Tag Archives: rush

Plumbing the Depths

It was one of those weekends when I did many things, but didn’t see a common theme emerge until I spent Sunday afternoon with my hands submerged in a failed attempt to blend art and plumbing and realized I’d had a trio of plumbing references as the meta data for my weekend. But I’m cutting to the chase….

Friday night: One of my all-time favorite summer activities is to announce Williamsport Little League Tournament games at the NJ District level, mixing up my own brand of John Sterling with equal parts radio DJ and CB radio operator. Given travel schedules and the fact that I’m no longer on the local Little League board, I get a chance to do about one game a summer. This past Friday night, I got to the ball field to find out that one of the teams had withdrawn from the tournament, their short post season flushed before it had begun.

Saturday night: Rush at the PNC Bank Arts Center. After having seen Rush in Philadelphia a month ago, I was expecting a repeat of the same amazing show. But having read Peart’s Roadshow I should have known of the variation in venues, and how the musicians themselves often feel a show is only “adequate” or “competent”, not the exhilarating experience those of us who paid $100 a ticket thought we were enjoying. Saturday’s Rush show suffered from significant reductions in the lighting rigging, such that the “spaceship” type lights that normally ascend and descend toward the stage were fixed along the stage’s ceiling. Much worse, the sound quality was “Delaware River mud” at best, with bass suffering from echoes and very tinny vocals (I know, I know, Geddy Lee sounds tinny in Carnegie Hall). I forgot how much the acoustics in the PNC Bank Arts Center resemble that of a concrete arena bathroom, and I can also see why Peart refuses to use corporate sponsor names when recalling stops in the roadshow.

Sunday night: I decide, after a fun-filled trip to Home Depot, to attack the two Kohler Rialto toilets in our house that are testing my patience. Toilet plumbing isn’t really all that complicated, but when a former software engineer is facing a very low profile, very small tank plumbing fixture armed with a toolbelt and extension cord, only bad things can happen. In the words of Al Bundy, nobody appreciates a toilet for the work of technology that it is, and that’s probably because in some designer’s efforts to hide its function, it’s function got too complicated. Charles Mingus used to say (with reference to jazz music) that anyone could take something simple and make it complicated; only genius could take the complicated and make it simple. This bit of plumbing was the work of the anti-genius; however; two hours, one session with the drill press, four different screwdrivers, a home-made shim, and one custom-cut fitting down the drain (literally) later, I think both toilets are functional.

If I get home to find they’re not, I’m unbolting both plumbing fixtures and using them as lawn seats at the PNC Bank Arts Center. Art imitates art.

Ghost Rider

Just finished Neal Peart’s Ghost Rider, the story of his “healing road” of motorcycle travels after the tragic deaths of his daughter and wife within 10 months of each other. Normally I find travel literature really boring; I’d rather go and explore and get a sense of places first-hand than have context prescribed for me. But Peart uses the travelogue to establish the context for his moods, his thoughts, and in the second half of the book, a series of letters to his friend Brutus (who co-stars in Roadshow: Landscape with Drums, the successor story to Ghost Rider).

Snippets of Rush lyrics (written by Peart) appear at the opening and close of various chapters, and as adjuncts Peart provides along the way. It’s eerie to see how some of his attitudes and thinking pre-tragedy shaped his recovery after those events; it’s even eerier than the Rush CD Roll the Bones that deals with death and matters of circumstance, written long before Peart experienced those first-hand. At the close of the book, he describes the process by which he began to pen lyrics again, for the Rush CD Vapor Trails (and it’s easy to pick up on the themes that later braced that CD, starting with small personal victories).

I turned the last page of the book last night, and was left with two striking thoughts that paired with a difficult day of work:

1. Tormented by time and space where he was, Peart rode his motorcyle. Fast. Speed and distance (changes in space over time) counted for more than direction. Forward progress.

2. He rediscovered hope by building on the things that gave him joy: first his motorcycle, then nature, then caring about the environment, and eventually meeting his second wife.

I put on Rush’s Snakes & Arrows, a CD about hope and faith, in some ways the third part of the Peart mental travelogue, on the way home. It’s audio Anne Lamott.

Bottom Of The Band

I have always wanted to play the bass guitar. Gene Simmons from Kiss, Geddy Lee from Rush, John Camp of Renaissance, and of course Chris Squire of Yes (the latter two with their Rickenbacker axes; the former with his axe posing as bass) were my musical heroes. Twenty-seven years ago, I first attempted to learn to play, buying a very low-end Fender jazz bass look-alike with horrible action, uneven frets, and a warped neck (or at least those were my excuses for my lack of ability coupled with fret buzz). It was the week after midterms, the somewhat misplaced “fall break” during my freshman year at Princeton — this exact upcoming week on the calendar. It wasn’t the first time I’d come back to campus with more junk in tow than when I’d left.

My excuse for an amplifier was a “portable” cassette deck with the bass run into the line in, and an 1/8″ plug to RCA plug cable going from line out into my stereo amplifier. Unintentional distortion, a little pre-amp control and a touch of Mr. Microphone all at the same time. A year later, partial differential equations and DeMorgan’s theorem conspired to consume my practice hours, and I sold the bass to another unsuspecting (and unsuccessful) friend from the radio station. During my entire 4-string career, I learned the bass line to “I’m Free” by the Who and some of Lou Reed’s “Rock and Roll.”

Last year, when I was making up my list of projects in progress for the incoming CTOs of software, I put “learn to play bass” in near the end, just to see if they’d read that far. Brewin asked me a few weeks ago if I ever learned to play, and I couldn’t think of a good reason why I hadn’t. I can find the time to practice; I have a place to practice and access to reasonable sound reinforcement. So after a few weeks of trolling around on eBay I managed to win one Steinberger-style, Hohner headless bass guitar, suitable for travel, practice in tight quarters, and aging heavy metal wannabes with fat fingers.

It arrived today, and I’m itching to get on the redeye so I can get down and get funky in NJ. Next stop: YYZ.