'Mean Deviation' Author Jeff Wagner Celebrates 'Rush Day' With Cape Cod Rock!

By George Pacheco, Examiner.com, February 1, 2012

The music of Rush has transcended style and genre lines for almost forty years, appealing to radio rock fans, metalheads and dyed-in-the-wool prog rock freaks since the band's 1974 debut album. February 1st, 2012 doesn't mark just any anniversary for the legendary Canadian power-trio, however, for today is 2/1/12, a.k.a. 'Rush Day!'

As a holiday, the moniker of 'Rush Day' is taken from the band's 1976 concept album milestone, 2112; a watershed release which certified the Rush reputation as musicians and songwriters par excellence amongst their copious classic rock peers. Moreover, 'Rush Day' is yet another excuse to celebrate the entire catalog of vocalist/bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer/lyricist Neil Peart; a time to revisit and re-experience such diverse and engrossing fare as 1975's Caress of Steel, 1982's Signals, Counterparts from 1993 or the ultimate classic Rush LP, the majestic 2112.

Author, former Metal Maniacs editor and noted rock/metal journalist Jeff Wagner is no stranger to the music of Rush, having penned the essential prog manual Mean Deviation: Four Decades of Progressive Heavy Metal for famed extreme publishing company Bazillion Points. Who better than Wagner to speak of Rush's lasting influence and legacy on this, their Bastille...er 'Rush Day!'

Happy Rush Day! To start things off as bluntly as possible, how do YOU celebrate the Rush catalog, and what does this day mean to you? Is it simply an excuse to crank 2112 and revel in the badassery?

Rush is ever-present in my life somehow. Their entire evolution is fascinating. I'm not saying I'm ever going to love the Roll the Bones album, but one thing Rush has shown is that sometimes they've been ten or fifteen years ahead of their own fans' tastes. Case in point: I hated Hold Your Fire for the longest time, thought it was the worst piece of crap they'd ever recorded. Then, fast forward two decades, I gain a taste for pop and slickness and streamlining that I didn't have in 1988, and suddenly Hold Your Fire appears to me as one of the best Rush albums ever. So that's what I celebrate about Rush. They always followed their hearts - didn't care what their critics thought, and didn't let their fans dictate anything they did, musically. That's integrity, and it's something for which their fans?and I suspect even some of their critics?have much respect . And eventually we might come around to where their heads where at with a particular album we didn't quite "get" years ago. And yes, Rush Day is really just another excuse to exalt the band, especially 2112, which has always been on my Top 2 List of the Best-Ever Rush Albums, with number one being Moving Pictures.

Would you consider Rush to be in your top canon of favorite bands, and do you remember a specific moment when a) you first heard them and b) they first struck a chord within you?

They are definitely on the highest pedestal with the rest of my favorite bands. And the answers to a) and b) are the same. This is so nerdy, but hey, we are talking about Rush here. In 1981, when I was 12, I was rocking some Centipede at the local arcade (or maybe it was Space Invaders, but it was definitely one of those two) - and probably in the back of my mind wondering what was going to happen in the next issue of X-Men - and someone played "Tom Sawyer" on the jukebox. It was like a magic spell. Geddy's voice, all those synths, the fat and lush production, the weird lyrics ("catch the spit"?), the drumming, everything...it totally complemented my video game/comic book mindset (and I had already been primed with other rock/metal bands like Kiss, AC/DC, Styx, etc.), I was fascinated by what I heard that day and sought it out. I got Moving Pictures and became enthralled. I bought all the older albums on what meager allowance I had, and followed them through the years, even when they were putting out albums I didn't like. So, that's how they became the final nail in my coffin of nerdiness: video games + comic books + hard rock/metal. I was also reading lots of sci-fi and fantasy at that time.

Amongst the progressive minded set, Rush is considered many things: godfathers, trailblazers, a definitive act for 'thinking man's music,' as it were. What are your thoughts on Rush's place within the progressive rock/metal lexicon, as well as their lasting influence to bands across genre lines?

You could write a book to try and answer this question, and I kind of did with Mean Deviation. In a nutshell: they were the ultimate merging of progressive rock and early heavy metal in the '70s, with albums like Caress of Steel and 2112, and they stuck to the progressive ideal of forever forging ahead with each new album and challenging not only themselves but their listeners. Their influence is incredibly vast, stretching across a huge landscape of genres. Everyone from indie rock hipsters to ultra-extreme death metal freaks have found something to love about Rush. There's no question that their lineup stability and constant efforts to remain fresh and creative have bolstered their integrity in a way very few bands can claim.

Do you feel that Rush always possessed this 'progressive' quality, even on the Zeppelin-influenced debut record, or do you feel that Peart's joining really succeeded in creating this cohesive quality known as the ?Rush? we know today?

Every band starts somewhere, and it's usually a humble start, and that's also the case with Rush. The first album was a mere jumping-off point. The next one, their first with Neil Peart on drums, saw them moving into a more sophisticated direction, helped not only by Neil's extraordinary drumming, but the more intellectual angle of his lyrics. Fly By Night is the transitional album, and third album Caress of Steel is where they first became the ultimate avatars of what progressive music is all about. So no, they didn't start off with some kind of iconic prog sound, and by the time of Presto or Roll the Bones in the early '90s, they became more of a slick, sophisticated melodic pop/rock band. The incredible and influential prog rock/metal stuff in between was just a part of the journey...the best part, in my opinion.

Do you, like many, feel 2112 to be the ultimate Rush record, or is there another which trumps it for you? Which albums do you feel feature the band firing on all creative cylinders?

Here's the chain of Rush albums that I think is beyond compare: Caress of Steel (1975) up through Signals (1983). A string of seven albums that has to be one of the most amazing, creative, and important evolutionary streaks in rock/metal history. I can cite Black Sabbath's first eleven as being the only one that tops it (yes, Technical Ecstasy, Never Say Die and Born Again are good!), and Voivod's first seven being a run that matches it. You also have a lot of great Rush albums before (Fly By Night) and after that run (Grace Under Pressure, Hold Your Fire, Vapor Trails). Wotta band. Seriously.

Although we've discussed a bit of Rush's place within the confines of Mean Deviation, I wanted to ask specifically about the brainstorming process. When you think 'progressive metal,' did Rush immediately come to mind for you when outlining the chapters and narrative flow of your book? Is Rush even a metal band? (I vote yes, by the way)

Yes they did come to mind as a huge part of the progressive metal story, and yes they are metal. People can't forget that metal did not start with Metallica. Seventies bands like Rush, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and Scorpions were clearly part of a significant outgrowth or branch in the rock and roll tree. They were different enough that a new genre name was warranted, and eventually given: heavy metal. Listen to early Rush songs like "Working Man," "Anthem," "Bastille Day"...these are blueprints for what real heavy metal is: thunder, precision, grandiosity, brashness. Their first live album, All the World's a Stage, is so metal; it's so explosive and electric and raw.

With regards to the band's own 'progression,' what are your thoughts upon the Rush career arc, starting with the post-Moving Pictures 'new wave' (for lack of a better term) phase of Rush, where the synthesized, modern sheen was poured atop albums like Signals, Grace Under Pressure and Power Windows? I actually love this period of Rush, and think it stands right in line with the band's seminal 70s work.

I like that era quite a bit now, even going up to Hold Your Fire and Presto (especially Hold Your Fire). At the time, though, I started losing interest. Always liked Signals a lot and still do, but as of Grace Under Pressure they started losing me. But as a fifteen year old discovering Bathory, Voivod and Celtic Frost, my head was in a different place in 1984. It's only years later that the synth/digital-era of Rush appeals to me, and while I wouldn't quite hold it up as high as you do, I do think it was a necessary place for them to take their music. And, as they have done in every phase of their evolution, they mastered it. So, yes, lots of respect for that stuff. I'm sure I'm not the only fan that tuned it out back in the day only to come around and gain appreciation for it years later.

Did your Rush love continue into the late 80s and early 90s albums like Roll the Bones, Presto and Counterparts? ?Cold Fire? is actually my favorite Rush song, but I'll cop to not being as familiar with their output around this time.

I would name about 103 other Rush songs better than "Cold Fire," but it is very good, and you're not the only person I know that exalts "Cold Fire." And that's the great thing about Rush: they've got great songs through each of their eras, and different ones resonate differently with different people. I'll pick "Animate" as my Counterparts highlight (it's also a Rush career highlight), but no, I actually lost touch with Rush once 1986's Power Windows came out, and even though I bought every album that came afterwards, I wasn't that interested and didn't become interested again until Counterparts in 1993. So there was a good chunk of time where they lost me. But like I said earlier, I wasn't ready for where they were going in the mid '80s, yet something like Hold Your Fire has become a very important album for me. Had you told me in 1988 that would be the case, I would have said you were crazy, but there you go: even someone like me, who loves when bands challenge their audiences and evolve rapidly, had trouble with a favorite band evolving rapidly. That's why I think it's important to never lock yourself into your tastes; you have to be continually open and allow your tastes to evolve just as you evolve as a human being.

How has your appreciation of Rush aged over time? Do you find yourself enjoying them more year after year, discovering new aspects of their music, and do you still keep up with them live and on recent records?

Definitely keep up with all studio albums, and I try to see them live on occasion, but the amount of live albums, box sets, DVDs and compilation releases lately is overkill. I just don't buy them. Easy enough. But they do remain extremely important to me. One of the things that's great about Rush is that, because of the depth and width of their output, there's so much to choose from when considering listening to a Rush album. Ballsy hard rock? Go for the debut. Early metal? Caress of Steel. Prog rock sophistication? Hemispheres. Synth-laden pop/rock? Presto. Post-grunge? Vapor Trails Best album of all time? Moving Pictures.

Final question: do you feel that Rush's individuality and pride in doing things 'their way' successfully categorizes them as one of THE progressive metal bands of all time?

Absolutely. They really are the epitome of bravery, eclecticism and individuality, three important traits of any progressive-minded band.