"Time Machine 2011: Live in Cleveland" captures the Canadian rock trio Rush - featuring singer-bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart - during a sold-out concert at The Q in April. Directed by Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn of Banger Films, the electrifying souvenir came out last week on DVD and Blu-ray, along with a live double album with the same title. In this exclusive essay, Peart (the group's lyricist and best-selling travelogue author) reflects on the "Time Machine" project, memorable rides through Ohio via bicycle and motorcycle and Rush's long-standing affinity for Cleveland (where disc jockey Donna Halper was instrumental in the group's early success), despite being snubbed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
By Neil Peart
Special to The Plain Dealer
Since first playing in Cleveland with Rush in 1974, opening for Manfred Mann and Uriah Heep, I have collected many good memories. In the early days, I think of gigs at clubs, colleges, theaters and after-hours jam sessions, and various hotels and motels of the time.
However, my most outstanding memory actually occurred on a day off. It was the Fourth of July, 1984, before a show at the old Richfield Coliseum. We had played Indianapolis the night before, and after a long bus ride into the pre-dawn hours, we checked into the Holiday Inn in Richfield.
That year I had started getting serious about bicycling, and carried a touring bike with me on the band's bus. I was riding every day, in whatever city we were playing, or into the countryside on days off. An important milestone for a long-distance cyclist is a "century" - riding 100 miles in a day - and all that spring and summer I had been building up to that challenge. I did my first 50-mile ride in Kansas, then 75 miles in the St. Louis area.
I felt ready to go for the big one, and the only psychological obstacle was that I didn't yet know how to fix a flat tire. That made me nervous about setting off on a holiday, in rural Ohio, and long before the days of cellphones or such easy rescues.
However, I was a Determined Young Man, and not to be discouraged by a detail like that. Even so early in my eventual "adventure touring" career, I was confident that I would find some solution. (As I wrote many years later in "Ghost Rider": "Something will come up.")
Pedaling into the sunrise on that Independence Day morning, I headed south on little Highway 94. The weather was sunny and cool, and the countryside was gently rolling farmland, the best conditions for cycling. On such roads, traffic is light, and the ups and downs and occasional flats let you use different muscles. Plus, standing to climb gives occasional relief to the most delicate interface between the rider and the bicycle. That point of contact can become very tender over the course of a long day in the saddle.
Short version of that story: The ride was successful, and the experience was unforgettable. The country road was pretty and peaceful on that holiday. Flags and bunting decorated the village squares in crossroads towns, and the Amish farmers waved to me from their horse-drawn plows. At the halfway point, in Mount Eaton, I bought a nice little lunch from a general store, devoured it in the local park, then turned north again.
In more recent years, I have been traveling between shows by motorcycle, and I often design my route to revisit Mount Eaton and the surrounding area. (Wonderful that it hasn't changed too terribly much in the past 25 years!)
In fact, on the day we filmed the "Time Machine" DVD in Cleveland, I retraced that exact route on my motorcycle, from Hinckley down to Mount Eaton, with my riding partner, Michael. (Even on a motorized two-wheeler, it seemed far.) Making a ceremonial stop in the park, as I always do when I'm traveling in that area, we continued along the delightful little roads of rural Ohio, through occasional rain showers. The route deliberately touched on some other little places that have "stories" for me, like Winesburg, Beach City and Cuyahoga Valley National Park, then we surrendered to the interstate into Cleveland.
The band had decided to film the show in Cleveland for a few reasons. In past years, we had released concert videos from shows in Toronto, Montreal, Rio de Janeiro, Frankfurt and Rotterdam, but we had never filmed a concert in the United States.
We decided to rectify that.
It was felt that the "Time Machine" show in particular looked better indoors, without the lingering twilight of an outdoor amphitheater, and with control over ambient light and air currents. Also, the audio side of things tends to be more controllable in a contained acoustic environment. (Wind, for example, can play havoc with sound waves and microphones.) So we wanted an arena.
Glancing over the itinerary, we considered the options, looked at Cleveland, and thought, "Yes." The idea just made us smile. The historical connection was strong, of course - we never, never, never forget how welcoming Cleveland was to us in the early days. (Thank you, Donna Halper!)
But there was also the impish notion of poking a sharp stick into the eye of a certain other Cleveland institution. With regard to Groucho Marx's famous remark - "I wouldn't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member" - I have stated before that personally the three of us are not too bothered about that snub. We have achieved plenty of success and professional respect without those self-appointed judges, thank you very much.
But it does seem petty to make our fans feel like they're part of something that's "outside the pale." (Though maybe, in a way, all of us like being outside the pale?)
Anyway, we thought the idea of filming the show in Cleveland was good - so we made it happen.
Despite the usual pressure of performing a show that you know is being "immortalized," the three of us felt we had played pretty well that night. And of course the audience was incandescent!
We had given the directing job to the Banger guys, Scot and Sam, because their documentary about us had obviously cast us in a new sort of "lighted stage." We thought they would bring a fresh eye to a live concert DVD. We reviewed early edits, to approve their general approach, then just left them to it. The results justified our decisions and our trust, and just as we were very proud of the "Time Machine" tour, we are pleased with its presentation. It is different from any of our previous concert DVDs, with more focus on the audience, and it highlights something special that only people who have been there will understand: the relationship between us and the audience.
Seven months later, in November 2011, as we release that performance into the world, we are back in the studio in Toronto, working on the "Clockwork Angels" project that we started almost two years ago, before the "Time Machine" tour. In fact, the first two chapters of the story, "Caravan" and "BU2B," were part of that show.
I guess what we're creating now is the rest of that story, literally and metaphorically.
The show is over - on with the show! That's the way we roll.