Academic journal article Current Musicology

Chris McDonald. 2009. Rush, Rock Music and the Middle Class: Dreaming in Middletown

Academic journal article Current Musicology

Chris McDonald. 2009. Rush, Rock Music and the Middle Class: Dreaming in Middletown

Article excerpt

Chris McDonald. 2009. Rush, Rock Music and the Middle Class: Dreaming in Middletown. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

I first heard the rock band Rush in 1990 when a friend in my ninth-grade science class lent me their first greatest hits collection, Chronicles. I was raised in a middle-class suburb of Annapolis, Maryland, and the tastemakers at my high school informed me that Rush was indeed very cool, so I better listen to them. By the tenth grade, all of my friends listened to their music and spoke with great authority about the band's superior musicianship and the deep meaning we were confident was so evident in Peart's lyrics. For us, Rush's albums were not just the soundtracks to our adolescence; we considered them a trusted font of worldly wisdom.

Rush is a virtuoso rock trio begun in 1968 in Toronto and best known for the classic-rock staples "Tom Sawyer" (1981), "The Spirit of Radio" (1980), "Closer to the Heart" (1977), and a half-dozen or so others. Each of the musicians in the trio is a perennial poll winner for his respective instrument in magazines such as Guitar Player and Modern Drummer. Geddy Lee (b. Gary Lee Weinrib) sings, plays bass guitar, and, since 1977, also plays various keyboard instruments and synthesizers. His voice is "distinctive," in that he sings in a high register that many consider an acquired taste. Alex Lifeson (b. Aleksandar Zivojinovic) plays guitar, and Neil Peart is their revered and ostentatious drummer. Lee and Lifeson regularly write the band's music, and, Peart, far more often than not, writes the lyrics.

Rush has had a large cult following and substantial commercial success since their breakthrough album 2112 (1976), and their first gold record, A Farewell to Kings (1977). My friends and I collected all of their albums, both on cassette and later on compact disc, and we scoured liner notes, tour books, VHS concert films, and Rush's terrible music videos for any morsel of information concerning this band that we loved so much. We saw them in concert each time they were in town, and proudly wore their t-shirts like medals in school the next day. And yet, though we were eager to purchase anything concerning this band, there were few book-length resources available at that time. Two slender biographies, Steve Gett's 48-page Rush: Success Under Pressure (1984) and Bill Banasiewicz's 96-page Rush Visions: The Official Biography (1988) are two exceptions, as are a number of guitar tablature anthologies, as well as Bill Wheeler's drum transcription books Drum Techniques of Rush (1985) and MoreDrum Techniques of Rush (1989). Given Rush's commercial clout, we were clearly being underserved.

In the late nineties, however, the floodgates opened. In 1996, Peart published his first travelogue, The Masked Rider: Cycling in Africa, which he followed up with Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road (2002), Traveling Music: Playing Back the Soundtrack to My Life and Times (2004), Roadshow: Landscape With Drums: A Concert Tour by Motorcycle (2006), and Far and Away: A Prize Every Time (2011). In 1999, Carol Selby Price published Mystic Rhythms: The Philosophical Vision of Rush, and in 2002, Leonard Roberto published A Simple Kind of Mirror: The Lyrical Vision of Rush. Also, two new biographies were published: Contents Under Pressure: 30 Years of Rush at Home & Away by Martin Popoff (2004), and Rush: Chemistry: The Definitive Biography by Jon Collins (2010). Directors Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn also released their excellent documentary Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage on DVD (2010).

Chris McDonald published Rush, Rock Music and the Middle Class: Dreaming in Middletown in 2009, and, beyond adding to the literature concerning Rush, his is also one of several academic books specifically concerning progressive rock that was published in the past thirteen years. These books include Bill Martin's Music of Yes: Structure and Vision in Progressive Rock (1996) and Listening to the Future: The Time of Progressive Rock 1968-1978 (1998), Edward Macan's Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture (1997), and the anthology Progressive Rock Reconsidered, edited by Kevin Holm-Hudson, which includes a chapter about Rush and individualism by Durrell S. …

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