Monday, December 19, 2016

Rush: Time Stand Still

"Not many quarterbacks and prom queens are Rush fans" states a self-described socially awkward Rush fan in this year's documentary RUSH: TIME STAND STILL.  That's the conventional wisdom, though I knew some jocks in high school who were dyed in the wool fans of the music of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart.  Not too many females, though, and of that select bunch they were of a more artistic bent.  Yes, often really good at science, too.  Besides an appreciation for the music, what makes someone a Rush fan(atic)? Someone who would attend dozens, perhaps over one hundred concerts over several decades? Collect Indonesian cassette imports?

TIME STAND STILL is as much about the hardcore fans as it is about the final large scale tour that unfolded in 2015.  It was an indescribably sad time for those who would attend "RUSHCON", an annual meeting of obsessives who would share their love of Peart's legendary drumming and his insightful lyrics. Lifeson's insane fretting.  They would also probably debate the quality of the front and center keyboards of Lee on the '80s and early '90s records.  The organizer explains the cultdom, how when she sees a complete stranger in a Rush T-shirt she feels absolutely compelled to speak with that person.  Perhaps another loyal subject, perhaps one of those lonely outcasts Peart wrote about in "Subdivisions".

The Canadian power trio are getting older. Peart's athletic, superhuman stick work surely couldn't go on forever.  Three hour shows.  Long worldwide tours.  The guys were doing two hundred plus nights a year, dating back to the 1970s when they opened for the likes of KISS.  Lifeson began to suffer with arthritis.  Perhaps it was time for the guys to...call it quits? Slow down? Peart needed convincing even to do the '15 tour.  Despite his weariness, he kept up his tradition of marathon motorcycle treks between gigs, contracting a debilitating foot fungus after he rode in wet conditions.  He continued to play, even when he could barely walk. "If a sniper shot Neil in the shoulder, he'd still finish the fucking set!" muses Rush's manager.

TIME STAND STILL, directed by Dale Heslip and narrated by Paul Rudd, chronicles the penultimate tour, counting down the number of shows until that finale at the L.A. Forum, a place Alex states is full of great memories for the band.  It's an emotional wringer for everyone: band, fans, crew.  One roadie optimistically wears a "RUSH 50" tee.  Many, especially Geddy, try to put their emotions aside and remain professional to the end.  When he feels Neil's arm around him during the final bow, he just about loses it; Peart had never "crossed that boundary" in forty years of touring.

The doc is expectedly melancholy, but not overwhelmingly so.  Lighter moments find Alex and Geddy reminiscing about the early tours: the less than luxurious transportation, the pranks. The drinking contest with Thin Lizzy?!  I enjoyed this quite a bit as Rush always had the reputation of being studious nerds.  That wonderful doc BEYOND THE LIGHTED STAGE never told us about "Mr. Bag"! TIME STAND STILL also recalls the endless, thunderous applause the band received at their induction at the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame.  That moment elucidates the trio's appreciation for their fans, those who've kept the spirit alive for so long.  Rush never got critical acclaim or Billboard success, but the devoted kept coming, kept buying the albums, even through some pretty significant stylistic shifts over the decades.  Even when Peart almost left the band after losing his wife and daughter within a single year.

The film takes its name from Rush's 1988 song, one whose narrator is "not looking back but I want to look around me now." I think those lyrics rang especially strong for the guys in 2015.  I pray we'll see them again.  They'll grace a stage somewhere sometime again, hopefully.  But one of my old friends - who would qualify as a hardcore fan and was at that L.A. show - isn't so certain.  When I recently texted him about the doc, he responded that he knew that night at the Forum it was truly over when he saw Neil Peart join his band mates for the curtain call.   I am plenty discouraged that they might not tour anymore; I only got to see them once back in 1990 at the Miami Arena.   Just one more time, please, guys? Even if it's in some little Toronto coffeehouse?

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