Rushin’ Roulette

In high school, I had some pretty bizarre taste in music. I actually had a tape of “The Sea Hags.” No lie. Quite honestly, I thought they sucked. Their lead singer sounded like someone had put his hand in a blender, but he was too strung out to care much, so he offered this pitiful, semi-screeching, gutteral muttering that just didn’t come across as worthwhile.  Truly, an awful band. After a quick googling, they actually have/had a relatively tiny cult following, comprised of mostly Bay area natives who still remember them.

Anyway, I went in search of something more substantial. I thought joining a tape club would help expand my musical interests. One of the selections of the month was Rush’s new offering, “Presto.” Mind you, this was my Senior year of high school. As of then, my only brush with Rush was some kid on the bus in 10th grade who said that Rush’s new album was great because their drummer had finally transitioned to electronic drums (an accomplishment achieved by “the mighty Alex Van Halen” with the release of “5150” in 1986–a full year before the release of Rush’s “Hold Your Fire”). Wondering who this Rush band could be, I consciously did not send in my reply card and awaited the arrival of my selection.

To say that I was underwhelmed is like saying that Patriots fans found solace in the fact that 18-1 is still a pretty decent record for a single loss season, or as any Buffalo sports fan will tell you, “There’s always next year.” I had heard all this great stuff about them–the musicianship, the drumming, the incredible bass and guitar … nothing on this new tape lived up to the hype or pre-conceptions. Mind you, at the time, I was heavily into Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin–classic rock titans. This pop-drivel pouring out of my little rickety bedroom stereo didn’t even pale in comparison to “Dark Side” or “IV”; it hung its head in shame and slunked off into the corner to suck its thumb and whimper.

That was 1989 …

Flash foward to my first year of college. I decided to live in the dorms, where I was sure I would be surrounded by a diverse enough group to adequately augment my musical tastes. I was introduced to bands like TMBG, Nitzer Ebb, NIN, and a ton of other groups. One guy across the hall kept playing this one tape over and over, and I always heard it, but I had no idea what it was. Finally, one day around Christmas break time, I wandered over to his room when the door was open and the tape was on. “Dude … who is that?” He stared back at me with a look that said it all …

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Wish I were, now. Seriously, who is it?”

“You’ve never heard ‘Tom Sawyer?'”

“Apparently not. Again … who is that band?”

“Dude … it’s Rush. You know … ‘2112,’ ‘Moving Pictures,’ ‘Permanent Waves’ …”

It took a few seconds to process, but it finally sank in. “Wait … did they have a new album out a couple of years ago with a rabbit coming out of a top hat?”

“Yah. ‘Presto.’ So you ARE familiar with them.”

“Kind of … I thought that album sucked.”

“Well, it was definitely a change of pace for them …”

“Do you have anything else by them?”

“Tons, dude. Wanna borrow them?”

“ALL of them. Please …”

In one fell swoop, I was introduced to “Caress of Steel,” “2112,” “Hemispheres,” “Permanent Waves,” “Moving Pictures,” “Signals,” and “Power Windows.” I couldn’t soak it in fast enough. It’s probably a good thing all he had were tapes and that I wasn’t aware of the concept of CD dynamic tracking; I would have been skipping around all over the place.

There was a used music store down the street a bit from campus. I trudged there in one frigid January day with some loose bills and change. I bought everything I could get my hands on. “Hold Your Fire,”  “Grace Under Pressure,” almost all the above-mentioned … I think my tape collection doubled in a single afternoon.

I haven’t looked back since. Say what you want about Geddy Lee’s voice … as a 3-piece band, they have more talent than any 5-member band (I’m looking at you, Steven and Joe …). They’ve experimented with blues, dance, pop, alternative, straight-up rock … they transcend genre.

I won’t go on about their individual accomplishments or awards … you can research that for yourself. I will say that they are heading into their 60s, and they still put out amazing music.

For the newbie to the band, I recommend cutting your teeth on “Moving Pictures,” “Hemispheres,” “Hold Your Fire,” and “Vapor Trails.” Those 4 CDs span about 25 years of style.

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