Like many angst-ridden kids, I found an identity in rock music. As an Asian kid in a predominantly white suburb of early 80’s Los Angeles, the sound of cranked guitars, big drums, and powerful vocals was a reassurance that others were angry and disenfranchised like me. Lyrics were just verbal place holders for the simple chords and massive guitar solos I loved. I knew at a young age that the lyrics of my favorite music were, um…sophomoric. Sex, teen angst, more sex, maybe a science fiction reference? The lyrics were often just rhythmic, half-rhyming, non-sequitur components in the rock package.
Until I heard Rush. The music was incredible. Holy shit, it was like they took my band/orchestra identity and made epic rock. One of my favorite songs, “Limelight,” changes time signature all throughout the song (4/4, 6/4, 5/4/ 7/4), and most people don’t even realize it. Drum fills, ridiculous bass lines, guitar solos…and wait…amazing lyrics? OK, sometimes a little cheesy, but goddamn they were trying to be something great. And they often were.
Neil Peart was universally known as one of the greatest drummers ever, but he also wrote all the lyrics. There were references to poetry and literature. There was a sincerity and earnestness to the lyrics that made teenagers look up historical and literary references. Rush quickly became my band. Virtuosity and deep lyrics.
Sure, everyone at my church told me Rush was satanic. “Don’t you know they stand for “Rising Under Satan’s Hand?”
Fuck off. These songs and those lyrics weren’t satanic. They were transformative and mind-expanding.
While standing in line for tickets to a Rush concert in 1985 (I had gone to the previous 1984 concert, but a friend got me a ticket for that one), I looked around at the hundreds of people in line with me and my friends. There was this strange mix of nerds like us, and …leather-clad metal heads. They blasted Rush songs out of gigantic boom boxes, threw horns and shouted…unintelligible, stupid shit.
I wondered if we were fans of the same band. How could these dipshit long-haired metal heads who wore Ozzy and Iron Maiden shirts like Rush? I mean, I guess I liked Ozzy and Iron Maiden, too, but not at the level I liked Rush. I didn’t put Rush in the same category. But they did.
The song, “Closer to the Heart” came on one of the boom boxes. The lyrics are:
“And the men who hold high places
Must be the ones who start
To mold a new reality
Closer to the heart”
Everyone in line sang along. With feeling.
Closer to the heart? I wondered if the metal heads would try to change the song to something harder from 2112 or Moving Pictures. But they sang, too. With feeling.
They were hearing the same thing I was hearing. And even if the lyrics were poetic and sentimental, the music more than made up for the less-than-macho…ness of the words.
In my PE class that year, one of the older kids, who was kind of a tough character, saw me change into my beloved Rush shirt. “Hey, Okie (that was my nickname). You like Rush? Fuckin’ rad, dude.” He gave me rough shove. I felt so cool.
“You like Rush?” I asked.
“Fuck yeah, man.” He said seriously. “Rush fuckin’ rocks.” And he sang the lyrics to “Tom Sawyer.”
I waited for him to finish and nodded.
“You know they write some deep shit, Okie.”
We had a brief moment of connection with both of us nodding and looking each other in the eye. And then he shoved me again and threw his metal horns before heading off to his next class. He was hearing the same things I was after all. I think.
I like to think that in a hot-boxed basement somewhere in suburbia, a tattooed, leather-clad dude with long hair was doing what I was doing: Listening to Rush, reading along with the lyrics on the album sleeve, and contemplating their deep, philosophical meanings. Like me, he was singing along, letting the lyrics make him think about his existence. And maybe later he, like me, finished his homework, practiced his clarinet and went to bible study.
Hey, if that dude can listen to songs like, “Analog Kid,” anything is possible.
The boy lies in the grass with one blade
Stuck between his teeth
A vague sensation quickens
In his young and restless heart
And a bright and nameless vision
Has him longing to depart
You move me
You move me
With your buildings and your eyes
Autumn woods and winter skies
You move me
You move me
Open sea and city lights
Busy streets and dizzy heights
You call me
You call me
Thank you Neil Peart. May you rest in peace.