On Whether Our Tortured Appreciation for Rush Can Be Reconciled with Our Everlasting Devotion to the Smiths

21Nov07

With our old headphones broken and new ones en route, we were not able as hoped to sequester ourselves in the aural safe harbor that is our “portable media player” but instead had to brave the sound system at the gym. You ask: exactly how barren is this sonic wasteland? We will tell you! Today’s “rock block” included Journey (“Wheel in the Sky”), Santana (“Oyo Como Va”), Bruce Springsteen (“Tenth-Avenue Freezeout”) Bob Seger (“Katmandu”); Grand Funk Railroad (“I’m Your Captain (Closer To Home)”); the Eagles (“Life in the Fast Lane”) and George Harrison (“What Is Life?”).

Do you remember Pittsburgh, when we worked summers on the assembly line and were first inoculated to these songs on WDVE 102.5? Can you hear the deep baritone of the disk-jockeys offering up some “Zep”? (And how just the sound of their voices electrified us in ways we still didn’t quite understand, or at least didn’t want to admit?) We are even amused to recall that it was the station our older brothers and sisters turned on when they emerged from the basement of the warehouse (where they liked to nap on the pallets) dazed and confused after a night of partying.

But even so, we are far from nostalgic for this period of our life; you might even say these songs provided the soundtrack of a world we didn’t want to enter so much as were forced to observe, for already we knew it was one (and really, just the first of many) in which we didn’t belong. So we now listen with complete detachment and disdain; except for George Harrison (and specifically, the beautifully recorded tambourine that showcases a lost eden of analog recording technology), we agree with you that these songs (and so many others like them) have completely worn out their welcome; moreover, you are right to claim that such empty nostalgia for the past is a symptom of weakness and disease, one that keeps us tethered to a corporate vampire, the same one whose teeth marks appear all over the political system.

But wait! Is that a chipmunk singing in our ear? Or a devious little gnome? No, actually, it’s just Geddy Lee; the song is “Subdivision.” Suddenly we feel a little weaker, remembering that Rush was the band all the freaks listened to in eighth grade, which is not to say that we were ever a freak (until now, of course). Can you see them on that November morning when they all showed up at school after a concert downtown, wearing black “Exit…Stage Left” t-shirts? And how we gasped at such a naked, revolutionary expression of disdain for everything the establishment had to offer? Yes, yes, you are right! It’s always fitting to quote Morrissey here, because nobody has ever told our story the way he has: “Oh, we can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible!”

Just to think of the Smiths — so nuanced and refined, with infinite reserves of (gay) wit! — would seem to obliterate any residual appreciation we might feel for the arena-rock bombast of Rush. But — and sorry to disappoint — the truth is, it does not; when we recognized this song, we stood for several seconds at the water fountain, entranced like some junkie for the past by something that could bring us back so magically to that time, when even the faintest, most disturbingly rendered echo from the outside reached us in ways it would take so long to understand.

“But the suburbs have no charms to soothe
The restless dreams of youth
Drawn like moths we drift into the city
The timeless old attraction
Cruising for the action
Lit up like a firefly
Just to feel the living night
Some will sell their dreams for small desires
Or lose the race to rats
Get caught in ticking traps
And start to dream of somewhere
To relax their restless flight
Somewhere out of a memory
Of lighted streets on quiet nights”

Neil Peart/Rush “Subdivision”

“And if you have five seconds to spare
Then I’ll tell you the story of my life :
Sixteen, clumsy and shy
I went to London and I
I booked myself in at the Y … W.C.A.
I said : “I like it here – can I stay ?
I like it here – can I stay ?
Do you have a vacancy
For a back-scrubber?”

Morrissey/The Smiths “Half a Person”

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