Friday, June 11, 2010

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

I love that poster. It encapsulates a lot of what I love about this band in one image. The history, the fanbase, and the sheer goofy goodwill and chemistry of the three band members are all on display here.

In that sense, the poster is a perfect representation of what you'll find in the film. Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen (Iron Maiden: Flight 666) have done a fine job of distilling the almost 40 year history of the band to a concise and entertaining two hours. The film isn't a dirt-digging exercise, obviously, but it's gleefully aware of the reputation of both the band and it's fans.

Put it this way, one of the biggest laughs in the film (and there are many) is when guitarist Alex Lifeson, upon first meeting drummer Neil Peart, thought he wasn't "cool enough" for this band.

Yeah, HUGE laugh.

I mean, we start out with Lifeson and bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee growing up together in Toronto. We get a lot of material with the band's surviving parents. Peart's mother comments she thought of him as, "weird, was what we called it back then." At this point, the geekiness of Rush is almost part of the mythology, the inherent coolness, of the band. There are many big laughs in this early section.

We travel through the release of the self-titled first album, with drummer John Rutsey, his dismissal for health and musical reasons, and the joining of Peart. This is, let's be honest, when the band really comes together. Lots of stories of tours and gigs with artists such as Uriah Heap, Ted Nugent and Kiss.

I knew Rush had opened for Kiss, but I was really unaware of how much they had toured together. It seems, in the film, to be pretty extensive. Lots of comments in this section about the different personalities of these bands. Kiss were well known as a carnival of debauchery, while the guys in books in their hotel rooms. Gene Simmons even comments, "what the hell are you doing in your hotel room!?!?!"

So, yeah..."nerd band" is pounded home pretty solidly. Not that that's a problem. The guys know who they are, and how they're perceived, and it's quite obvious they don't care. Or, they certainly aren't offended. It's funny how, as you get older, it just becomes easier and easier to accept yourself as who you are, and how silly you feel looking back at how much you worried about it when you were younger.

(the movie actually made me think about a play I read recently that's all about the perception of "manhood," and how I found the script all very silly. I'm a comic book-reading, sci-fi-loving, Movie geek and music dork. I'm also over six feet tall, work out and am fairly muscular. I used to be fat and picked on all the time. I just don't care anymore. I am who I am, and if you don't like what? I find it an utter waste of time to expend energy agonizing over that anymore.)

Anyway...odd tangent there.

You have a lot of standard music documentary fare, talking head interviews from a lot of musicians. I do wish Billy Corgan would shut the hell up, even if I agreed with pretty much everything he said. It was just the almost palpable desire to connect Himself with the greatness. On the opposite end, Sebastian Bach just came off as a great, big (seriously...he's puffed up) goofy Rush fanatic, and it was incredibly endearing.

The celebrity winner, however, was Jack Black and his "jar of rocket sauce" analogy for Rush's longevity. Full of win, that.

There's interesting discussion of all phases of the band's career, from the early "Canadian Zeppelin" days, through the "Prog era," the 80's "keyboard and electronic drum" era (complete with a truly horrendous video clip co-featuring Amiee Mann that I must've scrubbed away from my memory), then back to a more traditional rock sound in the 90's. Lots of great, honest commentary, with various people making it very clear how little they cared for the Synth period.

I was also really surprised they actually got Neil Peart to talk about the late-90's passing of his daughter (in a car crash) and wife (from cancer) within about 6 months of each other. He's been super-private since then, but written a fantastic book, Ghost Rider, about that time. They spend some time on Peart's shyness and how he's uncomfortable around admirers. (with Rage Against The Machine's Tim Commerford relating a story of being removed from a meet and greet for being too open with his admiration)

You do get a vivid sense of the personalities. There is a feeling that, while they all are close, Lee and Lifeson share a connection that Peart is outside of. We see Lee and Lifeson together throughout the film, with Peart interviewed on his own. Peart, as band mythology holds, comes off as the fiercely independent loner, with Lee and Lifeson as a two-man comedy team. Geddy being the straight man to Alex's quick wit. It's only over the end credits we see the three men having dinner and wine together, and it's a joy. You can see the way the goofiness and camaraderie explodes when they're all together. It's a perfect way to end the film, as it comments clearly on how and why this band can be content and creative after all these years together.

Can't wait to get the Blu-Ray at the end of the month.

One final note...Watch for the scene with Geddy and Alex in the diner. The waitress wants Geddy's autograph, and damn near pushes Alex to the floor to get it. Lifeson's expressions in this moment were truly worth all the time and money I spent seeing this film. It made me long for a Hard Day's Night-type movie starring the guys. Though I doubt Neil would ever do it.

As if any studio would make it...


  1. figured it would be good! I was tempted to purchase a ticket and road trip to Omaha to see it. I'm sure it was really good on the big screen! Oh well, it'll be out on DVD soon!

  2. The reaction to the waitress was definitely one of the highlights for me as well...

  3. Bitterly jealous. I want to see this so badly, I've literally pined for a Rush documentary as I've always thought the history of the band was the stuff of legend, not Zeppelin shark legend, but just creative and life legend. I always thought they should be a VH 1 Behind The Music episode, this is soooo much better. Lucky dog.

  4. Also love the poster. If I can find one, I'm buying it.

  5. just a post script on this...I bought the DVD last week. One thing I noticed about Peart is that when he's onstage playing, for the most part is very stoic. The guys know how to get him to smile. But, all of his interview stuff is very jovial. It's odd that in the last 5 years or so how these guys have broke down that wall of "serious" guys to a fun loving group of friends who enjoy making music.

  6. I get the feeling the inner workings have always been that way, Dave. It's just now, they're letting the world see it.