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Graciously Bitter: Interview with Lifeson on RRHOF


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Possible spoilers about what they'll play at the induction ceremony.




Rush was just starting to hit its stride on the world scene when the critics turned on progressive rock.


The year was 1977 and Rush, a band that started out playing blues-rock in bars around southern Ontario, had been increasingly influenced by British prog rockers like King Crimson, Yes, Genesis and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.


You can hear it in the band’s 1976 breakthrough album, 2112 and, even more in the followups: A Farewell To Kings (1977), Hemispheres (1978), Permanent Waves (1980) and Moving Pictures (1981).


But, in 1977, the critics, especially those from influential Rolling Stone magazine, turned their attention elsewhere. Suddenly, The Sex Pistols, Ramones and The Clash were the bands that mattered.


Punk was good. Prog was bad.


Rush, personified by Geddy Lee’s high-pitched shriek, Alex Lifeson’s multilayered guitars and Neil Peart’s sci-fi lyrics, was an easy target.


Rush fans — millions of them — were stigmatized as pretentious mullet-heads who would eventually grow out of their adolescent love for Rush and discover the true meaning of rock ’n’ roll. Interestingly enough, the fans stuck by the Canadian trio. Those fans grew up into business executives, lawyers and surgeons who still cherish their Rush records.


During the past few years, critical opinions have changed. Lifeson and Lee are hailed as virtuosos. Peart is revered as rock’s greatest living drummer. Their influence on modern prog-metal bands like Tool and System Of A Down has been enormous.


The Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction committee, led by longtime Rolling Stone publisher Jan Wenner, was slow to react to this changing tide. It took 15 years of Rush eligibility and more than 40,000 signatures on an online petition before they finally came to their senses and put the band on the nomination list.


On Thursday, long-suffering Rush fans will receive their pound of flesh when the Canadian rock trio is inducted into the Hall of Fame during a gala concert/ceremony at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles (broadcast on HBO on Saturday, May 18 at 9 p.m.). The band members say they will accept the honour “graciously.” Still, some bitterness lingers.


“We were eligible for 15 years and it really didn’t matter to us,” Lifeson told The Spectator in a phone interview from his Toronto home. “We joked about it. In fact we kind of wore it as a badge of honour that there was a core inside the committee that did not want us in there. Some said, ‘Over my dead body,’ literally, ‘before Rush gets in here.’ Which is fine, they can do whatever they want. It’s their museum.


“So at the end of the day, it didn’t really matter to us at all. It was kind of nice to have that controversy go away, to a point. But our fans were very insulted by it and burned by it. Now they feel vindicated by it. Certainly not all of them do. There’s certainly a lot of Rush fans who think we should ignore it.


“But the proper, courteous thing to do is to go and accept it graciously, try to make everybody happy, move on and never have to deal with it again.”


Lifeson is well aware of the history and believes there are many other bands still suffering from that ’70s prog-rock backlash.


“There seems to be a sense of unfairness, not just about us, but the whole genre of progressive rock music,” Lifeson, 59, says. “You can argue that a lot of bands should be in there even before us. Deep Purple has had an incredible impact on rock music and so many bands, as has Yes and King Crimson. There’s a long list. The Moody Blues should have been in there. They were incredibly inspiring to a lot of young musicians.”


Still, there’s little doubt that Rush has benefitted from the controversy. It’s been a rallying point for diehard fans and forced outsiders to have a second look.


Rush seem to be more popular now than ever before. Tours are guaranteed sellouts — there are still some tickets available for Rush’s July 6 date at Copps Coliseum — and the Rush fans can now wear their T-shirts with pride.


“It’s really changed,” Lifeson says. “When you go back to the ’70s, we had lots of very negative press. It was water off the back after a while.


“Now it seems we can’t get bad press. I miss it,” he laughs. “It’s just so odd that here we are, 40 years later, and now we’re respectable. Everyone wants a piece of us. It’s very fascinating, interesting.”


One of the things that are making the Hall of Fame ceremony more palatable is the fact that Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins will be at the podium introducing Lifeson, Lee and Peart. The two Foo Fighters were selected by the Hall of Fame to do the induction with the approval of Rush.


“They are keen Rush fans and they understand where we come from,” Lifeson says. “In a lot of ways the Foo Fighters are similar. They stick to their guns and do things in their own way. Certainly Dave (Grohl) has come up for the last 25 years with that same sense of integrity and work ethic. They are terrific guys, the perfect choice.”


Rush has been asked to perform some of the better known songs at the induction ceremony.


“Tom Sawyer, Spirit of Radio and maybe YYZ,” Lifeson says. “They’ve asked us to do classic, kind of iconic songs and those three are the ones.”


Will Grohl and Hawkins join Rush? Perhaps drumming with Peart?


“There’s always a chance,” Lifeson says cryptically. “We’re working on some things.”

Edited by laughedatbytime
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So cool. But I hope they don't use any of the three songs mentioned. But I guess if you just found Rush or you are reliving Rush, those songs could be relevant.


Cheers Rush. You were and still are the very BEST!

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So cool. But I hope they don't use any of the three songs mentioned. But I guess if you just found Rush or you are reliving Rush, those songs could be relevant.


Cheers Rush. You were and still are the very BEST!


Tom Sawyer is probably their most-known song to those unfamiliar with Rush so I say that one at least, makes sense.


When I tell people about my Rush love and I see the question mark pop over their heads I say, "They're the band that sings 'Tom Sawyer', at which point they go "ahhhhhh!".


Sometimes, if I'm lucky.

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Am I the only one who thinks they should play something from CA?? Too many people think of Rush as a 70's/80's band..


Rush always has looked forward. Why not play something like 'the Garden' instead of living in the past for them assclowns..

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