Rush is one of rock’s most accomplished power trios, and certainly Canada’s greatest musical export ever. They’ve sold over 40 million albums worldwide, notching 14 platinum records and a slew of hit singles. Where other bands stick to formula and issue one re-titled retread album after another, Rush always insisted on risk, evolution, and metamorphosis.
“Changes aren’t permanent, but change is!” sang Geddy Lee on what is perhaps the band’s most recognized song, “Tom Sawyer.”
Now British hard rock journalist Martin Popoff is moving pictures and words to retell the remarkable story of Rush in Rush: The Updated Illustrated History [Voyageur Press]. Loaded with historic images, album sleeves, and concert ephemera, this handsome 192-page keepsake is a must-have acquisition for Rush collectors, an eye-popping overview for casual fans, and the perfect gateway reference for newcomers.
It’s all here—from familiar Rush folklore to minutiae you might’ve missed since “Finding My Way” and “Working Man” first crossed Lake Erie and electrified American airwaves. Popoff (who has curated similar books on Iron Maiden and Led Zeppelin) scales (and shakes) the Rush family tree, tracing lineages of bassist Lee’s and guitarist Alex Lifeson’s Jewish and Yugoslavian parents and charting the boys’ participation in early bands like Hadrian before their serendipitous meeting.
You’ve prided yourself on having the fellows’ birth names (Gary Lee Weinrib and Aleksandar Zivojinovic) in your mental Rush rolodex, but it’s less likely you were aware Geddy’s faith prohibited him from playing music while mourning his father, or that guitar hero Alex’s first instrument was viola, or that for a hot minute in 1974 Rush boasted four members (rhythm guitarist Mitch Bossi is pictured with the band). We hang with young chums Lee and Lifeson at Fisherville Junior High in Toronto and retroactively root them on when they ally with drummer John Rutsey for some Zeppelin and Sabbath-inspired jams in school gymnasiums and church basements.
Popoff tiptoes through the making and release of every Rush album, shoehorning an impressive amount of detail into a book ostensibly devoted to pictures. Accordingly, we learn / remember how the guys recorded their eponymous debut on their own Moon Records label with marketer / friend Ray Daniels, who’d later head the band’s Anthem imprint. The platter—containing reworked versions of songs whose early mixes were wanting—didn’t turn heads initially, but Cleveland disc jockey Donna Halper lit a spark by putting “Working Man” in rotation at WMMS and lavishing praise on the band when talking shop with friends important like (future impresario) Cliff Burnstein.
Rutsey quit before the band made an appearance stateside, his diabetes exacerbated by hard touring and harder partying. Enter “the professor,” Neil Peart, another high school dropout who’d been studying jazz while hawking parts at his dad’s hydraulics company. Discovering their whip-smart new friend “knew words” and could drum like he had octopus arms, Lee and Lifeson recruited Peart for their first U.S. tour and sophomore platter, Fly By Night, in 1975.
Subsequent chapters detail every album thereafter, from Caress of Steel through Clockwork Angels, with sidebars discussing the in-between live releases like Exit…Stage Left and A Show of Hands and solo projects Victor (Lifeson) and My Favourite Headache (Lee). We’re introduced to Rush engineers and producers Kevin “Caveman” Shirley, Jim “Jimbo” Barton, Terry Brown, Peter Henderson, and Nick Raskuliniecz, and join the band on tour in support with Starz, T-Rex, New York Dolls, Max Webster, and KISS. We visit studios like Quebec’s scenic Le Studio mountain resort for breakthrough LPs Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures, sympathize with the band’s post-2112 fatigue on Farewell to Kings and Hemispheres, and rejoice in Rush’s post-grunge return to form on Counterparts and Test for Echo.
Commentary on Peart’s dalliance with electronic percussion and Lee’s affair with keyboards in the mid-80s objective, with Rush’s tech-savvy equally lauded and lambasted by Popoff and other contributing critics. Plenty of images depict Lee manning his Oberheim and other boards, and others showing the bassist with a sleek L-2 Steinberger instead of his trademark Rickenbacker and Fender Precision Jazz instruments. Other photos (courtesy shutterbugs Frank White and Jim Altieri) preserve the band’s mid-70’s Fu Manchu moustaches, Japanese kimonos, and magnificent mullets.
Popoff exercises caution and sensitivity when documenting the personal tragedies of the late ‘90s (including the deaths of both Peart’s daughter and wife), writing from a distance and establishing timelines without speculation as to the drummer’s personal life or mindset. He notes how Lee and Lifeson were resigned to mothballing the band, allowing their friendship with Peart to trump their careers. Of course, we rejoice when Peart—having achieved some catharsis via intercontinental motorcycle trips—takes up his sticks again for 2002’s Vapor Trails.
Later sections (let’s call them Sectors, shall we?) trace Rush’s quantum leap from nerdy niche band to counterculture icons whose music (and likenesses) begin popping up in major motion pictures and television shows. Coinciding with the release of Snakes and Arrows, the guys team with Sam Dunn’s Banger Films for the acclaimed “Behind the Music” style documentary, Beyond the Lighted Stage, giving fans a rare inside look at their world. Popoff winds down with discussions of 2011’s live offering, Time Machine: Live in Cleveland and 2012’s steam-punk themed Clockwork Angels.
The Updated Illustrated History is peppered with memorabilia drawing from the extensive, enviable collections of Popoff and Rush archeologist Ray Wawrzyniak: Album sleeves, trade ads, ticket stubs, concert flyers, tour programs, and an assortment of buttons, patches, and stickers augment the hundreds of color and black-and-white Polaroids, and imbue the book with visual zing. Apart from the earlier nod to Halper, Clevelanders will appreciate the poster advertising a pair of 1984 gigs (Grace Under Pressure) at Richfield Coliseum (tickets only $13.00), quotes from a SCENE magazine interview with Steven Batten, Peart’s own editorial to the Plain Dealer newspaper on the live DVD shot here in the rock and roll capitol, and a still-fresh stub from the October 2012 show at Quicken Loans Arena.
“Show, don’t tell,” as the Presto song goes. Indeed, but it’s nice that Updated Illustrated History’s narrative and critical reviews are as fascinating as its archive of images.
Also available by Popoff is the new Rush: Album by Album, whose 200 photo and memorabilia-splattered pages delve into the making of (and meanings behind) the group’s twenty studio albums (Rush through Clockwork Angels). Featuring input from Rush scholars, historians, and archivists (Chris Irwin, Pete Koza, Robert Telleria) and comments by former associates (Ian Grady, Eddy Maxwell) and famous fans (Kirk Hammett, Paul Gilbert), this coffee table tome surveys all the songs, artwork, equipment, and liner notes whilst reflecting on how each LP shaped the overall arch of the Canucks’ creative and trajectory.
Rush: Updated Illustrated History at Amazon.
Rush: Album by Album at Amazon.