[Transcribers Note: this article was published along with the results of the Sounds Readers Poll which included the following rankings: Band - Rush #1; Drums - Neil Peart #1; Male Singer - Geddy Lee #7; Bass - Geddy Lee #2; Guitarist - Alex Lifeson #4]
"It's scaree!" squeal the poll winners when John Gill breaks the good news to them in the USA.
YOUR ROVING reporter caught up with the golden boys of the polls in Cleveland, halfway through yet another grueling and seemingly interminable trek across the Union.
Apart from rocketing up to number three in the Sounds album charts, Rush's 'Permanent Waves' also secured itself a number eight with a bullet in the American Billboard charts. The punters who put it there were jamming into 15,000 seater stadia across America.
Tonight, Cleveland had driven en masse out into the snowy countryside to see Rush pack an enormous rectangular box plonked in the middle of a field. As the jovial road/lighting manager Howard Ungerleider kicks into his (according to Neil Peart) "Jon Lord impersonation" on the lighting desk and '2112' roars from the pendant PA, the hall erupts with lights.
Not content with the hackneyed matches and lighters number, some fans have brought miniature fIame-throwers which occasionally send two-foot sheets of flame into the air. Most of the pyromaniacs settle for raining luminous lightsticks down on the central floor.
The band storms through a two hour set: old favourites like 'By-Tor', 'Xanadu', 'Cygnus', 'Hemispheres' and 'Free Will', 'Spirit Of Radio', 'Jacob's Ladder' and 'Natural Science' from the new album. The stupefied audience is ushered out at eleven to the strains of Gracie Fields singing 'There'|l Always Be An England' (honest!).
ASKING A BAND how they feel about being voted best band in the world is like asking Lucille Ball to endorse a brand of baked beans. You invariably get bland pleasantries, just to please the 'sponsor'. But the special relationship Rush have with Britain puts them to one side of the back-scratching and ego-stroking arena. 'Soya Mince' Barton's one-man ambassadorship and the snowballing Rush cult here makes Britain, in Neil Peart's words, "unique". So how does it feel to be Numero Uno Soundswise, guys?
"It's amazing," Peart nods modestly.
"It's SCAREEEE!" Geddy Lee assumes a squeaky accent.
"It's one of the nicest things -" Peart adds with a cheeky gleam in his eye. "Though I must say the Melody Maker poll was tremendously satisfying. We were all in there as musicians and as composers, too. It was just a tremendous recognition."
They seem genuinely surprised that, of all the name bands floating around these days, they got landed with the number one spot. They say they could not have envisaged it happening.
"Maybe, after we played Bingley and did that last tour," Geddy wonders. "We knew we'd do well there, but not anywhere like this. It's not like 'You sold the most albums' or 'You did this', because there's a lot of people who sell a lot of records, and something like this is removed from that, l think."
"Yeah," Neil opines, "it's not so much that this many people like you, or this many people like you this much. To take the trouble to write - it's different from record sales, a whole different feeling. People have to care enough to do that."
Geddy adds an escape clause: "It's one of those areas, though, that you try not to put too much importance on, for obvious reasons -"
"- Well, y'know, if you start getting hung up on the whole competitive end of it, it's really bad for your priorities. You can really get messed up, so you try and play all those sort of things down to yourself."
Neil strikes up the tune: "We look at being number eight on the Billboard chart with an air of unreality. It's a thing you can't personally relate to, somehow."
As for the number three positioning in Britain, Peart comments thus; " 'Beyond our wildest dreams' would be the cliched response."
And, coming on like the National Tourist Board, what's so special about Britain?
"It's special," Geddy explains, "because we learned what we do primarily from musicians who came from Britain. A whole style, a whole way of playing, a whole attitude towards what we do was born out of things taught to us primarily by British rock musicians. So to achieve any kind of success -whatever you want to call it - is a little bit special, because that's full circle."
ALEX, UNTIL now curled up in an armchair silently nursing a bad cold, pipes up, "There's a sort of closeness with our audience there that's unique, that we don't have anywhere else.
"I don't know if it's fair to say that it doesn't happen anywhere else," Geddy disagrees. "It becomes more apparent there, because all the gigs are much more intimate (!). And even when you're confronted on the street there by a fan, it's not 'Yaaargh!' and grab-your-shirt."
Apart from your politeness when confronting rock stars on the street, they say that by the nature of British gigs, audiences here pay more attention.
1980 seems to be Vindicate Rush Year. They've won a slew of Canadian awards before, and have done well in Creem magazine polls, but the Sounds poll plus the high cross-Atlantic charting makes Rush big news. For my tuppenceworth, I'd hazard an explanation that 'Permanent Waves' sees a maturation of the band and their music, moving on from the naïve fantasy epics and 'bombastic' (their term) guignol riffing of previous incarnations. Importantly, though, they have retained the driving energy and, er, kerraaang! that epitomises their appeal.
Perhaps rightly, they express mild indignance when asked if they can control the phenomenon; y'know, Will The Machine Chew Them Up And Spit Them Out.
"We're a band that's been around for so long. It's not like we've just started out and all of a sudden we're top ten, y'know? We've been playing for years, and our success has come very very slowly. Every time we've reached a new level of success or whatever you want to call it (the second time he's tagged on that disclaimer, all you readers-between-the lines) we've had time to adjust, adjust our heads and our way of thinking. But - "
"- At the same time, it is a bit weird, because all of a sudden you notice people coming out of the woodwork, people demanding a little more of your time. Everybody keeps reminding you how successful you are. It makes you feel uncomfortable. All you're doing is the same thing you've been doing for ten years but every two minutes someone's going 'Whaa-haay!! You're doing great! Top Ten! Wow! So you're a big group now!"'
In hindsight, Neil says that 'Permanent Waves' 'deserves' the success it achieved. "I'm very proud of the album. It's the album we wanted to do.' This also applies to the lyrics, "I really feel now that those lyrics pretty well represent the best that I can do."
He deflects any questions to define his lyrics, explaining the drastic change from sword'n'sorcery allegories to dealing in specifics thus: "I think the reason for that was we were dealing in theory before, and once you define certain theories you have to start thinking about applications. It seems a logical extension."
APART FROM 'one or two' small ideas being kicked around, no new material is forthcoming. The next studio album is a long way off. It will - piggy-banks at the ready, Wolverhampton Priests Of The Temples of Syrinx - be preceded by a live album recorded during their May tour, primarily during their five-day stint at Hammersmith Odeon but with one or two gigs recorded up north. Typical of their gut-busting schedules, Britain will be followed by Europe and probably Japan, which has been angling for a Lush tour for a few years now.
Howard, exhausted after playing a silent version of the set on his lighting console (Keith Emerson flourishes and all!) ushers a young policeman into the dressing room. The policeman is attached to the government enquiry into gig safety after the deaths at the Who's Cincinnati gig.
It's a subject that Rush get pretty heated about themselves, to the extent of contracts stipulating early opening of doors (one of the reasons, the officer says, for the Cincinnati deaths), fixed seating so no quaalude-poltergeist can make with the magic, low-key but firm security and adequate fire safety precautions.
They talk for over an hour, giving him more than enough for his report. But the end result seems disappointing. It looks as though the enquiry was demanded by self-publicising politicians getting their faces on CBS News thanks to a couple of dead rock fans. The responsibility will be shunted around between cost-cutting promoters, local authorities, government and bands. Ah well, that's (Washington-style) showbiz.
IT WAS A good thing that the young policeman wasn't at the Detroit gig the next day. The newly-opened (and prematurely crumbling) Joe Louis stadium, on the banks of the Detroit River, was experimenting with a computerised ticket system. Something went wrong with the system and left hundreds upon hundreds of kids milling around in the darkened hall.
True to the 'hard' image of Detroit (home of many a ` fictional cinema hit-man -but most kids I talked to said the image is overblown) many were intent on getting out of it before the gig even started.
Five minutes into the opener, '2112', and the front rows were a mass of writhing bodies. Alex, having a bird's-eye view from the stage, said afterwards security men were punching out kids, dragging them out of the melee. A trickle of limp bodies, victims of fights or pharmaceutical cocktails, was carried from the stage-front area to backstage before the bouncers finally quelled the crowd.
This threw the band who, although steaming full-tilt through the set, afterwards complained of distraction and loss of energy. A contributory factor might have been that their close friends Max Webster were leaving the tour after Detroit. Also, Max Webster's keyboard player was leaving the band that night.
Things didn't improve backstage, where dozens of people, friends and freeloaders, milled around the band. Neil sat in one corner, hoping no-one would notice him there, while Alex and Geddy sloped off to Max Webster's dressing room.
One of the things to emerge from intermittent backstage chats, snatched in-between mouthfuls of Chinese food and Perrier water, is that although there's no new studio material they're very interested in getting into film music.
"We've had a few scripts offered to us, but you get so particular about what you want to do," says Geddy. "You want to have a good script. Sometimes I feel like, 'Yeah, let's do this crummy movie', just to do it. Just to get the experience. It's an area I'd really like to get into, because there are no limitations involved, you can weird right out."
When pressed, Geddy confesses that, of all the movies he's seen (and they're all great movie buffs), the film he'd have liked to have scored is Citizen Kane. Sensing a vehicle for their lunatic brand of therapeutic humour, Neil gets into the subject of making their own films.
Neil: "I was gonna write the screenplay, Geddy was gonna be the director and Alex was gonna be the film star!"
Alex: (writhing in a seat, a la Monroe) "Baby! Baby! Work on me baby!"
Geddy: (points to writhing Alex) "Look at that face! It could melt the heart of millions! I tell you the little girls would flock to see that face!"
Alex: "Not with this head!"
Geddy: "A coupla Martini's and the guy would do anything,"
CLOSING SHOT as the band slips out of arena into waiting car to take them home for a five day break. Pan to Kansas City where, this Tuesday, the slog begins all over again. Flash-forward to Hammersmith Odeon, first week of May, where band play five nights to fanatical reception.