Rush – Beyond The Lighted Stage

RBTLS

RBTLS

I’ve been a Rush fan for most of my life, but since I’ve not been an avid all-time Rush fan, I’ve often missed what the band means to me. I go through Rush phases, particularly when they have an interesting new CD/DVD set, but I don’t listen to them all the time any more.

I recently borrowed from a friend Beyond The Lighted Stage, the 2010 Rush documentary by Scot MacFayden and Sam Dunn (the directors of “Metal: A Headbangers Journey”, “Global Metal” and the “Flight 666″ Iron Maiden documentary; Scot, apparently, grew up not far from me and went to high school with close friends of mine) because I had to experience for myself this incredible rock ‘n’ roll journey by one of the most long-lasting bands around (only the Stones have existed longer as a unit, but with more lineup changes). It’s been the same three guys since 1975, although Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee have been playing in bands since 1968.

The key themes of the movie are, of course, friendship, musicianship, development, passion, and (bad) fashion. It charts the history of the band, with key moments being when the directors bring the members of Rush back to the places where they started out – the church, where they played their first gig, they return to for the first time since they played there in 1968.

The films starts off with scenes of the band warming up, of Neil throwing a drumstick into the air and then dropping it (rare – how often would that happen?) and then goes quickly into celebrity interviews: Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater, Kirk Hammett of Metallica (who couldn’t believe that the band could produce so much sound with only three members when he first heard them), Tim Commerford of Rage Against The Machine, Jason McGem of Death Cab For Cutie, Vinnie Paul of Pantera, Zakk Wylde, Les Claypool of Primus, Dana Carey of Tool, Matt Stone of South Park, Taylor Hawkings of Foo FIghters, Jimmy Chamberlin of Smashing Pumpkins, Sebastian Bach of Skid Row (who claims to be Member #3 of some Toronto-based Rush fan group), Jack Black (who gives multiple funny speeches, such as the one about rock sauce), Gene Simmons (“There’s no other way to describe Rush than just… Rush.”), and Billy Corgan, who notes that the Beatles and the Stones (the only other bands Rush can be compared with) have been over-explained… but not Rush.

But hey – where’s Marilyn Manson?

The film goes into historical mode, explaining that the parents of Geddy Lee (nee Gary Lee Weinrib) were both Polish Holocaust survivors (here’s where the similarities to Robb Reiner, the drummer of Anvil and a key player in the other great Canadian rock ‘n’ roll documentary, come in) who relocated to Willowdale, a suburb of Toronto, where they were one of the first Jewish families. Geddy’s dad died when he was 12, meaning that he had to go into 11 months of mourning. Geddy’s mom, Mary Weinrib, talked about Geddy as a kid (the nickname/stage name “Geddy” came from her pronunciation of Gary through her thick Polish accent; he’s since had his name legally changed to Geddy). The story covers how Geddy met Alex Lifeson in high school, there are plenty of cool pictures of Geddy and Alex as young shorthairs together in school (incidentally, Rick Moranis was their classmate, a fact that led to their collaboration with Geddy on “Take Off”, the hit single of the Bob And Doug MacKenzie  album “The Great White North“).

Alex seems to have had a relatively steady upbringing, his parents both having immigrated from Yugoslavia, dad had been in a prison camp. The film interviews his mom, Melanija Zivojinovich. Both kids got guitars from their moms, Alex was promised his if he brought home good grades, which was no problem as he was a teacher’s pet and was a master schmoozer. Geddy and Alex shared the same grade nine homeroom. First gig was in a church basement in September 1968, the drop-in centre called The Coffin, they got $10, having played to 35 kids, went to eat at Panzer’s Deli. Scenes of Sam The Record Man and A&A Records on Yonge Street, discussion of the Yorkville scene (see also Neil Young’s Archives 1), and the local hit band The Poppers. Ray Danniels got them as a manager, saw them as talented 16-year-olds who could play a high school circuit with drummer John Rutsey (1953-2008). Pic of three of them in their undies, very early footage, nice red and white star shirt, playing in basement. Alex quit school in grade 12, there’s a high quality video of him talking to his parents about his decision, sitting with a girlfriend at the kitchen table talking about it, it looks staged, but that is because it is from a 1972 scare movie about teen pregnancy and school-leavers called “Come On Children” from 1972). “Bullshit”, he yells at one point, what an actor. There had been a turning point in the Toronto band scene in 1971 when the drinking age was dropped to 18. Yorkville’s cafes, hippy and revolutionary, were shut down, and good-time rock ‘n’ roll was encouraged for a rockin’ younger drinking crowd. The film quotes famous Canadian musician Kim Mitchell talking about the scene. Rush was playing six nights a week, at places like Abbey Road pub. “Garden Road“, a never-released song from that era, is played in the movie. The band put together their own first album, and it was heard in the US, where it got attention. “Rush” was the perfect album for Cleveland in 1974, especially songs like “Working Man”, which resonated with many Clevelanders (is it a coincidence that their new live CD Time Machine was recorded there?). The phones lit up with people calling in to ask for the record, thinking it was the new Led Zeppelin release. There was no record industry in Canada at that time, only outposts. John Rutsey was more into Bad Company, Geddy and Alex were into Yes and Genesis and Pink Floyd. John not healthy enough to tour, would have been okay for the home circuit. So, with a US tour coming up, they looked for a new drummer.

Neil Peart was from a farm in Hayville, cursed by skating on ankles, learned to knit because it was a challenge, suffered physical abuse in the smoking area as a result of being a bit weird and growing his hair longish. Drumming became an instrument of self esteem. The footage shows both parents, who were supportive of his career in music. Was in a band called JR Flood, playing the double bass drum even then. Dad encouraged Neil to audition for Rush in Ajax. Geddy thought Neil was goofy, Alex thought he was not cool enough for Rush. Then he played… “He was so good!” Mullet man. First tour was opening for Manfred Mann and Uriah Heep. Mick Box of Uriah Heap loved them.  Eleven days on, one day off, brutal schedule. The film shows posters of their bills with the New York Dolls, Thin Lizzy, Aerosmith, Rory Gallagher, Rod Stewart and the Faces, Montrose, KISS (who loved them, playing 50-60 shows together – the two bands got close). Geddy says that there was no harder working band then KISS, he said it was “fun to watch their hotel”. Two-band pic with big “happy birthday” cake, KISS in make-up, Rush just in jeans. Kim Mitchell’s story about the lady’s bowling league staying on the same floor as Rush and partying harder than these boys. Neil very literate, opinionated, weird, serious, always the new guy, buying a lot of books, a reader. The band worked on songs after shows. “By-Tor” the start of thematic stuff. Audiences got smaller and smaller, toured with Ted Nugent on Caress of Steel when he was also a small act, depressing tour. The discussion of 2112 begins at 37-minute mark of the DVD, the band says that they felt at the time that 2112 may have been their last hurrah, despite pressure to become a rock/pop band, they were determined to go out guns blazing.

Billy Corgan describes how he once could play all of Side 1 of 2112, the release also encouraged a 12-year old Sebastian Bach to go out and buy Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, to which the LP had been dedicated. “2112 bought us our independence,” they realised (“We have assumed control”, the final words of Side 1 of “2112″ really carry new meaning!). Critics hated it. “Unintentionally funny.” “A cancerous network of haphazard key and time signature changes.” “Smug, hypocritical, pseudo-symbolic drivel.” “Flagrantly derivative music.” Constant insults from media, but not from fans. “Best band in the galaxy” the posters at shows said, with the 2112 back patch on thousands of jean jackets. A people’s band. Canadian VJ JD Roberts gives his comments, now and also from ’80s footage. No fashion clue. In San Francisco they found kimonos. First UK tour, where they actually charted!  Nice shots of a Hammersmith Odeon marquee, Rush with Max Webster opening. Geddy and Alex at this point both with double-necked guitars (SG and Rickenbacher). UFO made fun of them – furry slippers nailed to the stage, calling Geddy “Glee” (oh how ironic now). With “Hemispheres” they embraced long songs, recorded in Wales, experimenting. Determined to record La Villa Strangiata in one take. The song made a huge impression on Kirk Hammet, who called them the high priests of conceptual metal (a title, I suppose that Metallica now owns, having become a less rockin’ band than Rush now is, a poor man’s Rush of sorts). Various musicians explain that Rush was a musician’s benchmark of sorts – if you could recreate Rush, you would be ready for anything. Jack Black explains meeting the band, first Alex and Geddy, then… the master, who is “eerily precise. If you went in with a computer, Neil Peart would be right on the beat to an atom.” The band played 200 concerts a year, and at one point 17 one-nighters in a row.

Babies started to arrive, the band felt that they couldn’t be selfish any more, and began recording bringing the family closer to the process. But they had their biggest successes in front of them. The band is very family-oriented – Alex married in his teens and had kids early, he introduced Geddy to his wife. Cool pic of Neil wearing an FM t-shirt. Permanent Waves was an important stepping stone, there would have been no Moving Pictures without Permanent Waves. Hemispheres was recorded in La Studio, a happy time with family. Concert audiences doubled with 2112, the band shifted from a theatre band at the start of the tour to doing stadium gigs at the end. Three nights at Maple Leaf Gardens. Moving Pictures made them what they are, Neil said that it was a mixed blessing, strange people came out of the woodwork. There’s a scene of a fan approaching Alex and Geddy in a cafe that brought tears to my eyes, I was sniffing and near-blubbering – I started wondering what thoughts would come to my mind, what overflowing emotions would come unbottled, if I came across Alex and Geddy somehow, somewhere the way this waitress did when they wandered into her establishment (which, I think, is Pedro’s, the spot where Panzer’s Deli had once been, as shown in the outtakes section). And, oddly enough, I think that the last two times that I was overcome by emotion, Rush was involved (the R30 DVD, and also buying Alex Lifeson’s “Limelight” instructional video). Neil struggles around fans, not comfortable. Fans are so different, hardcore fans of old, male, very intense. Billy Corgan recounts tale of playing “Entre Nous” to his mom, as a way to reach out to her. Jack Black: “They had honesty and integrity, which was in short supply.” Christopher Schreberger, fan (yes, they interviewed fans for this DVD too, but only a few), noted that “Subdivisions” really related to him – because he lived in a subdivision (ooohhh – aaaahhhh). Terry Date was the fourth member of Rush. Peter Colilns, a pop producer, was brought in for the next album, Grace Under Pressure. Neil: “No protective nature of what Rush was.” Alex” “Hard to work with keyboards on Power windows.” Geddy: Hold Your Fire pushed them far away from Rush. Rupert Hine brought them back to power trio mode. Counterparts had more hair on it.  Neil worked with Freddie Gruber on jazz drumming for a Buddy Rich tribute that meant re-learning the motion of the hands and feet of drumming. Taps drums two ways. Neil turned grip around. Test For Echo. “Ghost Rider.” When Neil suffered a double tragedy, they were so worried about him, he disappeared on a road trip, friends and family formed a network to update each other as to when they’d hear from him. Alex lost interest in music as well even, for one year not picking up his instrument at all. Landscapes, highways and wildlife revived Peart. The band have 6,000 nicknames for each other, he sent lifelines signed as one or the other of these nicknames. Had to stop moving before he could think about doing it again. Slow process to get his chops back. Pure and truthful energy on Vapour Trails. Amazed at the Sao Paolo show, when 60,000 fans showed up. The band appeared on the Colbert Report, interviewed and supported by a new generation of entertainers as the real thing. “The people have generally, consistently voted for them.” Billy Corgan very intelligent comments. Geddy reading The Sound And The Fury on a flight (brave man, I couldn’t get into it at all). “We had our own stream, and it wasn’t the main one, but it wasn’t too far away,”  says Geddy Lee. Nonetheless, they actually have a devoted following, people turn their kids on to Rush. “There’s a comfort to know that those same three guys are out there. It’s also special to see three guys who can tolerate each other after all these years and make good music,” says Les Claypool. “They’re on a righteous path,” Trent Reznor.

The extras are also very good: Long scenes of reminiscing around the Fisherville Junior High School, running greaser gauntlet at the bus stop, built snow man on the front lawn, rode a bike because it was the only mode of transport. Riding around Toronto. First time back to The Coffin since their gig there. Gas station Geddy used to work at. Pantzer’s now Anton’s. Les Claypool first concert was Rush, Hemispheres tour, Pat Travers Band opened up, he was 14 years old. All of Hemispheres was recorded a semi-tone too high for Geddy’s voice. Alex plays golf on days off. “Birds chirping, horses neighing, bones cracking. Golf is about tempo and rhythm and not trying too hard, not getting in the way of your swing, much like playing an instrument, just let your instinct take over and play.” Geddy collects art, baseballs – players and presidents. Neil – model car building, cycling, reading. Motorcycles. Practicing throwing stick up in the air. Rush Con 7 – Rush trekkies. Rush karaoke and Guitar Hero. Guy with Queens of the Stone Age t-shirt. “Kim Mitchell, Helix and Rush, nice camera, eh,” that must be the directors improvising. Alex doing ole honkin’ blues in a backstage warm-up. “Working Man” with John Rutsey at a high school show doing the intros from behind the drum kit, great, except for Alex’s music notes shirt. Groovy “La Villa Strangiata” cuts, off funky intro. Dedicated “Between The Sun And Moon” to John Entwistle, first time they ever played it, in 2002. Twelve minutes of dinner conversation with Rush. Geddy calls Alex “Lerx” in conversation. “I’ve got my notepad here.” Neil’s drunken laugh. Alex playing a Telecaster, looking very David Gilmour. Commentary on Neil Peart’s outrageous mustaches.

I am happy that this movie exists, for people like me to remember what a great band this is, and to set the record straight. This is also an important movie for the masses, Rush fans and non-fans alike – people who are not Rush fans and are perplexed why their friends like Rush so much, for example, watch the movie and they finally get it.

At the same time, however, I’m confused why this film was made. Here you’ve got guys who have everything – they have fame, they have fortune, they have friendship, they have a massive fan base, they have achieved anything a musician can achieve (except, maybe, admission into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame, whatever that means); they are private people; why do they need this? Did they agree to do this for the fans?  The fans know everything that there is to know about Rush anyway, much more than is in this movie. Were they somehow talked into going along with this? Is Rush Corporation at a stage in their development where they need to take it to the next level, finally, or it’s never ever going to happen? Everyone’s getting older, of course. Were they astounded by the success of the Anvil movie and wondered why they never thought of it earlier?  Some of the aspects of this film do have the appearances of contract publishing – the band has so much brutal honesty, and they seem like guys with very little to hide, that you can’t suspect that the documentarians went easy on them, but it’s still a perplexing piece of work in some ways. It’s amazing, really.

Finally, I’m further convinced at how important the song “Limelight” is to the band and its fans. It provides the lyrical reference to the DVD’s title, the band is often quoting it (Neil notes the relevance of “I can’t pretend a stranger is a long-awaited friend” at one point in the video). I am confirmed, also, in my belief that it is justified beyond just personally liking it for it to be my favorite Rush song.

The packaging is pretty good, with beautiful pics all across the outer case, a huge concert pic from the inside package, pics of the guys in their younger days, and a gorgeous full-colour 12-page booklet.

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