Most jazz musicians I know came to the music one of two ways. For some, it was part of their culture, either because of family or community. These are the children of musicians, the people who grew up in New Orleans with second lines or in New York amidst the great clubs. Jazz is second nature to them, part of who they are from an early age.
For the rest of us, jazz came later, often as the last musical frontier. We were the kids who started rock bands in middle school, taught ourselves Nirvana and Sex Pistols songs, challenged each other with faster and more intricate parts to separate the serious players from the pretenders. The guitarists worked up to Eddie Van Halen and Kirk Hammett, the bass players Les Claypool and John Entwistle. Drummers learned Lars Ulrich and John Bonham. And everyone learned Rush.
Rush were finally elected to Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame this year, an honor that is both significant and meaningless. Meaningless because, well, look at who is in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Many are not Rock, Roll or Famous. (I guess it is a Hall, so they got that part right). What do Madonna, Jimmy Cliff and Miles Davis have in common? Are any of them rock n’ roll?
Rush’s induction is significant, though, because it is long overdue. For somewhat obvious reasons, Rush has never been commercially popular or critically acclaimed. The music was always too esoteric to be a hit but never trendy enough for artsy credibility. It is rock n’ roll bebop, a gauntlet thrown down by master musicians to see who can hang.
Rush is hard music to play. The parts are always physically challenging, pushing some aspect of your technique to a new place- speed, precision, endurance, the ability to subdivide endlessly to avoid getting lost. All tested, each and every time.
I’m told it can also be hard music to listen to. Melodies are scarce, rests even scarcer, the lyrics often sound like a 6th grader’s interpretation of Ayn Rand and Geddy’s voice can be something of an acquired taste. Induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame sets aside some of those oft heard criticisms and recognizes this band’s accomplishments right alongside those of Led Zeppelin and The Who (and, sure, Madonna).
That Rush fans are among the most loyal in all of music says more about the band than the fans. The stoners who trip out to 2112 stuck along through the early 80s anthems, the mid-80s synths and the 90s prog-metal. Most bands that so relentlessly follow their muse do not maintain that kind of fan loyalty, but through the shifting styles there was a uniting element, a common thread running through the years, and that was Rush never acted like they were better than their fans. You get the feeling that if Neil hadn’t joined the band early on, he might be in one of the upper levels air-drumming (and probably doing it better than whoever had joined the band).
They are a band of the people, and rock music is the people’s music. Rush absolutely deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. Blah blah, bla-blah blah blah…