I’m going to take a quick break from technology today to honour Rush, one of my favourite bands – and indeed, Canada’s greatest band – for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Thursday night. Since Rush is a band that is liked primarily by nerds, and since it’s nerds who primarily read about technology, I don’t think this is too much of a stretch or indulgence on my part. Moreover, proclaiming Rush as “Canada’s greatest band” can indeed be supported by some math, a topic that is very much the province of nerds.
By the numbers, then, the only question regarding the band’s inclusion in the hallowed Hall is not why, but rather what took so long?
Rush has 19 consecutive gold and platinum albums, a feat surpassed only by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. That has added up to a haul of 40 million records worldwide. Canada has a knack for producing globally successful solo artists (Bryan Adams, Shania Twain, Celine Dion, et al), but up until recent years, that hasn’t necessarily been true for bands. The Guess Who preceded Rush in getting international success, but were long eclipsed by the progressive rock trio (The Band were actually the first Canadian band to get into the Hall). Will any current or future Canadian band have the longevity to ever top Rush in these measures? That remains to be seen.
But numbers alone don’t necessarily qualify anyone for greatness – there are many intangibles that come into play as well. On that front, few Canadian artists have had the influence on fans and musicians like Rush has. They’re one of the only bands, notably including The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and KISS, that has its own fan-organized convention, RushCon. (I wrote and learned about this phenomenon more than a decade ago, before I was actually a fan.)
Scores of musicians – from Slash, to Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins to Dave Grohl of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters – count the band as a big influence, or the inspiration for why they picked up instruments in the first place. Just think about that about chain of events: if Rush inspired the likes of Slash and Grohl, how many teenagers did those two particular individuals turn on to music?
Like many fans, I came to Rush rather late. I actually kind of hated them when I was in high school – I couldn’t stand Geddy Lee’s voice and they were just entering their late-80s weird synth mode, soon to be followed by an absolutely regrettable dalliance with rap (Roll the Bones still makes me shudder).
But as I got older and started looking for music with more substance, I found it in Rush. The songs were longer and more complex and the lyrics were deeper and more meaningful than most of the stuff on the radio. (I’m fairly sure that Tom Sawyer, perhaps the band’s biggest hit, is about journalists.) I even got used to Geddy’s voice. Like beer or a stiff shot of whiskey, it’s an acquired taste.
It’s been said that people either love or hate the band, and it’s easy to understand why for those reasons. But I kind of like how Toronto Star music critic Ben Rayner summarized it to the CBC: “It takes a while to ‘get’ Rush. Once you ‘get’ Rush, even if you don’t necessarily enjoy the music, you can appreciate them. And that’s the thing: people respect them.”
That couldn’t be more true. I’m glad I “get” Rush and I’m pleased that the Hall of Fame is getting them too. Well done guys – keep on rockin’!