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Subject: 11/13/90 - The National Midnight Star #101  ** Special Edition **

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          The National Midnight Star, Number 101

                Tuesday, 13 November 1990
Today's Topics:
            Success Under Pressure - Part 4 of 4
[ As this book is almost impossible to find, it's reproduced here for your
  viewing pleasure.  Many thanks to "Meg Jahnke" for
  typing this in!                                                           ]

                       RUSH - SUCCESS UNDER PRESSURE
                               by Steve Gett
				  Part IV
-- Graceful Under Pressure --

    Although Rush had been extremely proud of _Moving Pictures_, they were
determined to explore fresh territories next time around. According to
Geddy Lee: "Recording became semi-automatic with that album; while it was
difficult to make, we could achieve that sound real easy. And what we got
was a sound that almost bordered on being slick, which is kind of dangerous
for a band like us."

    Evidently, there was to be a good deal of change on the ensuing Lp, for
which the trio had started writing songs during the mixing sessions of
_Exit...Stage Left_. The lengthy gap between studio albums allowed them the
longest period they had ever had to assemble new material. Upon returning
from the European leg of their 1981-82 tour dates, the individual band
members went their separate ways and subsequently began writing alone,
something they'd never done before.

    "It was interesting because we'd usually go up north and hide away for
a month or so when we started writing," said Alex. "This time, because we
had the break, we worked more on our own. Geddy and I both have studios at
home and we were in those for quite a while. We also had the tapes of
soundchecks we'd been recording over the last tour, so we could sift
through them and piece bits together. In the end, we had a lot to choose
from, which had never really been the case in the past. And that allowed us
to be a little more critical about what was being written.

    "Previously, we'd tended to come across an idea, start working on it,
thinking it was great, and then a few months later find ourselves feeling
that it could have been a little better. This time we could pick and
choose, combining two or three different ideas into one. I think it's a
direction we'll follow -- doing more basic homework."

    While this approach to songwriting has enabled Rush to be more
selective in their final choice of material, one wonders whether it might
lead to any frustration with certain compositions not being used.

    "No, that's never been the case," claims Lifeson. "We're kind of lucky
because it's a three-piece band and Geddy and I write most of the music. He
and I work really well together and now, when the two of us write, we
bounce off each other more than we ever did before. It's a lot more
objective and you can look at what you've done and be honest and say
'That's really not that very good -- it doesn't suit that piece.' So
there's never a problem with material being left out."

    The pre-production stage for _Signals_ lasted until the spring of 1982,
at which point Rush went back on tour, playing a two-week series of dates
in Texas. Although these gigs proved successful in enabling them to run
through some of the new songs, by far the highlight, as far and the band
was concerned, was a trip to Cape Kennedy, Florida, to watch the launching
of the Columbia space shuttle.

    "It was an incredible thing to witness," Neil Peart reflects, "truly a
once-in-a-lifetime experience." The event actually inspired the drummer to
write the tune "Countdown".

    By the third week in April, Rush were back at Le Studio, where they
remained until July 15. "We wanted to finish by the middle of June,"
explains Alex, "and we ended up losing a month of our holiday by carrying
it through. That was a sacrifice, believe me! The reason it took us longer
was because it was a whole different approach for us, both in the recording
and the mixing stages. In the past, things were a lot different.

    "_Moving Pictures_, for instance, was a very lush, full-sounding Lp,
where the guitars were double, triple and even quadruple tracked. But with
_Signals_ we wanted to get a more angular sound, where everything had its
place and there was a little more perspective to all the instruments. The
focus was not so much on the guitar being 'here' and the drums being
'there' -- it was a little more spread out in different percentages. So
that took a bit of experimenting, which in turn meant more time in the

    Rush released the _Signals_ album in September, 1982, and, once again,
it was far removed from anything they'd done before. Reggae/ska rhythms
predominated, with keyboards and synthesizers taking a more prominent role.
"Basically we didn't want to go in and make another _Moving Pictures_,"
Geddy asserts, "because that's kind of against everything we've ever done.
So we made a conscious effort not to play it safe and try to experiment in
order to change our sound. It was time to inject some fresh blood."

    For the first time since _Fly By Night_, Rush had succeeded in
delivering eight tracks on an album, the first of which was "Subdivisions".
The rest of side one comprised: "The Analog Kid", "Chemistry" and "Digital
Man". Side two opened with "The Weapon", the second section of a trilogy
entitled "Fear" -- part three had emerged in the form of "Witch Hunt" on
the last Lp. Then came "New World Man", "Losing It", on which Ben Fink from
the Canadian band FM played violin, and finally "Countdown".

    "New World Man" immediately garnered strong radio airplay, but Geddy
reveals: "It wouldn't have been on the record if we didn't have four
minutes space available. We tend to have pretty strict ideas on how long an
album should be and basically it's just a matter of value. Our shortest
albums are about 18 minutes a side and that's a pretty good value. I
couldn't see us going below that; it doesn't make sense to me. But, at the
same time, we're now recording digitally and so we do have certain
considerations as to how the whole thing's going to sound when you cut it.
There, you're dealing with quality, which is again down to value for

    Aside from filling an open space, there was also another important
factor behind the inclusion of "New World Man". Says Geddy: "I think what
it really boiled down to was that we'd worked so hard getting all these
slick sounds that we were all in the mood to put something down that was
real spontaneous. In the end, the whole song took one day to write and
record. It's good to put something together like that."

    _Signals_ saw the band employing long-serving producer Terry Brown
(affectionately known to the group as "Broon"), with whom they had actually
worked on every Lp since the debut _Rush_ album. Asking Geddy why they had
continued to stick with him so rigidly, he theorized: "I guess it's because
we've built up such a great relationship. We're not the kind of band that
can have a 'producer'-type producer because we're very aware of what we
want to do, and we're also very stubborn in that respect. I don't think
we'd get on with the kind of guy who tries to be dictatorial; it just
wouldn't work. We have to work with somebody who's flexible and whose
opinion we respect.

    "Terry Brown fits that category and we have very high regard for his
objectivity and creativity behind the desk. One day we might decide to go
for a change, but if we did it wouldn't be through any lack of respect for
Terry. It would merely be a case of time and change. But I really don't
know if that'll ever happen."

    (As time would tell, that change was to come a good deal sooner than
either Rush or Terry Brown expected.)

    Throughout the group's recording history, their albums have always been
presented with elaborate sleeve designs. The cover for _Signals_, however,
was particularly bizarre. The photograph on the front featured a dog
sniffing around a fire hydrant, while the back contained a map of an
imaginary secondary school, named after Montreal Expo slugger Warren
Cromartie. The whole concept was down to Hugh Syme, whose initial
involvement with Rush stretches back to 1975, when he provided the graphics
for _Caress Of Steel_. He has subsequently contributed his artistic talents
to the entire Rush catalogue, as well as the design of their tour books. He
has also earned keyboard credits on songs like "Tears" and "Different

    In an effort to explain the _Signals_ sleeve, Geddy states: "Well, we
wanted the album to sound different and we also thought that the packaging
should have a different feel. When we were talking about _Signals_, Hugh
had this concept of taking the idea down to a basic human level --
territorial or even sexual. So that's how the design with the dog and the
fire hydrant came about. The little map on the back features make believe
subdivisions, with a lot of silly names and places. The red dots represent
all the fire hydrants and basically the whole thing maps out a series of

    In the same week that _Signals_ reached record stores, Rush embarked on
a marathon Stateside trek. I was fortunate enough to team up with the group
in Omaha, Nebraska (well, kind of fortunate!) to catch one of the early
dates of the tour. It was my first opportunity to see the band in the
Mid-West, a noted Rush stronghold, and I witnessed a memorable performance.

    The show got underway with a vibrant rendition of "The Spirit Of
Radio", which was followed by "Tom Sawyer" and "Freewill". Geddy then
announced that the new record was in the shops and that most of it would be
aired tonight. He did not lie and, aside from "Losing It", the trio
performed the entire album. Best of the new bunch were "The Weapon",
"Chemistry" and "Subdivisions", all of which were enhanced by clever
celluloid accompaniment.

    In recent years, Rush have employed quite a few films during their gigs
and according to Geddy: "The basic reason we've got into using them more
and more is that there are a lot of times now that the band is trapped
behind gear and sometimes there's not a whole load of action from us. So it
helps to add more visuals to keep the people interested."

    The rest of the Omaha concert comprised material from _Moving Pictures_
as well as the odd tune from _Permanent Waves_, together with "The Trees"
and "Closer To The Heart". Old songs were confined to a medley at the end
of the set, which featured "2112", "Xanadu", "La Villa Strangiato" and "In
The Mood". All four were edited versions, but ran into each other extremely
well. The sole encore piece was "YYZ". Overall, it was an extremely
entertaining show that flowed smoothly without leading to tedium at any

    "This set is paced well," declared a relaxed Alex Lifeson, as we
chatted after the concert. "In fact, I think it's the best set we've ever
done. It's a bit early to say, since we haven't been out that long, but the
pacing is very 'up' and it doesn't seem to let down at all."

    While agreeing with Alex, I could also envisage that a lot of Rush fans
might be disappointed that there wasn't more older material. How did he
feel about that?

    "Well I can sympathize with people who want to hear us do more old
stuff, but there is a limit to what you can actually play during a two-
hour set. Nowadays, we want to play a lot more of the newer material from
_Permanent Waves_ on  and it feels good doing the fresher tunes. To me,
things are moving along much better now that some of the older, longer
pieces aren't there anymore. Also the show itself has a totally different
feel to it. The band has a different appearance, the sound has taken a step
forward, everything is much fresher and, to tell you the truth, I feel
really good -- almost re-born."

    The "New World Tour" of the North American continent saw Rush playing
to in excess of a million fans and, by the beginning of 1983, _Signals_ had
been certified platinum, both in Canada and the US. In May, the band flew
to Europe, however Geddy told me that he now had mixed feelings about
playing in Britain.

    "I like it and I don't," he mused. "When we first went over, I really
liked it a lot and I still enjoy playing certain places. But I find it a
real grind. Sometimes, it seems that you can do no right in the UK. For
example, every tour we've done has been pretty extensive for a North
American band. We've played in a lot of the smaller towns and done multiple
days in them because we've wanted to. We appreciate the fact that those
kids have supported us. But, while that was going on, we got complaints
that we weren't playing enough gigs because more people wanted to see us.
So what do you do?

    "We figured that if more people want to see us, then we'll play the
bigger halls, although I didn't know all these UK halls are as bad as they
are. (NB: The larger British venues have very poor accousitcs.) We played
three nights at Wembley, Bingley and Scotland, and still got complaints! I
really felt hurt because it seems that you just can't win. What do you have
to do to make people happy? Because of that 'no-win' situation, it's taken
a bit of the edge off playing there."

    Despite this apprehension towards British gigs, the UK shows turned out
ot be another unqualified success and climaxed with four consecutive
sell-out concerts at London's 10,000-seat Wembley Arena.

    Meanwhile, after Geddy's gushing praise for producer Terry Brown when
_Signals_ had come out, it was somewhat ironic that, during the final
stages of the 1982-83 tour, the band decided to work with someone else on
the next album. In no way dissatisfied with "Broon", they simply felt the
need to seek fresh creative input. As a result, during the English dates,
Rush met with various esteemed producers before reaching a unanimous
decision that Steve Lillywhite, of Big Country, Simple Minds and U2 fame,
was their man. It wasn't long, however, before a call came through from
Lillywhite's manager, relaying the message that he didn't fell he was quite
right for the job.

    Rejected by the _new wave_, the group was forced to start basic pre-
production unassisted. In September '83, their schedule was disrupted by a
five-night stand at New York's Radio City Music Hall, which had originally
been intended as a warm-up for the final recording sessions.

    Months slipped by and, towards the end of the year, it began to look as
though Rush might have to produce the entire album themselves. Fortunately,
their quest for the "right man" finally ended, when they hooked up with
former Supertramp producer Pete Henderson. Completing the Lp still proved
something of a nightmare and Alex told the _Milwaukee Journal_: "It was
kind of like childbirth, but instead of 20 hours, it was six months of non-
stop labor. It was difficult and took a long, long time to finish."

    By March, 1984, the album was ready to be mastered and the band had
come up with the appropriate title, _Grace Under Pressure_. In his highly
illuminating "Pressure Release", Neil Peart wrote: "Our records tend to
follow in cycles, some of them exploratory and experimental, others more
cohesive and definitive. I think that this one, like _Moving Pictures_,
_Hemispheres_ or _2112_ before it, is a definitive one of its type. Really,
it defines its type. An indefinable thread, both musical and conceptual,
emerges in a natural way and links the diverse influences and approaches
into an overall integrity."

    The protracted studio stint had certainly proven worthwhile and, in
_Grace Under Pressure_, Rush delivered a near perfect album. While the
white-reggae flavor lingered on, there was a sense of urgency to the songs,
something that _Signals_ had lacked. Side one comprised: the first US
single, "Distant Early Warning", "Afterimage", "Red Sector A" and "The
Enemy Within", the first part of the "Fear" trilogy. (Strange how they
undertook this project in reverse!) The second side boasted "The Body
Electric", "Kid Gloves", "Red Lenses" and "Between The Wheels".

    No longer buried beneath a mass of keyboards and synthesizers, Alex
Lifeson's guitar playing took a more up-front position in the mix. Talking
with _Guitar_ magazine, he observed: "That's exactly what we were going
for. In retrospect, _Signals_ tried to achieve a focus on the keyboards. We
wanted the guitar to become part of the rhythm. I enjoy rhythm guitar very
much and try to make the most of that genre. Unfortunately, somewhere along
the line we lost it. On _Signals_ we wanted to change things and,
unfortunately, the guitar took a back seat. When we started on this new
album we wanted to bring the guitar back into the forefront and strike the
proper balance between all the elements."

    Although the music was a good deal brighter, Neil Peart's lyrics
appeared somewhat doom-laden and nuclear war, acid rain and technology were
among the concerns expressed. The drummer had evidently been influenced by
current news events and, in his "Pressure Release", he revealed that,
during the writing stage, he would read the _Toronto Globe And Mail_ over
breakfast before starting work on his lyrics. "The topics of the day,
especially as expressed in the editorials and letters to the editor, were
necessarily on my mind," he admits, "and this circumstance affected the
lyrics to certain songs profoundly."

    Tying in with the Lp title, the inner sleeve depicted an egg, held
within the menacing jaws of a metal C-clamp. "The important thing is not to
crack," said Neil to one reporter. Once again, the front cover artwork was
designed by Hugh Syme, but the back sleeve photograph was taken by the 75-
year old internationally renowned portrait lensman, Yousuf Karsh. The photo
session took place in an Ottawa hotel room and, despite Karsh's impressive
track record with royalty, presidents, astronauts and film stars, the end
result was generally considered an extremely unflattering photograph of the
band. However, Geddy told a critic from the _St. Paul Pioneer Press_: "I
think the picture brings out our personalities quite nicely. But it also
looks like a bar mitzvah photo, doesn't it?"

    When _Grace Under Pressure_ was released in April '84, record stores
immediately reported strong sales. In the meantime, Rush had gone over to
Britian to shoot videos for "Distant Early Warning", "Afterimage", "The
Body Electric" and "The Enemy Within" using directors Tim Pope, David
Mallet and Cucumber Productions. On returning to America, they hit the road
for the first section of a two-leg US tour.

    The onset of fullscale success has allowed Rush the freedom to pace
road activity to suit their own desires. Rather than spending month after
month living out of suitcases, their touring sprees are now limited to no
more than two or three months at a time, with a steady balance of days-off
in between shows. Aside from avoiding having to spend lengthy periods away
from their families, it also prevents the stage performances from becoming

    "Touring eventually takes its toll," reckons Alex. "After three months
you begin feeling run-down and can end up doing shows that you don't realy
enjoy. Sometimes you find yourself sitting in a dressing room before going
on stage and all you really want to do is sleep or go and vegetate in front
of the TV."

    Asking the guitarist whether attaining their current high-ranking
status has helped alleviate some of the pressure, he replies: "The pressure
is different now. It's greater in some respects and less in others. We
don't have to play nine days in a row anymore, with one day off in between.
But, at the same time, the show has grown a lot since those days and
there's a little more responsibility inherent in that. But, if you stay on
top of things then it never gets to the point where it's a major concern.
And if, by any chance, it does, then it's easily dealt with because
everybody's basically on the same level."

    A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the early days in
Toronto and certainly Rush never envisaged that they would end up scaling
the dizzy heights of megastardom.

    "I think every young musician can relate to this; you have this sort of
dream about 'making it', but don't really know what that means," says
Geddy. "You just go for this blind goal with your eyes closed, your heart
wide open and let things happen from there. You've no idea what you're
going for and what it'll be like when you get there. I don't think any of
us realized how far Rush would go and I don't think we like to think about
it either."

    Who knows what the future holds in store for the band? During the 1984
tour dates, rumors began to circulate that a split might be in the air, but,
then again, such gossip is inevitable with any group that has been around
for so long. However, in his interview with the _Milwaukee Journal_, Alex
did comment: "I really, really doubt if we'll be touring like this when
we're 40 years old. I've got two boys, 13 and 7, and being on the road gets
to be a grind."

    In _Rock Magazine_, Geddy declared: "It's hard to say how long we'll
stay together at this. There's a lot of things we'd like to do in the
future, but if the three of us aren't happy and excited by what we're doing
I don't see us hanging around."

    Lee also told the _Pittsburgh Press_: "It's getting to the point now
where you start thinking about going on to other things, but somehow you
come back to this. The tours are getting shorter every year. It seems more
difficult to stay on the road each year. There's so much else to life that
you want to live and do."

    Whether Rush will actually call it a day in the near future seems
unlikely, since the three members still derive a tremendous amount of
pleasure and satisfaction from working together. One would imagine that
they will simply attempt to maintain a comfortable balance between group
activities and outside pursuits.

    We shall see.

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