CoS has a running feature these days entitled Alternate History X, wherein we discuss parallel universes and alternate time lines to some of music’s most historic landmarks.
From the survival of Lennon, Cobain, and so forth to the unknowing of a little file format we pirates and music junkies alike take for granted called the MPEG-3 or MP3, some of the smallest details and fractional accidental instances of genius, insanity, or otherwise have crafted the landscape for billions of listeners worldwide, even before Billboard started charting albums back in the ’50s.
Without the madness of Syd Barrett taking its toll, Gilmour and Waters may have never established the songwriting chemistry that later gave us Pink Floyd’s enormous catalog of awesomeness (particularly “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”), and we would have missed out on Barrett’s bizarre solo efforts like The Madcap Laughs. Without an offhand comment by Keith Moon about lead zeppelins…well, you get the picture. On that tangent of tragedy and triumph, we bring you to a stark awareness. One of the most popular and inspirational (albeit occasionally underestimated) progressive rock bands to ever grace a sci-fi fanboy’s stoner van hinged on an unfortunate and unlikely catalyst: diabetes.
If you even whisper the name of Rush among prog rock enthusiasts and Dan Fogler oglers, one immediately notes the 2112 references, Chuck’s high score on Missile Command, and the Neil Peart worship (maybe Geddy Lee if you’re down with the bassists like I am). This powerhouse regiment of Canadian music spectacle has graced time for close to 40 years with no sign of stopping, but the catch is how easily all of this could have been avoided. When Rush initially came on the scene and “Working Man” was shuffled along Canadian radio stations like a virus, the band came across like a Canadian Zeppelin musically speaking. The reason being that Neil Peart, the drummer synonymous with Rush who would also become its primary lyricist, was not involved.
Guitarist Alex Lifeson formed Rush along with then-drummer, the late John Rutsey, and vocalist Jeff Jones, the latter of which never appeared on the debut record once he had been replaced by the now-legendary bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee. With this incarnation, the band known as Rush would sound less like what we know now and more like Nazareth or Mountain in places (“In The Mood” and ”Take A Friend”), following with the trends of the time. While the sound in question was not really all that original, the potency with which our trio delivered on Rush was that of a pure rock explosion, a standard array of fury and cowbell the likes of which would, in years to come, be seen mocked and being paid tribute to. The reason Neil Peart made the grade before the overshadowing of the epic record Fly By Night? Rutsey had complications from diabetes and could not tour with the band’s promotion of Rush.
A single tragedy altering an entire lineup of classic works and notable names. John Rutsey was behind the kit during these recording sessions, and while he doesn’t stand out significantly, especially when compared to Peart’s fan-based pedestal, it is a shame to see him lapse into an obscurity mirroring that of the 5th Beatle. At least said Beatle had a legitimate shot before being thrust out due to inconsolable differences with his band mates; Rutsey wasn’t given that luxury to decide, and it is truly a depressing fact to clarify. On the upside, I am certain that Rutsey was happy to see his friends sail on into the horizon with the success that then lay ahead. John Rutsey, may he rest in peace.
Rush is an entirely different yet radically unalienable entry in the band’s canon, a masterwork of musicianship that also bleeds flattering imitation. This was the early seventies, a time of guitar solos and material that would later be dubbed “classic rock.” Zeppelin, T. Rex, Mountain, Atomic Rooster, The Rolling Stones, and even more jazz-inspired fare like Supertramp was the soul of early seventies rock music; Rush simply tagged along for the ride. From the iconic fade-in on the opening riffs of “Finding My Way” to the fast-paced copycatting shortcut “Need Some Love” to the slow Blue Oyster Cult-like build of “Before And After” all the way down to radio staple “Working Man”, each chord has been cribbed from someone of their respective time period with unabashed sincerity in homage to the era (said homage was probably unintentional, but still).
I got a cheap combination record player/tape deck/CD player thing for my birthday last year; it wasn’t much, but it was heartwarming all the same. In all its glory, I snagged a ragged Sammy Davis, Jr. 45 from the motley box of records I also received, watched the needle weigh down slowly, and the chilling familiar static came back to me like an autumn breeze. Later in September, I first bought my very own crisp LP — Rush’s eponymous ’74 debut. Why? Because “Working Man” is one of the greatest rock songs ever recorded, but that isn’t the point here.
Dusting off is not in literal play here, as the record I purchased was cleaned prior to arrival, and I listen to the digital download religiously as is. I am not dusting off the record but rather your memory and your realization that music is something else when you hold a piece of history in your hands. It is something no amount of iPod playlists can simulate. Rush might not be ideal for today’s fans who have been encompassed by fantasy, apocalyptic scenes, and the metaphysical of Peart’s lyrics and so forth, but lest we forget, there is a kick ass rock record from 1974 that deserves its fair share also.
You cannot package this kind of thing in a string of megabytes. Records are tangible, records are raw, and records are always going to be a fond go-to for the true music lovers in us all. Records are privy to collectible misprints, such as the case when Rush was intended to utilize red font and accidentally wound up with a memorable shade of pink. Rush is one of many in that respect, but in the same step, it is one in a million, no matter how many bands it tried to emulate.