Gateway Acts is a new ongoing series on Backbeat in which we examine the music that served as an entry point for our burgeoning musical obsessions, a gateway drug that tuned us in and turned us on. Today, Noah Hubbell gives us the goods on a Rush to judgment that he made early on.
I grew up in a house of somewhat traditional music, where I was exposed to everything from jazz to classic rock to soul. It provided a great background for me, but for the most part, the impetus was on the importance of instrumental or vocal talent. My father was, and still is, a fanatical guitar player. I cannot remember an extended period where he wasn't practicing. In fact, he practices more at playing guitar than I've ever seen anybody practice anything. Wanting to someday be able to play an instrument like my father, I began drumming when I was twelve, and it was then that I realized how much work it takes to be a great player.
So it isn't surprising to me, in retrospect, that I didn't especially enjoy artists that I was told were among the best of all time, acts like Bob Dylan, the Clash or even the Beatles. They didn't play their instruments especially well (some people still say Ringo Starr is one of the better drummers ever, which I didn't and still don't recognize). They didn't sing especially well. In fact, if you take away their lyrics and songwriting ability, they wouldn't be all that great at all. Not only did I not especially like those bands, but I resented them for being so successful with talent that I didn't understand.
There was one band, though, that, as far as technical skill was concerned, blew all of those so-called amazing bands away: Rush. Neil Peart constructed immaculate multi-timed and syncopated rhythms that laid the foundation for such complex music. Alex Lifeson ripped solos that alternated seamlessly from incredible speed to powerful deliberateness. Geddy Lee had the power of Matt Freeman, the precision of Flea and the voice of an angel that had not yet hit puberty (maybe another reason I could relate to them).
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As any true Rush fan will tell you, Rush is the greatest band of all time, a claim that I will still defend furiously when in a particularly nostalgic mood. To some, Rush may come across as unfeeling and robotic, but to me, people that could play as well as robots were incredibly impressive. Plus, they had lyrics that I could understand and were interesting to me. When you're a teenager and you want to be an awesome musician, "Limelight" makes a lot more sense than "Nowhere Man." Songs like "Red Barchetta" showed that you could capture the spirit of a short story in a traditionally formed song, and, as a writer, that appealed a lot to me, as well.
I'm not sure exactly what music meant to me when I was younger, but I realize it must have meant less then, only because I recognize how much more it means to me now. I'm reminded of a quote by Fry from Futurama: "I can't wait til I'm old enough to feel ways about stuff." I wasn't looking to Rush to articulate the mature feelings I didn't have; I was looking to them as the instrumentalists I wanted to be, and in the process, I learned how to listen to lyrics closely, so I knew what they were saying, even if I didn't know necessarily what they meant yet.
Now, more than the story of the lyrics, I listen for the overall feeling that a song gives me. If I heard somebody singing in some ungodly, grating fashion (a characteristic which some may attribute to Danny Brown, my favorite rapper) over nails on a chalkboard, if it relates to me in a powerful way, that's all I need. "Like a Rolling Stone," "White Man (In Hammersmith Palais)" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" are three of my all-time favorite songs, and though I still adore Rush, technically great playing and rich literary writing isn't as important as the hairs on my neck sticking straight up. It's indescribable, something no number of notes, no matter how fast they're played, can replicate.
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