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We Still Here

We Still Here

Hip Hop North of the 49th Parallel
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Limelight: Rush in the ’80s


“The right time, the right place, the right song, the right parts”


Pleased with the live/work arrangements for A Farewell to Kings, Rush tried it again for Hemispheres. Pleased with the live/work arrangement for Permanent Waves, Rush tried it again for Moving Pictures. Fortunately, the sequel effort this time didn’t disappoint, and the guys found themselves more Canadian than ever. Living and raising families in Canada, writing on Canadian farms, recording immersed in the Canadian forest, bridging the divide between English Canada and French Canada, winning Junos and paddling canoes . . . Rush were celebrating everything it meant to be Canadian.


“We went out to Ronnie Hawkins’s farm, out in the Stony Lake area,” begins Alex, on preparations for the record that would serve as Rush’s Machine Head and Paranoid, or Fragile and Not Fragile, as it were. “I guess it’s just north of Peterborough. He had a really nice little home up there, nice cottage with a big barn on it. We converted the barn into the studio, and set Neil’s drums up, and had areas for Geddy and myself. And it was a really nice location.


“We were there in the summer and everybody was in good spirits. There was a good energy to the work. We started writing there and basically wrote everything in rehearsal there, and then moved into Le Studio later that fall and started recording. There was a real positive energy, not unlike what we went through with Snakes & Arrows years later. But at that time, there was just something that was very strong and positive about where we were with that record. I don’t want to say it was effortless, but the effort seemed to be very smooth. We had some guests visit and we had a lot of fun across the whole process. It wasn’t just in the studio — it was a really nice place to be at that point in our lives.”


Geddy was enthusiastic about carrying on the concept kicked off with the last album. “Yeah, it was great, really exciting, Alex continues. “Because instead of one story you had five stories in the same time span, but you could link them with a sentiment or with an idea. A little bit less so with Permanent Waves but more so with Moving Pictures — that whole idea of a collection of short stories is what we were after and that’s what Moving Pictures is.”


Consensus is that Moving Pictures is the record where Geddy toned down his patented high shriek. “I bought it at Kresge’s,” laughs Lee on coming up with it in the first place. “I keep it downstairs in my studio for when I need it. Lifetime guarantee.”


“As the music changed, the desire to shriek changed,” explains Geddy. “I think I can still shriek if the music requires it. I have no conceptual adverse feelings about it. As the music changed, it became more interesting for me to write melodies as opposed to shrieking. It was basically used for cutting through the density of the music. And sometimes we would write without any consideration for what key we were in in the early days and I would find myself with twelve tracks recorded in a key that was real tough to sing in, so I didn’t have a choice at that point. Re-record the record in a different key or just go for it.


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Love Her Madly

1. Dream Girl
Florida, 1963

Alligator Alley slices through the prehistoric Everglades, a straight cut from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic. I have my thumb out in the torrid heat. Destination: Fort Lauderdale.

A battered pickup truck pulls over, with rusted, mud-caked shovels in the back. I climb into the filthy cab. The driver is wearing a dirty T-shirt and faded jeans. He’s balding, with stringy black hair slick along the sides of his head. Crooked, yellow teeth, tobacco-stained fingers, nails chewed to the quick. He reeks of stale sweat and cigarettes. He looks at me with dull eyes. I ask him how far he’s going. He mutters “Fort Lauderdale.” It’s going to be a long drive.

Hot air blasts through the windows. The baked dashboard is cracked, the windshield peppered with rock chips. The guy doesn’t talk, he broods. The asphalt surface quivers in the visible heat.

A half-hour later, there’s a major furor on the road. What the hell’s going on? Brooder slows down. Crimson-headed vultures are furiously devouring a crushed alligator that has met a semi-truck.

“Look at that!” Weirdly excited, Brooder brakes and pulls up beside the frenzied feast. Cutting the engine, he leans out his window. The vultures jerk their heads up from the festering corpse. A dozen cold, beady eyes stare at him, then plunge back into the carcass. It’s dead quiet except for the sound of their beaks frantically tearing flesh, yanking out white strands of sinew. Horrible snapping sounds. Bits of blood and flesh spattered on their faces. Jesus, the stench.

“That’s a nine-foot ‘gator, probably four hundred pounds.” He’s murmuring to himself.

The guy watches too long.

The hot air is filled with the putrid odour of death. I start gagging. Brooder stares at me while slowly reaching for the ignition, a strange look in his eyes.

Who, or what is this guy?

We drive on in an eerie silence through seemingly endless swampland. Finally, a hint of civilization appears: a faded “Alligator Wrestling” sign, a rundown trailer park, an unpainted shack — “Curly’s Beer and Liquor.” A sideways Coca Cola sign hangs by a rusted chain. I begin to relax. Soon a suburb, then another, stretching out forever on this flattest of land. Buildings appear in the distance, their office lights twinkling in the dark blue of dusk.

Fort Lauderdale.

He drops me at a gas station. With a strange, sardonic look in his eyes, he reaches out to shake my hand.

I get the key to the washroom and scrub my hands, thinking I’ll take the Greyhound back.

I show the gas attendant the address. “Not too far,” he says. “Straight down about four miles, then in three blocks.”

I hesitate to stick out my thumb, but this time my ride is a pleasant-faced woman with bleach-blond hair looking just so. The scent of hairspray. Her companion in the back seat is a nervous Chihuahua. “It’s okay, Princess, it’s okay,” she tells the dog. Princess has the shakes.

The nice lady drops me off with a happy wave.

I walk the last three blocks to a tidy white house with green shutters and black street numbers. I have arrived at the house of Mary. Trembling with anticipation, I ring the doorbell.

* * *

Clearwater, Florida

Mary Werbelow. Dream girl.

I watch her from a distance. Her luminous beauty, the sparkling, intelligent eyes, porcelain skin, and sunny smile. She glows with optimism, self-confidence, independence. Her mesmerizing face, her Bardot pout, the liquid motion of her ballet body, her swanlike neck. She is radiant. I am captivated by her, but she’s older and doesn’t know I exist.

Or … Did she just smile at me as she walked past me in the hall? Was she acknowledging me? Not likely. She has the world cupped in her perfect palm. I’m imagining things.

A few days later I see her in the school parking lot, standing by her Volkswagen, talking to some girls and guys. She’s engaged, yet somewhat aloof. She’s … different. She looks around and notices me watching her.

A week later, I hear an unfamiliar voice behind me. “Hello.” And my world changes in ways impossible to imagine.

A brief exchange, then her smile: “See you later.”

The next chat, a little longer. Later, a real conversation followed by, “Would you like to go for coffee?”

Hell, yes I would.

She picks me up in her Volkswagen and an easy friendship begins. She treats me like a younger brother. She likes me, seems to trust me and see something different in me.

“But why did you leave home?” she wants to know. “What are you doing here?”

“I saved enough money to buy a ticket from Toronto to Clearwater to spend Christmas with some family friends. They have a daughter my age, and I met all her friends over the holidays.”

Mary pays attention with her bewitching eyes.

“One of her friends said I could live in their guest cottage and go to Clearwater High with them. So I did, and here I am.” (My mother wasn’t thrilled, but told me it was my decision. A divorced single mom with four kids, she couldn’t afford to come and get me. And I knew it.)

“Don’t you miss your family?” Mary looks puzzled.

“I do miss my family and friends,” I say. “I mean, I love them very much.” But I wasn’t happy at my high school in Toronto where there had been zero tolerance for kids who were the least bit defiant, I told her.

“And you were defiant?”

“Well, yes.”

Mary laughs and claps her hands. “So, now you live in a screened-in porch?”

The guest cottage hadn’t worked out. Luckily, I’d gone with a girl to a babysitting job and hit it off with the couple. The next time I met them I told them about my situation and they offered to let me stay in their Florida room. In exchange, I did some babysitting and paid a bit of room and board. “They’re great,” I tell Mary.

She looks at me quizzically. “How old are you?”


I am smitten. She has no idea how dazzled I am by her.

She graduates and will attend St. Petersburg Junior College in the fall. At the end of school in June I tell the school secretary that I’ll be back in September to begin grade twelve.

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Anthem: Rush in the ’70s


Like Geezer Butler in Black Sabbath, to reiterate, Geddy indeed began on guitar. Alex, however, missed this part of Lee’s evolution.


“I didn’t know Ged when he played guitar. So the transition was already completed by the time we started jamming together and playing. Because that’s what we did after school. We’d plug into his amp and play. There was one guitar and one bass. So I’m not really sure about that transition. I’m sure he was interested in guitar like everybody was interested in guitar. But once we actually started playing and learning instruments, that was his chosen one. Just think John Rutsey in that early days—the drums became his thing but I don’t know if in his heart he wanted to be a drummer. I think he wanted to be a guitarist as well. But everybody had their job that they sort of gravitated to.”


Says Geddy, “I was nominated to be the bass player when the first band I was in, the bass player couldn’t be in our band. I think his parent’s prohibited him or something, and we had no bass player so they said, ‘You play bass’ and I said okay, and that was how simple it was. That happens to a lot of bass players. Everyone wants to be a guitar player, but I was happy to be bass player. Bass player is like being a major league catcher. It’s the quickest way to the majors. Nobody wants to be a bass player. It’s a great instrument, it really is, awesome way to spend your time. I had teachers you know; I’m just carrying on the tradition of Jack Bruce, Jack Casady, Chris Squire, a fine tradition of noisy bass players that refuse to stay in the background. So I feel that’s my sacred duty, to carry on what they started.”


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