RUSH. Man, this unique band played such an integral role in my journey with the greatest music ever made. Neil Peart’s devastating passing last week was a cruel way to make me reflect on what that band has meant to me and rock music in general. I’ve seen hundreds of the biggest rock bands to ever exist. Bar none, “The Professor” was the greatest drummer I’ve ever heard or seen live. Non-RUSH fans may also not realize that he was often the chief lyricist, as well, to some of the greatest songs ever composed.
My journey with RUSH truly began on my parents back porch. This is probably circa 2000 or 2001. Sure, like anyone with a pulse, I knew “Tom Sawyer“. But, my familiarity with them pretty much ended there. You see, at around the turn of the century, rural teens like myself who knew nothing about anything sought our rebellion in rap; for reasons that are still unknown. At that time my CD collection consisted of such embarrassing things like Puff Daddy, Jay-Z, and Eminem. Now, I know, I know even in my old age; if I get the rap itch, I still go back to these hip-hop gems. But I say embarrassing because when I compare it to what my collection consists of now, it’s tragic what I was missing out on.
Back to the porch. It’s probably July 2000. I’m in my bedroom “bumping” some Bone, Thugs ‘n’ Harmony or some nonsense like that. The Old Man is firing up the grill and has had it with my choice of music. It was at that time that I was beckoned to the back porch where the Old Man was waiting with his cassette player and a cold Rolling Rock in hand. It was at this time that he put on the band’s greatest album, Moving Pictures. I know the hard core RUSH fans may disagree due to this album being the most mainstream one, but the bottom line is that it’s a flawless album. From that moment, I was intrigued. RUSH wasn’t the first rock band I’d gotten in to. By that time I’d already gone through a pretty heavy AC/DC phase as well as KISS and Pink Floyd. So, while they weren’t my first rock band, they were the one that sent me into a genre that I’ve never left. My rock loyalty would never fade again.
My friends and I would spend our high school years with many Choina family garage hangouts and Hobbs QFM 96 Memorial Day 500 countdown bonfires jamming to our favorite bands, including RUSH. Most kids our age were not listening to the same music that we were. My high school wardrobe consisted of Maiden, Zeppelin, Floyd, and AC/DC band tees before it became a fashion statement (sadly, depending on who you ask, my wardrobe remains the same in my thirties!) A lot of our classmates probably thought we were weird with our shirts and CD’s of bands from fifteen to twenty years before we were even born. We didn’t care, however, and just continued to dive deeper and deeper into the world of rock music.
Our first opportunity to witness RUSH came on June 2, 2004. Freshly graduated from high school, my buddy Nick scored four box seats to see the band at Germain Amphitheater (RIP) in Columbus. RUSH was in town on their R30 Tour celebrating their 30 years of rock & roll magic. That night was the first time I’d seen a band that plays with such bad-assery that they had to split the gig into two performances. Of the five times that I saw them, there was never an opening act. Just a mind blowing evening with RUSH. They played thirty two songs. For starters, nobody does that. Secondly, those who do, aren’t playing stuff as technically advanced as RUSH. That night ended with my favorite “hit” of theirs; “Limelight“. A song that was near and dear to my group of friends, The Random White Guys. I know, I know. To that point, that was the biggest and most electric crowd I’d ever seen.
Days later, I would meet the girl I’d eventually marry. She overheard me bragging about the RUSH show I’d just seen. She entered the conversation claiming that she loved the band. As kind of a dork, I was highly skeptical of this hot chick stating to like a band that girls traditionally despised. She put me in my place. As she still does from time to time to this day.
I rode the momentum of that first show all the way to September 2, 2007. The band returned to Germain Amphitheater (seriously, RIP) in support of their new record, Snakes and Arrows. Most of the bands that I’m into stopped making good music thirty years ago. RUSH was one of the few exceptions that continued to make great albums until they stopped. Not only did Nick and I go to this show, but I made sure that my wife, Old Man, brother and brother in law tagged along as well. We packed the six of us into the truck and made the trek down I-71 to that venue for the last time. Less than a month later Germain Amphitheater would close its doors. RUSH was our last gig there. Some of my favorite RUSH live moments came that night. While the last show ended with “Limelight“, this show began with it. They followed that with the deep cut, “Digital Man“. This event sent the aforementioned Nick into a reaction unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I guess you had to be there.
The Old Man’s high school classmate, Mike, who happens to be a huge RUSH fan found us on the lawn just in time for my favorite obscure track, “Witch Hunt“. He knew the song was being played and wanted to enjoy it with us. Solid move, my friend. I include all of these people in this story, because they were part of my RUSH journey and I know they are in some way feeling something with the news of Peart’s passing. “Working Them Angels“, from the new record would wind up being my favorite song of the night for its relevance to the world in 2007, regardless of your political leanings. That evening ended my run of joy at Germain Amphitheater. The type of venue that Columbus still sorely misses to this day.
It would be another three years before Nick and I would get our third chance to see the band. August 29, 2010 was going to be an epic evening with RUSH though when they came to Nationwide Arena in downtown Columbus. They were touring on somewhat of a “greatest hits” type of concept and were playing Moving Pictures in it’s entirety. We went down to the arena district early and stopped in a pub for a few beers. In my excitement for this tour, I definitely looked up the set list in advance and kept a little secret from Nick for this gig. When they played “Presto“, another one of his obscure favorites, it set off another reaction from him that definitely rivaled his “Digital Man” celebration from the previous tour. The tour did, however, feature a pair of new songs for a future album and the first of those was my favorite of the night. The song was titled “BU2B“, meaning brought up to believe. By this point in my musical journey, I was well into my discovery of metal. “BU2B” was about as metal as RUSH would get and they did it well.
Nick and I enjoyed the gig so much that he would see it again in Toledo. When it was announced that the Cleveland date was going to be the show that would be used for making the live album and DVD of the tour, we knew that we simply had to be there. So, on April 15, 2011 we headed north on I-71 for the first time to go see the trio from Canada. Cleveland was electric. The Indians were in town for a home game against the Baltimore Orioles at the same time as the concert across the street in the former Quickens Loans Arena. As we had already seen the tour, and in Nick’s case twice, I felt we were really able to soak in the Cleveland show more than any RUSH show we ever saw together and really just enjoy it. And enjoy it we did. The “2112” stuff was my favorite that night because of the crowd’s energy, but as usual the whole show was phenomenal. This was also the night that we learned that Clevelanders pronounce Cuyahoga County as “kee-a-hoga” when Nick was pulled over for speeding on the way home. Who knew?
Two of the 20,000 or so screaming fans in this video were my friend and I.
About a year and half later the band returned to Columbus for what would be my final time seeing them. Again at Nationwide Arena, and again with Nick, we watched them for the final time as they toured in support of their new, stellar album: Clockwork Angels. September 20, 2012. I really loved the new album, and the new music was phenomenal that night. But I remember wondering what the future of RUSH might be. They were approaching forty years of being a band and it was no secret that the physical toll that Peart’s drumming was taking on him. At that time, though, talks of it being the end were just rumors, but it was a conversation that Nick and I had had about the future of the band. For that reason, Peart’s drum solo (something that blew me away every time I saw them), was something that I really soaked in and enjoyed more than my prior RUSH shows. It was the first time that retirement whispers really started to pick up steam and I wanted to enjoy it. He didn’t disappoint.
The band would only return one more time. In 2015, they toured on R40 a celebration of 40 years of rock that actually occurred in their 41st year as a band. They made one more Columbus visit to Nationwide Arena. Regretfully, for reasons I don’t remember, neither Nick or I made that show. I wish I had. That would end up being the group’s last tour.
While we all knew that that tour was the end of RUSH as a touring band, as Peart made very clear, I think most of us held out hope that there may have still been the occasional one-off show or new music release. It simply wasn’t meant to be. As disappointing as that is, I’ve been reflecting with enthusiasm on the joy that that music has brought and continues to bring to me. I put the “A Farewell to Kings” album on my record player last night as and ode to and a giant thank you for the music that Peart and his bandmates brought to me and the tens of millions of RUSH fans around the world. They were simply the best.
Thank you, gentlemen.