Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Year in Rush Part 6: Wake Up and Look Around

Because we were all bussed across town, there was a well-established tradition of carpooling among my fellow high school band members.  By the first week of summer band my freshman year I was already catching a ride with several other band students from my neighborhood. The driver and her boyfriend were unrelenting Rush fans, so when Power Windows was released later that year, it was a daily listen for several months. This was where I was first exposed to Rush, and although it wasn't the kind of teenage epiphany that is usually associated with the backs of cars, it was no less life-changing

Still today, nearly thirty years since its release, I insist that Power Windows is Rush’s finest artistic moment. In my eyes, it is where their musical intensity, atmospheric awareness, compositional strength, conceptual clarity, production value, and technical skill all peaked. The presence of synthesizers and sequencers is admittedly pronounced, but Lifeson's guitar cuts through like a surgeon's scalpel. To me, one of the most sublime and moving instrumental moments in the entirety of Rush's career is when his guitar roars out of the percussively agitated stillness during The Big Money's instrumental excursion.

I am fully aware that the album is shot though with sedimented layers of nostalgia, but Power Windows still brings a tear to my eye. I can accept that from some perspectives, there are more musically impressive albums in my collection, but none are more influential on me personally. It was a jarring wake-up call that illuminated a worldview beyond my immature middle school experience, bringing to light profound issues that I had only passively considered.

In the next three years, with my Reganomics-era minimum wage capital and the freedom of a 10 speed bike, I bought Rush’s entire back catalog. By 1987, I could perform a reasonable facsimile of most of their songs on bass. When Hold Your Fire came out late in that year, however, it challenged my idea of what Rush was. As a diligent fan that yearned to reproduce their songs with my garage band compatriots, its synth-laden and relatively mellow soundscape was somewhat hard to swallow.

I came to appreciate its nearly symphonic expansiveness, but even in retrospect, I think that Hold Your Fire was when Rush’s synth interests threatened to overtake their identity. Still, the distinctive instrumental voice that Rush began to cultivate on the 2112 Overture is evident. Anyone who has seen Rush play Mission in a live setting will attest that its inspired lyrics, orchestral texture, virtuosic musicianship, integrated use of technology, and brilliant instrumental bridge retread all of Rush's various musical paths in a familiar yet novel way.

Looking back, these albums served as bookends to my high school years, and bound me to a group of people that were equally attracted to the way that Rush spoke to them like adults rather than children. As this time drew to a close for me in 1989, I knew that life was about to change forever, and Time Stand Still served as a frame around my senior year. Admittedly, nostalgic feelings about a song about nostalgia may subvert any argument about the song's strength, but in any case, this track holds a special meaning for me.

Regardless, as inspirational as it was at the time, I secretly took exception to Aimee Mann’s backup.  Today, of course, I see it integral to the song, but back then her appearance was confusing. Was she in the band? Would she go on tour with them? It seemed that Rush was beginning to change, which was nothing new, but this time it was “my” Rush that was changing.  As devoted as I was to the band, I was a bit conflicted as to how that made me feel.

The previous post in this series is here.
Click here for the next one.


  1. I have never seen Rush in concert, and feel like I need to mark that off my bucket list before one of them dies :P Rush tickets went on sale today, anyone else going to Charlotte?

  2. The first time I saw them, it was on the Hold Your Fire tour in 1988. I sat in the HEB parking lot with my radio for two weeks, waiting for the ticket announcement. I ended up getting third row floor tickets, which was a high point of my high school years (and made me incredibly popular for about a month and a half).

    I have never missed them on a tour since. I would say that in truth, they sound better today then they did back then, which defies the laws of physics.

    I would definitely take the opportunity to see them, but don't worry, you have time. Rush will never die ;)

  3. "Power Windows" is my favorite Rush album also. And I completely agree with your highlighting of the entrance of Lifeson's guitar. His use of space in that solo, of sparse harmonics that transition into lightly percussive rhythm parts and finally into wailing, blues-inspired leads, for me meshed perfectly with the theme of the song. In the powerful world of "Big Money" everything seems crisp and structured, like the parts at the beginning of the solo. But underneath it lies existential despair (big money "got not soul"), which I hear in the second part of the solo.