Exit stage left. An evening (or two) with Rush..
Every time I think of Rush, the mere thought brings a smile to my face and dare I say, a twinkle to my eye. The year was 1981 and the "must have" album was Moving Pictures. As many of you die- hard Rush fans may recall, their 8th record was and still is their "Mona Lisa": the one album that broke this band wide open. I still remember the video of them in the studio; The snow outside the window, the opening chords of Tom Sawyer and the infectious drum beat that Neil so masterfully laid down. You gotta remember, at that time there was no MTV or if there was, they where playing "Video Killed the Radio Star" or "Mexican Radio"- surely nothing for us die- hard guitar freaks. We were in the New Romantic era of music and believe me, as a young impressionable guitarist like myself, this band was powerful.
Just so you know, Moving Pictures was not my introduction to this band. I'd heard "Fly by Night", "Working Man" and I owned a copy of "All the Worlds a Stage," but this is the album that made me a believer in this band. A collective culmination of this band's work and maturation process personified. Kinda like the moment when the Colonel accidentally knocked something in the batter and all of a sudden, his recipe was deemed "the seven secret herbs and spices". I bet when these guys first heard this album in its entirety, they laughed. Not the kind of laughter you get from someone telling you a dirty joke, but the kinda of laughter that comes when somethings so good, you just know that people will be blown away. That's what I'm talking about; I just know they were because 'till this very day, I still am.
Photo 2A: The Journey. As Ray navigated the Mystery Machine down Peachtree street, the droning bass line of Aerosmith's " Sweet Emotion" synchronized the footsteps of the masses as they walked toward their final destination. With the windows down, that familiar song bellowed from the van's speakers and the Atlanta skyline was indeed picturesque. The fall weather here is a welcomed distraction from this past Summer's sweltering heat and it felt good to be alive, excited and in the moment. This is what life is all about. This is what we forget as we race towards the proverbial top, as if the music will stop, and we will all be looking for that chair in which to sit. To be lost in the moment. I, too was lost and then, as if I was hearing Gabriele's trumpet, Ray exclaimed, "This is what we were made to do". "An interesting statement", I thought. As Ray raced towards that posh hotel in Buckhead, I pondered on his remark. I thought deeply on how many of us in this world get to do what we really enjoy doing and on how lucky Ray and I truly were. To do what we love for a living and on how many interesting people we encounter along the way. I couldn't help but think of the 'ole adage, "It's not what you know, but who you know." The "who" is the person that allowed us this once in a lifetime meeting, the "where", was tonight and the "why" was a gesture out of the goodness of the "who's" heart. My train of thought quickly diminished as Ray, in true Southern style guided the 'Elkmobile sideways onto the expensive pavers in front of the hotel. With the Earth still scorched and the stench of burning rubber in the air, the valet attendant asked politely for the keys...
Photo 2B: The Meeting. How can I possibly begin to tell you readers what it felt like to meet a legend? How many countless times did I look at that Rush poster bought at Six Flags which hung proudly and majestically on my wall? About the dingy band rooms filled with smoke and the remnants of discarded beer bottles as we rehearsed our very own rendition of "Limelight" and as certain as death and taxes, the anguish coming from all four corners as we tried futilely to master the complex timing we had to endure just to get close to recreating what this trio has accomplished. These where just a few of the thoughts that ran through my mind as I sat and had a drink with Alex Lifeson. Let me set the table for you; Ray was to my left and Alex was on my right. Across from me was the incomparable Pat Foley, head of Artist Relations for Gibson Guitars and to Ray's immediate left was Andy Curran, head of Rush's management team. You would think that sitting next to a legend, Ray and I would be nervous, right? You are so correct, but what we quickly found out was that Alex was, as we say in the South, just "down home people". We enjoyed and hour and half of spirited conversation with Alex and talked about everything from Canadian hockey to the unimaginable talents of one Mr. Tommy Emmanuel. Ray and I tried our level best to not to come off as doting fans, but in the end, we succumbed and were exactly that (We had no obvious intentions, but like I mentioned previously, we had their posters on our walls at 15 and I guess we were excited to meet one of our heroes). Sorry Alex... As for our impression of Mr. Lifeson, he was a perfect gentleman and made us feel right at home, like family. We found him to be insightful, genuine and gracious: Not a person at all worried about the "rock star trappings". He seemed to be comfortable in his own skin and it showed. We also spoke about his new signature Les Paul and I'm here to tell you, he was very excited about this project and seemed to have definitive ideas on the look and feel of this soon- to- be epic guitar. Of course, Ray and I could talk the ears off an Alabama mule and after an hour and half, the table got a bit restless.
Just like Salieri so eloquently stated in the movie Amadeus: "I can speak for the Emperor. You make too many demands on the royal ear. The poor man can't concentrate for more than an hour... you gave him four". That's exactly how we felt could have talked all night, but we were just a tad bit excited. Lest we forget, Alex had a major gig to do in Atlanta the next day and the hour was getting late. After this picture was taken, some last minute pleasantries were exchanged and just like that, the evening was over. But I'm here to tell you, I wouldn't trade that meeting for anything in this world. That right there people is living. L.I.V.I.N.G.
P.S. Ray and I had a side bet on the way to the show. I bet Ray a concert hot dog (that translates into big bucks) that Alex would remember our names. 'Elks, when we met him again at the meet-n-greet, what did you think he said to me? That's right, "Hello Lee" and it's a fine testament of what he is all about. Did I ever get my hot dog you ask? Put it to you this way: I'm still hungry...
Photo 3: This is a photo of the Meet and Greet pass. Can you say "Hell yeah"?
Photo 4: This is a photo of the backstage area and also where the meet-n-greet was held. Our gang was the last in line. I thought Ray was going to pass out right before he met Geddy, but no such luck. Not only did he stay coherent, he drank all the beer in the concession area.
Photo 5: These are the road cases. I don't know why I take pictures of road cases every time we go back stage (I guess it's to prove we were there).