Oct. 8, 2010, São Paulo, Brazil-Here and now is the perfect time and place to reflect upon Rush's history as a touring band. Tonight, after more than 36 years together, we will be performing at a soccer stadium here, in front of more than 30,000 people.
That is a long way-a far cry, you might say-from our first American tour in 1974. Alex, Geddy and I were in our early 20s, an unknown trio from Toronto, and were thrilled to be playing 20-minute sets to open multi-act shows, or "headline" small clubs and colleges, often for just a few hundred people.
(I am reminded of one particularly mismatched package-Rush opening for Sha-Na-Na, on my 22nd birthday, Sept. 12, 1974, at a school near Baltimore. We were not well-received . . .)
However, then as now, live performance is the ultimate test of a musician, and of a band. The price, of course, is the nomadic, exhausting, potentially alienating alternate reality of touring life-and it can take a heavy toll (witness so many lost individuals and wrecked relationships, romantic and musical).
As long ago as 1989, I decided that such a life was just too much for me-the grind of traveling, the tedium, the repetition, the separation from home and loved ones and the constant whirl of strangers around my nucleus of self-contained, reflective peace. Following the recording of our "Presto" album that year, I made the announcement to my bandmates and manager that I didn't want to tour anymore.
Yet 21 years later, here I am, doing it all over again. Again and again.
And no end in sight.
The simple explanation is that all those years ago, in 1989, after much soul searching, I decided that the question came down to one basic belief: "A real band plays live." If I was going to call myself a musician, I would have to accept the burden that goes with that vocation. So, in the years since then, I have found ways to make that burden tolerable-even enjoyable. And, ultimately, inspiring.
A real band plays live-and playing live makes a real band. Whatever skills I have developed on the drum set are immeasurably due to putting in all those hours (and putting out all that sweat) in live performance.
It is said that any higher level of human accomplishment-athletic, academic or artistic-requires a minimum of 10,000 hours of application. The same might be said for a band-and certainly Alex, Geddy and I have put in our 10,000 hours, and more.
This current Time Machine tour, through the summer and fall of 2010, has been a revelation-for the three of us as musicians, feeling ourselves evolve into an even tighter and more energized unit (that alone is no mean feat after 36 years together), but it is also about the audience. Every night I look out from behind the drums and see all of those faces reflecting such joy from what the three of us do together. So many of those people have grown up with us, just as we have grown up with them.
As I wrote recently, "When people care so much about what you do, you can't help but care about it more."
Personally, my favorite part of what we do together is the private time-creating new music, sharing the sparks of inspiration that elevate each of us into something greater. But the reality remains the same: A real band plays live-and playing live makes a real band.
Sure, magic can happen in a recording studio, in a rehearsal room and even on a computer-but ultimately, all the world's a stage. And it is on those lighted stages, from São Paulo to San Antonio, Pittsburgh to Prague, Quebec to Kansas City, that this band really shines.
All the world's a stage, and we are merely players.
It's showtime again . . .