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Parts of Rush's'76 album '2112' make drummer and lyricist Neil Peart cringe

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TORONTO (CP) - Thirty years ago, Canadian power trio Rush predicted a bleak, post-apocalyptic world in the year 2112 with an eponymous concept album that would launch the struggling musicians to stardom. This week, that fantastical rock opera "2112" - which blended synthesizers and sawing guitars with singer Geddy Lee's high-pitch screech - is being preserved for the ages, theoretically, for the year 2112. The album is one of a dozen historical pieces deemed a "MasterWork" by a committee tasked with preserving the best in Canadian television, film, radio, and music. It's an honour that is largely symbolic for drummer and lyricist Neil Peart, who wrote the futuristic theme in his early 20s, largely inspired by Ayn Rand's'38 science fiction novella "Anthem". Today, parts of the groundbreaking album make him cringe, Peart admits, noting he was just 24 when he recorded it with front man Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson, who were both 23. "To me, it's raw and immature and all that it should be - it's 30 years ago," Peart says by phone from his home in Los Angeles. "A lot of our early stuff does (make me cringe) but on the other hand, I know that it's genuine." The themes of the album were heady stuff - touching on notions of individualism, self-expression and freedom. But it was a sense of flat-out defiance that pushed the trio into more experimental territory, says Peart. After three failed albums in the mid '70s, the record company leaned heavily on the band for a commercial release. The situation had become "very precarious," Peart says. "That summer, we were unable to pay our road crew's salaries or our own salaries and we had just finished a tour that we disparagingly called at the time, 'The Down The Tubes Tour,' because we were playing grotty little clubs and (were) the opening act on a five-act show and it was grim," recalls Peart, noting that these days, the band would have been dropped by the label. "Financially and spiritually, I had to look at the fact that the next year I might be back in the farm equipment business." But when Mercury Records demanded a hit single, the band got its back up. It churned out the complete opposite of what their bosses pushed for - a concept album, with an opening track that was no less than 20 minutes, 33 seconds long and took up the entire side of a vinyl LP. "That album is full of just bitter anger and rebellion," says Peart. "Nobody's going to tell us what to do. And that spirit, I think, is what communicated itself to an audience and of course we toured non-stop and did everything we could to spread our music around, but inevitably, there was an intangible quality that reached people." "It was an important, pivotal turning point for us because it was the first one to become kind of successful against all predictions and against all musical popularity at the time." Although, "2112" was hardly the only epic out there. Precursors included Genesis' ambitious two-disc "Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" (1974) and Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon" (1973). But Stephen Ellis, chair of the MasterWorks committee, says the Rush album was a distinctive Canadian album for melding synthesizers and more modern instruments with the traditional rock sounds of the '70s. "These guys were pretty cutting edge with that sound," Ellis says. The Audio-Visual Preservation Trust selects a dozen cultural pieces every year for preservation, offering funds for those in danger of being lost. Other selections this year include what's considered Canada's first homegrown TV hit, "The Pig & Whistle," of which there are only two surviving episodes; the recordings of soprano singer Pierrette Alarie and her husband, the late tenor Leopold Simoneau; and the body of work by avant-garde jazz musician Paul Bley. The inclusion of the Rush album is largely symbolic as it's not in need of preservation. Peart says Rush's original multi-track tapes are safely stored in a Toronto vault. The band recently remastered its studio releases. Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean is expected to be among those attending a ceremony in Toronto on Oct. 26 honouring this year's selections.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 22, 2006 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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