Written by: Paul Gleason
Dear Geddy, Alex, and Neil:
I know that it’s unorthodox to write a concert review in the form of an open letter to the band, but Rush has never been about orthodoxy. So perhaps the best way to write about your concert at the United Center in Chicago, which my family and I attended on Friday, June 12, is to be unorthodox.
A few days have passed since the concert, so I’ve had time to reflect on why the concert had such a powerful effect on me. And I can begin to summarize this effect in one word: “commitment.”
Ever since I started listening to you, you’ve repeatedly defined for me – album after album, and concert after concert – the meaning of “commitment.”
For starters, you’re committed to each other. How many bands – let alone marriages and friendships – last for 40 years? But the three of you have always remained committed to each other. To this end, I often reflect on what Geddy says in the Beyond the Lighted Stage documentary about how he wasn’t interested in being in Rush without his two bandmates. Of course, he was discussing the traumatic events that Neil suffered in the late 1990s. But what he meant has more far-reaching applications, having to do with the importance of commitment to others and how it transforms into love.
Love. The word gets thrown around a lot. But Geddy’s statement rings true. He and Alex loved Neil so much that they put their music on hold to give him time to recover and heal. And what emerged on the Vapour Trails album of 2002 is a monument to the way in which love can transform the mundane into the miraculous.
I realize that all this might sound sentimental, cheesy, and trite. And I know that our ironic culture has made it difficult to write about emotions at all. That’s precisely why Rush – a warm, people’s band playing in a cool time – has been and will always be maligned by the critical establishment.
But I’m no rock critic. I’m a human being. And that’s why your story and music speak to me so deeply.
My wife was recently diagnosed with a bunch of serious health problems, and I have chronic cardiomyopathy (a very serious heart condition that will one day lead to a heart transplant or my early death). The cause of my wife’s health issues goes undiagnosed.
We have kids – twin girls. They’re 12. We took them to see you in Chicago. This was important because there’s a very real possibility that one or both of us might not be around much longer – but your music and the girls’ memory of that night will be.
My wife was on crutches, and the kids were tired from the long drive (we live in Milwaukee). But as soon as you hit the stage, all negativity went away. The feeling of community and love that you always provide was there in full force, engulfing the crowd with a subtle message.
From your first song, “The Anarchist,” all the way to your final song, “Working Man,” the message, perhaps paradoxically, was that through the expression of one’s individuality, one could feel communal commitment. And, of course, you structured your setlist to take the audience on a “Headlong Flight” through your history in a musical time machine that went from the present back to 1974.
But back to the subtle message, which I knew wasn’t lost on my wife, who grew up in a harshly conservative, emotionally abusive Catholic household. Your performance of “Animate” animated her (it’s always been her favorite Rush song). Why? Because after the show, as the kids slept in the backseat on the drive back to Milwaukee, we talked about how when she first heard “Animate,” the song helped her realize that Catholicism could never answer the burning questions she had about the universe and her place in it. It was too easy. She needed something more.
Then we talked about her love of Rush, and how your musicianship and your dedication to musical excellence and each other as people are unparalleled in the history of rock and roll. Are The Stones, The Who, and other bands of your popularity doing what you’re doing? Releasing records as good as Clockwork Angels in the latter stages of their careers? Playing on stage, night after night, without the assistance of extra musicians? Playing music as complex as yours (thank you for playing all those songs from Caress of Steel, 2112, A Farewell to Kings, and Hemispheres)?
But rock and roll isn’t a contest. At the end of the day, it’s about how it makes you feel and how it makes you look inside yourself.
And it’s about values – and Rush is perhaps the only band that lives a set of core values, with passionate musical virtuosity. I know that you’ll help me as a father – my wife and I as parents – pass on the core values of commitment and love to my girls.
As you say in “Far Cry” – a song that continues to hold true for me – “It’s a far cry from the world we thought we’d inherit.”
I couldn’t agree with Neil more. But you guys have remained constant in an uncertain world in uncertain times – something to hold on to, something like our undying humanity in all its strength and frailty.