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Mar32020

Listening to all of RUSH’s Albums to Honor Neil Peart: A Farewell to Kings

 

"A Farewell to Kings" -- RUSH

I am listening to all of Rush’s albums in order to honor the life and work of their drummer and lyricist Neil Peart, who died on Jan 7th at age 67. Next up…

Album Name: A Farewell to Kings

Released: September 1977

Rush’s fifth studio album is the second of their golden prog-rock period where side-length sci-fi tales of ridiculousness were coin of the realm. Many vintage RUSH fans love this stuff but it is not for me. Therefore, it will surprise no one that Mr. Peart’s contributions I zero in on here and continue to appreciate most all these years later, are on shorter, more approachable material.

Best Drums: “A Farewell to Kings”

Often overlooked, I think, due to its sonic similarity to “2112,” the band’s preceding album, what begins as a woodsy British folk ballad soars to the heights of a classical opera, mostly thanks to a wash of keyboards. But what would sound metallic and thin is made magisterial by the sober throb of Neil Peart’s drums. It’s foundational rhythm at its quiet best.

Best lyrics: “Closer to the Heart”

Possibly Peart’s finest composition, an open-chested plea for tolerance, peace and a new way of living from a famously shy and quiet man.

And the men who hold high places
Must be the ones who start
To mold a new reality
Closer to the Heart
Closer to the Heart

The Blacksmith and the Artist
Reflect it in their art
They forge their creativity
Closer to the Heart
Yea, Closer to the Heart

Philosophers and Plowmen
Each must know his part
To sow a new mentality
Closer to the Heart
Closer to the Heart

 

Feb62020

Listening to all of RUSH’s Albums to Honor Neil Peart: 2112

"2112" -- Rush

So I am listening to all of Rush’s albums in order to honor the life and work of their drummer and lyricist Neil Peart who died on Jan 7th at age 67.

Next Up:

Album Name: 2112

Released: April 1976

Rush’s forth studio album 2112 is a gloriously silly space opera that somehow manages to justify its excesses. Unlike its predecessor Caress of Steel its 973 minute opening takes us briskly into the rest of the album AND stands on its own instead of collapsing in on its own weight. Even though it’s hard to look at in plainly in retrospect (its the band’s breakthrough record and arguably them at their best. It’s human nature to muddle the two).

For the record, it is not my favorite incarnation of Rush and not why I signed on 35 years ago. I was barely in a full set of clothes in 1976 and my earliest memories of the band are when they’d left this stuff far behind. Still, I admire their nerve here as a young band and how well these epic pieces hold up live if not in fashion but in repeat performance.

Best drumming: That overture is mostly keyboard -driven but the drums sure buttress it nicely

Best lyrics:

Though it is simply about drug culture, “A Passage to Bangkok” paints a coked-out tableau with great wit and punnery.

“Our first stop is in Bogota
To check Colombian fields
The natives smile and pass along
A sample of their yield
Sweet Jamaican pipe dreams
Golden Acapulco nights
Then Morocco, and the East
Fly by morning light

 

Jan292020

Listening to all of RUSH’s Albums to Honor Neil Peart: Fly By Night

Rush: Fly By Night

I am listening to all of Rush’s albums in order to honor the life and work of their drummer and lyricist Neil Peart who died on January 7th at the age of 67. First up…

Album name: Fly By Night

Release Date: Feb 15, 1975

The Story: The band’s second studio album but first with Neil Peart is commonly regarded as the first album of what the band would be in the first stages of their career–hard rock, bluesy guitaring mixed with fantastical, science fiction themes and courageous (or silly) lengthy pro-rock excursions. Personally, I care for those less than RUSH acing their fundamentals: Superior musicianship and lyrics that can be indulgent and a bit juvenile at times but always contain brilliant turns of phrase and are never dull.

The title track Peart wrote about his failed 18 months living abroad, trying to crack into the English music scene. “Beneath, Between and Behind” was the first set of lyrics he ever wrote for the band

My favorite track:

“Fly By Night”

https://youtu.be/nEVDZl5UvN4

Favorite Drumming:

“Anthem” (accepting that drum solos do very little for me. I prefer drumming as a component of the song)

https://youtu.be/3oEQuzHp5I0

Favorite Lyric:

“Moon rise, thoughtful eyes
Staring back at me from the window beside
No fright, or hindsight
Leaving behind that empty feeling inside”

— Fly By Night

Jan292020

Listening to all of Rush’s Albums to honor Neil Peart: Caress of Steel

 

So I am listening to all of Rush’s albums in order to honor the life and work of their drummer and lyricist Neil Peart who died on Jan 7th at age 67.

Album Name: Caress of Steel

Released: September 1975

Rush’s third studio album was considered a bomb, a claim not without merit: The first side contains some of their finest songwriting in a pair of tracks — “Bastille Day “ and “Lakeside Park”— that manage to be as grand and epic as their 12 minute outer space operas while feeling human and made of flesh rather than make of titanium and being a song you appreciate the audacity of rather than actually, eh listen to.

A bit of context here: The typical narrative of Rush is these 12 minute three movement dramas about based on JRR Tolkein and Ayn Rand are them at their best. Then around “Tom Sawyer” (1980, eight albums into their career) they got a taste of having a 3 minute hit song and never went back. In effect they “sold out” and turned their back on the nerds who supported them from the jump.

My relationship with them is just the opposite. I’ve no need for 12 minutes of something called “Cygnus Book II” because I discovered the band in their 3 minute song years of the 1980s and that’s what I fell in love with so that works for me.

Here then, side one of Caress of Steel is what they would become in another 5 years. Side two is where they were at the moment. It’s an uneasy coexistence and the album is so bottom heavy with three movement wankarama dramas that the (better) first side feels tacked on.

Ah well. I never owned this record and heard all I needed from it when I bought the Rush: Chronicles greatest compilation on something called a “CD” once upon a time. Nothing lost.

Best drumming: That opening from Bastille Day is killer:

https://youtu.be/mT1gmKUoqbY

Best lyrics:

“Midway hawkers calling “Try your luck with me”
Merry-go-round wheezing the same old melody
A thousand ten cent wonders who could ask for more
A pocketful of silver, the key to heaven’s door”

— Lakeside Park

https://youtu.be/tgeg-xadx9s

A surprisingly sweet track about an amusement park Neil Peart worked at as a teenager in St. Catherine’s, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto. I am always pleased when a Rush song is about people and this world we share together.

Jan202020

Daily Links Special for Dr. Martin Luther King Day

 

MLK March on Washington Speech

— NPR: ‘I Have A Dream’ Speech, In Its Entirety https://t.co/kBC12Wlln0

— New Yorker: From 1965: Renata Adler reports on Martin Luther King, Jr., and the historic march from Selma to Montgomery. https://t.co/KevfNjsnou

— Paste Magazine: Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day With Musical Tributes From Patti Labelle, Joan Baez & many more. https://t.co/YBCTnHi8cH

“I fear I may have integrated my people into a burning house” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

 

 

 

May282014

RIP Maya Angelou: A Eulogy for The Pulse of Morning

“Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes,
Into your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.”

I was on the Washington Mall that clear January in 1992, 19 years old, having voted in my first election the November before, when Dr. Maya Angelou read her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” for the inauguration of President Clinton. I will never forget that day, standing there in the freezing cold, with my mother and youngest brother, seeing a speck of a tall African-American woman in the distance speak of the new president and the America we all came from and was dawning that morning.

I thought of how my mother had marched for civil rights and the rights of women, how my father had welcomed the black friends of my brothers and I to our Passover Seder table then insisted on hearing about their families, their traditions and how my late grandfather, at risk of reprisal, loss of business and professional standing, had given good paying jobs and no interest loans to the African-American men who worked on his construction crews, simply because it was the right thing to do.

And I looked at that tall woman in the distance, whose voice and words rolls from the steps of our capitol, like thunder rolling down the mountains. I knew that woman’s personal history meant she had every reason and cause to be bitter and disgusted with the country of her birth, the country that broke its promise to her and generations like her.

And I heard her say it was our country, all of us, and at its root was not the promise to get it right the first time, to try and do it better next time, with year, each election, each generation. That to be an American was to believe, fundamentally, that from night always came morning.

I will miss you, Maya Angelou. You were the guiding spirit of one of my proudest days as an American.

Aug92009

RIP John Hughes: A Eulogy for a Generational Hero

This essay appeared in The Huffington Post on August 18, 2009

Director John Hughes died on my 36th birthday, which means I’m now the age he was when Ferris Bueller took his day off. Hughes reportedly wrote Ferris based on the high school adventures of his best friend, himself, and his girlfriend, whom Hughes married shortly after their graduation in 1968. By the film’s release in 1986, when John Hughes was the reigning master of what Courtney Love called “the defining moments of the alternative generation,” he was also a father to two young children, a boomer family man and the demographic against which his audience saw their identity as an “alternative”.

Following his fatal heart attack at age 59, that audience (now family men and women ourselves) hurried to claim Hughes as ours. Director Kevin Smith called him “Our J.D. Salinger.” Jud Apatow: “None of what I do would exist without him.” Diablo Cody: “An idol to this magna-zoom-dweebie.”

I went ahead and emailed my parents, explaining that this passing meant to me what John Lennon’s death meant to them. “We liked John Hughes movies too,” my mom wrote back.

Of course they did. The same way they liked American Graffiti and Splendor in Grass as late-youth fables from at a time long ago. My 13-year-old cousin Zoe probably files Pretty in Pink or Weird Science next to Mean Girls and She’s all That, befitting the endless now adolescence feels like when you’re in the middle of it.

With the petulance then of an overlooked middle child, wedged between Boomers and Millennials, my generational urge to lock up Hughes’s children up in the library then stand out outside the door screaming “Mine! Mine!” isn’t just a personalization of loss. It’s also an endowment of cultural legacy, a declaration that Duckie, Watts, Cameron Frye and Jake Ryan belong yes, to history, but really to us.

Every generation slams the door on the one behind it. We can only grant Tie Dye, The Muppet Show, Pearl Jam or Facebook to those borne of one age by implying everyone else is too old to “get it” or too young to understand. As if by nature, generational identity seems a fierce melding of two unequal parts — what it is and everything else it isn’t.

With John Hughes, this had the unintended consequence of turning appreciations of his work into a nostalgic land grab, relegating it to the same garage shelf as New Coke or the Atari 2600. Michael Jackson, another recently deceased ’80s icon, had the benefit of a career with his brothers the decade before and presence in the tabloids until the day he died. Hughes last directed in 1991. It’s easy then to confine his contributions to his heyday, the middle years of the Reagan administration, to shoulder pads and Spandau Ballet.

But if that were the whole story, would there have been this kind of outpouring? We return to John Hughes’s movies because they didn’t just speak to a moment in time — they also transcended it. Remove the floppy disk jokes and Sixteen Candles is ageless as a Hudson/Day romantic comedy. Ferris Bueller may as well be subtitled Chicago! Chicago! It’s a Wonderful Town! Call the Breakfast Club an adolescent Iceman Cometh, a chorus of characters imprisoned and waiting for something to happen who realize they are the only something that will.

Hughes’s are not just movies about the mid-1980s, but movies set in the mid-1980s that now live as archetype and fable. I know this because, last year, I threw myself a “Come Dressed as Your Seventh Grade Self” birthday last year and guests from ages 20 to 55 all showed looking like his characters. I didn’t ask them to. They assumed “John Hughes Movie” and adolescence meant the same thing.

None of my friends, however, dressed like The Athlete, Brain, Basket Case, Princess and Criminal of The Breakfast Club, perhaps because the lessons of that film are too painful for a celebration: The world wants to separate us with labels. If we look past those labels, at least we have each other. It’s garden-variety adolescent alienation, sure, but of a very different kind than the majority of Hughes’s work. Which is probably why fans regard The Breakfast Club as his greatest achievement and a generational touchstone in a way that, say, Weird Science is not.

Courtney Love and her cohorts would spend the early ’90s glorifying the alienation Hughes offers up in The Breakfast Club. But amid his filmography, it’s a rare exception. Overwhelmingly, The Hughsian hero does not question the rules of adolescence but tries to find their place within them. Samantha Baker wants to be cool like Jake Ryan and they meet somewhere in the middle sitting atop a dining room table. The lovers of Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful accept that money and class divide them but make a go of it anyway. Ferris Bueller most likely walked in his high school graduation while the parents he loved applauded, then went to a good college. He most likely did not drop out, form a band and never speak to them again.

If the cinema of the 1990s was all about the created family in absence of the biological one (Goodfellas, Boogie Nights, Reality Bites), Hughes venerated the traditional family in a manner both of and ahead of his time. Remember the mid-1980s was the era of The Parents Music Resource Center, the Satanic Panic and a cinematic alternative to the Hughesian Mainstream (The Legend of Billie Jean, The River’s Edge) about generational hostility and its violent consequences.

The message? Parents and kids don’t understand each other, don’t want to and never will.

But that’s not what happens outside of Shermer High School. In rest of Hughes’s teenage canon, venerable character actors like Harry Dean Stanton, Paul Dooley, and John Ashton play fathers whose arcs end in sympathy and understanding for their teenage children. John Ashton relents and lets Keith, the hero of Some Kind of Wonderful, not go to college. Harry Dean Stanton gives Molly Ringwald the pink dress she wears to the prom. And Paul Dooley, as Samantha Baker’s dad in Sixteen Candles, has one of best parent/teenager scenes in recent memory. “If he can’t see all the beautiful and wonderful things I see in you” he tells his grieving daughter, exiled from her room on her birthday and ignored by the popular boy she likes, “then he’s got the problem.” He finishes by telling her “not to let him boss you around,” a proto-feminist idea a half-decade before Riot Grrls.

Jim Baker, Jack Walsh, Cliff Nelson and Tom Bueller represent the value Hughes placed on intergenerational tolerance, where dads like him admitted their mistakes and struggled with empathy over judgment. We don’t see much of it in The Breakfast Club, where detention is a lonely island surrounded by adult misunderstanding. Fast forward and we can imagine that long Saturday inspiring the cultural mileposts of the 1990s — grunge, strong coffee, Quentin Tarantino, and Napster. But it would be the “nice” Hughes families whom would have the last laugh. Another son of Illinois would mirror their attempts at open communication and declare moving beyond the psychodrama of generational warfare his highest priority. It got him elected president.

I’ll be married next spring, shortly after The Breakfast Club‘s 25th birthday, where friends, parents and grandparents will all dance to “Don’t You Forget About Me.” Perhaps if I were in my early 20s when John Hughes died, I too would have eulogized him as the poet laureate of my youth. But I’m an adult now, maybe a parent someday. Sam, Duckie, Ferris and Keith have all grown up and so have we. Part of that means remembering John Hughes for all that he was instead of just all that he was for us. And what he captured onscreen was an adolescence to be learned from instead of suffered through and forgotten, where parents and their teenagers tried to do right, even though they couldn’t always do good, and, in the end, understood that We Are Not Alone.

It’s an adolescence I wish I had. Thanks to John Hughes, it is an adulthood I can imagine and make real.

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