Editor’s Note – Brian Stratton reflects on his lifelong love of Rush and Neil Peart’s untimely passing.
By Brian Stratton
From the point of ignition
To the final drive
The point of the journey
Is not to arrive
Anything can happen
– Prime Mover
I never got to meet Neil Peart, though I did see him many times. Nonetheless, I feel like I know him through his lyrics, and consider him a companion of sorts. It was his lyrics that first appealed to me when my brother played some Rush music for me. The science fiction and fantasy themes were ripe for my young imagination. Over time, I grew to appreciate other themes in his lyrics, about human nature, loss, triumph and all the events that make a life worth living.
As most people know, Peart enjoyed journeying on his motorcycle between tour dates, or on his own time. It gave him time to explore, think and write about life. In fact, I feel that the overriding theme of all his lyrics, whether fantastic or realistic, is about one’s journey through life. Indeed, “anything can happen” in life and often does.
On that note, here are some moments where Peart’s lyrics, Rush’s music and my life all intersected.
Drawn like moths, we drift into the city
I’ve always been drawn to Detroit. For me, it was the big city where my dad worked at Channel 4 and anytime I got to go there when I was growing up was exciting. Probably none more so than the time in 1990 when my family attended Channel 4’s holiday party and then went to Trappers Alley in Greek Town to do some shopping. While wandering around the many levels of the mall, I found a Harmony House store, and in it Rush’s “Caress of Steel” CD. At the time, I was reading Tolkien’s “Fellowship of the Ring,” so it was no surprise that I was attracted to the cover art with the necromancer on it.
When it was time to go home, we found that our car had been stolen. More tragically for my teenage self, my copy of “Fellowship of the Ring” was in the car at the time. At least I had “Caress of Steel,” with its songs about wizards and mythical fountains, to console me. However, all ended well, and our car was found a few weeks later, complete with my book! Not one to hold a grudge, I still love Detroit and look forward to going there to this day.
When we are young
Wandering the face of the earth
Sometimes it’s the small stops on a larger journey that make the trip complete. At the end of summer in 1991, we were on a family trip to Colorado to visit my brother during his first year at the Air Force Academy. It was my first time out west, and I finally got to see mountains! It was awe-inspiring and profoundly moving for me.
Now, the trip happened to coincide with the release of “Roll the Bones.” This was the first new album that the band had put out since I became a fan, so getting it was a big deal for me. My parents said we could stop and get the CD on the way home from the airport. I remember landing back in Michigan and how vividly green everything was in comparison to the reds and browns of Colorado. A quick stop to Harmony House (again!) in Novi was the perfecting ending to a great vacation.
To the eye of the storm
For the force without form
At the sight and sound
Look in, Look out, Look around.
– Force Ten
Now that I considered myself a true Rush fan, it was time to take it to the next level. My friend Mike was also a fan, so we decided to see them when they did the “Roll the Bones” tour. It was my first time to Pine Knob (as it was called then) and our spot on the lawn probably wasn’t very good. But that didn’t matter at all. I was at a Rush show, and they were actually there on stage playing live. And I was there, too. It was like the lyrics to “Force Ten” bought to life in my mind.
I also bought a concert shirt at the show. Now I could proudly proclaim myself a Rush fan to everyone. Level up accomplished.
But I believe there’s a ghost of a chance
We can find someone to love
And make it last
– Ghost of a Chance
Near the end of senior year in high school, Lori and I had started dating. Early on she mentioned that she had seen me wearing a Rush shirt and that she was a fan of theirs, too. Well, as you can imagine, I was pretty excited about that. I had met a great girl, and she liked Rush, how cool was that!
At that time, Rush happened to be touring with their “Counterparts” album, and they were coming to the Palace of Auburn Hills. I wanted to surprise Lori and take her to the concert, so I bought a pair of tickets and gave them to her as a gift. She was thrilled, and so was I.
Thanks in part to that “Roll the Bones” shirt, we got into a previously stolen car, headed off to the show at the Palace, and have been together ever since.
The road unwinds towards me
What was there is gone
The road unwinds before me
And I go riding on
Every journey is bound to take a detour at some point, and mine occurred while I was attending college. I guess I was busy with classes or into other bands at that point, but when “Test for Echo” came out I never got around to buying it. Worse than that, I missed the accompanying tour.
I distinctly remember hearing a radio commercial for the tour where they said Rush would be performing “2112” in its entirety. I cringe to even mention it, but I had a fleeting thought at the time that it was a gimmick. What was wrong with me? I loved “2112” and seeing the whole song played live would have been awesome. But as it turned out, I blew my one and only opportunity for that.
Luckily, I corrected my course over the next few years. Even though I hadn’t bought “Test for Echo,” Lori had. I listened to it and realized how good it was and what I had missed. Then, I bought the live recording of the tour, “Different Stages,” and finally got to hear “2112” performed live in its entirety. I guess I didn’t completely miss my chance.
So maybe I had taken a brief detour, but I learned from it and I was back in the fold. I made sure to never miss a new release or tour from that point on, and I never did.
I feel the day is all uncertainty
Burning in the moment – trapped by the desperation
Between how it is and how it ought to be
– How It Is
When Rush’s 30th anniversary tour came around, I remember reading about how they were going to open with a medley of older songs. The “R30 Overture” it was called, and it sounded really cool – a bunch of their ‘70s songs blended together in an instrumental tour de force. Yes, it did sound like a great concept.
As chance would have it (or was it penance for missing that earlier tour?), I wasn’t going to find out. On the way to the concert, we ran into some major traffic problems. Then we found out the interstate was completely closed, and we had to take some back roads to DTE Energy Music Theater. I was totally stressed out by the time we finally got there. They were already playing, and we missed the first several songs. It took a few more songs, and then the magic started, and I was in the moment for the rest of the show, the stress gone.
And one more thing – I did eventually get to hear and see the “R30 Overture” when they released the show on CD and DVD. It was definitely worth the wait!
Take a walk outside myself
In some exotic land
Greet a passing stranger
Feel the strength in his hand
Feel the world expand
– Hand Over Fist
I know Canada isn’t exactly exotic, especially when you live in Michigan, but I’ve always wanted to see Rush perform in their homeland. I got my chance in 2010 when they brought the “Time Machine” tour to Rogers Bayfest in Sarnia, Ontario. It was only about a two-hour drive, just across the river from Port Huron, Michigan, and it was the closest they were coming on the tour that year. It was an easy decision.
If you’ve never crossed the aptly-named Blue Water Bridge between our two countries, then you’re missing out. The views of Lake Huron, the St. Clair River, Ontario and Michigan are breathtaking and worth the price of admission. Once across, we quickly made our way to the park where the concert was being held. It had the feel of a small music festival, with vendors, tents and concession stands spread around the temporary stage.
As I looked through the various food offerings available, I kept noticing an item called poutine. Curious, I asked one of the vendors what it was. She gave me the most puzzled look and said it was fries covered with cheese curds and gravy. Then she asked me where I was from. I mumbled an apology and something about being from the States, and quickly left. I was too embarrassed to order them, but I should have – they sounded delicious (and unhealthy).
It was great seeing Rush in a park, standing on the grass not too far from the stage. There was room to dance around a bit and really enjoy the experience. On the way home the customs agent asked us what we had done in Canada. I told him we were at the Rush concert, and he brightened up and asked us how it was before passing us through.
So yeah, even a little trip across the border can expand your world. I know it did for me.
The future disappears into memory
With only a moment between
Forever dwells in that moment
Hope is what remains to be seen
– The Garden
I’d heard rumors that the R40 tour would be Rush’s last tour, but at the time of the show they were just that – rumors. So, when Lori and I, accompanied by our friends, Rob, Eric and Bob, went to the show at the Palace it would be the last time. As I watched the show, I remember thinking that maybe they would just stop touring. There could still be some new studio albums. I even daydreamed that they could do a residency at Massey Hall in Toronto, perhaps. That wasn’t touring after all.
Well, as we now know, it was the final tour. It did have the feel of finality to it, with the set traveling back through time from their most recent songs to their oldest ones. It felt like a farewell. With Neil Peart’s passing, those idle fantasies have passed on, too. I’m left sad, to be sure, but also grateful for all of the passion and music that Rush gave to us for so long.
Though I’ve reached a signpost
It’s really not the end
Like Old Sol behind the mountain
I’ll be coming up again
– The Fountain of Lamneth
In closing, I have a small confession to make. As you might know Neil Peart was also an author, and wrote quite a few books. I have several of them, but I’ve never read one. I always meant to, but for some reason I never got there. It was as if I was hoarding them, unconsciously saving them for a time when Peart and Rush would be gone.
So, I’ve reached a signpost in my journey with Peart. It won’t be the same from this point on, but I will continue. I’ll have the music and lyrics that I know so well, as well as the written words I don’t, to take with me. I’ll be in good company.