Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Strangers & Long-Awaited Friends
Me and Rush go back a long way. Perhaps like a lot of folk I got into them via the presence of albums like Fly By Night and 2112 in an elder brother's record collection. It also probably helped that just when I was starting to buy records they were at their commercial (and arguably artistic) peak, making albums like Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures. Anyway, I bought a lot of their albums up until the ones in the mid 80s when keyboards started to dominate and I lost interest.
I'm mentioning this because I've just watched Beyond the Lighted Stage, the new documentary about them and it's very good. In many ways it sets a template for a band documentary, with a strong, revelatory opening about their youth and early years followed by a trail through their story that doesn't focus too much on any one period while neglecting others. And it's helped by the subject matter themselves who prove to be surprisingly good company. I never expected them to be prima donnas, but I didn't expect them to be so good-natured and funny. there's a scene at the end of the film where they've having dinner (and getting merrily drunk) at a hunting lodge. Even Neil Peart, who comes across as reserved and a bit prickly, relaxes in the atmosphere, and there's real affection on show. It's all genuinely touching.
The film ends with their career on an upswing, and if the film can be said to have an agenda, it seems to be that it wants to be the first broadside in a battle to change Rush's image and make them cool (I was going to write "rehabilitate" there, but I realised that they never were really "habilitated" - they've always been deadly uncool). This probably explains the choice of the talking heads (Trent Raznor, Jack Black, Billy Corgan), which seems to make the point that not only science students like Rush, people with good haircuts and tattoos also like them. They're shown making an appearance on The Colbert Report, where the host expresses outrage that they're not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
And yet ... is this what Rush fans want? Rush can't really be short of money. They have a large back catalogue that has presumably ticked over pretty nicely for over 30 years, and they can fill arenas (and stadia in Brazil) whenever they want to tour. Do we really want to see them being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, with Bono giving a video message where he calls Tom Sawyer a "Hymn"? Do we want talent show contestants and models wearing 2112 Tour Shirts? In the film, Geddy Lee calls Rush the "world's biggest cult band". He's probably right. And probably happy about it that way too.