As a noun, fly-by-night means simply "one given to being abroad at night." Hence it was more than fitting that Rush should title an album "Fly By Night," for who but perhaps the snowy owl on the jacket is more naturally nocturnal than professional musicians?
As an adjective, though, fly-by-night, according to the dictionary, describes an opportunistic business venture "often shady or irresponsible and inadequately financed for stability and also means transitory and unreliable.
That's not exactly the inference a band of any kind wants potential fans to draw, yet Rush called its second album "Fly by Night" anyway - and in the intervening decade has proven itself to be anything but fly-by-night.
Transitory? Rush has survived for 11 years, no mean feat in the mercurial world of rock 'n' roll. Unstable? John Rutsey drummed on the Toronto trio's first album and left about two weeks before Rush opened for Uriah Heep and Manfred Mann's Earth Band at the Civic Arena Aug. 14, 1974. Neil Peart won the hurry-up audition for a successor, and he, guitarist Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee, who plays bass and synthesizers and sings all vocals, have been Rush's lineup ever since.
Unreliable? Rush has about as many albums of new material as years to its credit, and its Civic Arena concert Wednesday will be its third there in as many years and its fifth there since '79.
Irresponsible? Peart interrupted rehearsal time to grant an interview.
What keeps a band that has built a solid following with such favorite album-rock station songs as "New World Man," "The Spirit of Radio," "Tom Sawyer," "The Trees," "Freewill," "Closer to the Heart" and "Fly by Night" so busy both in the studio and on the road?
"I think we feel our progress and devotion to what we do demands a continuous pace that we have to keep up with," says Peart, who writes all of the trio's lyrics. "We tour with about the same regularity, we just don't go to as many places as we have. About a year and a half is enough time to recharge the creative batteries and make a new album, and we're usually eager to do it, so that helps.
"With so much to reproduce from the album ("Power Windows," which debuted in Billboard at No. 32 early last month and has moved up 22 spots since then) and with so much new technology to reproduce that with, we've had to do a lot of homework" for the 2 1/2-month tour.
"Geddy's been busy for about two weeks at home programming and getting his synthesizers organized for the tour so all those wonderful sounds on the record could come out onstage for everybody. I did two weeks myself sorting out a lot of electronic toys and getting my calluses built up again."
Nothing fly-by-night there. But Rush does a lot more homework than that when preparing an album. For "Power Windows," for instance, Peart wrote lyrics at a small desk, Lee reviewed tapes of the free-form sections of their sound checks and Lifeson brought the others a homemade tape of his guitar symphony.
This, Peart says, has been the pattern "for about the last three albums where we've really gotten ourselves organized, where we determine what's valuable to us. We know that spontaneity is a really important thing, but it's not something you're always ready to take advantage of. If you come up with a good idea on the road in the middle of the day you can't do much with it unless you write it down. It's the discipline of forcing myself to write things down when I think of them; and not trusting myself to remember them later.
"At sound check, we play freely: for about half an hour or an hour, and we've trained our sound men to record those things. At the end of the tour, Geddy sifts through those to find musical ideas we may have come up with on a day in Pittsburgh or a day in Lexington or a day in Phoenix. By the end of the tour, we normally would have forgotten it."
Peart's quick to credit "the fact that people still like us" as one of the major reasons Rush has endured for 11 years. He also mentions "the fact that all three of us have an equal voice in the songs we write and the Way they're played and the way they're recorded and the fact that we maintain a mutual affection and respect."
Asked to recall highlights of those 11 years, Peart turns philosophical an says simply, "The 11th year. So many things are so important at the time, but the present is always the most important and the future is the second most important, so the past is something I don't dwell on a lot."
He does say that Rush's first concerts in the Orient late last year "went very well. It was nice to go to a place where we weren't well known and the three of us could hang around together and just go far a walk together and take silly pictures as friends, not as personalities. The music was known to a certain degree. It took us back a few years. We were playing 2,000- to 3,000-seat halls in most places."
Neither, however, does he have any regrets - "not yet" - that Rush, for all its success in selling albums and concert tickets, has cracked the Top 40 only once, with with "New World Man," which got to No. 21 three years ago.
As far as whether Rush can last another nine years to become one of the very few two-decade rock acts, "I don't know. I tend to really look forward as far as the next album. At the time you complete one, you decide if you're interested in doing another one, and at this time I'm very interested in doing another one."
Peart has an elementary goal if and when Rush does call it quits - "Rest," he says with a chuckle. "I have a pocketful of dreams for the future, like most people. I would like to get into prose writing, but I am able to develop that as we go along by writing the bios (the highly detailed, diary-style biographies that accompany albums sent to reviewers but aren't, much to fans' loss, included with albums in stores) and articles for Modern Drummer magazine."
One thing he doesn't see the future bringing is the expansion of Rush beyond trio status. "Many times," he says, they've thought of hiring a keyboardist to ease the load on Lee, "but we really like being a three-piece (band), and fortunately the technology has kept pace with our growth. It's a lot more work, unfortunately, onstage. It nails everybody down a little bit, but we enjoy the challenge."
(Wednesday's Civic Arena concert begins at 7:30 p.m. with the Steve Morse Band opening.)