I just returned from touring with the band Rush. OK, not really with them, but I did go on tour more or less as I traveled to Canada and across the state of Washington to see the final three shows of their Time Machine Tour.
It was of course nothing short of spectacular. Rush has been in my life for about 30 years and I am one of those very impassioned Rush fans. I am also a Christian and have been for probably 25 years, maybe a little less. And, I am fully aware of the band’s how should I say it, not so friendly approach to my faith. Yes, it bothers me as I do not see bandmembers Geddy Lee (singer, bass), Alex Lifeson (guitar) and Neil Peart (drums) as rock gods, if you will, but more like three close friends who I have never met. (I did meet Geddy on a signing tour of his solo album.) And though their perceived atheism and borderline critical lyrics of Christianity sting my ears a bit, who can blame them really?
Rulers Under Satan’s House, or was it Hand? I heard both version of what Rush stood for back in the 80s. A few other bands suffered the same satanic fate which I can only presume came from some very misguided Christians full of hatred and ill-will who were fed on fear and lies. I went to a Christian school and you can only imagine what it was like to be a Rush fan surrounded by Christians from the 80s. I remember in high school one classmate told me Rush was satanic. My ignorance led me to rebut with “They used to be.” The only evidence that student had was the red pentagram (which I now have on display as a statue in my office); the only evidence I had was their entire catalogue up to that point had nothing to do with Satan or Satanism and the band certainly wasn’t making headlines in their personal life.
My devotion to Christ is obviously much stronger than my devotion to Rush. However, Rush was a major influence in my life and I saw nothing wrong with listening to their music. (Remember, along with my naďveté, though I was no longer a child, I was a young and impressionable teenager. I was surrounded by people of all walks of life telling me what was right and what was wrong.) So, after all the crap I had to take, imagine my joy when I found the book “Visions” at a swap meet and something delicious was pointed out that some misguided people had attached a satanic meaning to the pentagram.
You mean they were never Rulers Under Satan’s House? Not that I really believed it in the first place but the reality is, your mind as a youngster is certainly not in the best discerning shape as it is when you’re an adult. And while Mr. Peart (who writes all the band's lyrics) may see this as proof that I was imprinted with my faith, it couldn’t be further from the truth. (I would encourage him to counter his readings of the “God Delusion” with some study in Christian Apologetics, if he wants to be intellectually honest with himself.)
Over the years, it has occurred to me that Rush has a purpose in my life. I have no doubt the very God I believe in, and Rush doubts exists, blessed me with their music. I also have no doubt that God had His hand in bringing the three of them together to make music for people just like me.
On Sept. 3, 1991, the day the band's album "Roll the Bones" was released, I left home, 3000 miles away, and experienced perhaps one of the worst three months of my life as I seriously attempted to be schooled in a profession that I really did not want to do. Ultimately, I made the decision to come back home. My last night there, Dec. 9, 1991, I saw Rush in concert. Coincidence?
In 1994, Rush's "Counterparts" tour bypassed the Pacific Northwest where I attended college. In my family it is custom to have a Christmas list. The only thing I wanted that year was a plane ticket home to see Rush in Southern California. It was not to be. Spanish class was apparently more important. "Counterparts" is a phenomenal album. Believe me I love the radio staples but “Everyday Glory” is a beautiful blend of musical composition and emotion. I’ve used the lyrics of that song along with Bible verses to encourage friends going through trying times.
And, coincidentally, I just happened to be going through trying times myself. I’ll spare you the long details but if I wasn’t going to be flown home to see Rush then I was going to find a way to see them. I made a quick phone call to my childhood friend who had moved to Oregon the same time I started college there. He was not a Rush fan but an 11 p.m. offer to see Rush in San Jose, CA (he had the car – a beat up old Vanagon) was met surprisingly with much fanfare. Five minutes later he called back and announced he got the time off from work. Remember, this is 11 o’clock at night.
It was a turnaround trip and one of the best weekends of my life. There is no doubt God’s hand played a big part in getting me there and getting us there and back safely. I have never missed a tour since Presto, and while my trying time came and went and was relieved by seeing the concert, to this day had I missed that show I know I would feel a sense of loss.
In 1998, I began my first real job after graduating from college. I was hired as a reporter for a large Southern California newspaper and really I had no business being there. The only writing experience I had to offer was a novel I had started a few years earlier. The two journalism classes I was required to take in college never took. It was five years and several awards and accolades later that I finally moved on. One of the highlights of my career came in 2002 when I was given the opportunity to review their new album “Vapor Trails” (I gave it an A-) and the ensuing concert held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Four months after the concert, I left the paper. Both articles are framed and hanging in my office.
Rush songs played at my wedding reception (as did one of Geddy’s solo efforts) and I married a wonderful Duran Duran fan who now loves Rush and I believe has a small crush on Geddy. Despite a job loss, my wife and I have somehow managed to finance small vacations around Rush’s touring schedule which has allowed us to sight see in Denver and Canada and obviously see the band in God’s Country, most notably Red Rocks and the Gorge.
When tragedy hit Neil’s life in 1997 (his wife and daughter were taken from him less than a year apart) I’ll never forget finding some online message boards and nearly every one expressed prayers and offered Bible verses for him as encouragement. It was then I realized Rush had a decent sized Christian following. The reasons for that belong in another article that I may someday tackle.
Musically, their latest album (released in 2007) "Snakes and Arrows" is one of the band’s finest performances. Lyrically, it’s a little punishing. It actually took me by surprise as it would have made more sense to have been the first release after the hiatus following the death of Neil’s wife and daughter. Ten years later, it seems clear to me Neil is angry and who can blame him? Whether or not he or they are truly atheist (Alex was seen reading “God is Not Great” in the documentary about the band “Beyond the Lighted Stage”) is not up to me, though every atheist I have ever met is simply pissed off at God who uses their “atheism” as a way to get back at Him. Hell, I’ve done it.
I am not sure what’s in store for their forthcoming album "Clockwork Angels." Based on the two pre-released songs I am so very much looking forward to it. I am also a little apprehensive. Musically, it keeps going in the same vein as "Snakes." Unfortunately, for me, the new song "BU2B" (Brought Up to Believe) seems to drive Neil’s anger at God even harder home. I pray it’s not. Eventually a line may be crossed, and I don’t know what I will do if that line gets crossed. (If I may digress a bit, you ever notice how it’s always Christianity that’s under attack and not any of the other religions? I think the Bible said something about that.)
I read once how some preacher man in the 80s had made accusations about Rush being satanic. Perhaps he is the one who coined the whole Rulers Under Satan’s House! Neil apparently fired off a letter of rebuttal to him. Good for you Neil. Sometimes I think the biggest roadblock to Christ is the very people who say they are trying to pave the way. Perhaps this demonization imprinted the band about a particular faith along with their other early blessings and scars. For that, I can only apologize.
Do we have to be forgiving at last?
What else can we do?
Do we have to say goodbye to the past?
Yes, I guess we do.