It's taken 40 years, but Rush is in danger of becoming en vogue.
Reviled by critics for most of its early existence and long dismissed by non-believers as pretentious wank, Canada's most successful gift to the rock 'n' roll world is creeping closer to "cool" with each passing year. Steady endorsement from prog-leaning descendants such as Tool and the Deftones has given way to lionization in Trailer Park Boys, Aqua Teen Hunger Force and the American film I Love You, Man. Now cinematic metal gurus Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen - of Metal: A Headbanger's Journey and Iron Maiden: Flight 666 notoriety - have seen fit to devote an entire documentary film, Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, to the band's mystique. Rush just might be the new "in" thing.
The thought is of great amusement to Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, whose music is described in the film by one '70s music journalist as "cancerous."
"It'll pass," laughs Lee, spending an afternoon with his longtime bandmate and high-school friend - and, as we learn in the film, fellow suburban child of post-WWII European immigrants to Canada - gabbing with hometown-Toronto press.
"Yeah, we'll do something to piss everyone off and everything will go back to normal," says Lifeson.
Don't be put off Beyond the Lighted Stage if you're not a Rush fan, by the way, unless the possibility of being converted to the cult totally terrifies you.
As with Headbanger's Journey and its follow-up, Global Metal, Dunn and McFadyen take a cerebral, anthropological approach to their subject matter here, spending as much time on the contexts that have shaped Rush's singular and still-evolving musical journey as they do on the music itself. Although if you're into the music, there's a lot of really neat stuff to be seen and heard, including early TV footage of a teenaged Rush - still with the late John Rutsey on drums - playing to a very prim and proper high-school audience. Tons of fawning testimonials from folks like Trent Reznor, Kirk Hammett, Gene Simmons and Jack Black, too, not to mention dozens and dozens of potentially embarrassing and/or incriminating photos of the lads in their younger days, many in which kimonos feature prominently.
Lee and Lifeson, who initially warned Dunn and McFadyen away because they thought Rush would be "too boring" for a documentary (Lee: "We thought this could ruin their careers"), came away from their first screening astonished at the filmmakers' thoroughness. Lifeson, in particular, was "shocked" to see that they'd unearthed footage of him as a teenager in Allan King's 1972 documentary Come On Children, arguing with his parents over his dreams of becoming a professional musician.
"It's really hard to relate to that person you were 30 or 40 years ago," he says. "I found I just didn't recognize myself a lot of times."
"That was kind of a fun journey for me because I'd misplaced a lot of that stuff," says Lee. "But I was kind of frustrated that I didn't remember some of those moments, especially the performances. When they'd show some old TV clip, I'd be, like: 'F---, why can't I remember that day?' That would have been such a big deal because it was probably the first TV show we ever did . . . So it's a strange experience. It's a little bit of an out-of-body experience.
"It's also exhausting, frankly, to watch 40 years of your life go by. Thank god it's over. The movie, that is. I felt like I'd aged 40 more years."
It's impossible to walk away from Beyond the Lighted Stage and not be impressed at the ferocious work ethic and diligent forward momentum that's allowed Rush - third only to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in gold and platinum albums sold worldwide - to be so successful all these years. It's also impossible not to be wowed by how incredibly funny these men can be. Including the more serious-minded Peart, who did agree to play Neil Peart in Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters, after all. "Frankly, what was nice about seeing it with an audience was all the laughter. I really loved that," says Lee. "We were worried they were taking it all too seriously and they didn't, thank god."
Oh, and the work ethic hasn't eased up: Two new songs, "Caravan" and "BU2B" have just been released digitally before Rush embarks on the summer tour that will bring it to the Molson Amphitheatre on July 13. Then it's back into the studio in the fall to finish a brand-new Rush album.
"We always do this dumb thing where you do a tour and you're in such great playing shape, but you're exhausted so you take a year or a year-and-a-half off and then when you get playing again it takes awhile to get back up to that speed," says Lee. "So we thought, let's record a couple of tracks and get that spontaneity going, then let's tour and get back into shape and go straight into the studio, see if we can bring those chops in and see where that gets us."