Okay, so as I sit down to write this, it’s not my intent for this to be some sort of review of the recent 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony – but in the end, it’s inevitable that it’ll morph into just that. So, please allow a bit of grace if you can find it in you.
The 2013 ceremony has been over for about 9 hours now, which by the way, is just LESS than twice the length of the actual event which clocked in at just over 5 hours! Yikes! So on the drive back to my hotel, all the way back I was trying to reconcile exactly what I saw tonight. I’ve attended numerous RRHOF ceremonies over the years. The previous times I’ve attended, I was there representing the mixing needs of an inductee. But tonight, I was there first as a person who worked closely with one of the inductees for a period of years; Rush, but secondly I attended as an absolute fan of the band and really wanted nothing more than to just be there to share in the moment. Ya see, unbeknownst to many, I was that lucky Rush fan that actually got called on to mix sound for the band in concert for many years; literally a dream come true. And on this night, as soon as I walked into the Nokia Theater, I was made to feel right at home, because about 75% of the audience was sporting their Rush tee shirts from every Rush touring era imaginable.
Now, given how long it has taken Rush to be inducted into the RRHOF, and in light of the acts that preceded them, it’s no longer lost on anyone that apparently, there is the music business – whatever the hell that is – and then there is Rush. And truth be told, Rush is not a three-piece; nope, not a power trio. What Rush actually is, is a five-piece; the fourth member being their production crews that have worked so closely and tirelessly with them over the years and, of course, the fifth and most important member being their rabid, loyal, passionate almost singularly focused fans.
It’s been an odd journey to get here for all those who are vested; almost as if this five-piece ensemble has existed as its own entity and survived and thrived in its own ecosystem void of all of the daily “hype” that we are bombarded with in today’s music business.
Rush was a “grass roots success” LONG before it was fashionable to deem yourself as such in order to gain credibility. More than anything for me, Rush always felt pure and honest and at the same time tough and defiant to all that would challenge it.
After a career spanning 40 years in the music business, it is inevitable that you’re going to be bombarded by incredible pressure to change and morph into the flow of the current trends. Over the course of Rush’s career you can see these little microshifts in approach, but at the core it was always, and will surely remain Rush.
So it was with great anticipation that I came to the awards show to simply see my friends and former touring co-horts inducted in to what Neil so “tongue planted firmly in cheek” described as the “pantheon” of rock.
In the past, during all of the ceremonies I’ve attended, and in nearly all inductance and acceptance speeches, there has been an underlying theme. The theme more often than not is to pay homage to all of the past musical influences that helped shape the inductee or producer and their music. In almost all cases the inductee references jazz or blues, maybe even gospel. Generally speaking, as a fan of their music you wouldn’t have to possess a trained ear to hear those influences in the music created by the person or band being inducted.
Now here’s the cool thing about tonight in my opinion; and I’m not certain everyone will get, or even buy into this; but I submit to you that Rush is unique in this regard. I challenge anyone to dig into the Rush catalog with regards to composition, arrangement, lyrics or production and categorically state “oh, listen that’s a direct descendant of this … or that”. There are only hints and glimpses of it, but nothing categorical. And that’s what makes Rush so deserving of being honored on this night, but at the same time makes it so apparently awkward in the same breath. Rush are an absolute original, a true singularity. There are people who get that, and then there are people that not only don’t get it, but are completely oblivious to it. A “casual fan” of Rush simply does not exist.
This was SO evident in the room tonight. In the first five minutes of the ceremony, you could just sense that there was an element of the population in the room saying to itself, “okay what the hell is a Rush and who are all these people in the audience going crazy right now?” It was a spine-tingling, hair-on-the-arm raising moment. Throughout the night, all other inductions were simply dwarfed by the response of the Rush fans in the building and frankly, it made for some uncomfortable moments for many on the night.
But that’s the beauty of it ya see. The poetry and majesty of this thing called Rush is that a Rush could exist and thrive for nearly 40 years and – while still going as strong as ever by the way— have the music business and especially the RRHOF be so seemingly oblivious to it all along. Tonight was as an affirmation of Rush no doubt, but it was just as much an affirmation of those who are true Rush fans. It was a grand “we told ya so” from the throngs of not long-time, but lifetime fans.
In his acceptance speech, Neil stated that he and the band believed for many years that their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was “no big deal”, but then goes on to say “ya know what, it IS a big deal”.
Now in a perfect world, the person chosen to give the induction speech for this band would have come up on stage, and in his speech would have given everyone in the building who was not a Rush fan the keys to unlock the mystery. He would have given them the insight, understanding and context to leave the ceremony and realize that they had indeed missed out on something singular and special. Something that every induction presenter tried to do in their own way for every inductee this night.
But instead, on this night it was Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins to give the induction speech for Rush. As it all unfolded, it came off a bit more “roast” than “tribute” and may have simply served as a means for the doubters and the uninformed to easily dismiss Rush as another from a long list of “heavy metal cartoon characters”.
And while I have deep and endearing respect for Dave Grohl and his body of work, I couldn’t help but be struck by the irony of his role here; the irony that it was he and his Nirvana co-conspirators in the grunge movement that lead the charge to make music that flew directly in the face of everything Rush stood for from the angle of songwriting and record production.
But on the other hand, if you have indeed followed Rush from the very beginning then you must concede that Dave and the grungers of the 90s were in fact direct descendants of what Rush represented in their earliest efforts. Music that was unapologetic and squarely in your face forcing you to question everything you had been taught about music up to that point. Music that clearly marched to it’s own beat. So in the end, maybe it’s all just a “push” and Dave and Taylor were indeed the perfect inductors.
After all, there are really no words that adequately describe what Rush means to their fans, or even to the music business for that matter. And frankly that is what makes them all the more special in my eyes. As Rush fans, we never really needed or wanted the approval of the RRHOF or the faux affirmation that it comes with it, and frankly, I feel confident that the band didn’t really need it or covet it either. But the truth is, that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame without this band in it would be as shallow and vacuous as the Baseball Hall of Fame without Ty Cobb or the art community failing to recognize and acknowledge the work of a Pablo Picasso. For Rush fans, the night was bit of both Cobb and Picasso that seized the opportunity to simply do what Rush fans have been doing all along; and that is give mainstream music the middle finger and remind them that “you just don’t get it and you likely never will”
The band’s acceptance speeches were the perfect culmination of all that we know and have come to expect from Rush. They stepped up and humbly thanked their band mates, their circle of families, their long-time manager, all their crew members and most importantly their fans without whom they likely would not have even gotten consideration for the Hall.
Rush delivered no painfully longwinded diatribes about their musical influences, politics, society, the state of the music business or worst of all, a load of fluffy rhetoric about how they got to this “pinnacle moment in their lives and career” all of which preceded them in speeches throughout the night seemingly infinitum.
No, instead Rush chose to be as concise and precise as a Rush composition; which of course always includes an unexpected but totally engaging twist and turn. That twist came in the form of guitarist Alex Lifeson closing the evening with an acceptance speech that used only the words “blah blah blah blah blah” for the entirety of the speech.
Now, there’s someone who gets it … which of course was no surprise to anyone wearing a Rush T-shirt.