Spin the Black Circle: Rush Pulls Out ‘Power Windows’ Electronics | arts and entertainment
” Against a current,
swim against the tide,
life in two dimensions,
Is a mass production scheme. …”
Lots of different places I could start with a column on Rush, the Canadian power trio that has inspired many loves or hates debates. But those lyrics from “Grand Designs” on their mid-1980s “Power Windows” album sound like as good a place as any.
Swim against the tide? While hard rock contemporaries like Van Halen lusted after teachers and Whitesnake made videos with models stalking sports cars, the Rush guys sang about everything from resisting repression of would-be dictators, wonders of nature and science, and the role that chance and fate play in its future.
There really is no in-between or “meh” with Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and the late Neil Peart’s 40 years of musical production. Calling them prog rockers, heavy metal, or synth rock (all three would be accurate at times in their careers), Rush’s music has been mocked, hated, and criticized by many critics…but continues to be loved by fans. million fans.
They are now rightly recognized as some of the most talented musicians, songwriters and performers of the past 50 years, and are without a doubt some of my favorite rock bands of all time.
Before we get to “Power Windows” – certainly not the most beloved album of their career, but perhaps the best example of their 1980s musical output – let’s give a little insight for those who might have been obsessed with David Bowie or Patti Smith.
Fresh out of high school, bassist/vocalist Lee and guitarist Lifeson joined forces with original drummer John Rutsey to rock pubs, parties and high school dances across the Toronto area in the early 1980s. 1970. As Lee points out in the excellent 2010 documentary “Beyond the Lighted Stage,” Rush’s Led Zeppelin-esque music and Lee’s unique screams weren’t well suited for slow dances or prom royalty.
After making a self-titled album with Rutsey, Peart came up with his fierce drumming and unconventional lyrics for 1975’s “Fly By Night,” which featured the title track and their first epic fight song, “By-Tor and the Snow. Dog”. and the Rush we know and love has finally “found its way” to winning over fans in the US, Canada and around the world.
More epic songs followed on the ‘2112’, ‘Farewell to Kings’ and ‘Hemispheres’ albums as their concert halls expanded from venues such as Yakima Valley Community College (March 26, 1976) to theater performances. and arena in the late 1970s.
The 1980 album “Permanent Waves” and its popular opener, “The Spirit of Radio,” started Rush’s transition to shorter songs and fare more suited to rock radio, and it wasn’t as a warm-up for the multiplatinum “Moving Pictures,” which features two of their most popular songs, “Tom Sawyer” and “Limelight,” as well as concert favorites like “Red Barchetta” and the instrumental “YYZ.”
But because I don’t have this 1981 classic on vinyl (I bought it on cassette, then on CD when the tape ran out), we’ll fast-forward a few years to 1985. Rush now fills the outdoor stadiums summer tour circuit, which they would continue to do throughout their last tour some 30 years later. In a quest to incorporate new sounds into their music, synthesizers, guitar effects pedals and electronic percussion have become part of their repertoire – which has driven some fans away from their simpler bass/guitar/drum sound. and hard rock.
“Power Windows” opens with rocker, as Lifeson’s opening riff from “The Big Money” blasts through speakers on home stereo systems and stacks of Marshall amps on tour. But it would be Lee’s infatuation with synthesizers and Peart’s addition of electronic percussion to his massive drum kit that made this album (and 1986’s “Hold Your Fire”) stand out from the band’s earlier efforts.
Even the non-synthesizer crowd must have admired Peart’s lyrics, which tackle such issues as the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (“Manhattan Project”), perseverance (“Marathon”), and the desire for children of small cities to discover a bigger world (“Middletown Dreams”) – a subject first broached a few years earlier with “Subdivisions”.
“Marathon”, which closes side 1, and “Emotion Detector” on side 2 are the pompous anthems that new teenage Rush fans like me loved to see in concert in the 1980s, because many of our friends opted for more cool rock bands like Motley Crue, Poison and the aforementioned Whitesnake. No offense to these bands – or their fans – but I think the songs of Lee, Lifeson and Peart hold up much better in 2022.
Sadly, Rush was forced to retire after their 40th anniversary tour of R40 Live, playing their final show on August 1, 2015. At the time, Lifeson complained of arthritis issues in his hands and Peart a noted battery wear and touring in general. Little did fans know that soon after Peart would begin a private battle with a rare form of brain cancer, which he succumbed to on January 7, 2020.
I feel lucky to have seen Rush perform live with my (then 12) son at such a beautiful venue as The Gorge, the final show of their 2010-11 Time Machine tour. I’ve enjoyed their music for almost 40 years, from when my high school friend Lee lent me his older brother’s tape of 2112 and I was inspired to buy their new music.
Listening to Power Windows (and enjoying the goofy cover art and group portrait photos featured with this column) takes me back to a time in life when endless hours could be spent listening to and enjoying records, and even more. hours spent discussing the merits of different groups and styles of rock music (synthesizers: great for Rush, awful for Bon Jovi).
Wait a minute. … I still do the same thing today, at 50! “Long Term” great music and bands stay with us as we go through the marathon of life.