Rush To Judgement

By David Nathan, Sacramento News and Review, November 20, 1996

"The first time I remember hearing the music of Rush was in the summer of 1982. I was 17 and working as a camp counselor. A group of my fellow counselors were huge Rush fans and played the band's tapes endlessly. It was an inescapable annoyance, and I've disliked Rush ever since.

So, when asked to do this piece for the band's upcoming show at the Cal Expo, I said, through my dripping saliva, "Sure, I'd love the opportunity to write about Rush."

To be fair, I thought I should at least listen to the band's latest release, "Test For Echo". So I did. The verdict. Pretty standard-issue Rush, except for a few grunge-influenced licks here and there. On the whole, though, nothing spectacular.

In fact, it's been quite a while since Rush hit its creative peak in 1981 with "Moving Pictures", its best and most successful album. This, as chance would have it, was the very album that all those jerky camp counselors kept playing over and over 14 years ago. So to say this represents Rush's greatest work and refer to this same music as "an inescapable annoyance" should tell you something about my feelings towards the 40-something power pop-trio from Canada.

I hate them.

And this was to be my spin on the band as I awaited Geddy Lee's call last week. Lee, Rush's vocalist and bass player, was off to a bad start when the phone finally rang 20 minutes after our scheduled interview time. Torontans are notoriously late people.

Lee sounded pretty tired. Turns out, he was calling on his off day from the tour, and I don't think he really felt like talking to me, either. Still, I asked him about how, if at all, he thought Rush has changed over the years.

He'd obviously heard this one before.

"Well, it's been kind of a slow change from a strange band into a weird band."

I was a little surprised. Geddy had made a funny!

Feeding off this sudden burst of momentum, I reeled off another question why Rush had taken such a long hiatus before recording "Echo."

"We all needed a break," he said. "In my personal life, my wife had a child." I inferred from Lee's tone that he was the father of the child and, as is customary in these matters, congratulated him.

He continued, "I won't specify any particular problems [between band members] except the basic, 'Well, guys, we've been together for 20 years and maybe we should take a break and make sure it's still what we want to do.' "

The reunion album, Lee declared, is "a successful attempt at stripping down" Rush's sound. "We've approached that in our last few records, but I think we achieved it with this record."

I'm not sure, but I think Lee was referring to the notable and merciful departure from the overuse of keyboards on "Echo". Many of Rush's late 1980s and early '90s discs have been watered down by needless synthesizers, but I don't think I heard any on "Echo."

As Lee continued answering boring, run-of-the-mill, "rock interview" questions, I had an epiphany of sorts: This Rush singer guy is pretty cool.

Unfortunately, this ruined everything.

Here I was, all set to have fun making fun of Rush, the most pretentious band in history, an easy target, and along comes "Mr.-Down-to-Earth-Nice-Guy" Geddy Lee. Everything he said was humble and lovable.

The lousy bastard.

"What about the well-known 'Rush wuss factor'?" I asked using more diplomatic phrasing.

"Well, I don't think I ever considered us real rock 'n' roll in the first place. We may have rocked, but we didn't always roll," Lee said. "As other forms of heavy rock have developed over the years, in context, I don't think we're really that hard."

He cited Bjork and Soundgarden, among others, as musicians he admires today, and went on to offer some modest self-deprecation, humorously referring to band member Neil Peart as "a goof," guitarist Alex Lifeson as "an idiot" and to himself as "a jerk."

I must tell you that, by this time, Lee had successfully taken the wind right out of my sails. I had fought him and lost. With his jabbing congeniality, old Geddy dropped me like a three-foot put and rolled me out like wholesale carpeting. And the worst of it is ... now I like Rush!

I just don't care for the music, that's all."