“Props to the nose”
I don’t have any idea what made me buy Rush’s two-disc greatest hits Chronicles many years ago, but it definitely changed my outlook on music. Popping it in my CD player, the sound flooded over me, playing songs that either I had heard and never aligned with the band or just had that intrinsic feel of greatness and familiarity. My parents had a few LPs when I was growing up and, once CDs came into being, I do recall listening to Roll the Bones often—still admittedly one of my favorite albums of theirs, “Heresy” is phenomenal, and criminally ignored in this documentary—so (re)discovering them wasn’t a huge surprise. The mechanics and sheer complexity of rhythm, time changes, and lyrics, (coming from a guy who doesn’t listen to words, I apologize to Neil Peart because I really should pay attention to his), blew my mind compared to anything coming out in the 90s. Being a huge fan after that, I did know enough about their history, but even so, all Rush followers, and music lovers in general, should see Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage. It’s a fantastically in-depth look at one of the greatest rock acts of all time.
Directors Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen go from the very beginning until the present—or at least 2007 with the release of their most recent album, Snakes and Arrows. Everything I hate about biopics attempting to infuse a two-hour film with the title character’s entire life is what I love in documentaries. I don’t need to see actors portray real people, belittling important moments or expanding on inconsequential minutiae, I want to hear from the source, or at the very least those who lived with the subjects. It is awesome to be able to see Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Peart candidly speak about the almost four decades worth of touring and creating together. Rarely see onscreen together, they are unencumbered by the others when telling stories or expressing their feelings. Luckily there is a lot of footage with Lee and Lifeson together, as the two friends since Middle School have a brotherly rapport, but for a guy like Peart, you just know he works better alone and is able to open up and speak his mind uncensored as such—something he does when talking about his relationship with fans. Personally I agree with his sentiments; you can be a diehard fan, but why would you ever want to intrude on their lives as a result?
While I could have done without the inane numbering of ‘chapters’ during the film, the linear structure really enhances the history lesson being given. With events such as the horrendous tragedy that befell Peart in the late 90s with the death of daughter and wife in the span of ten months to latch on for emotional purposes, I really have to hand it to the filmmakers for treating such things with respect, expressing them as a critical moment in the band’s evolution, but not as a thematic cornerstone to exploit. We go from their lower middle class upbringings to the school dance rounds young bands did in Ontario, Canada to the explosion of popularity in Cleveland that led to their first record deal with Mercury to finding a new drummer—yes Peart is the ‘New Guy’ as Lee continues to maintain he always will be—to creating the kind of sound that transcended genres and influenced countless hoards of musicians in the past three decades. You don’t truly understand someone’s worth until you hear what his peers have to say, memories of how listening to a Rush track changed their lives forever. After hearing Billy Corgan relay a tale about playing “Entre Nous” for his parents, I started to wonder if we’d ever have had The Smashing Pumpkins if not for Permanent Waves.
But that is what embodies Rush. They never relented, never buckled to pressure from the record label, even after watching Caress of Steel all but blow them back to obscurity. Rather than give in and write mainstream singles, they took their sense of moral fortitude and strength of character to say, “If it’s over, let’s go out with a bang”. From those sentiments came the seminal 2112, a record that perplexed the executives and critics, appearing to seal their fate, but resonating with audiences around the world, ultimately giving them complete artistic control, setting them on a trajectory with only the infinite expanse ahead. As Jack Black says, “they have an unending reservoir of rocket sauce”. Whereas most bands have the creative juices to make one great song, or one great album, Rush continued to evolve, tinker, experiment, and age organically. They strived to over-extend and challenge themselves, setting standards they couldn’t even live up to, but knew if they didn’t try, why bother going on? Overcoming the harsh critical reception of Lee’s voice, Peart’s literate lyrical yarns, and the band’s penchant for multiple signature changes in one song, this band above all others found a place in the hearts of the masses. As Lee says, they are the world’s biggest cult band.
And while I would have loved this account of their journey for the music and historical tidbits alone—who knew they were such David Lynch fans with Lifeson’s Eraserhead button and poster on the wall during the Permanent Waves sessions—the filmmakers have added their own touches to make it a documentary of merit. Dunn and McFadyen don’t just flip through photos statically; they utilize zooming morph transitions and even break up images into depth fields to add more motion and interest to the usual slideshow format. Kudos to the band, friends, and family for having a cavalcade of footage and documentation to put onscreen too—there is a ton of great stuff. I don’t know why the Zivojinovic family filmed dinner table encounters, but seeing a firsthand account of Lifeson telling his parents he was quitting school is quite the rare bit of footage. Parents are interviewed, old clippings and posters are shown, ex-headliners toured with recall old times—how about Gene Simmons being utterly dumbfounded at these three Canadian kids ignoring the women going through their hotel and watching tv in their rooms instead—and fans like the Foo Fighter’s Taylor Hawkins, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, Trent Reznor, and “South Park’s” Matt Stone express their undying gratitude. Rush is criminally under-rated and always has been. I think perhaps this documentary will help finally change all that.
Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage 8/10 | ★ ★ ★