Oh, won't you please welcome Canadian legends RUSH - back in the UK for their sold-out 'Roll The Bones' tour. After nearly twenty years together, the trio have been asked just about every question in the book. So, following the deluge of entries for our kompetition in issue 384 to win a chance to meet the band backstage, PAUL ELLIOTT came up with the sensible idea of letting you, the readers, 'interview' ALEX LIFESON and GEDDY LEE. None of you will get paid, natch, but that's okay, because neither will Mr. Elliott... Hargh!
Some bands plain kick ass, but Rush, they 'kick some gluteus max'... And for those of you without a human biology degree or a good dictionary, the gluteus is any one of the three muscles in the buttock!
This little gag, from the song 'Roll The Bones', says much of Rush. The Canadian trio are the thinking man's hard rock band, a tag which stuck when Neil Peart replaced drummer John Rutsey in 1974 and began writing the band's lyrics. Peart's busy style of drumming and involved wordplay had him dubbed 'The Professor', while the NME foolishly labelled the band neo-fascists following the release of 2112, a concept album based on Ayn Rand's controversial individual novel 'Anthem'.
Peart's lyrics are simpler now, and Rush's songs more direct. Gone are the days when a whole side of an album would be consumed by a single, sprawling epic number. Rush still compose little mini-series like the 'Fear' and 'Gangster of Boats' trilogies (of which the instrumental 'Where's My Thing' is 'Part IV'!?!), but these are fragmented over several records.
In the past 10 years Rush have produced much of their finest work; slick, smart, deep, emotive rock. And Peart has grown to be one of rock's most skilled lyricists.
'Afterimage', from 1984's 'Grace Under Pressure', is a terse and poignant recollection of a lost loved one, with some remarkably vivid images: 'We ran by the water on wet summer lawn - I see the footprints - I remember'.
Equally adeptly, 'The Analog Kid', from 1982's 'Signals', captures the spirit of youth.
"It's about that time of life when you're so easily inspired and ambitious, which usually coincides with adolescence," explains Geddy Lee, vocalist and bass/keyboard player, "When you're just discovering yourself, discovering music and art, everything moves you to an immense degree."
Geddy and guitarist Alex Lifeson call from Toronto on the eve of the band's current UK tour. At one of the British dates, Rush's first for five years, 'Kerrang!' kompetition winners will meet the band backstage. The kompetition tiebreaker involved thinking up an original question to ask the band, and among the several hundred entries there were certainly some unusual suggestions!
I decide to put the best of these questions to Geddy and Alex, although some were clearly better left unasked. JF Marshall of London wanted to ask Geddy what it's like playing schoolmistress Dorothy Burke in 'Neighbours'! Lee Bool of Gwent wondered, "Why are we here?" and "Why does it happen?", while Richard Mitchell of Lancashire begged, "How do you do it?"! Marco Da Silva made a sadly transparent attempt to brown-nose his way to victory by buttering up both Rush and the 'Big K!'. And Paul Davies of Walsall was hardly likely to be invited backstage simply to ask, "Why don't you tour Britain more often, you miserable bunch of f**king Canadian tosspots! Do you want a scrap or what?!"...
The other questions, Geddy and Alex were more than happy to answer, beginning with the old one of whether Rush had considered enlisting a fourth member for live performance to help relieve the burden on Geddy (posed by Sarah Kilbridge of Bedfordshire and Chris Gaskell of Wiltshire).
"We seriously discussed it before the 'Presto' tour when we weren't sure that we could pull off all the vocal and keyboard parts," reveals Geddy, "but in the end we figured our fans would rather see us struggle with technology than get another guy in. Alex and Neil have taken some of the weight off my shoulders, which allows me just to play bass."
"Technology is efficient," reasons Alex,"so we continue as we are. We didn't want to disrupt our chemistry. We don't play to tapes, we route keyboards and samples to foot triggers. It can be dizzying, but like everything, you get used to it."
On the subject of band chemistry, many readers - including Mike Marsh of Clacton-on-Sea and John Wilson of Wrexham - asked how the trio have remained such close friends after 20 years of working together.
"The main reasons," says Geddy, "are that we have remarkably similar tastes in music, we have the same level of ambition, and a healthy sense of humour."
"We enjoy our time together," adds Alex, "Then during our time off, we each pursue different interests, and we have our own families. Neil lives 500 miles away in Quebec - he's either there or on his cycling trips. Geddy and I are a little closer; we play tennis every couple of weeks and we talk at least once a week. Boredom is the biggest enemy of touring and that can be unhealthy, but we search for something interesting to do. On the last European tour we took a Berlitz xourse in French!"
Robert Melvin of Norfolk wants to know what Alex is saying into a mike when his mouth is covered by a 'censored' strip during the live video 'A Show Of Hands'.
Alex laughs. "I'm not singing, it's more spontaneous babbling! You get kinda goofy at the end of a show, especially near the end of a length tour. That was just crazy rambling, verbal farting. It was Geddy's idea to put it on the video."
"Not everybody gets the joke," says Geddy disbelievingly. "They say, 'What is it that had to be censored?'. Alex usedta just ramble, getting the day's frustrations out. I beat him at tennis regularly, y'see. Now he's an accomplished golfers and plays less tennis. I don't play golf - it's the clothes I object to."
But you're a baseball fan, and 'ball players wear equally bad clothes. "They do, but I like it. They're not so much of a fashion crime."
On a fashion note, Shane Counter of Nottingham enquires, "Where did you get those silk kimonos (worn on the back cover of '2112') and why?"
"Ha! Talk about fashion crimes! Guilty! But I guess if you look at enough pictures of yourself from 10 to 15 years ago you'll find a few that you'll cringe at."
"Y'know," Alex chuckles, "we were asking ourselves the very same question! We did a tour with UFO and Pete Way never stopped saying to us, 'We love those housecoats!'."
Rush also had to have the stage carpeted on that tour, which UFO ridiculed by nailing a pair of slippers to the lip of the stage!
Many, including Neil Jeffries of Isleworth (shurely shome mishtake?!) have asked, "If you could do it all again, would you still make your poorly-received 1975 LP 'Caress Of Steel'"?
"That's kind of a crazy question," Geddy sighs. "Sure, 'Caress Of Steel' is flawed, but you have to be allowed to make mistakes. Plus, every record we make is a stepping stone, and we couldn't have made '2112; without first making 'Caress Of Steel'."
"We were enormously proud of that album when we made it," remembers Alex. "The lack of support it received pissed us off, and that anger helped fuel '2112' which became our most important album."
John Henslett of London asks whether the band feel they'd have taken a radically different path had Neil not read 'Anthem'.
"That's an impossible question to answer," Geddy splutters, "If Neil hadn't read 'Anthem' he might've read Woody Allen's 'Without Feathers'." A concept album based on 'Without Feathers', one of Woody's craziest works? Now that'd be something! Geddy likes the idea too.
"Neil read all Ayn Rand's books and a lot of other books as well," adds Alex, "'Anthem' made a big impression on him but the press made too big a deal out of it. Besides, 'Anthem' isn't fascist, it's about individuals making the best of their lives. I read the book, but it's not like it was a uniform mind-set for the band. The NME got it wrong."
There's also some confusion over the early classic 'By-Tor And The Snow Dog'. "Why does By-Tor appear as an evil character on 'Fly By Night' and reappear as a hero in 'The Necromancer' from 'Caress Of Steel'?" asks Diane Barker of Sheffield.
"I guess he went through rehabilitation!" Geddy laughs. "He had a bad drug and alcohol problem, so he checked into the Betty Ford clinic. By-Tor saw the light. Last I heard he was living a good life in California. He's a music business lawyer, I think." "Maybe," ponders Alex, "'The Necromancer' was even more evil than By-Tor!"
Geoff Williamson of Manchester has a question for Alex: what's the latest invention?
"Well, I haven't invented anything lately. I tinker. I've made things for Geddy and Neil in the past. Neil wanted a bookstand so he could read while he ate breakfast, so I fashioned one out of drum parts glued and welded together. After that I made a guitar stand because I needed one, and the design has been in production for a few years now; it sells at low cost through mail order."
Neil Marsh of Edinburgh wanted to know about your secret for short term wine storage.
"Well, I've collected wine for some years now. I devised a pump to remove air from the bottle so the wine will keep longer. I thought about patenting it but a few months after I started using it, I saw one in the shops. It sold incredibly well too. I always had a passion for science at school, although my main passion at that time was *not* going to school!"
Aren't you a bit of a DIY bore, Alex?
He laughs: "Uh, borderline maybe! My wife puts up with me as do my cohorts in the band. They're like, 'Yeah Alex, great idea!'."
"Alex is a brilliant inventor," says Geddy proudly. "He made me a lyric stand with rear lighting, so no matter how dark it gets in the studio, or however blind I get, I can still read the words."
Geoff Williamson also wanted to ask Geddy about his charity work, although, like top DJs Mike Smash and Dave Nice, Geddy doesn't like to talk about it.
"I was very proud of our fans - they came to a show in Canada and filled three truck loads with food for the needy. I guess everybody has their pet charities. The proceeds of one of our San Francisco shows went to AIDS research."
Does Neil have a great obsession?
"Smoking, I guess, is Neil's worst obsession. But Neil doesn't go on about things, he just does it, whereas myself and Alex will keep on talking about it."
"Cycling is Neil's obsession," says Alex, "or reading, or reading while cycling! Geddy just thinks baseball 25 hours a day. He criss-crosses America travelling up to 150 miles between games. At a gig in Tampa we invited 50 ball players backstage - Geddy was in heaven."
Neil McKinnon of East Lothian asks if there is a song by another band which Rush have thought of covering.
"Er, the Coca-Cola theme?" Alex jokes. "We're pretty happy with our own songs, although we're kinda embarassed by a couple of older ones. Some of the songs on 'Caress Of Steel' are tough to listen to now, but they were important at the time. I like to think we've improved over the past 15 years; that's why we're still around."
Several Rush fans - among them Angela Grant of Rotherham, Ian Shepherdson of Hertfordshire and Mr. N P Daft of Gwent - wonder why there's a picture of an elephant's bottom on the inside sleeve of the current 'Roll The Bones' album.
"The whole cover is based around dice," explains Alex, "and dice were originally made from ivory, it's as simple as that. I guess we could've put a piano on there too. Neil works closely with Hugh Syme on the cover art."
Mr. D Englishby of Banbury, who posted his kompetition entry to the 'Big K!' on a postcard featuring 'Britain's smallest bird, the Goldcrest', is puzzled by the phrases, "brought to you by the letter M" on 'Power Windows' and "... the letter B" on 'Roll The Bones'.
"That started on 'Power Windows'," recalls Alex, "when we were sequencing the tracks and Neil commented that 50 per cent of the songs began with an 'M' -'Marathon', 'Manhattan Project', 'Middletown Dreams' and 'Mystic Rhythms'. It's as innocent as that. It's nothing to do with 'Sesame Street'!"
"We throw a lot of silly litle things into the credits," shrugs Geddy, "little inside jokes. It's just an immature habit we developed!"
Lastly, two questions from Louise Harris, who, tragically, lives within birding distance of Kerrang's own Paul Harries, in Romford, Essex! Firstly, do Alex and Geddy have any favourite tracks from Rush's 14 studio albums? Geddy names 'Subdivisions', Alex 'Limelight', which contains his favourite solo.
"'Bravado' and 'Ghost Of A Chance' are my favourites of the new record," he adds.
"'Ghost Of A Chance' was a real sleeper. First off it seemed the weakest but it developed into everyone's favourite. The solo on that song is from the original demo; I did it just to fill the space, but it had great spontaneity and emotion."
Louise's second question is what we in the business call a real teaser: "Do you purposefully write music that is erotic, sensual and such a turn-on -i.e. 'Jacob's Ladder' - or is this just a personal interpretation?"
"Eroticism?" Geddy chokes. "Maybe neuroticism! That's all I want to say on the subject!"