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Reflections on 38 years of Rush fandom

We knew it was coming. But still … seeing it in print smacked of  finality.

"It's been a little over two years since Rush last toured," co-founder and guitarist Alex Lifeson told the Globe and Mail last week. "We have no plans to tour or record any more. We're basically done. After 41 years, we felt it was enough."

Haters – and Rush has always had many - will probably say "Who cares, losers?" I care, deeply. If that makes me a loser, I'm happy to own it. I'd love to tell you it was the Velvet Underground that changed my life as a kid, that I was born in Lou Reed's black turtleneck with a hotel complexion and a copy of Bukowski's collected works under my arm. But I'd be lying. I never owned a black turtleneck until I got to college. Prior to that, it was about Rush for me, mostly.

Why? Simple. Rush saved my life.

The three Canadian musicians did not swoop down from the skies and transport me to their eternally orbiting rocket-ship of pure awesomeness, thereby rescuing me from adolescent suburban ennui and Catholic-Military high school abuse. Rather, the band saved my life by displaying to me things that were worth living for, and with.

Music. Friendship. Integrity. The pursuit of excellence. Hard work. A sense of humor. Intellectual rigor. A reverence for the written word and the beautifully articulated musical passage alike. A belief that being different, weird, averse to the mainstream was not only acceptable, but desirable.

I was 12, a big reader, a big dreamer, and a music obsessive when Rush found me. I'm 50, still a reader, still a dreamer, and still a complete music obsessive as the band leaves me.

I took my son to see Rush several times, his first show when he was 10. We were lucky enough to meet Lee and Lifeson once. We formed a Rush tribute band and did some pretty big gigs. The older, pro-musician version of him might not admit it so freely these days, but I feel strongly that my son learned something about integrity, about musical discipline, about giving it all every time, from Rush. Just as his old man did.

During the 38 years of my rabid fandom, I attended 40 Rush shows. The first was in 1980 at the Palace Theatre in Albany. The last was in Buffalo, in 2015. (The band never skipped Buffalo during its tours. Its fan base here is massive and loyal.)  Not one of these 40 shows was sub-par. I can’t think of another band I can say that about.

In 2016, I wrote about Tonawanda teacher Ray Wawrzyniak, one of the world's foremost authorities on Rush.  I thought of him when I read Lifeson's offhand remarks in the Globe and Mail, and I reached out.

"Rush toured for 41 years," Wawrzyniak replied. "During that time there were a seemingly infinite number of personal sacrifices the band members had to make, all for the sake of their professional work. Complaining about their possible retirement would be selfish. If this is the end for the band, then their incredible body of work should only be celebrated."

He's right. There always has been a physical element involved in the making of Rush's consistently dynamic and complex music, particularly for drummer Peart, who made it clear during the recent "Time Stand Still" documentary that the physical demands of performing this music on the level that both he and the band's fans demanded had become too much for his then-63 year-old body. Respect, then. And gratitude, too.

Neil Peart at First Niagara Center in Buffalo in 2012. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News file photo)

I also reached out to a friend of mine from high school, a fellow guitarist and music freak named Kent Malmberg, who has shared my passion for the band. He now lives in California, and we don’t get to see each other much. But our love for Rush has endured, like our friendship and our musicianship.

"I’m good with it," he said. "They went out on top. If it was their last show, I feel honored to have been there in L.A. that final night of the R40 tour. When Neil stepped out front in the limelight with Alex and Geddy at the end, I think everyone there knew … this was it."

Through my window the world looks a lot less colorful without Rush in it. But any time a kid picks up a guitar – or any instrument, – and dares to think big, to dream hard and to work even harder, a little bit of that color will come back.

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