Exit… Stage Left
It was a sunny summer day, I do remember that, the temperature of the day is lost. The month and particular trip is also buried too deep by life for me to recall more than it was a summer trip UpNort. I want to say it was to Big Sand Lake, but it could have been to Lac Vieux Desert, Kentuck or Anvil Lake. I am certain it was the summer of 1981 but the summer of ‘82 works as well. Either way it was between the releases of Exit… Stage Left and Signals.
I piled into Grandpa’s old pickup truck with my Dad at the wheel and shared shotgun duties with Shane. We had one of those old tape-recorders – you may recall them. It was HUGE by today’s standards but the truck only had an AM radio (and three on the tree) and that wasn’t going to do. Shane pulled a tape out and it was Exit… Stage Left and started to play it. This wasn’t my first exposure to Rush, the local rocker radio station was at that time playing current music (LOL, it still plays the same music!) and a number of Rush songs were familiar and I thought them good. But Moving Pictures was still current and the hot songs from their recent releases were the only things I heard regularly.
That clicked and clicked hard with me. I liked the music, I was never good at hearing lyrics and at that age much rock and roll material was still slightly beyond my worldview. However, the sci-fi and fantasy aspects of the music resonated me into excitement. The other thing going on my life was lots of reading of fantasy and Dungeons and Dragons and the like. So the music fit very well with my life. I was starting to turn away from Kiss having been disappointed with their recent releases.
Shane and his two brothers were not officially our cousins, but in reality they were. That is how we explained to people how we knew each other. Shane was the oldest of our group, but only a bit older than me. He was older he had a bit more exposure to things, but he wasn’t so old that we we felt out of each other’s league. Shane and I usually paired up while my brother and Shane’s middle brother would hang out with each other. Shane’s youngest brother would then ally with whoever was convenient at the time (and yes at times, whatever pair would have him). Still, we were all close and most often we were all good with each other. The winters would see us in each other’s company playing video games (the venerable Atari 2600), snowmobiling, sledding, and listening to the music of the day.
Rush is pigeonholed as a progressive band. Their music meets many of the characteristics, complex both from a musical and thematic perspective. I have always enjoyed long pieces that really work a theme and I’ve never been bothered (usually) by such. I’ve gone to many parties and would try to play such music and yeah it would never work out. People would want to change the music and my brother and I would argue for “one-more” song which in reality would eat up time for 3-4 regular songs.
Signals came out and despite its evolution away from the material on Exit… Stage Left I embraced it. We scored the cassette and it was a frequent play of ours. I listened eagerly to their next two releases and went to see them in Milwaukee on their Power Windows Tour. I went with a college buddy and we crashed at Shane’s place when he attended MSOE. All I really remember from the concert was that I was walking toxic waste site.
The next summer another college buddy and I spent a warm summer day at Alpine Valley when the Grateful Dead appeared and again crashed at Shane’s in Milwaukee. This time I have memories, I also remember the music didn’t make much of an impression on me. I’ve listened to the tape of the show and it is right for that performance to be underwhelming. I did like the scene at Alpine Valley though. BTW, this was just before the ‘Deads massive hit with Touch of Gray.
Then that next year at college I scored a Grateful Dead bootleg copy of the second set from the Berkley Greek Theater 7/13/1984 and that tape was revolutionary. I quickly became a Deadhead and drifted away from a number of bands I had been listening to, including Rush. The funny thing is Grace Under Pressure and Power Windows were out before then, but the songs on those two releases didn’t come to grip me, The seeds never took hold as they had with Signals and Exit… Stage Left. From that point onward, I stopped exploring new and old Rush.
This was also the time Shane was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Shane was on a “full ride” scholarship at MSOE and was maintaining a 4.0 GPA and carrying on a full social life as well. He woke up with another splitting headache and could not talk. At the time his father was reaching the end of his struggle with lymphoma. His father wasn’t out of it and went to the great beyond with the knowledge his son was in deep trouble too.
Distant but Still
As we all know Neil Peart the drummer of Rush and their lyricist just passed away. His passing has affected me quite a bit. I can’t say why, especially in light I had drifted away from rabid fanship of the band. I suppose it is obvious because I do associate Rush strongly with my early life. Rush was up there on my life’s mantle, rarely brought down but treasured none-the-less.
There is now a dust-surrounded hole on the mantle. Neil Peart’s passing created that hole. It was always a comfort knowing it was there and now it’s not. In reality this is more than about a rock and roll band and a musician. There are other things on that mantle and perhaps future events will cause me to remove some for good and others I will once again take up.
I’ve listened to more Rush in the past two days than I have in the last 20 years. The feed I’m listening to scatters selections all over. They’ll play an old song followed by three from the 80s, back to a 70s song, and then post-synth era song. The Signals, Power Windows, Exit… Stage Left selections always trigger memories. Right now I’m binge-listening to their entire album collection.