I’m not a Rush fan. Never have been, likely never will be. I don’t know if it’s Geddy Lee’s screechy vocals, the pseudo-intellectual songs, or the flowing 70s robes. Maybe it’s partly because for me they’re a local band and I’ve never really been able to appreciate just how far reaching their influence is. (It also doesn’t help matters that Geddy Lee and his wife were regular fixtures at the antique store where I used to work – they’re lovely people but it never did much to solidify his rock cred with me. But I digress.) The point is that with all of this working against it, it came as a surprise to me that I liked this movie as much as I did. In fact, it was pretty damn good.
Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage uses a mix of interviews along with home movies and archival footage to trace the history of the band from their humble beginnings in Toronto to how they became one of the biggest rock bands of the last four decades. And make no mistake, they are one of the biggest bands, at least in terms of record sales. Rush, consisting of Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart) has sold over 40 million albums and yet somehow they’re still seen as outsiders. Musical heavyweights including Gene Simmons, Trent Reznor, Billy Corgan, and even Sebastian Bach (I’ll leave whether or not he fits into the ‘heavyweight’ category with you) ponder the unique quandary of how the band could become so huge without anyone really noticing. Revealing interviews with the band members’ parents also offer some insight.
The film, made up of 13 parts, moves along at a pretty steady pace as the band goes from playing local high schools, to finding success on the radio, to releasing their first few albums, to going on tour with Kiss (an education for any band I imagine). As their success grows they eschew the classic rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and stay the well-behaved Canadian boys they are.
There’s a noticeable gap in the movie when it fails to cover much of the 1980s. Instead it skips right to the toughest time in the band’s history, when Neil Peart lost his daughter and wife and took off for a while to try to deal with the loss. For a few years it seemed as though Rush wouldn’t continue, and all three of the guys were okay with that. Fortunately for fans they were able to find their way back and Rush took to the stage once again. And now (thanks to some help from Stephen Colbert) they’re more popular than ever.
Rush has always been an audience band, never particularly adored by critics (and at times ruthlessly mocked by them), and co-directors Scot McFayden and Sam Dunn clearly chose to make this movie for that audience. Call it a love letter to Rush fans. But not just that, it also manages to serve as a testament to the talent of a band who, although a lot of people don’t realize it, played an important part in the history of rock and roll. I’m not likely to run out and buy a copy of 2112 or start expounding the virtues of seemingly endless songs, but thanks to this movie I have a new appreciation for a band I had previously written off. Go figure.
The Upside: While it likely won’t convert too many critics of their music, it gives new appreciation to the role they’ve played in rock history.
The Downside: It skips over large portions the band’s career and neglects to talk about their own musical influences.
On the Side: The love/hate relationship the world has with Rush isn’t lost on the band. Geddy Lee refers to them – without a trace of bitterness – as “the world’s most popular cult band.”