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Moving Pictures

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  • Life changes occur every 7 years. By age fourteen, my life was under assault. I was in a new city and a new school. High school was intimidating, and my study skills were lousy. On top of that, my parents had split up, puberty was raging, and I was unprepared to deal with women, family, school, fights, adults, and authority. I was getting into small-scale troubles like shoplifting. My self-esteem was shot, exacerbated by pimples and the standard teasing. It was 1982.Into this social and personal morass came “Tom Sawyer”, the first rock single I ever paid attention to and the most important. Being black, I was used to R&B/soul/funk. Now I realize that the uninformed, uninitiated listener can find much about Rush to criticize, but to me, “Tom Sawyer” was a clarion call and a rallying cry. By the 3rd time I heard it on the radio, I had to buy the album (remember those?). When I was able to collect enough money (about $8.00 – remember that?), I went to the record store and was transfixed by the cool looking cover. I didn’t get the depth of the cover concept – the “moving pictures” inside joke, but the surface appealed. Notice the gothic architecture, the recutrring theme of 3, the Clockwork Orange-looking men moving pictures, the burning witch, the black/red satanic lettering, and the ‘bad seed-looking’ little girls with their parents? Rush were the master manipulators here – luring teens in to ponder what evil lurks underneath, while affirming the teen desire to rebel, to piss off your folks, thereby reclaiming your desire for power. Then you turn it around and it’s literally and figuratively the reverse – no evil intents, just a film shoot – a motion pic shoot. It’s still one of the all-time greatest album covers for me. Then the inner sleeve offers those oh-so-cool pose pix of them in motion laying down some of the wickedest and hardest music in rock. I was held captive to the stereo system with the first track, “Tom Sawyer”. Another reviewer questioned why it was first on the album. He may as well ask why a the door to a building is on the first floor. It literally is a song intended for an audience like me then. Figuratively, it became the soundtrack for my teenage life. It suggests a dark, aloof cynicism, and a preternatural desire to avoid conformity. It has a sound that is singular, distinct, and unique. The middle keyboard part that morphs into that intense jam is like a drug trip. There is an obvious love of technical proficience, a holdout for artistic quality, and a very masculine love for gadgetry and technology. It tows the line between European lyricism and the African hypnotic beat. It also was complete – the images, words, rhythms, ideas all were dynamic and interplaying, and justified the high art of production. And it covered a wide spectrum of sound – the puglistic punches and the shimmering, brassy crashes of the percussion. That impossible-to-duplicate fat, distorted bass sound. I still marvel at Geddy’s vocal performance on this record. Lifeson’s solos in “Tom Sawyer”, “Red Barchetta”, and “Limelight” are classic, yet all of his work is incredible here. His effects are equally incredible – the digital delay ending his solo in “Limelight”, and his dead-on ’shrieking tires’ starting his solo in ‘Barchetta’. That’s one of those moments that make your arm hairs stand up. It’s one of many moments on this album where you realize you’re listening to true artists who have thought long and hard on how to manipulate our senses for a desired effect. Then there’s that feeling that you are a witness to the recording (just what are they whispering to each other before the solo of “Camera Eye?”). Read the credits and you’ll note the album was recorded digitally – in fact they’re probably the FIRST to do it – 4-5 years before CDs became the norm. And that production had a strangeness to it – a haunting sense of light and shade, like an Ansel Adams photograph. Rush were a breath of fresh air for me. I wanted to be a part of the cool trip they were on then. I began to teach myself the drums, and I proceeded to collect every one of their albums and I studied them like a monk studying the New Testament. In 2 years I began to master Peart’s power, and subsequently I discovered the Police, Zep, Iron Maiden, Yes, Ozzy, etc. I became a rock student and a musician, dabbling with the bass and the guitar. So thank you, Rush. This album was the raft on the Mississippi for me. I was Huck and I was Jim, and the drumsticks were my paddles.

    Posted on February 23, 2010