Any story concerning me and Rush properly begins with John the German, a gregarious exchange student we met in the Alfie’s vestibule one night in third year–it might’ve actually been the August before third year–and who hung around the periphery of our friend group the rest of our university careers.
Two things about John the German are especially noteworthy. One, this sweater…
…and two, his love of progressive rock. John the German loved prog. Specifically, John the German loved Rush. I suspect he came to study in Canada at least partly because it was the land of Geddy, Alex, and Neil. He followed Rush on tour the same way I follow Pearl Jam. The way he said the name “Rush,” pronouncing the “u” with an “aww” sound (“Rawwsh!”), will stick with me forever. Alas, we lost touch after university. As for Rush, the band’s main utility in my life became a long-standing joke between HLP Paul and Me. I never imagined seeing them live; I never imagined ever wanting to see them live.
So what happened? Truthfully, I enjoyed their Rolling Stone cover story, and when I realized I’d be in Calgary for their show last night I looked into tickets, reasoning I’d consider going if the price was right. In the event, the price was about five times less than my upper threshold. Tickets were cheap…like, $10 for okay uppers cheap. My friend Kyle, who’s not a Rush fan by any stretch of the imagination, was game, which in itself is noteworthy because he’s getting married this weekend (his fiancée Michelle, a.k.a. “Cancer Fucker,” released him from wedding planning for the night). I think the both of us were taking ironic pleasure at the idea of seeing Rush. Eventually we settled on a pair in the fifth row of section 222–total cost: $30 Canadian–which is where we found ourselves at approximately 7:58pm yesterday night.
That’s when things got weird. And awesome. An usher walked up to us, a stack of tickets in hand. Did we want to move? she asked. Sure, we said. Where? Section 108, she replied, gesturing towards the lower bowl. Sure, we said. 108 was closer than 222. So we went. What we didn’t realize was that section 108 was adjacent to the stage; nor did we realize the tickets she’d handed us were in row three, putting us feet from Alex Lifeson. Ten minutes later the band was on stage, launching into “The Anarchist” from the Clockwork Angels album, and we were goners.
The show was awesome. I knew a grand total of three songs (one of which, “Tom Sawyer,” forms the basis of mine and HLP Paul’s long-standing Rush joke). I didn’t care. It was loud and ridiculous and surreal and one of the best arena rock concerts I’ve seen in ages. There were cartoon popcorn makers and laundry machines on stage. One video featured a rapping Peter Dinklage. Another, for “Subdivisions,” had repeated shots of London’s Her Majesty’s Theatre, where Phantom of the Opera plays. Neil Peart played two different drum kits, one of them gold-plated. Geddy Lee screamed. The cumulative effect was mind-blowing.
Let’s be clear: I’m not rushing out to buy 2112. Indeed, one of the highlights (and I’m sure I speak for Kyle here, too) was watching Rush fans watch Rush. Rush isn’t a band that does casual fandoms: people who like them tend to love them (see John the German, or Pearl Jam Heather’s friend Rob who’s seen them 40+ times and who insisted on me relaying updates to her last night so he could feel like he was there, too). I guess that’s inevitable when your catalogue includes songs bearing titles like “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres Part I: Prelude.” Anyway, I loved their ecstatic reactions to the band’s music; one kid in particular, who was in the front row in front of Alex Lifeson and who couldn’t have been much older than seventeen, spent the whole three hours bouncing up and down and jabbing his right fist in the air and making me feel happy simply for being close by. And that, I think, is why Kyle and I both enjoyed ourselves so much: Rush allowed us to become immersed, totally and without a shred of self-consciousness, in their weird little world, and the result was one of the great unexpected pleasures of my life as a music fan. I wasn’t expecting to be blown away, but three songs in Kyle and I were wondering whether we shouldn’t just leave because it’d already been so good it was tough to imagine it getting better. If I’m feeling that, it’s a pretty indication I’m seeing something special.
John the German would, I think, be proud to know his influence hit home over a decade down the road. The only way Rush could’ve been better is if he’d been there.