In mid-2000 I wrote a story for a Las Vegas newspaper about Steely Dan’s inexplicable omission from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Nearly a year later the jazz-rock band was jamming on stage as part of its induction into rock’s place of honor.
While my sizeable ego would love to take even the teensiest credit for the reversal of voter fortune, I had nothing to do with it. Common sense did.
So when are the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame voters going to come to their collective senses and give Rush its due?
The nearly 40-year-old band, which plays Wednesday at the Huntington Center in downtown Toledo as part of its Time Machine Tour, has been eligible since 1999 — the Hall of Fame is very late getting to the show, I realize — and such glaring omissions, along with KISS, Yes, and the Moody Blues, are beyond bewildering. It’s blatant rock-ism.
Much of that stems from the fact that in the rock-and-roll realm, Rush is an outsider, a trio of nice-guy Canadians — Geddy Lee (bass, vocals, keyboards), Alex Lifeson (guitar), and Neil Peart (drums) — who never fit in with the everything-goes world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
There have never been salacious stories of rampant sex with groupies: Lee and Lifeson are still married to their high school girlfriends. Drug use was modest and apparently outgrown. And their rock and roll is about baffling time signatures and prog-rock epics concerning a dystopian future, warring gods, a black hole, and a necromancer.
Despite the band members’ lack of archetypal rock-god behavior on the road and otherwise, Rush has quietly carved out a place as one of the more dependable-selling bands. The band has released 24 albums, 14 of which have gone platinum (more than a million in sales) or multiplatinum, and 10 of which 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.
And even with those numbers, the power trio has been shut out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, while the Beatles were part of the class of 1988, Rolling Stones the class of 1989, and Aerosmith the class of 2001.
"Be cool or be cast out" isn’t just a lyric from "Subdivisions," Rush’s synth-heavy song about high school castes. It just as easily could be the band’s motto.
Will that change? Will the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame wise up and induct the band? Perhaps.
Meanwhile, the joke is on them as Rush is enjoying a surge in popularity and cultural respect that has made the terminally uncool band almost hip.
There was the July, 2008, Rolling Stone feature story on the band and its rabid fandom, a first for the magazine. This was followed by a film cameo (I Love You, Man), the band’s first U.S. talk-show appearance in decades (The Colbert Report), the subject of a 24-hour marathon of concerts and videos on VH-1 Classic ("Rush Hashanah"), and even a well-received documentary (Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage) that addressed the group’s zealous followers as well as its indifference from most everyone else.
This newfound appeal sits quite well with the band, which once sang, "Everybody’s got to deviate from the norm."
"We’ve always been kind of outside the mainstream, we’ve done things our own way," Lifeson told The Blade in a November, 2008, interview. "We have a very strong core following that’s been very loyal and stuck with us for all these years and allowed us to function that way without having a broader appeal. To suddenly be asked to be in films, of course the Rolling Stone thing, and the Stephen Colbert — all these things ... it makes us smile that all of a sudden Rush is a cool thing, when we have not been a very cool thing for a very long time."
On with the show
Rush last played Toledo Nov. 16, 1991, at Savage Hall, University of Toledo, on the Roll the Bones tour, says the Rush-centric Web site www.2112.net.
For anyone who hasn’t seen Rush since then — or never at all — much has changed in the nearly 20 ensuing years.
The band no longer has an opening act. Instead, "an evening with Rush" runs approximately three hours long, consisting of two sets, separated by a 20-minute intermission, and encores.
For the 2011 Time Machine Tour, the set list remains identical to the tour’s first run of dates last year. It includes two new songs, "BU2B" and "Caravan," from the band’s forthcoming album, "Clockwork Angels," along with such staples as "The Spirit of Radio," "Subdivisions," "Closer to the Heart," "2112 Overture," and "Working Man." The highlight of the show, however, is the performance of 1981’s "Moving Pictures" — the band’s best-known and best-selling album — in its entirety: "Tom Sawyer," "Red Barchetta," "YYZ," "Limelight," "The Camera Eye," "Witch Hunt," and "Vital Signs." All but "The Camera Eye" have been regular fixtures in the set list since the record’s release; it wasn’t until last year that the 11-minute synth and guitar-driven song had been performed live since 1983.
Rush takes the stage at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets are $40.50, $60.50, and $86.00 each and are still available at livenation.com; the Huntington Center box office, 500 Jefferson Ave.; Ticketmaster locations, and by phone at 800-745-3000. Look for a concert review following the show at toledoblade.com.
Contact Kirk Baird firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.