Rush’s “Moving Pictures” turns 35 this weekend, released February 12, 1981. While I had a passing interest in the trio before then, having heard “Spirit of the Radio” on New York and Philly FM stations with some regularity, it was “Limelight” and “Tom Sawyer”, played first on WYSP (Trenton) and then religiously on my own brand-new component stereo system that turned me into a lifelong Rush fan. It’s the only album that my sister and I both purchased (aside from some Partridge Family noise of the 1970s, but you get a hall pass for music you whine your parents into buying at a 7-11). It has one of the most visually pun-rich covers (on the front, men moving art, and the secondary pun of people moved by the moving art, on the back, the sight gag that the whole front shot was a moving picture set), which has infused recursive references into Rush tour interstitials for the ensuring 35 years. It’s nerd nirvana before you even drop the tone arm on the first track, the phased shifted, slightly spacey opening punch of “Tom Sawyer.” That was me, in every sense, in 1981.
Moving Pictures neatly divides my life into thirds reflected around the axis of my relationship with Rush: its release; their hiatus; and their semi-official retirement.
“Moving Pictures” is one of the few albums I can listen to end to end, finding something different each time, depending upon my mood and the context. The morning commute is enriched by “Camera Eye” as much as “Red Barchetta”. I find codon-inspired irony in using “YYZ” as an MTV-like soundtrack for EWR, SFO or FRA; it was the song that introduced me to 3-letter airport codes which have defined the vertices of my business graph since 1989. “Vital Signs” had an eerie video that I caught on Don Kirschner’s late night “Rock Concert” while home over some school break, and the “breaking sound” on YYZ is still one of the best recorded and appropriate effects in any rock song (it’s the sound of wind chimes being slapped against a wood table, not a brick thrown through a plate glass window as many of us believed). “Moving Pictures” was one of the first albums I bought after carefully weighing the opportunity cost of the $8 investment of my summer earnings (about three hours of after-tax pay, at that time), an anchor store to an album collection that expanded from under 100 to over 600 vinyl sleeves in about six years. Seeing Rush perform the whole album at Madison Square Garden, with my son and some friends in tow, was a life experience. Attempting to learn the bass lines to some of that music cements my position that it represents Geddy Lee at his technical and phrasing best, not just following the guitar lines but leading a wholly counterpoint melody that pulls the listener in all sorts of aural adventures.
First period: “Moving Pictures” makes me a rock and roll listener, for life.
The next 18 years are classic young adulthood: jobs, marriage, kids, multiple moves, the cultural void that comes from having young children, and then my insistence that our kids listen to “good music” rather than Barney or Raffi. Our kids were raised on a diet of classic rock before having an XM station made that a bit easier. Our daughter’s first “big concert” was seeing Santana in August 1995, the night Jerry Garcia died, an intense confluence of introducing a new generation to “my music” and also having a larger than life force in that music taken from us. It was the first time I had that feeling, and one that has become far too frequent in the last few years. For our son, his indoctrination came two years later, just a few months after his third birthday, when we caught the Holy Trinity at PNC Bank Arts Center. That show was one for the ages, opening with “Dreamline” (which Ben referred to as “We Are Young”, a reference to the chorus) and bookended by “Red Barchetta” and “Limelight” near the open with “Tom Sawyer” and “YYZ” at the close. It was as close to a perfect concert experience as you could get for a young fan, with liberal doses of songs he knew coupled with introductions to newer (or older) material that would become part of his musical heritage over the next 18 years.
Two months after that show, Rush went on hiatus as Neil Peart handled tragedies in his personal life. Second period: I graduate from technical adult to parenting adult, and the foundation of a father-son relationship is laid only to be quietly subdued again.
What “Moving Pictures” was for my formative music listening years, “Vapor Trails” was for Ben – a vivid, acoustically wonderful set of experiences. Four years into the last third of the current storyline, Rush returned to our lives, and we began a decade plus of ten concerts that took us from New Jersey to New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, and Las Vegas. If you look carefully along the left side of this arena photograph (framed in both of my offices), where the seats meet the floor, you’ll see us cheering, singing, punching the air along with “The Temples of Syrinx” from the Boston Garden show of October 2012, Ben’s freshman year at university, the song set to play again one generational octave lower. And then, with this year’s summer show in Las Vegas, just in time for my 53rd birthday, Rush implied their retirement from touring, and perhaps from music. And so we find ourselves back at the second intermission once again, a young adult and a middle-aged adult, wondering if there’s an extra stanza to come.
Never underestimate the power of music to forge lifelong connections, a sentiment proven by scientific research sponsored by Sonos and Apple (two major contributors to my music listening experience in the current frame), and replete with suggestions for finding the right musical accompaniment to your Valentine’s Day. For me, the final third has about a year to go — one filled with music, Rush references, puns, bass lessons, parenting, summer concert tours, and thinking in thirds, fourths and fifths.