Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Song of the Day - July 14, 2009

In 1982, I discovered Rush.

Okay, that statement is about as accurate as saying Columbus discovered America (right, like no one actually lived there), but this is my blog and my experience is what counts. Right?

Even that is a bit of a lie. It was more like 1981 that I first became aware of Canada's most intellectual hard-rock triumvirate. (You can't call Triumph intellectual, can you?) It happened through two very disparate channels. First, Rush had released a live album called Exit Stage Left, and local radio was playing Closer to the Heart a lot. Probably partially to fill Cancon regulations. Second, Geddy Lee, Rush's stalwart bass player and Donald-Duck-on-helium lead vocalist, was on the radio every few minutes yelping the chorus of Bob & Doug McKenzie's phenomenally popular single, Take Off.

Being a rather bookish and introverted lad, I was intrigued by the group's deft instrumental prowess, complicated tempos and brainiac aspirations, so I cobbled together my paper route earnings and purchased a copy of Exit Stage Left. For the next month or so, it was all I listened to. Thick, dull, muddy sound couldn't mask the group's technical genius and keening intelligence. I knew there and then I had found The Greatest Band The World Had Ever Heard, or TGBTWHEH. Not very catchy.

Over the next year or so, I began buying the band's healthy back catalog. I think I started with Moving Pictures, which I declared to be 'awesome.' Fly By Night followed, again with more awesomeness and a few shadings I hadn't expected. (A rather gentle ballad called Rivendell? Gotta-be-movin'-on-rock-band missives?) And then came Caress of Steel.

Caress of Steel very nearly nipped my infatuation in the bud. I'd heard it was supposed to be the 'difficult' album. I didn't know it would be that difficult. Maybe it was just the extended gray weather we were experiencing the week I bought it. I don't know. But. That. Was. The. Week. The. Music. Died.

Knowing it's reputation, I probably shouldn't have bought it so soon in the game. But it was a catalog album, and thus valued priced. Besides, I knew Rush didn't exactly have a lot of friends in the music press. How bad could it be? As it turned out, very bad. For a long time, at least until the 'rap' on Roll the Bones, it was the Achilles Heel in my arguments that Rush was TGBTWHEH.

I mention all of this because today is Bastille Day. And Bastille Day was the first track on Caress of Steel. I actually quite liked that song, and the song that opened the side-long suite that was side two of the LP. Geddy, with lyrical help from the professor, Neil Peart, javascript:void(0)puts himself in the persona of a peon who watches as those who, um, peed on him - France's King Louis XVI. There are vague allusions to the notion that it is the people who have the power, and woe be unto anyone who doesn't respect the populace. Even more vague is the phrase: power isn't all that money buys. Truth in that. It can also buy a lot of gum.

It's not one of the band's finest moments, but it gets over by sheer force of Rush's desire to rock out. The version here is a live one from 1976, with Geddy - once named by a Canadian music magazine as one of Canada's sexiest rockers - in full air-raid siren effect.

Fortunately, after this album, I discovered 2112, the debut and the newly released Signals, and my love affair was renewed until about 1991 or so. Shifting more toward hip-hop, alternative and classic R&B/funk, I dumped all of my Rush music. In the years since, I've reacquired a few titles and frequently take them out, not entirely out of nostalgia. But I still haven't learned to embrace Caress of Steel. It still leaves me cold to this day.

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