When word came last December that Canadian progressive-rock titans Rush were among the 2013 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Meredith Rutledge-Borger was in for a shock.
"The normal barrage of e-mails and calls from Rush fans complaining that the band was overlooked was gone," says Rutledge-Borger, an assistant curator at the Cleveland-based rock shrine's museum. "I don't know what I'll do now with all my spare time."
The new crop of inductees ? who will be feted at a ceremony Thursday night at Los Angeles' Nokia Theatre ? reflects an especially wide range of music: acerbic pop (Randy Newman), disco (the late Donna Summer), blues (the late Albert King), rap (Public Enemy) and a true hair band (Heart).
But Rush's inclusion is particularly poignant in that it represents not just a moment of vindication for its fans but also a chink in the Hall of Fame armor that has so far held back a small army of seminal prog rockers.
"I'm relieved for our fans, who took it personally each time we were overlooked," says Geddy Lee, 59, who plays bass and fronts the band, which also includes guitarist Alex Lifeson, 59, and drummer Neil Peart, 60. Rush became eligible for induction in 1999, 25 years after the release of the group's first record, but didn't make the ballot until 2012.
"But I also hope this means other great bands like Yes will follow suit," says Lee. "Deep Purple was on the ballot this year, and I was hoping they'd get in with us. We wouldn't be the band we are without Deep Purple's existence."
Lifeson says he hopes Rush's inclusion "opens the doors for bands like the Moody Blues and King Crimson, who had a huge influence. It's a bit ironic, really. Rock music was born in rebellion, so it's odd to have (a Hall of Fame) where there seem to be guidelines for who's acceptable and who's not."
Lee adds that while the trio is "pleased and honored" to be getting in, "it wasn't something we thought about a lot ? We've had a great career that's on a high right now."
In fact, Rush's three-decade show still thunders along, with the band resuming its world tour in support of its 20th album, 2012's Clockwork Angels, on April 23 in Austin. Lifeson says the band's live performances, which have always been a Rush hallmark, "are just getting better as we get older, and it's great to be in the groove."
For Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins ? who along with Dave Grohl will induct Rush at Thursday's event ? it's difficult to describe how critical the once-long-haired trio was to his musical education.
"There were five or so bands that shaped the way I play music, but the way Neil played those drums, I don't know what to say," says Hawkins. "He has the hands of God. The way he can roll from those 6-inch toms to the 18-inch toms, no one can do that. Then you add in those amazing melodies and those '70s lyrics that were so Dungeons & Dragons and you have an incredible combination."
Rush's Rock Hall moment is "long overdue, and signals that an old guard is moving aside" at the Jann Wenner-co-founded institution, says Andy Greene, associate editor at Rolling Stone. He says Rush proudly carries the prog-rock flag ("Let's be honest, some of that prog stuff was pretentious and awful"), thanks to its "mix of inventive sounds and genuine radio hits like Fly By Night and Closer to the Heart."
Greene says prog's critical dismissal "had a lot to do with the attitude on the East and West coasts that punk and new wave were really where music was at, but Rush always had a strong appeal, particularly in the heartland."
Lifeson says that connection with blue-collar fans was inevitable.
"We were just kids from the suburbs who wanted to play music, and when we finally did that, we spent a lot of our early years deliberately touring the heartland," says the son of Serbian immigrants. "Our lyrics went beyond just girls and partying. There was a little more thought to them. We were honest about who we were, and I guess in the end that struck a chord."
Rock Hall curator Rutledge-Borger says Rush developed a huge fan base in Cleveland when local station WMMS broke the single Working Man off Rush's 1974 eponymous debut album, "which very much spoke to the working-class kids here."
Rutledge-Border defends the Hall's selection process and says it has never been exclusive, adding that Rush's inclusion "was just a matter of it being the band's time. We've got everyone from Billie Holiday to Hank Williams. Any music that shares rock's roots is all part of our family."