-four oil lamps mounted on the palcoscenico and another thousand in the rest of theater. To prevent the risks of fire, several rooms were filled with hundreds of water buckets. In time, oil lamps were replaced by gas lamps, these in turn were replaced by electric lights in 1883.
The original structure was renovated in 1907, when it was given its current layout with 2,800 seats. In 1943, during WWII, La Scala was severely damaged by bombing. It was rebuilt and reopened on 11 May 1946, with a memorable concert conducted by Arturo Toscanini, with a soprano solo by Renata Tebaldi, which created a sensation.
La Scala hosted the prima (first production) of many famous operas, and had a special relationship with Giuseppe Verdi. For several years, however, Verdi did not allow his work to be played here, as some of his music had been modified (he said "corrupted") by the orchestra. This dispute originated in a disagreement over the production of his Giovanna d'Arco in 1845; however the composer later conducted his Requiem there on 25 May 1874, and in 1886 announced that La Scala would host the premiere of his opera Otello.[1] The premiere of his last opera, Falstaff was also given in the theatre.
In 1982, the Filarmonica della Scala was established, drawing its members from the larger pool of musicians that comprise the Orchestra della Scala.
Major rennovation 2002-2004
Following the traditional 7 December 2001 season opening performances of Otello, which ran through December, the theatre was closed for renovation[2] and, from 19 January 2002 to November 2004, the opera company was transferred to the new Teatro degli Arcimboldi, built in the Pirelli-Bicocca industrial area 4.5 miles from the city centre.
The renovation by the renowned architect Mario Botta proved controversial, as preservationists feared that historic details would be lost; however, the opera company was said to be impressed with improvements to the structure and the sound quality, which was enhanced when the heavy red carpets in the hall were removed. The stage was entirely re-constructed, and an enlarged backstage will allow more sets to be stored, permitting more productions, and the seats now include monitors for the electronic libretto system, allowing audiences to follow opera libretti in English and Italian in addition to the original language.
Conducted by Riccardo Muti, the opera house re-opened on 7 December 2004 with a production of Salieri's Europa riconosciuta, the opera which was performed at La Scala's inauguration in 1778. [3]. Tickets for the re-opening fetched up to €2,000. The renovations cost a reported €61 million, and left a budget shortfall that the opera house did not overcome until 2006.[4]

Friday, December 12, 2008

Rush has beer named after them...NOT KIDDING.

Hey. Don't ask me how I find out about this stuff.

The Flat Earth Brewing Company out of Minnesota has their dark porter beer in tribute to Rush, and has named it the Cygnus X-1, after the last track from their 1977 prog masterpiece A Farewell to Kings.

It doesn't end there.

Apparently there's a beer tasting on the brewery calendar that involves a half dozen or so versions of beers named after Rush-isms.

Engine room, where is my drink.

See the site rushisaband.com for details:

Earlier this year I'd mentioned the Flat Earth Brewing Company in Saint Paul Minnesota because they feature a Cyngnus-X1 Porter as a tribute to their favorite band - Rush. For the month of December, they are holding their Porterfest event at the brewery and featuring several additional infused versions of the their Rush inspired Porter. Here's the calendar along with the featured brews:
* 12/4 - Hold Your Fire Porter - Spice & Ancho Pepper infused Porter
* 12/11 - Mystic Rhythms Porter - Raspberry infused Porter
* 12/18 - Freewill Porter - Vanilla infused Porter
* 12/23 - Snow Dog Porter - Peppermint infused Porter
* 12/31 - Big Money Porter - Wood aged Porter

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Fledgling band LIVE revealed in a 1994 road trip

Live has been one of the more interesting bands to come along in the last 20 or so years.

They're out of Pennsylvania and carved a hard-driving prog-alternative sound all their own out of the late 80s; when big hair metal reigned, bands with jangly guitars like R.E.M. were leading the way in the alternative college radio movement, and a grunge scene was taking shape in Seattle.

Somehow, Live evolved very much immune to all those other trends at the time...or so their sound seems to indicate.

I'd like to say that I was in on it early on, through the success and glory of the
Throwing Copper era in 1994-95. For you stat nuts out there, Throwing Copper is the only album in Billboard history to go Number 1 after being on the charts for 52 weeks.

For you calculus crunchers out there, 52 weeks = 1 year. Woooow man, trippy stuff!

In 1994, a few months after my graduation from ASU, I was still living in Tempe and gearing up for graduate school in the fall. That summer, to break away from the Arizona heat, a friend and I hit the road for California to visit a mutual buddy for a weekend of music.

The focus of our visit centered around catching the band Yes live, at the Greek Theater located in the hills north of L.A. They were touring off the Talk album, which if I recall correctly was their last project involving Trevor Rabin.

Part of the weekend also involved going to the campus of UCLA to see a newer band called "Live" at a free gig. I had never heard of them before, but our friend we were visiting said that he'd heard good things.

The show took place in the middle of a courtyard to what I recall as a space in front of a student union building...pretty much smack dab in the middle of campus, in a rather random spot. Photos of the event do exist, and are currently packed away in a box...when they reveal themselves again, I'll be sure to share.

At that time, Throwing Copper had been out for several months and was slowly starting to receive radio airplay, but hadn't taken off yet...so the band was culling their set list from that album and their first project, 1991's Mental Jewelry.

There was an opening band, whose name I'm trying to recall...("Dig" perhaps?) I'll follow up on that. Whoever they were, they didn't make much of an impact and never took off.

Live, however, had an unmistakable energy...they seemed to have a combination of electric jamming musicianship and heady, passionate lyrics...maybe like a hard alternative cross between Rush and U2.

Extensive online research for the set list on that day is still in the works.
Interestingly enough, I have a vague memory of one of my friends grabbing the written set list that was onstage that day.

As another year progressed, the band would continue to grow into a massive phenomenon. By 1995 they were the "cool thing" and all over the radio. I would see them a second time; this time around it would be with 20,000 others at the Desert Sky Pavilion in Phoenix. By this time the band was clearly at it's popular height.

However...that day, back in Santa Monica, I discovered a favorite newer band born out of the 1990s -- in their fledgling days.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Rush is back: an interview with Alex Lifeson

Well, for me, they never really went anywhere, with the exception of the hiatus in the late 90s, and that was due to exceptional circumstances out of the band's control.

This is more for the general public and how the band has been received in that light. It's one of the better interviews about the band of recent history...it gives some interesting insights into their future.

The Rosetta Stone on how they've kept it going for so long? It's simpler than you might think.


In addition to touring ceaselessly, that's the essential ingredient that's kept the band alive for so long...but it's more fun to hear about it straight from them than to hear me go on and on, so I'll shut up now.

Rush is Back: Pop culture proclaims the formerly dorky band cool

Rush has spent nearly 35 years being uncool; the antidote to hip.

Its songs have been derided by critics as musically out of fashion, and lyrically obtuse. (Drummer Neil Peart, who writes the songs, was chosen by Blender magazine as second only to Sting as worst rock lyricist.)

But it’s not just critics who’ve slagged the band.

In the 1999 movie SLC Punk! a flashback to future Salt Lake City punkers Stevo and Bob shows the pair as junior high school nerds playing Dungeons and Dragons in a basement while listening to Rush’s “Trees,” an allegorical tale set in a forest. Then Bob offers something “new” — “Kiss Me Deadly” by Generation X — and their lives change.

The indie film’s message is less than subtle: Rush is a fossil; even worse, it’s the group of choice for teenage dorks, geeks, and nerds alike.

But the winds of fortune have changed in Rush’s favor, beginning with a Rolling Stone profile of the band in its July 10 issue, a first for the magazine.

Suddenly, Rush is everywhere: performing its biggest hit, “Tom Sawyer,” on The Colbert Report; appearing on VH-1 Classic in a 24-hour marathon of the band’s concerts and videos titled “Rush Hashanah” during the Jewish New Year, and having its bestselling album, “Moving Pictures,” available as a complete download in the game Rock Band (one of only a handful of records available so far).

And next year, just in time for the band’s 35th birthday, look for a Rush documentary and a cameo by the band members in the comedy I Love You, Man, starring Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, and Jon Favreau, punctuated by an induction into the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Given all the love that’s coming the band’s way, dare we now proclaim Rush cool? Perhaps. And how does all this attention make band members feel? Surprised, said guitarist Alex Lifeson, after an early morning spent on the phone talking to reporters to promote the band’s just-released Snakes and Arrows Live DVD.

“We’ve always sort of been outside — well, maybe not a little bit — we’ve always been kind of outside the mainstream, we’ve done things our own way,” Lifeson said. “We have a very strong core following that’s been very loyal and stuck with us for all these years and allowed us to function that way without having a broader appeal. To suddenly be asked to be in films, of course the Rolling Stone thing, and the Stephen Colbert — all these things ... it makes us smile that all of a sudden Rush is a cool thing, when we have not been a very cool thing for a very long time.”
The Canadian power trio — rounded out by Geddy Lee on bass, vocals, and keyboards — are praised by musicians and fans for the members’ prodigious instrumental skills, showcased in early epic prog rock songs about black holes, Greek gods, and totalitarian societies.

As the band members grew older, though, their music matured. They left behind the concept albums to focus on thematic records about the human condition, and social commentary — often with a libertarian point of view.

The band’s sound also grew tighter, smarter, and more straightforward.
In more than three decades of recording, Rush has released 24 records, 17 of which are studio recordings. All 24 of those records have gone Gold, 14 of them have been certified Platinum, and three have gone multiple Platinum. In fact, Rush ranks behind the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith for the most consecutive gold or platinum records by a rock group, for total sales of 25 million records in the United States alone.

Rush released its first, eponymous LP in 1974 in Canada on its own label, with little interest in exporting the record to U.S. listeners. Then Donna Halper, then program director at WMMS-FM in Cleveland, played the import on her late-night radio show and everything changed. The album “got really great phone response,” Lifeson recalled, and Halper reached out to a friend at Mercury Records in Chicago. Within a week the band was signed and began a tour with Peart now manning the skins. (Rutsey left the band for health reasons — he was diabetic — which made it difficult for him to tour.)

“Neil was in the band for two weeks before we did our first gig, so it didn’t allow a lot of time to go over a lot of material,” Lifeson said. “Granted, for the most part we were just opening, so we were only playing for 20-30 minutes. At that time that was only two songs, ‘Finding My Way’ and ‘Working Man,’ but we were also doing some headline club gigs, so we needed to have some decent amount of material. We used to rehearse in the van and in hotel rooms, as much as we could, and then we’d go into these clubs.”
More from Alex Lifeson

Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson had much to say in his recent interview with The Blade. Too much, as it turns out, for the print story. Below are some excerpts from the interview that didn’t make the print cut:

Alex on ...

“Like any group of high school kids — we were 15 years old — Geddy and I had been playing together for a year. John Rutsey and I had been playing for a couple of years together. We had basement bands that we’d play at parties and we’d play the same six songs over and over and you were paid in potato chips and Coke. It was such an exciting time, it was the mid-’60s, and we were growing up with all this incredible music. We put our little band together, and it was important that we write out own music. Probably within ... the first year we were doing half to two-thirds original material. It was pretty basic and I would cringe to hear those songs now, [but] at least we were writing our own stuff and that set the template. We were playing drop in centres and high school dances on a Friday night, that sort of thing. In 1971 the drinking age was lowered from 21 to 18 in Ontario, in our Province. ... We went from playing three or four gigs a month to playing six days a week with a matinees on Saturdays. That was great because that’s were we learned our chops. We had these three-four years of this constant playing. It was this continuing cycle of playing gigs of playing for three hours a night, and then whatever you could do during the day you’d get together and do some writing or work stuff out. That was really, really important for the band’s development, I think.


“That’s how it went, but it was a whole different world then, and the music industry has changed so much. We would sort of cap phases and the live album gave us breathing space. But that’s when we were playing 150-250 shows a year and making one or two records a year. It was a whole different time in the band’s development. Much later we didn’t feel the need to cap a particular period, and now we do a lot of these DVDs with every tour because it gives you something to mark that period in your playing, in your development, in your audience, the technology that’s available to you.”


“With this one, ‘Snakes and Arrows,’ this tour we did a number of songs we hadn’t played before or we hadn’t played since the ’70s. We played nine songs from ‘Snakes and Arrows,’ which was a great way to showcase the record for us. Normally, we would do somewhere between three to five songs from an album, because we have such a depth of material in the catalog that people want us to play, but we were so excited and pumped with this record [that] we really wanted to do as much as we could from it. These songs develop in a live arena and they grow, and it’s nice to be able to document them at another time other than the recording.”


“It’s always a difficult one for us and we always end up disappointing somebody, I think. We kind of go through what the staples are, the songs that we need to play, and then we look at other songs that we’d like to play, and we try out stuff that we think we should play, and then whittle down to that sort of three-hour range. Quite often it starts out at four, four and 1/2 hours and we cut it back. We try some stuff that doesn’t work, we try it in rehearsal and if it doesn’t inspire us or go anywhere, then we sort of set it aside. I always feel like we need to expand a little more and we do a little bit, I think. ‘Entre Nous’ and ‘Circumstances’ were two songs that I’m glad we brought into the set. ‘Entre Nous’ is a song we’ve never played live and I really enjoyed playing that.”


“It takes up too much time. I’d totally be into doing that. We did that with ‘2112’ a few tours back where we played the whole thing. That was the first tour where we did, in fact, play all of ‘2112.’ Even when we first started doing it back in the ’70s we never played the whole thing. I like the idea of the challenge of doing that. ... If we’re going to play for five hours, let’s do ‘Jacob’s Ladder,’ let’s do all those songs. It’d be fun. And visually we’d have a lot of license to do some very interesting things technically. Wait and see.”


“There are a number of options open to us. I think the most likely is that we’ll record another record and tour off that, Another option is that we might do a specialty tour, or we’ll do another major tour and look at doing more obscure songs. I don’t think we would just do the same sort of tour we did last time. I would be different. I don’t think we would be content to just do another tour ... just milk it. Otherwise, I’d rather stay home, to be honest with you.” (Laughs)


“No, I don’t think so. We’ve always tried to say in the present as much as we could and make sure we did the best job in whatever it is we’re doing. I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished and what we’ve done. The fact that we’re still together after so many years is an amazing achievement, and the fact that we’re playing the best that we’ve ever played is also quite incredible to me. When it’s all said and done, I think I’ll feel very content and very happy with that we’ve left behind in the world of music. To see at this stage on tours 9-, 10-, 11-year-old kids out in the audience who are air drumming and air guitaring and singing our lyrics and being introduced to the band through Rock Band and [Guitar] Hero and inspiring them to play guitar like I do on drums like Neil does, that’s a wonderful feeling and it’s very warm.”

Contact Kirk Baird atkbaird@theblade.comor 419-724-6734.
The band’s second album, 1975’s “Fly By Night,” was another hit, as the group left its Led Zeppelin-cloned sound behind and pushed into progressive rock territory with songs like “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” and the J.R.R. Tolkien-inspired “Rivendell.” Buoyed by its success, the band delved even further into prog-rock with its third album, “Caress of Steel,” later that year, which featured two cuts that accounted for more than three-quarters of the record’s material. The results were disastrous.

The record tanked with fans, and Rush’s management and record label worried if the band had a future. Under duress and uncertain of the future themselves, Rush responded with the band’s first critical hit, “2112,” an epic Ann Rynd-inspired concept album about an oppressive society from the future. “ ‘2112’ is all about independence and bucking the system,” Lifeson said. The album not only stood as a statement to the record label and other doubters, but also as a lifeline to the band.

“The great thing about it was that we connected somehow with our listening audience and the record did very, very well, and it bought us our independence and freedom,” Lifeson said. “And after that we were never ever questioned by the record company or management. Once you have some success it’s a lot easier to write your own rules.”

Rush capped the “2112” tour and that period with a live album, “All the World’s a Stage,” in 1976. Then the band returned to the studio and started working on an album that was even longer, even more progressive, and its fan base grew. By 1980 Rush hit its stride and released in succession arguably its best work: 1980’s “Permanent Waves,” 1981’s “Moving Pictures,” and 1982’s “Signals,” which, between them, continually account for nearly one-third of the band’s setlist material.
Things continued to look up for the band through the 1980s and into the ’90s — then the good fortune stopped.

In the summer of 1997, Peart’s teenage daughter was killed in a car crash. Less than a year later, his wife succumbed to cancer. Peart was devastated and the band was put on hold, possibly for good. Lee and Lifeson waited to see if their friend and bandmate could heal.

“That was a very, very difficult period. I don’t think I played my guitar or really listened to music much for a year after Selena’s death,” Lifeson said. “And then, of course, complicated with Neil’s wife’s passing, it just knocked everything out of us. As far as we were concerned, the band had very little chance of surviving; I mean, Neil was barely surviving.

“Our goal was to try to get him back on his feet, or help to get him back on his feet as best as we could. It was a very tough thing, it’s a very personal thing that is chronicled in his book Ghost Rider, what he went through. It wasn’t until he finally found some peace and remarried … and his wife, who really knew very little about the band, was the instigator and the catalyst. [She] said to him, ‘This is what you do, this is who you are. You have to really think about getting yourself back into it and not avoiding that sort of thing.’

“And then we got together and he said ‘I think I’m ready to possibly to go back to work.’ It was a slow rebuilding process. It was four years we were off the road, and here’s a guy who played drums every day except Christmas and New Year’s Day who hadn’t played his drums in four years.”

With the band in hiatus, Lee and Lifeson did their own thing, including Lee’s solo disc “My Favorite Headache.” But there was never a moment when the two thought the band could go on without Peart.

“That’s not the kind of band we ever were. Neil would not be a particularly easy guy to replace,” Lifeson said. “The Rush experience for us has been a family experience. Geddy and I live five minutes from each other. This is [after] 40-plus years of knowing each other and we’re still five minutes from each other. I played tennis with him last week, we had dinner the other night, [there’s a] wine tasting next Tuesday — he’s my best friend and we happen to be in a band together. That makes it a little easier to make those decisions about what you would do if they weren’t there anymore. It’s not just a job, it’s a whole life we’ve lived together.”
More greatest hits
Peart returned to Rush in early 2001, and in 2002 the band made its triumphant return with “Vapor Trails,” which debuted at No. 6 on Billboard. This was followed by more successful world tours, and another successful record, “Snakes and Arrows,” which was released in May of last year. Rush supported “Snakes and Arrows” with two lengthy tours, which are documented in a CD as well as DVD.

Rush has a third greatest hits package due early next year. After that release, its contract with longtime record label Mercury/Atlantic is up. And already there’s online fan speculation about what’s next for the Toronto band. Will Rush re-sign with Atlantic and return to the studio? Or will the band instead hit the road next year to celebrate its 35th anniversary? First things first, Lifeson said.

“Right now we just want rest,” Lifeson said. “We’ve been working really hard for the last seven or eight years on numerous records, tours, and DVDs; it’s been pretty constant through that whole period. We really feel like we need to step back and recharge our batteries and just not think about the band and what we’re going to do. You never know, Geddy and I might do some casual writing in the spring, but I’m guessing we probably won’t do anything until the fall of next year. At that time ... we’ll set out what we’re doing.

“There are a number of options open to us. I think the most likely is that we’ll record another record and tour off that. Working with [“Snakes and Arrows” producer] Nick Raskulinecz, he’s pushing us to think about doing another sort of concept record ... instead of just a thematically conceptual album like the most current records are. Wether we’re up for that kind of thing, I’m not so sure. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Toledo tour stop?
Rush hasn’t performed in Toledo since the early ’90s, Lifeson said. When told about the new arena, though, he is enthusiastic about another concert by the band here. Lee even has family in the area who he and Lifeson visit whenever they were in town for a tour.

As the conversation winds down, talk pushes to the end of the band. Given that all the members of the group are in their mid-50s, the end of Rush is certainly closer than its beginning. So how would Lifeson like the band to go out? How would he script Rush’s finale?

“That’s a tough question. I don’t know,” Lifeson said. “I was going to say that we go out on this incredible tour where we were just at the top of our game and we moved on and that was it. But at the same time, and I think maybe it’s because I am Canadian, I think I’d like us to rather just go quietly out. Just kind of fade away quietly and not cause a big deal.”

Contact Kirk Baird at:kbaird@theblade.comor 419-724-6734.