Digital Rants From A Digital Man

Rant 4: Shapes and Forms Against the Norm

Well it’s been a while, hasn’t it? Sorry about that, life gets in the way sometimes. Now that our podcast has expanded beyond just Rush content though, I feel that it’s only fair to come back to this format and provide all of you who found us out of a love for Rush with something to chew on. So what does Ryan have to rant about this time? Well, as many of you know, one of my favorite albums to listen to and discover on the show was Power Windows. This album really caught me off-guard. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t expecting to like it. I’d only heard “The Big Money” prior to this podcast and while I enjoyed the song immensely, it wasn’t the type of Rush that I originally gravitated towards. I’ve been a fan of hard-rocking music since I was very young and it was Rush’s more guitar-driven songs that got me to notice the band. That was the thinking of middle school Ryan though and as I got older, I began to take notice of a different aspect of Rush that impressed me as a listener…the lyrics. Rush lyrics were so very different from any of the lyrics that I heard from bands like Van Halen or AC/DC (my long-time favorites). Their lyrics also knocked the socks off of anything playing on mainstream radio. For comparison, let’s look at a section of lyrics from the first Rush song I ever heard, “The Spirit of Radio.”

All this machinery making modern music
Can still be open-hearted.

Not so coldly charted, it’s really just a question
Of your honesty, yeah, your honesty

One likes to believe in the freedom of music
But glittering prizes and endless compromises
Shatter the illusion of integrity, yeah

Now let’s take an excerpt from one of the most popular songs from 2009, the year that I discovered Rush. This song is called “Boom Boom Pow,” it was recorded by the Black Eyed Peas and it was everywhere in 2009:

 like that boom boom pow
Them chickens jacking my style
They try to copy my swagger
I’m on that next shit now
I’m so three thousand and eight
You so two thousand and late

Unsurprisingly, even middle school Ryan was able to pick up on the fact that Rush was playing not just in a different league than the Black Eyed Peas, but in a different game. It wasn’t until just a couple years ago though that I fully realized the extent to which that was true. Neil Peart, as we’ve discussed ad nauseam on the podcast, possesses an uncanny ability to realize the energy and excitement of youth. Rush’s music seems to perpetually capture the attention of young people, which is how people of my generation have become so attached to them despite being in the twilight of their careers. One aspect of youth that Neil is particularly good at rendering in his lyrics is the process of creativity. Neil is an artist through and through, not only capable of creating brilliant works but also of articulating how those great works are created. This leads me to the main point of today’s rant: Power Windows is, to me, the perfect album to play while being creative.

Power Windows has a somewhat loose concept behind it, that being power. The album covers the power of money, individuality, nuclear bombs, persistence, nationalism, dreams, emotions and mysterious forces. However, in many of the songs on the album, I have found another thread that resonates with me personally. That thread is the power of creativity. Specifically, I find a lot of creative energy in Grand Designs, Marathon, and Middletown Dreams. The other songs on the album keep the energy up with “The Big Money” offering a very high-energy opening. Once that song fades out however, it is followed up by a song about creativity breaking through the dull and generic surface to reveal its brilliance. Grand Designs serves as a reminder that even though something may not fit with what is normal doesn’t mean it isn’t worth exploring. In fact, it’s a good thing for something to disrupt the status quo and reveal a new level of brilliance. Grand Designs is essentially a call to arms to be creative and to challenge the assembly line that art and creativity can become in the mainstream.

Following the brilliantly written historical narrative of Manhattan Project comes one of the most inspirational songs ever written. Marathon is essentially a Rocky theme song written by Rush. In fact, it surprises me that nobody attempted to use it in one of the many  cheesy 80’s sports movies. I suppose Stan Bush just needed the money more.  Part of what makes Marathon so inspirational is the fact that it’s about success taking time. The creative process can often be a slog. I’ve taken most of today to write this rant and I’ve considered deleting this entire thing and just not posting a rant like I’ve done for the past 10 months. In this song Rush reminds athletes, creators and just people living life that sometimes what we want takes a long time to achieve. In the end, however, it’s worth it.

The last song to talk about here is Middletown Dreams. This is a song that Brent and I both find a lot of meaning in. Brent grew up in Middle America and I’m stuck just on the edge of the suburbs of Charlotte getting dangerously close to the rural areas. In this song, Neil discusses dreams as being a means of escape from a dull life. Dreams can literally take people away from a life of boredom, but they can also mentally take you away from it. Dreams and creativity are an escape for me as I’m heading into my final year of college. I dream of finally living with Kathy and being married to her. I dream of finally achieving my fitness goals and entering a wrestling ring for the first day of training. Those dreams take me away from my parents’ house and from college. Additionally, my comedy writing, my D&D campaigns and my occasional forays into finishing my book do the same. Dreams and creativity are my way out of this place and into my life as an actual adult. Dreams take me into a wrestling ring where I hope to one day make my living. Dreams also fuel my furious typing on this keyboard while I drink a beer and pretend like I want to go back to work tomorrow. In another year, my dreams will take me away from college, away from making pizza for assholes and away from my parents’ house and into a new life where I actually have time for fun stuff.

Rant 3: Would We Notice or Even Accept Another Rush?

(Note: This is a special guest rant by Brent Sellow. I’ll be back to ranting soon. -Ryan)

First of all, let me begin by saying there will never be another Rush. Not just because they are gifted and unique, though they absolutely are. Not because the innovation and skill is unattainable. Just simply because it’s impossible to clone individuality. Secondly, I’m not judging. I’m reporting what I’ve observed, and what I’ve felt and done myself. I’ve pondered this question for quite awhile. Blind loyalty is not monopolized by Rush fans. Though we often do get the most publicity for being this way. Check out Ryan’s rant if you want to go in depth on that topic, it’s great! Is it possible that there will be another innovative, technically skilled, hard working three piece band? Yes. The probability of this occurring is even higher because of Rush’s existence, and other great bands. Great bands are an amalgam of their influences. The more influences they have, the more brilliant they are. Will they sound like Rush? Probably not. In a way they can’t and succeed. Let me explain why I feel this way. As Rush fans we have a certain tendency. Great progressive bands, such as: Kings X, Tiles, Tool,Coheed and Cambria,Spock’s Beard,Muse, The Mars Volta,Sieges Even,ELP,Triumph,SAGA,FM etc., cannot escape the Rush fan imposed “sounds like Rush”veil. It’s a compliment at first, it’s almost a price of admission. Unfortunately that seal of approval bleeds into dismissal or disdain. Or possibly worse the: “They’re good, but they’re not Rush.” I mean we do it with Pink Floyd, Led Zepplin, Cream, The Beatles, The Polie etc. “They’re brilliant but….” I’m not going to go into why we do this. Again, Ryan covered it well. You should read that! I only use it as a platform for what I’m going to attempt to discuss here. Let’s say that band was here, or even more likely, just starting out. Let’s say they started out like Rush. Great for sure, but not totally indicative of what’s to come. Would we even listen to them? Would we follow and support them? Would we give them a chance? You might say: “Who cares? No-one will ever top Rush, it doesn’t matter. We still have Rush!” We do guys, and we do have a catalogue of 165 songs, and hopefully counting. The reason why it’s important though is because, Rush will not tour forever. Rush will not make new music forever. As timeless as their music is, it won’t sustain us and future generations indefinitely. It will enhance lives for sure. But art and life cannot exist on Rush alone. One of the few positives to our demanding expectations is that the band that comes next will have to supersede Rush. In reality, they always had to. It’s the nature of the beast. Rush did this to their predecessors and peers. It’s an uncanny amount of pressure. Let’s say they do that though. Would we admit it? Would we accept it? Or would we pass over it? I know some are angry and possibly dismissive right now. But guys, this needs to happen. Rush,I would argue would even want it to happen. It doesn’t take away from what they are. Just like the bands that influenced them, that they surpassed in innovation. It’s a higher form of flattery. We need it my friends. This not happening would be akin to one football team going to and winning the Superbowl until they were too old and injured to play. What would happen to the sport if no-one was influenced by them and surpassed them?

The world changes and improves against our will. Art does the same. You can’t suffocate technology or evolution. We shouldn’t want to. It’s not the way we thrive. I for one would hate to be responsible for burying the next great progressive band. I know in you hearts, you would as well. Unfortunately, this is where we’re heard. Let’s not do this! So you’re asking now if you’re still reading. “Brent, you pompous ass. What do you suggest we do?” My answer is just to be open. Be open like you were when you ran across Rush. Be patient. Rush wasn’t built in a day. Wait for bands to mature. Just like you wait for Rush albums you don’t like to grow on you. Go back and listen to bands that you blew off. Just like we go back and listen to Rush albums that have dust on them. You never know what you might find. You never know what you might come to love. What’s the worst thing that can happen guys? We find another band that blows our minds and enhances our lives after Rush is no longer creating? Or no such band appears and we continue to embrace the legacy of Rush? There’s no downside here my friends. I hope that you consider some of these things, and I hope you know this came out of love for Rush, music, and the fans of both. Let’s allow Rush to live on through it’s influenced. Let’s allow ourselves the possible gift of the new geniuses on the block. Do we really want to block more beauty in the world?

Rant 2: Why Rush?

Well, I missed getting this up last week because I was thinking about  doing a different topic and then I got sidetracked by my new job. Well, I’m back to a regular work and class schedule, so things should be stable now. Anyways, I have a different topic to rant about this week. This topic is fundamental to being a Rush fan. Without it, this site wouldn’t be here, there would be no podcast, and none of you would care about me or what I have to say (you may not anyways). The topic is this; why do we focus all of this love on Rush? What is it specifically about Rush that makes us go to hundreds of concerts, buy albums, play in cover bands and listen to and record podcasts about them?

This is something that we all know, but probably haven’t ever thought out. If your story is like mine or any of the ones I’ve heard, then you randomly heard Rush one day on the radio, or somebody forced you to listen to Rush on the bus as a kid, or because your cousin threw on one of their records and you just went “Wow! That really rocks!” But have you ever really sat down with a pipe or a glass of Scotch, or a Coke if you’re boring and thought “Why does it rock though? What makes Rush better than Van Halen or Aerosmith or any other band I listen to?”

I recently had this question asked of me by a friend of my parents who was wondering how a guy in his early 20’s got in to Rush of all bands. I thought for a second and then I gave three answers. I said that I liked Rush more than any other band because their music is often experimental, but has a definitive identity; their music and lyrics are complex, but  often speak about simple observations or feelings that we can all relate to; and that this incredibly intricate music is made by three guys and it’s been the same three guys for forty years now. The guy who asked me the question looked at me and then said “Well, yeah. That pretty much covers it.” Apparently, I had just unlocked the secret to why we’re all a bunch of fanatics about this band. I’m not a genius or anything, but I guess we all have our moments of brilliance…or a broken clock is right twice a day. Anyways, let’s look at these points individually.

Rush has added to and expanded their sound tremendously over their forty year career. For proof of that, see Neil’s ever-expanding drum kit or the gradual surrounding of Geddy by keyboards in the 80’s.  Rush went from a band that was mistaken for Led Zeppelin with their first album to a heavy prog band in the Farewell to Kings/Hemispheres era to a mainstream rock act with Moving Pictures to heavily New Wave in the mid 80’s and then back to their power trio roots in the 90’s until today. Rush has made all kinds of different music throughout their career, but one thing has been constant for their entire career: it’s always been recognizably Rush. Whether you’re listening to Working Man, Tom Sawyer, The Big Money, Animate or whatever song, you can always hear that it’s Rush. Part of that is Geddy’s distinctive voice, but it’s also Alex’s unique guitar playing, Geddy’s skillful bass playing and Neil’s amazing drumming. Neil’s lyrics always but close to the heart (I’ve got puns!) and speak to something common to all of us. Even when I first started listening to Rush, I could always tell a Rush song. There was always a secret X-factor to their songs that always let me know that I was listening to Rush and I was listening to something special. I heard it. You all heard it, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. Rush has gone all over the musical map, but whatever they record is always recognizably them.  That’s why we love them.

Another reason we all seem to love this band is their lyrics. Professor Peart certainly has a way with words and Geddy can sure pull off the pronunciation of said words, no matter how badly he may want to kill Neil for making him sing basically anything from Xanadu. Speaking of Xanadu, have you noticed that Neil is brilliant? He reads more books than most of us look at in our lifetimes and because of that he’s able to pull crazy themes and meanings out of words. He’s written songs based on National Geographic articles, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Ayn Rand, Mr. Deeds Goes To Town and even Twilight Zone. He writes about deep, personal feelings, emotional losses, human suffering, and the battle between emotion and reason within the human mind. Holy shit, that’s heavy stuff. Here’s the other thing that makes his writing special though, it’s all relatable. Neil’s lyrics hit the heart as well as the head. Even if you may not understand the words exactly, you may get a feel for what they mean based on how they’re used. Part of the credit has to go to Geddy, whose voice is so often raw with emotion. Those screams on the early albums that turn people off are cries of pure emotional attachment. Alex’s guitar style is also very emotional, especially on Limelight. However, the lyrics are what sells it all for me. Neil’s lyrics are intelligent, but never pretentious. He uses big words, but talks to us about familiar concepts. This is also why we love Rush.

The last reason that we all seem so impressed with these three Canadian fellows is, well, just that. There’s only three of them! Most rock bands have four or five guys and don’t make music that’s nearly as complicated or awesome as Rush. Hell, most prog bands have six, seven, eight members and some even more. Prog music is not easy to make. Ask any of the guys and girls we’ve interviewed. They’ll tell you the same thing. Rush does something that not many bands are able to do. They make super complex music with only three members and all of them pull double or triple duty from time to time. Geddy plays bass, sings and plays keyboard. Neil and Alex both have other things they do besides drums and guitar. All of these guys have buckets of talent and they utilize it well, making it seems like they have more members than they actually  do. Here’s another thing, it’s almost always been the same three guys. Rush has only had one personnel change in forty plus years and it happened before they even started touring in the US. Consistency in a band’s lineup is something that we often don’t realize we appreciate, but we really do. Think about how many times you’ve said “I love Van Halen, but once David Lee Roth left, things went downhill.” Think about how Kiss may look the same, but two of the founding members of Kiss haven’t been in the band since the 80’s. Hell, Peter Criss doesn’t even want to talk to the other members of Kiss. Don’t even get me started on the abomination that is Guns N’ Roses post Slash. No Axl Rose, you are not what makes Guns N’ Roses. Anyways, Rush has never had that nor will they ever have it. Rush is only interested in being Rush if all of them are on board. If Neil is well and truly done drumming, then Rush is done. We don’t want Rush to be done, but we also don’t want an inferior Rush. That’s what’s so great about Rush, though. They will never give us an inferior version of themselves. We get real, unaltered, classic Rush or no Rush at all. That too is why we love Rush.

So that’s my argument for why Rush is so important to me. Do you agree? Do you have another reason why you love Rush? Let me know! Post on Facebook. Tweet me @Howard_RyanGreg why you love Rush or why you agree or disagree with me. I’m not saying this is the end all be all, but these reasons seem to cover a lot of why people have told me they love Rush. Until next time, this has been a Digital Rant from a Digital Man. Keep choosing the path that’s clear and don’t be late for your date with fate in a black sedan.

Rant 1: Are We A Cult?

Hey everybody, this is Ryan from Digital Men coming at you with a new form of content for our website. This is called Digital Rants From A Digital Man and it’s basically an editorial page. So, many of you who decided not to read the title directly above this text may be wondering, what will I tackle first? Well, my topic for today’s rant is one that many Rush fans have thought about and debated for a long time; are we a cult?

The answer to this question may be simple to some of you. Of course we aren’t a cult! We’re fans of good music, not Scientologists! But let’s give this a bit of thought for a second. The dictionary defines the word “cult” in three different ways. This first is “a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.” The second is “a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.” The last definition is “a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing.” Now wait a minute. Does any of that sound familiar?  Don’t we all have a kind of veneration for Geddy, Alex and Neil? Are we not a small group of fanatics traditionally viewed as outsiders and weirdos by the rock and roll establishment? And don’t some of us have a somewhat unhealthy amount of praise for three guy who, at the end of the day, are just three regular dudes from Toronto who happen to be extremely talented musicians?  We have to be honest with ourselves here and admit that this all kinda lines up. We may not be The Church of Scientology, but we bare a bit of a passing resemblance to them.

Before I step on anymore toes, let me clarify something. This applies to every fanbase and fandom. Just like there’s a difference between people who think that the Buddha had good teachings and actual Buddhists, there’s a difference between people who think that a TV show or book series or rock band is good and people who zealously pursue every scrap of content on every internet forum regarding the show/band/book that has completely consumed their identity. Every fandom has these zealots. Post a negative opinion about Supernatural and I guarantee that the next day somebody on Tumblr will be baying for your blood. Tell somebody online that Captain America and Iron Man are not each other’s one true love and watch as they grab their virtual pitchforks (—–E) and torches (\^^/) and gather up all the other villagers that support this ‘ship (If you don’t know, don’t ask. You’re happier not knowing.) and begin the verbal burning at the stake. Now go on certain Rush forums and tell people that the only Rush album you’ve heard is Moving Pictures. Go talk about the merits of the keyboard era and watch as sects of the fandom come to your aid and others call for your head. Better yet, go to a Rush message board and just say “Guys, I’m just not a fan of Rush. I can’t get past Geddy’s voice and Neil’s lyrics just go right over my head.” With a couple exceptions, which we’ll get back to, you will have ruined multiple people’s days. “Don’t talk shit about the professor!” “Geddy has the voice off an angel, you dumbass!” I could sit here and come up with responses to such an obviously uneducated and uncultured sentence all day…wait, I had a point with all of that. Yes, the point being that as awesome as fandom can be, there’s a cultish mentality that can come with it. You really love Rush. Rush is great. Their music speaks to you in ways that no other music ever has. And look, these other people over here feel the same way! Woo-hoo! Much rejoicing! We all think Rush is awesome and we’re happy! Watch us air drum along with YYZ! It’s a really positive and awesome thing to find other people with common interests. I’ve experienced that doing this podcast with Brent and with all the people we’ve had on the show. I’ve experienced it with my friends who I play D&D with on Tuesdays. But what happens when you and your new friends are laughing and yucking it up and playing your air instruments along with Cygnus X-1 and somebody walks by and says “I don’t really like Rush?” Then it’s war. This random dude who I’ve never met just said that he didn’t like Rush! This invalidates my love for Rush and I won’t have it!

…Time out. Time out. How does it invalidate your feelings about Rush? It doesn’t, does it? Of course not, but that’s your justification for what I’m going to call “Heretic Syndrome.” I define Heretic Syndrome as the compulsive need to either convert or eradicate everybody whose opinions clash with those of your group. The internet has brought this out in a lot of people, but it’s always been around. Some of you who follow Brent and I have been listening to Rush since the 70’s or 80’s. In your younger days, did you ever trap some guy in a corner and try to tear him a new one because he badmouthed Rush? I bet some of you did. I’ve been known to angrily shake my fist at somebody because they slagged off on Rush. It’s all a part of being a fan of things,but is it a part that needs to be there? To me, it seems to be the thing that turns a lot of people off. Brent once told me that he saw a post on Reddit where a guy was talking about 2112 and how brilliant it was and everybody commented and made fun of him because he was late to the party. How crappy is that? The guy was just getting into Rush and a bunch of Rush fans just tore him to shreds because he found Rush later than everybody else. As a guy in my 20’s who’s only been a fan of Rush for a few years, that really bugs me. And you know what? Just because Heretic Syndrome is a part of being a fan doesn’t make it okay. Would Geddy, Neil and Alex be okay with this? Of course not. We’re better than this, guys. We’re definitely better than this.

How do we rise above this lowest common denominator of fandom though? Well, think back to earlier in this article when I was talking about posting controversial things on Rush forums. I said that most every post would be angry, but there are always that small group of people who respond differently. They respond by trying to start a discussion. This is what we should do. We’re a very mature fandom. I don’t want to offend anybody, but we have a lot of older people in this little club of ours. Let’s act like it! If somebody posts on a forum that they think Geddy’s voice is too high, let it turn into a discussion. Let’s start an online revolution where instead of devolving into insults, we start intelligent and courteous discussion. Just like Donna said on the show, we need to bring back courtesy. We’re fans of the most intelligent rock band I’ve ever heard. So it’s time to start acting like it.

In conclusion, are we Rush fans a cult?  Well, we are in the same way that every other fandom is and that’s not okay. We don’t need to be slagging off on people just because they don’t like the same albums as us or maybe they haven’t heard as much Rush as we have. We need to open our arms to them and invite them to put on the headphones, light up a pipe, grab a beer and rock out to Farewell to Kings. Who doesn’t like Farewell to Kings? Do you not like it? Do I need to break a bottle over your head, you uncultured swine…sorry, got a little carried away there.

 

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