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Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

Blaaaaame Canada, blaaaaame Canada!

I love the Olympics. No matter how old I get and no matter how much the event changes from year to year, I will always have an abnormal obsession with the story lines, the passion, and the spectacle that the event produces. The most recent Vancouver Olympics were no different, despite a comedy of errors that made the event a bit a gag for the rest of the world. However, things like a botched torch lighting and a serious dearth of snow were, for prog fans, only minor gaffes considering the giant maple elephant in the room during the opening and closing ceremonies. Quite obviously I’m talking about the absence of Canada’s chief musical and cultural export to the rest of the world, Rush. No one is 100% sure as to why the band went unheard during either ceremony, with theories running from artistic differences (the band didn’t want to have to lip-sync) to tragic circumstances (the organizers dropped the band over concerns of being too up-beat after the death of a Georgian luger days before). Regardless, prog fans from every nation were left wondering what fool had gotten bands like Simple Plan and Nickelback to represent the country instead of the most respected and best selling Canadian musicians of all time.

Fortunately film directors Sam Dunn and Scott McFadyen have given Rush a second opportunity to introduce themselves to a world that has only heard about ‘that band those music nerds and sci-fi geeks love.’ Dunn and McFadyen have already produced two extremely well received rock documentaries, Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey and Iron Maiden: Flight 666. In Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage , they are able to pay tribute to the trio in such a way that they not only satisfy the demands of the band’s rabid fan base, but they also make the group much more accessible and relevant for neophytes. I was lucky enough to catch this documentary on TV one night (or rather, I was lucky to see that it was being shown at 1:00am and set my DVR to record it, but whatever) and as I watched it, I was thoroughly impressed by two aspects of the film.

I'm still upset Neil Peart lost the mustache

First, the variety of original material the directors were able to dig up is staggering. The band was well documented once they became famous, and a lot of the footage from later in the band’s career will be recognizable to their fan base already, but stuff like footage from a dinner where Lifeson tells his parents that he wants to drop out of high school boggles my mind. Who the hell recorded that! They didn’t have camera phones back then, someone was clearly standing there with this thing recording the family as they fought at the dinner table! Also included are interviews with the band’s original drummer, who was dropped because he was diabetic (ok, it’s slightly more complicated than that, but that’s the take away from the documentary. How fast would that lawsuit be over today?). These materials that the directors have found add another dimension to the band that even some of the most obsessed fans will find enlightening.

Secondly, the way the directors present the band may be the biggest step forward for the band’s public image in years. In their other music documentaries Dunn and McFadyen shape the storyline so that an isolated and stereotyped band or genre becomes much more understandable for novices. The same process can be observed here, and it’s carried out in two ways. First, candid interviews with the band members make you feel like you’re watching your nerdy, quirky uncle and not multi-millionaire rock stars. Viewers will empathize as the band struggles with critics and record companies, neither of whom had any tolerance for progressive rock at the time (which obviously totally different today, *sigh*). Neil Peart in particular remains a stoic and isolated character throughout the film, but the discussion of the various tragedies during his life and his journey to overcome them help the fans connect with Peart on a level that he’s never been able to do himself over the past 30+ years. Meanwhile Lee and Lifeson are able to share their friendship with the camera for the entire movie, paling around and acting as if they were totally oblivious to the fact that they are international rock icons instead of goofy teenagers.

The other thing that lends an amazing amount of new found credibility to the band are the interviews with some of their most famous fans. Of course progressive rock musicians like Mike Portnoy and Les Claypool provide their input, but the inclusion of musicians like Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins), Kirk Hammet (Metallica), Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), Gene Simmons (Kiss), along with many, many others makes outsiders notice that Rush has been cherished for a very long time, not just by the nerds you knew in high school, but by cool people as well!. The inclusion of other celebrities such as actor Jack Black and South Park co-creator Matt Stone are an especially nice pop culture touch. With the army of creative icons involved, this movie gives Rush a broad new appeal to a faction of fans who might have only been casually aware of the band.

This is really a great rock-doc that both appeals to die-hard fans while also pulling in those who might only know of the band from a friend or family member. You can order it online if you don’t see it coming up on your cable schedule in the near future, and when you watch it see if you can get some open minded friends to watch it with you. Rarely is there such a good method of converting the prog-curious into full time fans, and to waste such an opportunity would be like neglecting to including Rush in the Olympics. Again. Not that I’m bitter. F’n Canada…

Also, watch this, because it’s awesome:

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