This month, the nominating committee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame meets to assemble a slate to vote on for 2011's induction class. The factors that go into deciding who should be considered for induction aren't well known - this is a pretty secretive group. What is well known is that when you look at the list of previous nominees and inductees, there is a huge, glaring omission from the artists honored by the committee. Rush, the most successful power trio of all time and a group that has sold more consecutive gold and platinum records than everyone except the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, has never even had their name on the ballot.
Music is a subjective experience and while some listeners may not appreciate the Canadian band's sound or songs, it is difficult to ignore Rush based on their track record. The Hall of Fame's mission is to honor great achievement in rock and roll. So let's consider what Rush has done: The boys from Toronto have been together for more than four decades and in their current lineup for almost that entire time. During that period, they have released 19 studio records, 8 live albums and 10 compilations: a total of 37 records. Of those, 24 were certified gold and 14 as platinum, which led to the sale of more than 40 million records worldwide.
Each member has been recognized for outstanding achievement in playing his instrument by various publications in the music press and by his fellow artists. Countless musicians - from Trent Reznor to Les Claypool, Kirk Hammett to Billy Corgan and many, many more - cite Rush as an influence and inspiration. And, approaching the age of 60, they still go out on extensive tours, playing long, three-hour sets for their fans.
All of this success has come without any real mainstream attention. They have never enjoyed much radio support and they've never had a #1 album or single in the states. The intelligentsia of the music press have always marginalized the band, going so far as to openly mock them for much of the band's career. Still, all told, the facts attached to Canada's most popular and best-selling band should be more than enough to gain induction to the museum in Cleveland, Ohio.
But there is more to the story than just the numbers, oh yes. Being geeks, we can come up with some geeky reasons why Rush should be given this one little victory and be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. For your consideration:
1. Rush's lyrics are rooted in literary themes and references - Listen to their body of work. You won't find any odes to Betty Sue in the back seat of her daddy's Ford. Drummer Neil Peart is the main lyricist for the band and literature has always influenced his words. For instance, 1976's breakout album, 2112, is about the individual against a totalitarian state. The liner notes even contain a dedication to Ayn Rand's writing. Sebastian Bach talks about the influence of 2112 on him as a youth, "I ran right out and bought The Fountainhead and read it. How many bands get 12-year-olds that fired up about literature?" Xanadu is tied to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem Kubla Kahn. Peart has talked about being inspired by T.S. Eliot for Distant Early Warning. That's a bit more substantive than lyrics like "my hump my hump my hump".
2. They understand your pain - For many geeks, growing up is a tough time. There's the feeling of alienation, of being outcast and bullied. Not only are these themes that Rush has addressed in their music (Subdivisions), but they are hurdles the band has had to face in their early lives and careers too. Bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson have talked openly about how being bullied at school was part of the reason they dropped out of high school before graduating. What's more, Rush has been marginalized by the music press (and some of their peers) for most of their career for not conforming to the mainstream.
3. The band has embraced technology from very early on - OK, maybe they embraced technology too much during the '80s, but they have often turned to technology to solve problems stemming from the limitations of being a trio. This meant being some of the first to adopt synthesizers. Rush was also one of the first to realize the power of the Web to connect with people and they have stayed on the cutting edge, using technology to stay in contact with their fans.
4. They have their obsessions - First and foremost, they love making music and they obviously enjoy each other's company - even after all these years. But it doesn't stop there. The technology is a constant education, and then there are the tour distractions: Alex is a complete golf geek, Geddy has a deep passion for baseball and Neil has logged more miles on his motorcycle than some people do in a lifetime of driving. Reading is a favorite hobby and Peart has talked about how he learned to knit, just because he had to know how.
5. They are big fans of science fiction and fantasy - Their songs include "Rivendell," "Cygnus X-1," "The Necromancer" and "By-Tor And The Snow Dog." What else needs to be said?
6. Rush fans have their own con - One of the staples of geek culture is the con, a chance to get together with people obsessed with the same things as you. Whether it's Star Wars or fantasy fiction or comics or games or Muppets, there is a con for you. Rush fans are no different: Each year fans from around the world congregate in Rush's hometown of Toronto and listen to speakers, play games and get to share in their obsession with other fans.
7. They have never really been cool - Yes, their fans have always loved them, but even the most ardent devotee has to admit the silk robe phase was a little - embarrassing. But the silk robes are a metaphor for their entire career. They were never the cool kids - but largely because they never wanted to be. In the outstanding Rush documentary, Beyond the Lighted Stage, Gene Simmons talks about when Rush was touring with KISS. Simmons says barely clad women were everywhere after every show, but Rush just went back to their rooms and watched television. Rush has always done their own thing - whether it's recording concept albums, roasting chickens onstage or passing up the rock and roll lifestyle to march to the beat of their own 33-piece drum kit.
8. Like geeks in general, Rush is getting attention now - Everywhere you look, geeks are getting attention and acceptance in the mainstream. From an appearance on The Colbert Report to a supporting role as the-band-to-emulate in I Love You, Man, Rush is also being noticed. A few years ago, the Beta-2 version of Joomla was nicknamed "Red Barchetta" because of the song's spirit of freedom. And the band has been an oft-mentioned reference on MST3K and RiffTrax.
9. Rush has a great self-deprecating sense of humor - Like any bullied geek who has honed a razor sharp wit to deflect attention away from himself, Rush has always been funny. From lampooning Canadian stereotypes (and Lee's high pitched voice) on Bob and Doug Mackenzie's 1982 single "Take Off" to the hilarious video interludes at concerts, the band knows how to not to take itself too seriously.
10. They are family-friendly - Not withstanding a certain incident, Rush is a band that you can feel at ease with when sharing with the whole family. Song lyrics, while mature in terms of intellect, shy away from themes that the RIAA would deem explicit - neither profanity nor sexual descriptions that would earn them a Parental Advisory sticker. Sure, A Passage to Bangkok has lyrics that could be interpreted as drug-related, but they are nebulous enough to be safe. What's more, Rush is multi-generational. Visit any Rush concert and you're likely to see plenty of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters enjoying the music together.
11. Like any good Internet flamewar, Rush is the basis for plenty of good arguments - Yes, Geddy Lee has a high pitched voice. Yes, their songs have erratic time changes. No, they aren't radio friendly. Yet, they still enjoy a huge, worldwide fan base. When you think about it, it's tough to think of a band that has enjoyed the success that Rush has, while being as polarizing as they are.
12. Rush's induction would be redemption for us all - Why? Because Rush has been ignored for so long, despite all of their accomplishments, because the elitists in the music press have acted like the cool kids and made fun of the band, and because they are probably the world's biggest geeky band. Here is a group of guys who consistently stood outside the mainstream, doing their own thing - creating art that reflected their own growth and change, without compromising their integrity for the sake of sales. They took all the criticism and snark about lyrics that were silly, musicianship that was overdone and style that was nonexistent - and still they persevered and enjoyed great success. Induction into the Hall of Fame would be a win for geeks everywhere.
That's it - our 12 geeky reasons why Rush should be included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.