Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Beyond the Lighted Stage

When a young boy is growing up he strives to find ideals in the world around him. He wants to drink in everything and try on several hats until he finds one that fits just right. Before the age of 10, a boy's primary adult male frame of reference is his father. He watches his dad like a hawk, hanging on every word, admiring the work he does and vowing to himself that someday he will be just like dad.

Then, as a boy reaches the age of about 12, something shifts in him. He begins to notice other adult men: teachers, shopkeepers, neighbours and others. He's no longer a small boy, nor is he a man. He thus begins a long journey of intellectual and artistic discovery, if he has retained his inquisitive nature he had as a younger child. A boy starts to look up to new ideals outside his immediate surroundings: television and movie actors, characters in his favourite stories or even musicians.

I was that boy and at the age of 14, I discovered a musical act that defined for me the standard for excellence to this day: Rush. Rush is a notoriously famous rock band in North America in particular, known early on for its conceptual hard rock albums like 2112 and Hemispheres, and then later its more sharply focused and complex songs from albums like Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures. In their nearly 40 years together, they have released scads of albums, played thousands of concerts the world over, and enjoyed enormous fan adoration, but the mainstream press always scorned or ignored them. I never understood why until I was in my 20s and figured out they were a band that didn't follow trends or suck up to the media elites. They wrote and played music that pleased them first and cared little for their critics.

Finally, in 2010, Rush not only got their stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame but a new documentary entitled Beyond the Lighted Stage, has been released. It chronicles their beginnings growing up in suburban Toronto playing gigs at high school dances, to their early fame in midwestern America, to their meteoric rise to become a 'Power Trio', to the current day. It showcases three men who refused to compromise their own standards and who were willing to work meaningless jobs if it meant they couldn't play the kind of music they wanted. Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart always struck me as true to life embodiments of Howard Roark, the famous character from Ayn Rand's novel The Fountainhead.

Rush was the band that to me represented integrity and sticking to one's highest ideals. Throughout the past 30 years of my own life, I've collected their albums and attended their concerts. Whenever I need a reminder that achievement is possible and that great men exist, I return to their music and am swept away all over again. If ever I had the chance to meet the three members of the band, the one thing I would say to them is: thank you.

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