This post is about the influence the band Rush (Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart) had on my life.But first you’ll need a little background about how their music became just a little more than simple entertainment for me–at a critical juncture.
For those who don’t remember, Elizabeth Clare Prophet predicted nuclear war in the late ’80’s, and exhorted her followers to build shelters to survive the catclysm. In the runup to the ‘war,’ she directed the building of massive shelters for 750 people, which were well-designed but hastily buried in a previously pristine valley near Gardiner, Montana. Two key dates were set on which she claimed the war would occur. The first was October 2, 1989, which passed without incident. (The shelters weren’t done yet.)
Local pubs held “end of the world” parties.
The next date was March 15, 1990. “Beware the Ides of March” was a phrase she repeated often. That night she ordered every man, woman, and child in the community into the almost-completed shelters for a “drill.” But to her it was no drill. It was the real thing. She expected Soviet nuclear missiles to hit the United States shortly after midnight. It was to be God’s ‘judgement’ of a corrupt and decadent civilization. She even said the prayer aloud, dozens and dozens of times: “Lord God, let the right arm of your Son Jesus Christ descend in judgment…”
Yours truly was out there with a bullhorn at 11:50 pm (following her instructions) warning the stragglers to get inside before it was too late. “Whatever you’re doing, whatever stuff you’re bringing in, leave it outside…it’s more important to save yourselves…”
After the shelter doors clanged shut, the only sound to be heard was furious chanting. Some of us ventured a look out the observation ports, which were reinforced with removable panels of inches-thick glass. All we could see was a clear starry night. People paced, fumed, chanted some more, and maybe tried to grab a few winks. The sewer system wasn’t finished (legally), so hundreds of people had to relieve themselves in makeshift toilets made out of 5-gallon buckets. The next morning everyone dragged their asses out of the stinking shelters and tried to figure out what the hell happened, or rather, hadn’t happened.
Prior to the “drill,” I had been packing up my house in Mol Heron canyon, getting ready to put all my belongings in underground storage, or bring what would fit into the bomb shelter itself, which was only about a mile down the road.The whole community was doing the same thing, basically packing up offices and personal belongings and transferring them to “bins” to be moved into the underground storage bunkers. Local moving giant Megenthalers ran dozens of semi-trucks up and down Mol Heron Creek Road. Refiners from Billings made nearly a hundred tanker truck deliveries of gasoline, diesel, and LPG to the shelter site. Since my house sat across the canyon from the main road, I remember watching this parade going on through all hours of many nights. Truck after truck. It finally came to be my family’s turn to move our stuff. Furniture and bulky items were stretch-wrapped and left in the house. Clothing, essentials and personal mementos were packed.
I had a couple of days to pack up, and I remember going through my music collection. I had all my then ‘current’ music, which consisted of mostly classical, and a few ‘new age’ artists like Enya and Mannheim Steamroller. Then there was that “other” box which had a combination of my old personal rock albums and CDs plus the “research” discs I had bought for the rock lecture. (It had been a little less than three years since I had given my infamous lecture denouncing rock-and-roll in July of 1987.) Everything had been painstakingly organized, all CDs entered into a database, with numbered stickers.
The “research” process had been tough for me. Because since I had mixed feelings of admiration for some of the artists I was denouncing, I had to be careful. I picked a lot of death metal and speed metal artists. I didn’t really care for the music, and the ‘satanic’ themes of bands like Slayer made them an easy target for a church audience. Also, stories about troubled teens listening to Judas Priest, Ozzy, or Metallica and killing themselves were rich fodder for invoking the “wrath of God” for the “binding of Death and Hell.” But then I had to be ‘fair’ and include music I liked as well. So I picked on one of my favorites–Rush.
This was under the heading of “political rock” in which I denounced artists who used music to advance what I then saw as the goals of ‘world communism.’ Steve “Little Steven” Van Zandt was one who had particular collectivist sympathies. This was before even more blatant anti-capitalist bands like “Rage Against the Machine” came on the scene. As for Rush, I played the song “Territories,” from Power Windows, which is a discussion of the origins of human conflict. The reason I took issue with the song at the time was that it engaged in a certain relativism–making all reasons for conflict equally suspect. My main point of disagreement was to say that when threatened with a greater evil (slavery, dictatorship, communism, theocracy, etc.) there are things worth fighting wars for. In retrospect, I think this still holds true. More and more, after seeing the fruits of violent Islam, I think even Rush might agree with me.
So I had a little time one night while I was packing. No one was around. I guiltily grabbed my headphones to listen to the prohibited music, all in the name of research, of course ;-) and popped in Power Windows. It had been a few years since I had listened–really listened to this music. I was overwhelmed. It was like a dam burst. I was even able to hear “Territories” in a different way, as a plea for peace and enlightenment. Next I moved on to Hold Your Fire, and was moved to tears listening to this song:
Mission [lyrics by Neil Peart]
Hold your fire, keep it burning bright
Hold the flame til the dream ignites,
A spirit with a vision, is a dream with a missionI hear their passionate music
Read the words, that touch my heart
I gaze at their feverish pictures, the secrets that set them apart
When I feel the powerful visions, their fire’s made alive
I wish I had that instinct, I wish I had that driveSpirits fly on dangerous missions, imaginations on fire
Focused high on soaring ambitions, consumed in a single desire
In the grip of a nameless possession, a slave to the drive of obsession
A spirit with a vision, is a dream with a missionI watch their images flicker, bringing light to a lifeless screen
I walk through their beautiful buildings, and I wish I had their dreams
But dreams don’t need to have motion, to keep their spark alive
Obsession has to have action, pride turns on the drive
Its cold comfort, to the ones without it
To know how they struggled, how they suffered about it
If their lives were exotic and strange
They would likely have gladly exchanged them
For something a little more plain, maybe something a little more sane
We each pay a fabulous price, for our visions of paradise
But a spirit with a vision, is a dream with a mission…
I realized I could not equate the passion, skill, and drive I was hearing, with the idea that such talented musicians could be “fallen ones” as the church taught. It just didn’t add up. They felt like brothers to me. Interestingly, after that epiphany, I became a little less personally worried about my mom’s war prophecies.What was really striking was listening to the words of “Mission,” and then thinking about what we were all doing. We had a mission alright, we had obsession. Our lives were exotic and strange, we paid the fabulous price–for our visions of paradise. Just not the paradise I had in mind. We were preparing for the end of the freaking world!
[Yes, that’s me under the flag in the shelter entry tube–kind of ironic we put up an American flag when we thought America was about to be bombed out of existence!]
All in all, I think I listened to six or eight Rush albums that night. From the latest one I had, Hold Your Fire, all the way back to A Farewell to Kings. They really galvanized me. I made a decision right then and there that if there was no war, I was outta there. It was an epiphany. From that moment on, I wanted no part of it. I kept packing, and went through all the “drills,” but I stopped taking it so seriously, and my heart wasn’t in it. Rush renewed my faith–in myself. I could do better than this! I didn’t belong here. It took a little longer to resolve the other big questions which had kept me in the church: Were the masters real? Did I believe in reincarnation? Was there really a god? Those questions took me years to sort out. But that night I knew, listening to those Rush albums, the three players were my true kindred spirits–not the ever-invisible Ascended Masters. In fact the ‘masters,’ with all their gloom and their doom, were really starting to piss me off.
You see the power of inspiration? Music can do great things. It really gave me a wake-up call, and put me back in touch with my critical mind when I had completely lost my grip. So it was with a sense of anticipation I read an article a couple of days ago that Rush is writing their upcoming album based entirely on their musings about faith and its impact on the world. Wow. It’s due out in early 2007. Hopefully their sure-to-be insightful songs will help ‘save’ some others.Hard to believe all that went down 16 years ago. Seems like another life. A few years later, my family and I packed up once again–and headed back to Los Angeles for good. In 1996, I took my entire family including Lars, who was 5 at the time, to see Rush in concert, twice. Chris immediately took up the drums, at the age of 10. Now they are all musicians. Chris is already doing national tours as a drummer for Horse the Band, and has also become a pretty damn good composer in his own right. Nate is also a great drummer. Laurence has become a real shredder on his guitar. Between the three of them, they are in 5 bands. My garage is loaded with stacks of Marshalls, keyboards, drums, etc. There’s a free “rock concert” practically every night of the week at my house now. Even the neighbors don’t mind! So I didn’t get to be a rocker myself, but still my dream has come true–I’m the happiest and luckiest man alive.