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Rush fans have been very angry for a very long time. Not at the long-lived Canadian prog-rock trio–no, they worship them unequivocally. The “world’s biggest cult band” has a fanatical following heavily composed of dudes, and in the last decade, those dudes have been pissed, ranting about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s perceived slight of their beloved band. It’s taken more than 10 years, but Rush finally got what they didn’t really care about in the first place: an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, class of 2013. They join classmates Heart, Randy Newman, Public Enemy, Donna Summer, and Albert King.
Party time in the Rush camp? Hardly. In a midtown Manhattan radio studio, childhood friends Geddy Lee (bass/vocals) and Alex Lifeson (guitars), speak–quietly, attentively, politely–for nearly an hour about a career that began in 1968 and encompasses 20 heavy, often musically intricate and lyrically philosophical studio albums. The low-key duo makes it clear that it’s the music that matters, and their friendship, and their fans–not industry accolades or critical maligning. “Honestly, I really did not give it much thought,” Lee says about being eligible for the Rock Hall for a decade without a nomination. “I felt bad for our fans because it really seems to mean a hell of a lot to them. They championed this because of us, and they felt slighted. As musicians, we did not feel slighted,” he says. “I do feel vindication for [our fans] and I’m quite happy that the bubble has burst.”
Two of those fans are the Foo Fighters’ likable Mr. Everywhere, Dave Grohl, and drummer Taylor Hawkins, who will usher Rush into the hall during the Los Angeles ceremony on April 18. Rush views it as a “great compliment,” and Lee, whose slight build, long hair, and soul patch give him the air of someone a decade younger than his nearly 60 years, asserts that “The [Foo Fighters] are probably the greatest American band. Dave’s such a fantastic entertainer. He’s so funny–witty, charming, quick. They’re really, really great live. It’s interesting to see how his persona has developed out of the shadows of Nirvana.”
Rush’s own drummer/lyricist, Neil Peart, is as reticent a rock star you’ll likely ever find. A fanatical and accomplished reader, author, lyricist and musician, he is the engine that drives Rush. His bandmates are solicitous of his privacy, especially following a double tragedy in 1997, when Peart’s child was killed in a car accident and his wife of 22 years lost her battle with cancer.
“Neil will participate in certain interviews,” says Lee carefully. “It’s a little mercurial. As far as [pre-concert fan] meet-and-greets, though, I can’t ever see a time where he’ll do that. He’s just a really shy guy.”
While Peart rarely does interviews, his bandmates shed light on what it’s like to live among the trio. Lee laughs when he quips, “We are the only working democracy on the planet earth,” but it seems true. Peart writes every word Lee sings, and Lee wouldn’t dream of altering a single syllable without approval. “That would never happen,” Lee says. “That’s taking something for granted, changing a word without even mentioning it. Neil’s a great partner, because over the years he’s grown to give more time and respect to the job I have to do as a vocalist and as a songwriter.”
On the Next Page: Alex Lifeson on what Rush fans will complain about now that Rush is in the Hall of Fame
Respect is a word that gets used often by Lee and Lifeson both. It’s a key factor in Rush’s universe. So too, as you may have guessed from an outfit so precise, is rehearsal.
“We’re rehearsal freaks,” confesses Lifeson. Exhibit A: For their current Clockwork Angels tour, Rush practiced on their own before blocking out two months of rehearsals in a proper, professional bells-and-whistles space. “You want to be in perfect shape before rehearsals start,” Lifeson says, distilling everything about Rush into a single sentence.
Methodical musicians. Impossibly (and, to their detractors, painfully) precise. Their dedication to preparation makes them much more concerned about the speeches they’re meant to give at their induction ceremony than the performance. “It’s much more difficult to get up without your instrument and say thank you to a small house full of people than to play for 100,000 people. There’s something more intimate and nerve-wracking about it.”
Rush’s intimacy issue aside, how do they feel about those few who have turned down induction, à la Axl Rose and the Sex Pistols? “It’s a personal thing,” says the ever-circumspect Lee, his eyes calm behind tinted glasses. “My attitude is, if somebody wants to pat me on the back for work well done, I’m going to be gracious enough to say ‘thank you very much.’ We’re still productive and writing new music. Rush is still a work in progress in my view, so I’m very honored to accept the accolade.”
Still, a problem remains. Once in the Rock Hall, what will Rush fans complain about? “Our set list,” says Lifeson reflexively. “It’s an endless complaint. Everybody wants to hear everything.”
“We’re only playing for three hours, so I guess we did it wrong,” says Lee, smiling. “We should be playing for four.”
A four-hour Rush show. The thought alone deserves an award.