Under the Influence: RUSH


"In the constellation of Cygnus there lurks/A mysterious, invisible force:/The black hole of Cygnus X-1…"


Many are the rock bands that emerged from the 1970s; few are those who survived the decades since. Even fewer are those that impressed me, not with one or two songs, but with entire ALBUMS that I would collect and listen to most of. My usual music-listening habits involve picking one or two songs out of an entire band's career that I like, which is why I rarely will say I like a given band.

But there is one huge exception: the band named Rush.

While technically neither Geddy Lee nor Neil Peart were part of Rush's original lineup, it was they, plus guitarist Alex Lifeson, who made it the legend it became. Rush's first, eponymous album wasn't bad for its day, and showcased the talents of Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson well enough, but it was at its heart a fairly straightforward but unremarkable rock album, notable mostly for being better done than many first albums.

Then they brought on board Neil Peart, and everything changed.

Peart brought a poetic vision entwined with a love of the fantastic to the new power trio, as well as an amazing skill with percussion instruments that would only improve as time went on. Their second album, Fly By Night, featured an epic eight-minute concept track titled "By-Tor and the Snow Dog", describing a battle between the evil Prince By-Tor and the heroic Snow Dog, as well as the title track which became quite a hit, and "Rivendell", inspired naturally by the Lord of the Rings.

This set the tone for much of Rush's future production, entwining the powerful talents of its three members with melodies and lyrics inspired by science-fictional and fantasy concepts. The next album, Caress of Steel, included another fantasy track, "The Necromancer", in which Prince By-Tor is revealed to have been corrupted and enslaved by the Necromancer, and who manages to break free and drive the Necromancer away, and a second epic sequence, The Fountain of Lamneth, took up the entire second side of the original album!

While Caress of Steel was actually considered a failure – and the epic pieces on it blamed for that to a great extent – Rush refused to change their vision for their work, and released their fourth album: 2112.

2112's first side is a concept album, a rock opera telling a tale of a man in a collectivist society who attempts to bring a new, individual touch of music to the society. Based on and crediting the work of Ayn Rand, it is clearly inspired by her short novel Anthem, and is in some ways superior to Anthem. While Peart clearly acknowledges Rand's influence (she is directly acknowledged on the album cover), the album is free of the less-palatable aspects of her work.

I could continue to go through their career, album by album, but that would not only make this a very long review but also probably get boring as heck.

Rush is one of the few musical groups that I can actually say influenced me. The music they composed, especially in what I consider their heyday (from about 1976 through 1982) was both beautiful and thoughtful, inspiring and filled with images that helped me develop the basis for what became my own writing universe. I still consider "Xanadu", from A Farewell to Kings, to be one of the most beautiful and powerful pieces of music of any kind I've ever heard. I created an entire small section of my world Zarathan around the concept of Xanadu, mixed with an adaptation of the poem-fragment in Josephine Tey's The Singing Sands.

There's no greater lift of inspiration and belief in the miraculous power of human science and knowledge than the one I get when listening to "Countdown", Rush's salute to the space program and the Shuttle in particular; the same album, Signals, precedes "Countdown" with one of the darkest and accurate portrayals of depression caused by loss of one's skills or faculties, "Losing It". That song's beautifully done, but boy, I'm glad they chose to follow it with "Countdown" as an antidote!

What most inspired me about Rush was the songs of the fantastic, and the way in which the three were able to combine songs and words to build a sensation of a world within the space of minutes, something shorter than any book and most short stories, that still felt like it had the depth of something vastly longer. There wasn't depth to it, not in the details and facts I normally expected from my reading, yet it felt like there was, and this inspired me to make that depth in my own worlds.

The back cover of 2112 itself (http://www.cygnus-x1.net/links/rush/images/albums/2112-back.jpg) provided one more inspiration… and an opportunity to salute them in my own way. For many years, only those playing in my Zarathan campaign would see it, but finally with the publication of Phoenix Rising and its sequels Phoenix in Shadow and Phoenix Ascendant, that salute is subtle but visible to others, in the mention of the Triad. For the Triad are three gods of freedom and music, and their names are Lyric, Lifeson, and the Speaker…

Your comments or questions welcomed!