Thursday, July 1, 2010

Life's Soundtrack

I first became "a cell of awareness"...well, too long ago to note the actual date. I was introduced to Rush not through parents or relatives or friends, but by tuning into FM radio. Until that moment, my musical education consisted of country and gospel, doo-wop, surf instrumentals, and AM pop gems. Elvis Presley was a mainstay in the household, as were 8-tracks of The Beatles and a couple of K-Tel compilations. Once, my uncle loaned a couple of albums to me--Led Zeppelin III and Jimi Hendrix' Smash Hits. But NOTHING prepared me for the band that would become my life's soundtrack.

I can't remember what song it was that actually drew me in at that point: "A Farewell To Kings", maybe, or the first two parts of 2112: "Overture" and "The Temples of Syrinx". Could have been "The Trees" from the then-current Hemispheres album ( still a favorite ). I do remember being wide awake at two in the morning, when the overnight jockey at KZEW 97.1 would play "La Villa Strangiato" on a regular basis. Suffice to say that there was a vibe there that I heard no place else. Maybe the musicianship, maybe the ( at that point ) science fiction influence in the lyrics, maybe Geddy Lee's otherworldly vocals. It was just all over the map for me, and I was totally sucked into that vortex of "progressive longitudinal vibratory disturbances", where I remain to this day.

I recorded Permanent Waves when it premiered on the Sunday Night Six Pack, and a bootleg recording of a show in St. Louis from that same tour. I was absolutely knocked out when "Tom Sawyer" was first played on the radio, and I still have my 45 rpm copy of that song b/w "Witch Hunt", purchased at one of the old department store chains ( Woolworth's, maybe ). I slavered over any Rush videos that appeared on MTV, especially when the concert videos Exit...Stage Left and Grace Under Pressure were broadcast. The Grace Under Pressure show was a radio simulcast, and yes, I recorded that, too. ( I was so happy that the show was released as a CD a few years ago! Ah, The Fear Trilogy in its sequential entirety! )

So imagine my thrill when I was of concert-attendance age ( my parents weren't going to take me, and I had an after-school job ) and Rush were touring behind Power Windows. Yep, you bet I was getting tickets! I think I wrote an album review for the small-town paper, and after the show, I wrote a concert review for the same publication. I went with my fellow rat-packers Mike and Paul, and there were a few photos taken. One memorable shot was of me with then-fashionable mullet ( we called it "bi-level" back then), black-and-gray striped jacket, black vinyl pants and black suede cuff boots, posing on the lower balcony overlooking Neil Peart's incredible drum kit before heading down to our seats in the 18th row on the floor. The Steve Morse Band was opening ( and they were awesome, though I would have died if Marillion had opened the show, as they had on a few dates on the tour ), supporting their second album Stand Up. They were amazing...but it was Rush I wanted to see. This was the first of two shows at Reunion Arena...and the next night I had the tape recorder going, recording DJ coverage from the press box. The DJs kept pressing this supposed "Americana" theme in the set list, and tried to convince the listening audience that the band was having fun and had decided to play an extended jam at the end of crowd favorite "Closer To The Heart" ( they played it the previous night, as well ). But you know what? I was in heaven.

Most of my strongest memories involve Rush. I bought Hold Your Fire at one of the PX's on Fort Hood the afternoon I had returned from a brief tour of Europe. I bought A Show Of Hands at a record shop where Ame, one of my high school friends, was working, and that's when I met her son Hunter ( fathered by another serious Rush fan and musician ). I cried the first time I heard the song "Presto"...hell, the album of the same name was an emotional ride for me. When my ex-wife and I were first getting to know one another at work, she came to tell me her favorite band was coming to town. Some teeny-bopper BS, I was thinking. Then she told me it was Rush. I bought tickets to the show ( first leg of the Test For Echo tour ), and we were going to go as friends. By show-date, we were a couple already. They played another leg at Starplex the following summer, and by then we'd been married about three months.

Shortly thereafter, things came to a screeching halt.

Neil's daughter was killed in a car accident maybe a month later, and less than a year after that, his common-law wife Jackie died of cancer ( though Neil contends she had died of a broken heart ). Those events, and many more, were chronicled in Neil's book Ghost Rider: Travels On The Healing Road. This became an important read for me, as I had recently rode out the storm through my own upheaval with my divorce, child custody dispute, job loss and financial ruin. I totally identified with Neil's turmoil, and that's when I learned how to try to nurture my own "baby soul."

Oh happy day when Vapor Trails was released! I didn't see Rush on that tour, but I was able to attend the Dallas show of the R30 tour in 2004, courtesy of my dear sweet Kitten, who bought tickets for us as a birthday present to me. The record that really blew me away was Snakes And Arrows in 2007, for me easily their strongest record in years. I learned to play at least half the songs on that record; that's how much it hit me. And now I'm on a new high with the release of the documentary Beyond The Lighted Stage, the new single "Caravan" b/w "BU2B", and the current Time Machine tour, which opened in Albuquerque a couple of nights ago.

Rush has always spoken most eloquently to me. When there's the radio deluge of mindless dance-pop pablum and fake anger-laced nu metal, Rush keeps it positive and interesting, and speaks directly to me: the brainiac, the outsider, the thoughtful one, the one who thrives off of nerve ends firing off in rapid succession through their musical and lyrical virtuosity while still maintaining that familiar majestic, rocking gallop, their altruistic, supportive outlook and a sense of humor. How important that last virtue is!

I could go on and on ( and on )...but as they say:

"Begin the day with a friendly voice, a companion unobtrusive
Plays that song that's so elusive
And the magic music makes your morning mood."

Turn on.

For all I have opened my heart to:

Oh one more:

Keep turning on.

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