Rush eases the
The past few months of my life have been a personal
and creative re-awakening, and it is no coincidence
that this period of renewal is bookended by a pair
of concerts by the band Rush.
Rush is the quintessential intellectual rock band -
luring disaffected youngsters in with hard-rocking
songs about independence and teenage angst like
Tom Sawyer and Subdivisions, entrancing
continued listeners with glistening, virtuoso musical
performances on songs like Red Barchetta and
La Villa Strangiato, and ultimately rewarding
long-time listeners as they mature with deeper songs
about life, loss and meaning such as Available Light,
Vapor Trail and Roll the Bones.
Rush stumbled over some fairly heavy obstacles in the
past few years - primarily, tremendous personal tragedy
befalling their drummer and chief lyricist, Neal Peart -
stumbled, but did not fall; and last night at Philips
Arena they proved that they were not merely on their
feet, but were standing tall with strong legs beneath
Roll the wayback machine a few months. Two of my
oldest friends - Fred and Derek, who introduced me
to Rush in college and who have been like blood
brothers to me through thick and thin since then -
were the first to hear about Rush's return to the
studio and suggested we see them when they played
in their home town of Toronto. No Atlanta tour
was scheduled, and fearing that Rush might pass
us up this year, I agreed. (After all, all work
and no play makes the centaur throw a shoe.)
For once the stars were right, and we descended
upon a Canadian outdoor arena in middle July to
see Rush on stage for the first time in five years.
The stage was surprisingly stark - the sole visible
props were three coin-operated drying machines
tumbling t-shirts on the side of the stage -
and that starkness made the return of our heroes
The first set opened with their classic Tom Sawyer,
then veered off into a medley of Rush's more mellow and
intellectual songs like Natural Science.
Their playing was tight - extraordinarily tight.
By the end of the first set the sun had set,
and the band hurtled back on stage amidst massive
fireballs to dig into a rocking set of newer songs
from Vapor Trails mixed in with crackling
new approaches to old standbys - even an acoustic
set! Afterwards, they left the stage for mere
moments, then returned to dig through another
medley of old favorites, including a super-crisp
rendition of 2112 and ending with the
rocking Working Man.
As the concert progressed, my feelings were mixed.
Musically, they were dead on - better than I had
ever heard - but I was saddened as I realized the
playlist would omit the two most lyrical songs
off their most recent album: the driven yet defiant
Ghost Rider and the glittering, elegaic
Vapor Trail. I knew that the very reason I
treasured the songs - their unflinching portrayal
of pain and loss, which resonates deeply with the
loss of my father last year - no doubt makes them
too painful for Neal Peart to play. But I
missed the songs just the same.
But my strongest feeling was impatience.
As the concert whirled through the sparkling
kaleidoscope of Rush's creative output, I felt
an overpowering urge to jump out of my seat,
run back to my hotel room, and just create
something - a story, a drawing, a computer program
- anything, as long as I was creating!
I couldn't bear to leave the concert and its
energy and I couldn't wait for it to be over so
that I could go begin pouring the ideas bursting
in my head out into my sketchbook. The burn
contined through the whole of the Toronto trip -
throughout the streets of that friendly city,
whether eating in its dazzling array of restaurants,
dancing in its clubs or even basking in Niagra's
dull rour, I couldn't help myself - sketching,
drawing, writing, and taking pictures of
everything that caught my fancy.
This renewed creative energy energy did not die
when I and my blood brothers finally had to
part ways and return to our normal lives. While
still in Toronto, I had finally begun long-delayed
work on a graphic novel version of one of my stories.
When I returned, the creative bug pursued me to draw
daily, to attend a writing conference at Dragon*Con
to spark work on the revision of my novel, and to
attend Dragon*Con's costume contest in costume
for the first time in all the years that I attended.
(I went as Green Lantern, the superhero who fights
evil with fantastic images from his mind brought
to life with no more than a little green ring
and the power of his will).
The Rush concert instilled in me what truly felt
like a breath of new life. I began dating again,
renewed work on my weblog and comics seriously, and
even joined the fight to save a yet another treasured
science fiction show from an ignominious fourth-season
cancellation (the show being Farscape,
continuing the tradition of Babylon 5 in being
canceled a year shy of their scheduled run by network
programmers more interested in satisfying their own
tastes than watching ratings.
And then Rush surprised me, scheduling an Atlanta
tour date. My blood brothers in Calfornia alerted
me that Rush played even tighter later in the tour
than in Toronto, and knowing that, I was prepared.
Tickets were acquired. Troops were marshaled.
Pizza was consumed. All was made ready.
And there we were, not quite three months later,
in a wonderful mixture of old and new. Long-awaited
friends Rush returned to Atlanta to a newly constructed
arena, and everything was as it was five years ago,
only better. Old blood brother Gordon joined me at
the concert along with my new girlfriend Sandy; old
Rush songs were rejoined by new ones with special
emotional resonance; and the not-so-old concert
that had sparkled in the setting sun in Toronto
truly gleamed in the dark caverns of Phillips Arena.
The music was tight; the lights were golden; and
the band and the audience connected like Rush and
their fans have never connected before. As
my favorite Rush song - Dreamline - played
in a rainbow cascade of glowing light, Sandy said
I became so entranced that it looked like I was
a wizard throwing the laser light from my fingers.
This is Rush's genius.
They understand creativity.
They see life as it is ... both its peaks and its valleys.
Their words taught that everyone ends up in the gutter ...
years before personal tragedy brought that lesson painfully home.
Their lyrics showed that everyone can turn inward and implode
in the face of crisis ... or turn outward to see beauty even
when the heart holds no peace.
And their songs prove that sparks of creativity can burst out of any gutter
... to spark new fires in watching eyes, to propel new souls out of
their own gutters in a blaze of creation.
Flashfires ... leaping from mind to mind.
As Gordon would say, this is is
life as it should be, and it is good to be alive.
And the spark of creativity? I give it to you.
Pass it on.