Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No Rush to get into the Hall

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LOS ANGELES -- It's been a long week for Rush and a long time coming, their long-awaited induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the unusual schedule it's created. The typically press-shy band has sat in front of camera after camera, explaining why the honour means so much to fans and guessing at why they were excluded for so long, while at the same time preparing for the daunting evening and, simultaneously, an upcoming tour. Geddy Lee sighs that it's been a "crazy" few days.

And yet, as they sit down for another interview at a glitzy hotel suite in Los Angeles, the power trio from Toronto seems relaxed to the point of goofiness. Lee, the band's formidable bassist, keyboardist and frontman, is jokingly squawking in a comically different register while he and Neil Peart -- probably the greatest living rock drummer -- laugh about the dangers of slouching on camera.

On the couch for an interview or onstage for a performance, the trio members feed off one another. But amid the craziness of the week, the members of Rush admit that the magnitude of this particular honour has begun to sharpen into focus. While they were steadfastly ambivalent through all the years of apparent snubs, and even to a certain extent upon first learning of their induction, they can't help but be flattered now by their band finally receiving its due.

"It's a lovely attainment, an elevation to arrive at," said Peart, pointing to the number of luminaries they're joining. "It's a constellation and we're one little spark of light up there."

"You can't help but reflect on your career and what it means," Lee added.

Of course, it's the amount of time it took for that recognition for Peart, Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson that has given fans such chips on their shoulders.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame began honouring performers in 1986 and Rush was first eligible to join back in 1998. Since then, thousands of fans have signed hundreds of petitions, and could only stew while countless other acts were marched into the shrine instead of Rush. In the 15 intervening years between Rush's eligibility and their admission, some of the artists who were welcomed into the hall include Aerosmith, the Lovin' Spoonful, Steely Dan, the Talking Heads, Jackson Browne, ZZ Top, the O'Jays, Blondie, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Ronettes, Madonna, Abba, the Hollies, the Comets, Donovan and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Rush was hardly alone among the supposedly snubbed. Yes, the Moody Blues, Kiss, Kraftwerk, Joy Division, Chic, Duran Duran, Black Flag, Cheap Trick, Journey and Bad Company are among the thus-far excluded artists.

So, why was Rush ignored for so long? Theories abound: the rock hall is biased against progressive rock, evidenced by the absence of Yes and the Electric Light Orchestra; Rush was remarkably consistent but never scored big singles, with only 1982's New World Man cracking the U.S. top 40; and Rush was never a critical darling, with the band only earning the begrudging respect of many music scribes through their stunning longevity and instrumental virtuosity. For a long time, they were also considered just a little bit uncool.

Lee, certainly, has had cause to ponder that question over the years.

"I think there's a lot of reasons to it," he said, behind a pair of round-framed sunglasses. "Progressive rock is not accepted by this group of people who make this decision. Yes are not in the Hall. That's an error. Deep Purple are not in the Hall. That's an error. Moody Blues are not in the Hall. So prog-rock is viewed as a kind of lesser art form by the powers that be."

Ultimately, however, the counter-arguments for Rush's inclusion were more persuasive.

Their consistency is remarkable. They released 19 straight records to reach gold or platinum certification in Canada. As one would expect from a band that put out its debut the same year Richard Nixon resigned as U.S. president, Rush's music has navigated through several distinct stylistic phases without ever entering a prolonged slump: the bluesy, experimental early albums, which proved their ambition if not their eventual skill for songcraft; their heavy prog late '70s output, transcendently deep both lyrically and musically; their commercial heyday of the 1980s, when the band's hard rock was infused with the sparkling synths of new wave and such resultant classics as Moving Pictures, Signals and Permanent Waves permanently elevated the trio to collective arena-God status.

After their synth-fuelled period in the '80s began to bring diminishing returns, the band returned to a more pummelling guitar-driven sound with Presto and Roll the Bones as they entered a darker period in the '90s, but unlike other bands of a certain vintage, they successfully steered through the all-consuming tempest that was alternative rock (even fortuitously aligning with the genre to some degree with 1993's stripped-bare Counterparts) before returning to their hard-striking sweet spot in the late '90s.

A pair of personal tragedies befell Peart (the deaths of his daughter and long-time partner in less than a year) and left Rush's future briefly in doubt, the only time in its existence it seemed unlikely the band would stay together.

Instead, they endured and flourished, eventually entering an unlikely creative renewal with 2007's Snakes & Arrows and 2012's energized Clockwork Angels.

Yet, Peart wonders if the band's tendency for following its creative muse and tinkering with new technologies and sounds might have frustrated fans.

"From our fans' point of view, we must be maddeningly inconsistent, because we're experimental and... even for Thomas Edison, not all experiments succeed. But if we believe in something, we see it through to the end.... And maybe we're disappointed in the end, but a number of the experiments succeed keep us going and we build on those."


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 19, 2013 D6

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