Discovering Rush: Spontaneous Emotion (And The Long Enduring Kind)

Hi. My name is Carolyn, and, though I claim to be a prog rock fan, it’s more accurate to say that I’m a Rush fan. It isn’t that I don’t listen to Yes, or Genesis, or Pink Floyd, or, lately, Andromeda (thank you, Rock Band Network!) - it’s just that Rush is where it all started for me.

I grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and I picked up my father’s musical tastes rather than my mother’s. I got a clock radio for Christmas when I was 11, and I promptly set it to Dad’s favorite radio station - 107.7 WRKR, “The Rocker.” I woke up to WRKR’s morning show with Mike McKelly and Scotty “Bud” Melvin, and I fell asleep at night to lullabies performed by U2, Van Halen, R.E.M., and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

And Rush - because Rush was huge that year. Roll the Bones had just been released in September 1991, and four singles came out over the course of 1992. As I listened eagerly over the course of 1992, the DJs obligingly played song after song for me. When the following Christmas rolled around, I asked for a copy of Roll the Bones. It was the first album I’d ever owned, and I loved it enough to buy Presto immediately afterward with my Christmas money. (I wasn’t sure if I knew any of the songs on Presto…but it had bunnies on the cover, and when I was 12, that was a selling point.)

My brother and I spent a lot of time hanging out, and he picked up on my enthusiasm (or I picked up on his). We saved our allowance and asked for Rush on our birthdays, and over time we built a hefty collection for two kids in middle school. I got Moving Pictures, Grace Under Pressure, and Counterparts; he got Hold Your Fire and Permanent Waves. (I can’t remember who got Hemispheres and Signals, but we had them, so somebody did.)

There are a thousand small stories I could tell you - some Rock Band related, some not - relating to my love of this band. I wrote an essay on “Nobody’s Hero” from Counterparts when I was 17, and I watched Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage when I was 30. My friend Spatch bought Moving Pictures on Rock Band so we could play it together, and my friend Cirne memorized “Ghost of a Chance” so we could sing it together. I dreamed in Middletown and cried “Absalom, Absalom!” and begged Time to stand still. But if you don’t know the music already, these are only so many words…

The truth is, it’s hard for me to write about Rush because discovering Rush was a transformative experience for me. I want to find the perfect words for why Rush spoke to me so strongly, but listening to a Rush song is an experience that I can’t easily pin down in syllables. It’s Neil Peart’s rhythms, and Alex Lifeson’s guitar, and Geddy Lee’s bass - yet above all, it’s what happens when they all come together. It’s rhythm and melody, lyric and voice, production and polish, but it’s all of those things with a devoted honesty that transfixed me from the beginning. It’s their willingness to experiment and their determination to find the sound and their intense dedication to their music. And from those things, they make magic.

Since it’s so hard to tell you about Rush as a whole, I’ll tell you about three songs - the three songs coming to Rock Band this week. The disadvantage of working here is that you know when your favorite artist has songs in progress - and you can’t say anything! I’ve been twitching in my office chair and drawing stickman versions of the “Starman” logo on official audio whiteboards ever since I found out. (I admit that the “Caravan” clock would have been more appropriate, but I can’t remember the symbols without looking them up.)

“Fly By Night” comes from Rush’s 1975 studio album of the same name. Neil Peart has been writing the vast majority of Rush’s lyrics ever since joining, and he wrote this song about leaving Canada and going to England. By the time I was a shy, bookish 16 year old, we’d gotten a book of Rush music transcribed for piano, and I remember playing this song over and over while I daydreamed about escaping high school for college.

The next song is a live version of “The Spirit of Radio.” The studio version was released on 1980’s Permanent Waves, and if you listen to “Fly by Night” and “The Spirit of Radio” back to back, it’s astonishing to hear how Rush’s sound matured over those five years. It’s a parody of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence”, but the soul of this song is pure Rush. There’s this wonderful experimentation with different styles of music while still retaining that significant core sound. “For the words of the profits were written on the studio wall… Concert hall!” Whenever Rush plays this song live, the lights come up and the audience goes crazy on that line.

The last song in the set is “Caravan,” off an album that hasn’t even been written yet (though you can buy it as a single!). I heard it for the first time at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, MA when they presented the concert film of Time Machine 2011: Live in Cleveland. It’s a new song to my head and heart, but it makes me smile because I know it won’t stay that way. It’s a song about hope and enthusiasm and not stagnating in your life - about reaching out for what you want and stepping onto the road that will take you there.

Count me in, guys. I’m there.

And thank you, Donna Halper.*

Carolyn VanEseltine (HMXLachesis) is an Associate Producer at Harmonix. When not hanging out on the forums, she listens to a lot of Rush. Actually, she also listens to a lot of Rush when hanging out on the forums. She would like to thank Spatch for his enthusiasm and patience back when she was getting 77% Easy on "Limelight", and now she would like to be #1 on the "Fly by Night" vocal leaderboards. Everybody gotta have a dream.

* While working at WMMS Cleveland, Donna Halper discovered Rush. The band considers her responsible for bringing them to the United States, and they dedicated their first two albums to her.


Great stuff, Carolyn. Interesting to hear stories of Rush fans from different eras. I started listening in the Permanent Waves/Moving Pictures era and haven't stopped.

It's always enjoyable to read what HMX employees think of the artists they release in Rock Band. I would like to read more like this.