By JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
RUSH – MOVING PICTURES (1981)
It is with broken hearts and the deepest sadness that we must share the terrible news that on Tuesday our friend, soul brother and band mate of over 45 years, Neil, has lost his incredibly brave three and a half year battle with brain cancer (Glioblastoma). We ask that friends, fans, and media alike understandably respect the family’s need for privacy and peace at this extremely painful and difficult time. Those wishing to express their condolences can choose a cancer research group or charity of their choice and make a donation in Neil Peart’s name.
Rest in peace brother.
Neil Peart September 12, 1952 – January 7, 2020
The above statement was released on Friday January 10th, 2020 and it sent shock waves through the music world as fellow musicians and fans worldwide were stunned by the death of Neil Peart. Of course, it wasn’t just that the husband, father and drummer for the band Rush had passed away, but that so very few people even knew that he’d been sick with brain cancer. But I guess that was by design and intent, summed up by a song on the very album I’m writing about in this article.
I wasn’t originally going to be writing about a Rush album this week, but I kind of felt compelled to do so because of Peart’s passing.
There has always seemed to me a schism in how music fans have felt about Rush. You have the diehards who can’t get enough of the band. To them, Rush is the be all, end all of music. Then you have those who for a myriad of reasons, just don’t like them at all.
I suppose that I can understand each side. But I’m somewhere in the middle. For me, in the most general of terms, Rush has always been a “radio band” to me. That’s the phrase I use for bands that I love hearing on the radio but don’t really feel overly compelled to buy their albums. Or if I do buy their music, it is on a very limited basis. I hear Rush all the time on 94 HJY out of Providence, Rhode Island. And whenever they play a song, I love to hear it. The band’s “hits” are damn good and invite repeated listening.
But for whatever reason, I’ve never been a diehard. I didn’t see them in concert and I’d only bought a couple of their albums (on cassette). When I first discovered the idea of concept albums, it was releases by Queensryche and Iron Maiden that fueled my fire for that style. When I found out Rush had done one with 2112, I bought it. Of course, maybe I’m just not smart enough to appreciate what they did on that album but sadly, I found it impenetrable for me. I also had the Presto album which was purchased because I really liked the song “Show Don’t Tell”. Unfortunately, neither album still has a home in my music collection.
So it was off to the record shop where I knew I could pick up a Rush cassette to be the focus of today’s piece. I’ll admit that I kind of took the easy way out by picking Moving Pictures because it was stocked with three huge hits for the band.
(Let me add that I fully realize that whatever I write from this point forward, I know it is a case of most people thinking “No Shit, Sherlock” regarding my impressions)
The seven track album runs just over 40 minutes but there’s a whole lot of musicality packed into every second of its run time.
Side One is top heavy with three killer classics, but before I talk about those I want to mention the other song on this side first. “YYZ” is an instrumental and I think it will shock no one that I haven’t heard it before. Like I said, I’m a hits on the radio fan for the most part. I think that my lack of musical ability tends to affect my ability to appreciate most instrumental works as well. But I have to say that I came away pretty invigorated by “YYZ”. There’s plenty of spotlight moments for guitarist Alex Lifeson and bassist Geddy Lee as well as Neil Peart. Of course, it doesn’t surprise me that when they are all melding into one sound that the song is at its best. It was a nice discovery to make.
As for the hits, what can I say that is new to anyone regarding “Tom Sawyer”? That’s right…nothing. It is just a flat out great song and has definitely earned its place in any best of Rush list.
“Red Barchetta” did provide me a bit of a surprise believe it or not. I’ve heard the song an ungodly amount of times but that familiarity kind of blurred the lyrics for me. As I listened to it for this article, it dawned on me that it was all about a wild drive in a car. I looked up the story behind the song and it was pretty fascinating. I think that I’ll be listening to the song with a different appreciation from now on.
Before I talk about what I consider my favorite song on the album (and probably my favorite Rush song period), let’s skip to Side Two first. Let me just say that I just didn’t really find “The Camera Eye” or “Witch Hunt” to be my cup of tea. But I was pretty happy to find myself enjoying “Vital Signs” a whole bunch.
Okay, back to the album centerpiece (my opinion) song. “Limelight” is the closing track on Side One and it is a musical and lyrical showcase. Peart’s thoughts and feelings about the band’s increasing fame set to music ironically only served to increase the band’s fame because this song is such an all-time classic. It also helps that Geddy Lee’s vocal for the song was particularly inspired. Neil wrote it, Lee “sold” it and Lifeson plays a hell of a solo on it.
I don’t know if this is an overreaction to Neil Peart’s death or not but I like that I gained an appreciation for one of the band’s albums regardless of the initial prompt to do so. Whether it will further key me up to do a deeper dive into the band’s music, I don’t know. But I’d like to think that it would. It is sad that it would take the death of one of the band members to do that but having a fuller appreciation of the depth of loss felt by those who have worshipped the band’s music for decades can’t be a bad thing.
In “Limelight”, Peart wrote the following:
” Living in a fisheye lens
Caught in the camera eye
I have no heart to lie
I can’t pretend a stranger
Is a long awaited friend”
I get what he was saying with that line, but I think that I can say that by discovering a love of the Moving Pictures album, I can see why Rush fans would reverse those last two lines on him at this time. Their shared love of the music Peart was involved in creating with Lee and Lifeson made him seem more friend than stranger. So I can see why those diehard fans like Limelight Magazine’s own Jay Kenney would have, upon hearing that Peart had died, “felt a shadow cross their heart.”
NOTES OF INTEREST: KNAC.COM aired a three hour block of Rush music on Sunday January 12th during The Vault radio program hosted by DJ Will as a tribute to Neil Peart.
In a bit of odd timing, a friend of mine in Wisconsin named Cindy got back in touch with me after I hadn’t heard from her in a long time. She’s a huge fan of Rush, but lost everything including her Rush music collection in a recent apartment fire. During that trip to the record shop to get the Moving Pictures cassette, I picked up a CD editions of the first Rush album and the Rush in Rio live album to send her as she begins to re-assemble her collection.