The beginning of documentary filmmaker Ken Burns’ audio series version of Jazz starts with the testimony of a gentleman who was lucky enough to see Louis Armstrong in concert. He was in awe at the musical genius before him, and received an influx of inspiration that propelled him toward significant accomplishments across the decades that followed.
This past Sunday night I was privileged to see genius on display as well, in the form of the veteran, three-man band known as Rush. Geddy Lee, Neil Peart and Alex Lifeson offered a spell-binding three hour show that featured old and new cuts from nearly 40 years of playing together. It was the sixth time I’d seen the band in the past 25 years, and like the finest wine they continue to improve with age.
Rush is an eclectic, acquired taste, one of those bands that has never been extremely popular in the “Top 40” sense but has an intensely loyal following. It was interesting to see the age range of the fans, from kids barely into their teens to plenty of gray and balding Baby Boomers. We went wild for classics such as “Spirit of Radio,” “Subdivisions,” YYZ,” “La Villa Strangiato,” “Temples of Syrinx,” and a rare performance of the epic-length “The Camera Eye.” Ever the consummate professionals, Rush over-delivered across every category, including wildly creative videos, the light show and other special effects such as plumes of fire.
Part of Rush’s eclecticism, in addition to the superb musical abilities produced exclusively by these Canadian natives (there have never been studio players, back-up singers or supporting guitarists, etc.) with seemingly endless energy, is the intelligence of the song lyrics. Deep, introspective words—typically penned by Peart—that provoke critical thinking and peel back the layers of what appears to be in order to ask questions toward what could or should be. Lyrics so penetrating that Rush—along with my other favorite band, U2—inspired me to write hundreds of my own song lyrics from the mid-to-late 1980s and literally helped to shape my nascent world view as an emerging adult.
Many of these songs don’t fit the pop radio format. That’s part of what makes them outstanding. After all, what’s popular and catchy has not always translated to what is high quality and sustainable. So often my favorite songs on any band’s albums have been the ones that never made it to the radio. (I’ve never fit the customary mold very well either, which might explain my love for Rush’s music.)
Each of needs to get around some kind of genius on a regular basis, if only to remind ourselves that there is much more to life—and to our identities—than the task-mastering grind.
I had not been to a major concert in many years, and probably won’t get to one again for a while. I’m a middle-aged parent now, and enjoy quiet nights at home and plenty of sleep. But catching the Rush 2011 tour was a great reminder of my youthful artistic roots, and an opportunity for fresh creativity that might spontaneously flower into new lyrical offerings at any moment.