Q: What do Canadian power trio Rush, disco queen Donna Summer, and hip-hop social provocateur Public Enemy have in common?
A: Nothing — until Thursday night, when all three artists are inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles. This rather diverse Class of 2013 also includes female-rock pioneers Heart, famed blues guitarist Albert King, piano man and acerbic lyricist Randy Newman, and in the non-performing categories Quincy Jones and Lou Adler.
Each inductee is worthy in their own way, but for Rush the peer appreciation seems especially well earned. For the band’s legion of devotees, the once-unthinkable inclusion of Rush in the Hall of Fame — an honor that will be bestowed by uber fan Dave Grohl, no less — is the musical equivalent of David beating Goliath. (Or in Rush-as-Tolkien terms, the gallant Snow Dog’s prog-rock victory over knight of darkness By-tor.)
Rush is rock music’s great divider; you either “get” the progressive rock band or you don’t. “Get” can be generously broadened to include those marginal fans who simply admire or appreciate the trio’s musicality. Alex Lifeson is widely regarded as one of arena rock’s most underrated guitarists, Geddy Lee is a celebrated bassist, and Neil Peart is ... well, Neil Freakin’ Peart, drum deity.
Mainstream acceptance of Rush, however, has been as elusive as the notoriously shy Peart at a backstage meet-and-greet. It wasn’t until only a few years ago that Rolling Stone bothered to properly profile the group — by then well into its third decade. For years before that, the band existed on the critical margins, a classic-rock staple that could — and still does — pack arenas. Rush was never cool by anyone’s standards and it never sought commercial acceptance by dabbling in the trends of Top 40 radio. (I choose to ignore the “rap” section in the title track “Roll the Bones.”) Critics, meanwhile, slagged the musical maestros for their proggy ways. Admittedly, song titles such as “Cygnus X-1: Book II — Hemispheres” and “The Necromancer” didn’t help matters.
Fans never cared.
Of Rush’s 24 studio albums, 14 have gone platinum (more than a million in sales) or multi-platinum, and 10 have gone gold (sales of 500,000). Rush ranks behind the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Aerosmith for the most consecutive gold or platinum records by a rock group, with total U.S. sales of 25 million records. As proof of its continued relevance, Rush’s latest album, “Clockwork Angels,” debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 when released in June, with first-week sales of 103,000, and spent 20 total weeks on the chart. That’s not a sign of a band fading from the limelight.
If anything, Rush is getting stronger, with a growing acceptance of the group, its music, and its fans. Check out the excellent documentary Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage as proof of this phenomenon. What’s old becomes new again, and a band once ignored and derided is now celebrated.
The Hall of Fame honor is the coronation of this new wave of cultural recognition — and it only took 14 years of eligibility to get Rush to Thursday night’s stage.
Speaking on behalf of the band’s faithful to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well as to everyone new to the Rush is Relevant movement, we say thank you ... but what took you so long?
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.