Welcome to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Rush

Thanks to their legendary fans, the equally legendary Canadian band finally gets its due

Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart, and Geddy Lee, May 7, 1984 (CP)

The first time Maclean’s wrote about Rush was in our July 12, 1976, issue. Back then, Geddy Lee was 22 and the band’s music sent “teen-age fans into paroxysms of ecstasy.” But offstage, the three members were described as “recklessly normal.”

Not much has changed.

Rush’s fans are, well, unique. It was their ardour, after all, that persuaded the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to include Rush among its 2013 inductees. Tonight, Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters will present Rush at the Hall of Fame ceremony in Los Angeles 10:30 p.m.

In an interview earlier today in Los Angeles, the band reflected on the long-awaited honour and the company they will share in receiving it: “It’s a constellation and we’re one little spark of light up there,” said Neil Peart.

“You can’t help but think about your context and all that we’ve done together, and what it’s been like to be a band for all these years,” added Geddy Lee. “And to receive this nice pat on the back.”

In 1997, Rush was the first rock band to be appointed officers of the Order of Canada since the national honor system, which recognizes “significant achievement in important fields of human endeavor” was created in 1967.

When asked about why it took so long for the band that produced 19 records in a row to reach gold or platinum certification in Canada to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, joining the ranks of bands like Abba, Aerosmith, The Talking Heads and Madonna, Lee suggested that it might have to do with the style of music they play: “Progressive rock is not accepted by this group of people who make this decision. Yes are not in the Hall. That’s an error. Deep Purple are not in the Hall. That’s an error. Moody Blues are not in the Hall. So prog-rock is viewed as a kind of lesser art form by the powers that be.”

“So that’s part of it,” he adds. “And of course, we are not really a mainstream act.”

“From our fans’ point of view, we must be maddeningly inconsistent,” said Peart, while considering how Rush has played about with different technologies and followed their creative whims. “Because we’re experimental and necessarily — even for Thomas Edison — not all experiments succeed. But if we believe in something, we see it through to the end…. And maybe we’re disappointed in the end, but a number of the experiments succeed keep us going and we build on those.”

“Yeah, we do have a tendency to drive sideways sometimes,” Lee added.

Rush’s well-known level of instrumental complexity is not only daunting to maintain for the three band members, but requires that they stay in excellent physical shape for when they tour. Their live shows, however, don’t always go off without a hitch:  “Oh yeah, we have train wrecks,” said Lee. “They’re hard songs to play. And our arrangements are pretty much like choreography: you have to be in the right place at the right time and hit the right button … We’re all triggering electronics all at the same time. And sometimes it can go disastrously wrong.”

But there is a bright side: “I think fans love it when they’re at a show and there’s a trainwreck because they talk about that forever.”

Those fans, notoriously intense as they are, gave the band support despite the fact that Rush was lambasted by critics for years.

“You develop a thick skin,” Lee said.  “And it’s nice that we’re getting better reviews now, but we still don’t trust them anyway.”

Few bands manage to survive 38 years without being burdened with baggage, but Rush has come out on the other side unscathed. How did they do it?

“Nothing better to do?” suggests Alex Lifeson.

“We still are trying to make each other laugh all the time,” replies Lee.

“There’s a mutual pride,” said Peart. “It’s important to point out that some bands really are focused on one individual as the creative force or the face of the band. We’re all equally engaged in it, equally rewarded creatively, all of us feel pretty much satisfied by the entity in every way. That’s pretty exceptional.”