Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"The soundtrack to our lives" at RushCon7

That quote, out of a Neil Peart interview a few years back, was what I came away with when I look back at what we all shared this last weekend at RushCon7 in Toronto. I'm playing the "red album," HYF, as I write and edit this post.

It was my first time attending this
conference, which was by now in its seventh year. I arrived with the notion that it was one component of an overall pilgrimage to see Rush, my favorite rock band, perform in their hometown. After arriving late Thursday night, I powered up early the next day and drove to St. Catharines to see Lakeside Park, Neil Peart's hometown. That afternoon, with the advantage of hotel proximity in downtown Toronto (referred to as T.O. by the locals), I walked up Yonge Street to peruse record stores and swung around through Queen's Park... for the ultimate site, the front of the Provincial Parliament Building. I took a quick tour of the inside of the building---that is, after gawking in shocked awe at the arches in the front for about 20 minutes... You guys must understand that Moving Pictures was the VERY FIRST rock album I owned---I got it for my 13th birthday. The MP cover was all I had to look at for the better part of a year---I would stare at the thing for hours, thinking there were secret codes and messages in it... like "Why's the little girl screaming? What's supposed to be happening inside the building?" Then I finally received Signals... for my 14th birthday... still have those original vinyl copies, I'll never let them go!

Then when Grace Under Pressure was released in the spring of 1984, along with the ensuing tour (my first ever concert), I realized I needed more cash in pocket to buy more Rush and to diversify my music a bit... which meant I needed to be employed... sorry to digress!

With respect to RushCon; as someone we know has once said: "Anything can happen." Nothing would prepare me for the mind-blowing experience I was about to have...
It was without question the easiest room I've ever entered; it was
like meeting long lost brothers and sisters for the first time; a meeting of the minds of sorts... As if you were finally hanging with your own kind. Everyone just knew it and understood it. You weren't going to connect with everyone---as there was simply not enough time---but for those who you did connect with, it was very special. For me, having been a fan since 1981 and attending live shows since 1984--now up to a total of 19 (including #5 of the current tour)--I didn't think it could get any better. However visiting Toronto, and especially attending RushCon, brought the meaning of the band to a whole new level that is very hard to describe.

That Friday night, the group took chartered "school of rock" busses to the Opera House in town, where the night started out with some karaoke and air drumming contests. Then the Rush
cover band Limelight played for nearly 4 hours! The band, a 4-piece with a lead singer, was obviously very dialed into the set list of the current Rush tour---as most of the material they covered filled in the blanks of what we weren't hearing live from the "real Rush." Hey, we even heard "The Necromancer" and "Beneath, Between, Behind!" ...and for 4 hours---I think everyone can appreciate what kind of a workout that was for Limelight. The lead singer, sporting a N.Y. Rangers Mark Messier hockey jersey, kept himself in top form throughout. The guitarist had all the Lerxst guitar facial expressions down too, and the rhythm section kept everything both grounded and animated. Animate everyone, they definitely did. Very impressive!

Saturday was a big day. Things began midday with a series of fun and games, including "Let's
Make a Deal," "Wheel of Tidal Fortune," and various other trivia games. Then it occurred to me that I've obviously been out of the video game loop for quite some time, as participants were able to hold makeshift instruments and "compete" in a digital rock concert setting to songs of their choice. While numerous improvised versions of YYZ were "performed" with instrumental theatrics, including lowbrow computer animated characters spinning guitars, machine gun guitars, and muscle flexing with guitars---the group went really outside it's realm and performed "Sweet Child O' Mine" by Guns and Roses. It was actually a welcome break!

Then as the evening rolled around, we met in the bar downstairs, and after some time it was back onto the School of Rock bus---and... SHOWTIME!!! The boys rocked to a packed house at the Air Canada Centre, and you could tell they were really amped to perform for the home crowd! Everyone I ran into at the venue was really friendly; I exchanged emails with a fella visiting from Germany (also on a similar pilgrimage), and sat with locals during the show---to my left was a fella I had sold my ticket to earlier in the day, and to my right was a sweet teenage couple attending their first ever concert. As the more veteran fan, I tried to provide a little "song and album" context whenever they asked or were scratching their heads---but I tried not to do the infamously annoying "play by play," as that's never a good thing. It's never good to become Harry Carey and turn an otherwise life-changing event into a Cubbies game.

Post gig festivities went into full gear as the group did some
bar hopping, including a little skip down to the Orbit Room, and some late night eats at a local 24 hour joint. There was a congregation of folks there who attended the concert, including several who weren't part of RushCon---just fans making their own pilgrimages to Toronto, or folks who just lived in town.

As a side note, may I mention that ever since I had arrived at the Days Inn late Thursday
night, I'd been wondering IF there was a room numbered "2112," and WHO it was that might be staying in that room. My curiosity was further peaked as I was assigned room #2011, frustratingly 101 digits from the promised land. I thought of yelling "Hello up there!" but figured it was 2AM and I'd wake up the neighbors. As it turned out, I met the inhabitants of the sacred room as I hung out with a power trio of late night partiers Saturday night. They'd artfully recreated the inside sleeve to 1982's Signals on the front door of the room. A priceless photo indeed, and my original question from the night of my arrival was indeed answered! I thought I heard a waterfall in there, but it just turned out to be the bathroom sink (there was no blueprint of a bathroom sink either, nor a Lerxst to be found working on said sink).

The final highlight of the trip involved a walking tour of Anthem Records. Once again, the proximity of the Days Inn paid off as the group of us was able to do a straight walk down Clifton street (about 4 blocks) to our destination---what appeared to be a most unassuming residence---otherwise you would simply walk by it and never know Rush's record company was inside. The staff there was very kind as they let staggered groups of us walk through and gawk at the countless sea of gold records, platinum records, and numerous other awards that hung on the walls. The most impressive artifact, however, was the large size painting of the Power Windows album cover. With respect to the Anthem tour, one person commented that it felt like a dreamscape, while I mentioned it reminded me of a Rush screen saver I've used before---you know, that one with the maze of album covers aligning the walls. Maybe that makes me sound outdated, as I haven't used it in awhile.

Sunday continued with a well organized charity auction, where participants held their red stars high in hand to bid on various items and Rush memorabilia. There was some very interesting and creative things to bid on, and it appeared that lots of money was raised for local charities. A send-off event at the Orbit Room Sunday night ended the weekend.

RushCon was all about bonding and forming new friendships, and no topic was off limits. Folks at the conference came from all walks of life; students, professors, realtors, accountants, grant writers, engineers, planners, casino money counters, photographers, artists, clowns (seriously), writers, aaaaaaaaand (of course) SALESMEN!!! Discussions in many ways were not focused on Rush; they tended to cover other bands of interest, careers, hobbies, politics, religion, and other personal passions... pretty much the whole gamut. Rush discussions tended to focus on which tours were attended and where, then the conversation might venture into the details of one's formative years. By filling in those blanks, you could essentially superimpose the soundtrack to the upbringing of the person you were talking to. The band, their catalog, Neil's lyrics and what they represent provide a potpourri of springboards to work from in terms of getting to know someone who has the same appreciation, and as someone put in the RushCon program, "Get's it" (or as Starwoman from the 2112 room suggested, "Geds It." Get it???) Everyone was able to share stories from their successes to personal tragedies, and dig a little deeper in the short time we had together.

The band plays the central role in making folks gel together like they did at RushCon. The most satisfying part of this is that the band seems to understand this and appreciate the role they play in the lives of their fans---as I've picked up on this from some of the interviews I've read or listened to over the years---which are too numerous to mention. As Neil was once stated as having his own epiphany about the feedback he's received from fans; that the band has provided the "soundtrack to their lives." From what I understand the band is deeply moved by that notion.

Thank you, my Rushie brothers and sisters, for a stellar, incredible experience! ...and a
special thank you for the hard work of the RushCon staff for all the dedication and running around they did to make everything happen. I'll venture to speak for all the guests at the convention, in that we can appreciate how hard all that work was. Simply put, you put on a very entertaining, flawless convention. It was an honor to be a part of it.

So, until we meet again, "The song remains the same..." Whoops, wrong band... let's try this again... "God save the Queen!" No, that's the Sex Pistols convention...

Well, then how 'bout this: "Though we know that time has wings, we're the ones that have to fly!!!" Thaaaaat's more like it. Happy (vapor) trails everyone, see all of you down the road!!!


Unknown said...

Paul, this is a fantastic blog! You've really captured the spirit of what RushCon is all about.

See you around the cybertraps!

Sweva said...

Thanks Kristy, I tried to frame it the way I experienced it. At one point during the weekend I inevitably asked one of the organizers if anyone from the band had ever taken interest in dropping by, and the response was: "Naw, it's just about US."

For some reason I was surprised at the response I got, but now I understand what she was saying. It was "US" who organized it and made the weekend happen, and it's "US" who will have the pleasant effect of the great memories of who we met.

Thanks again everyone!!!

Original Subdivision said...

Great meeing you Paul! As one of the few who have attended every Rushcon to date, I look at this as a chance to hang out with the other top Rush fans in the world! You never have to "dumb down" the Rush talk. It's a chance to hang out with a group of like-minded friends once a year!

Hope you find a good spot to display the posters. Next time you're in St. Catharines, I'll take you on a proper tour of the Neil sites!