Available only in the UK, The Words And The Pictures was available as two volumes; Volume I included the below introduction by Geoff Barton and was sold during the Hemispheres tour, while the expanded Volume II edition was sold during the Permanent Waves tour. Both contain the below reproductions of Neil's hand-written lyrics; all lyric images from Volume I also appeared in Volume II.
'Leave me alone and let me rock and roll
I do the best I can
I'm just what I am
I do the best that I can...'
- 'Best I Can' from 'Fly By Night' album.
"You got the introduction" they said, "a whole page at the front of the book to yourself."
Fine. And you want, oh, fifteen hundred words?
"Yeah. And if you can try to make it not too, well, eulogistic. Keep it kinda personal. Don't go over the top."
Alright. But where to begin? I've done the sci-fi story, I've written the blow-by-blow historical account. I've interviewed all the members of the band. I've talked to them in the studio. I've sat at the typewriter and hammered out couple of 'on the road' pieces. I don't want to appear reluctant but -
"Use your imagination"
OK, I will. I'll do my best.
And the conversation was concluded.
In many ways that's what this job's about, using your imagination, keeping your mind alive, alert and inquiring, being continually on the search for new ideas. I know many of you think we have an easy time of it, us so called 'rock journalists', us members of the elite ... recipients of an endless supply of free albums, T-shirts and promo paraphernalia, spending most of our working day out of our boxes on record company liquor / substances, occasionally stirring into wakefulness and descending from the heights to offer quick, caustic 'judgement' on an LP that may well have taken an artist six months of solid hard work to make.
I won't deny that all that can - and does - happen. I've worked at Sounds for nigh on five years now and during that time I've seen many young writers' heads turned by the peculiar workings of the biz. It's amazing how easily enthusiasm can turn to cynicism, how quickly a shy new scribe can inflate him/ herself with self-importance, leading inevitably to self-destruction.
All of which isn't meant to set myself up on a pedestal; I don't want to give you the impression that I'm the only sane writer left in the whole of the crazy rock paper world. Truth is, and despite the popular image (which admittedly many hacks; will try to make the reader believe they live up to) most of us are likeable and level-headed enough, but by the same token after you've worked on a music magazine for a while, no matter how much you might try to avoid it, you can't help but become tainted at some time or another. I mean, I admit it, I've sagged off meritorious albums because I've been in a bad mood, I've given a generally good concert a bad review because the guy close by started chatting up my girlfriend?
Anyway, what all this long-winded garbage is leading up to, I mean what I'm trying to say is that no matter what pressures you're under to 'think' and do' otherwise (you're only human after all) you should always try to remain a fan.
And I've been a fan of Rush's from way, way back. Well do I remember my first encounter with the band: it must have been some time in 75, when the Sounds offices were located close to sunny Holloway Road, a main highway into/out of London which is to thundering juggernaut lorries what poor football is to Chelsea FC.
Pete Makowski, then the paper's star writer, came up to me and thrust a copy of' 'Fly By Night', Rush's second album, into my hands. " 'Ere lissen," he said in his charming Polish accent, "this ain't my cuppa tea but I think you might get a kick out of it."
And indeed I did. I loved the high powered, hard rocking 'Anthem' thought (and I don't mind admitting it) that 'Rivendell' was a truly beautiful song (whisper it: I'm still a great Tolkien fan) and the epic 'By-Tor And The Snow Dog' delivered the final uppercut and well and truly knocked me for six, especially when I heard it on headphones (you try it and discover the mind blowing 'peeling effect' - there's no other phrase for it - during the battle sequence for yourself).
At that time, I believe I'm right in saying, 'Fly By Night' was still an import LP and so, true to form, when I phoned the press office of the British division of Mercury they were distinctly unforthcoming with hot fax 'n' info. But I was so taken with the band that I refused to let it lie there: a week or so later; despite being slightly put off by the ghastly cover I acquired a copy of the band's debut disc, imaginatively titled 'Rush'.
I was surprised to find a non-mystical, rather more basic HM approach prevailing and looking closer I noticed the difference in personnel ?guitarist Alex Lifeson and bassist Geddy Lee were there alright (although their hair looked to be in need of a wash) but someone called John Rutsey was in drummer Neil Peart's stead and he was definitely a skinsbeater cast from the traditional plenty good rockin' tonight mould. So, no magical lyrical maturity and intelligent, inventive drumming in evidence - but all the same the LP was enjoyable enough and not without a certain raw ill-refined charm.
Of the two I definitely preferred 'Fly By Night' however, and during the next few months the LP made frequent appearances on my contribution to the posey Sounds playlist. After this came something of a lean spell ... with Mercury UK now steadfastly refusing to believe that Rush even existed I had to patiently bide my time until the band's third album 'Caress Of Steel' appeared on the import racks. It was worth the wait ?Lifeson and Lee had washed their hair, Peart had grown a moustache, the LP had a gatefold sleeve and the music was 'Fly By Night' revisited, revitalised and transformed, 'Bastille Day' impressed, as did 'The Necromancer' (or 'The Further Adventures Of By-Tor'), but the real icing on the cake was the titanic whole-side spanning epic 'The Fountain Of Lamneth'. An awesome piece of music (although perhaps conceptually naïve), now that think about it 'Fountain' was in many ways the turning point for me ... it was the moment when I realised that Rush were surely destined for greater things. After all, any band with the ambition - if not necessarily the total ability - to compose and tackle such an immense work at such an early stage in their careers just had to have a wildly successful future ahead of them.
And coincidentally it's around here that matters being to become somewhat hectic and more than a little blurred. I remember (A) buying the '2112' album and being astonished yet again. (B) Seeing half a Rush set when the band played support to Aerosmith in their home town of Toronto and being disappointed at not being able to meet them afterward. (C) The emergence of the 'All The World's A Stage' double LP, maybe not the greatest live album of all time, but certainly getting on that way. (D) Witnessing Rush's first ever date on British soil in Sheffield and phoning through my story in the early hours of the morning in a state of euphoria. (E) Meeting the band at Rockfield where they were recording A Farewell To Kings', having a great time and driving back to London in a jolly (if dangerously drunken) stupor. (F) The eventual release of 'Kings', Rush's finest hour, an immaculately conceived blend of blatant heavy rock power and cunning musical / lyrical delicacy. (G) Rush returning again and again to tour this country (unlike some transatlantic outfits that come once and never return), steadily gathering a fanatical following...
I could go on forever. Suffice to say that through hard work, honesty and approachability, Rush made it big in the UK and I was suitably ecstatic.
Until, that is ... well, look, they said not to make this piece too - what was it - eulogistic, didn't they? If that indeed is the case then I'll came right out and admit that Rush's last long-player 'Hemispheres' didn't grab me by the short and curlies like the others. Confused and bewildered by the album, in particular the rambling instrumental 'La Villa Strangiato' and the title track (or 'Cygnus X-l Book II'). I gave it a crazy review in which I said that it was either the greatest thing the band had ever done or the worst, finally concluding that it was more likely to be the latter than the former. Of course Rush fans throughout the country leapt to the band's defence, hurling all manner of abuse in my direction and accusing me of 'build 'em up knock 'em down' tactics. May I just say in mitigation that it was nothing of the sort, it was just that I thought that Rush had, uh, lost their way and had to say so. And of course I'm pretty Goddam alone in thinking that, for 'Hemispheres' for the first time successfully reached the Yes followers as well as the HM crazies and consequently Rush found themselves with thousands more fans on their hands.
Nonetheless, I stand by what I said and if I suddenly disappear off the page here it'll either be because I've written. Well over the fifteen hundred I was asked for or (more likely) I've been savagely sub-edited because of the last comment.
But before I disappear off the bottom of the page be good, enjoy tonight's concert and watch for me in the front rows, because remember - I'm still a fan.
Geoff Barton 1979