Ditching Grade 11 math class. Holed up in your friend's parents' basement. He says, "You have to listen to this album" and slips the vinyl on the turntable. From the first note of Rush's Fly by Night, you're hooked. Finally, a Canadian rock band you can respect. The music reviewers of the '70s denounce the high school dropout trio, likening Geddy Lee's vocals to a "wailing banshee." But you don't care, listening to Alex Lifeson's guitar solos and Neil Peart's drum rolls. For weeks, the concert ticket burns a hole in your jeans pocket. Finally the band plays your local arena. Correction: it rocks your local arena.
Sixteen studio albums and nearly three decades together, Rush has been alternately labelled 'group of the year' and a cult band. Either way, they are Canadian music legends. And they've returned with the hard-hitting disc Vapor Trails. The trip back to the studio was emotionally difficult. In the late '90s, tragedy struck twice. First Peart's 19-year-old daughter was killed in a car accident. A year later, his wife died of cancer. The band took a five-year hiatus - time to grieve and regroup.
But time doesn't stand still. They've grown since the days when celebrity weighed heavy. "I see young bands being interviewed and I remember what it was like to talk about your music like it was so important," says Lee, 48. "Now Rush is just one other thing I do in my life." Adds Lifeson, 48, "Being in your 40s, things like celebrity aren't quite as important as they once were." That said, however, music remains central in their lives. And finally ready to pick up where the Rush legacy left off, the band entered the studio on a cold January morning in 2001 and got to work "shaking off the dust," says Lifeson. They recorded the songs, taking their time. The band's label screamed for a final cut, but the guys wanted to get it just right. And after 14 months, Vapor Trails was unleashed. The disc is hard rock. High energy. Intense. Sixty-seven minutes of classic Rush. Peart, 49, wrote lyrics that touch on heartache but are surprisingly positive. The song Sweet Miracle, for example, is a tribute to the strength of the human spirit. "This record," says Lee, "is far more spontaneous than anything we've ever done in the past."
Together again, the trio hit the road in June, disrupting their easy lifestyle and putting a strain on family relationships (Lee has a baby girl back home). But it's their job, they say. An amazing fantasy so many young girls and boys rocking in their friend's parents' basement wish desperately to play out.