Tag Archives: friendship

48th Favorite: Animals, by Pink Floyd

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Animals. Pink Floyd.
1977, Harvest/Columbia. Producer: Pink Floyd.
Bootleg Cassette, ca. 1984. Purchased, ca. 1994.

IN A NUTSHELL: A concept album that takes the listener on quite a journey through society, this record has so much incredible David Gilmour guitar that I almost lose my mind!! Roger Waters’s voice is as effective as ever, and the whole band sounds great – even through the druggy interludes. I could do with fewer of these slow spots, but the songs and the playing more than make up for it. It’s an album designed for a listen in one sitting.
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I’ve seen fewer than one episode of that wildly popular old 90s TV show Friends. This is weird because, as a 49 year old, I am firmly and completely a part of that limiting descriptor called “Generation X,” and Friends is supposed to be one of our generation’s “touchstones.” And I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a big fan of almost all of our touchstones.

I devoured 70s Saturday morning cartoons, can recite entire Bugs Bunny Show scripts, and know most of the words to most of the Schoolhouse Rock episodes. I saw Star Wars in the theater when it was first released, and I watched the Quincy, M.E., punk rock episode when it first aired. I played Pac Man in the arcade for a quarter a game. I wished I could afford an Alligator shirt, but still never stooped to wearing the Sears “Braggin’ Dragon” brand instead. I watched Late Night with David Letterman when it was still “A Melman Production,” and watched MTV when it only showed music videos. I raved over Michael Jordan and Bo Jackson, bought Nevermind the month it came out and had tickets to Lollapalooza #1. I read (most of) Infinite Jest, saw Pulp Fiction in the theater several times, chuckled about the Y2K bug panic, and I felt old about MP3s and iPods and most everything else after 2002.

But I only ever saw part of one single Friends episode, the one where Nana dies twice, which was cutely titled – in that annoying Friends way – “The One Where Nana Dies Twice.” I remember there was a funny bit about someone’s grandma having a bunch of packets of Sweet ‘N Low. Despite the show’s apparent touchstone-dom, I never connected with it. I was never part of a big, close-knit group of friends, so I think the premise never resonated with me. I’ve always been more inclined to have one or two close friends, who may or may not know one another. Maybe this is part of the reason that I was more drawn to The X-Files during the Friends era. (And why I was one of the fans who DID NOT want Scully and Mulder to get romantic.)

When I think of “friends,” I don’t think of Friends: it’s not a large group, it’s a small group – maybe one other person. On TV and movies, they’re commonly called “buddies,” and there are examples galore out there. Scully and Mulder are of the “opposites attract” variety – she is skeptical, detached, reserved; he is high-strung and borders on gullibility. The most famous example is a pair whose friendship was created specifically to mine the deep vein of humor found in such an attraction: Oscar and Felix, from The Odd Couple – a success as a stage play, a movie, and multiple TV shows. From the manly/nerdy Martin and Lewis to man-hungry/good girl Laverne & Shirley to sunny/cranky Ernie and Bert, and in countless cop movies, Opposites has been a tried and true basis for fictional friendships.

Some fictional friendships are based on shared childhoods – people who connected in school and remained close. The Geeks, in Freaks and Geeks, fit the bill for me as a threesome – the maximum number allowed to meet my “buddy” standard. This means the Freaks don’t work for me because they’re a larger group. Raj, Dwayne and Rerun, from What’s Happening! are definite examples. Grown examples of childhood friends include Jerry and George, from Seinfeld, and Patsy and Eddy, from Absolutely Fabulous. Sadly, neither pair makes a good case for the mental health of individuals who remain close friends with childhood pals.

Some fictional friends are thrown together by circumstance, for better (as is the case with Red and Andy in The Shawshank Redemption) or for worse (as with Barton and Charlie in Barton Fink.) Some are friends for no apparent reason, like The Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, or Ren and Stimpy. Still others just seem meant for each other, like Rhoda and Mary, Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton, John Winger and Russell Ziskey, Spongebob and Patrick.

Whatever the source of the friendship, these one-to-one (or at times three-person) relationships have been more typical in my life than the large-group Friends model. This has changed somewhat as I’ve gotten older and my wife and I have made friends with our kids’ friends’ parents, and we’ve developed friendships with groups of couples. But despite these changes, the single “buddy” remains my Platonic Ideal of the term “friend.” And the buddy I’ve remained closest to the longest is Dr. Dave.

We’re not exactly opposites, although we are quite different. We didn’t meet as kids, although having met as freshmen in college, we pretty much did. We were kinda thrown together by circumstance, being two of about nine folks majoring in Toxicology when we got to college – not as stressful as Shawshank Prison, but probably weirder. More than anything, we just sort of connected over The Beatles, music, Mel Brooks movies, Bugs Bunny, the Phillies, Columbo, and so many other little things.

As you, dear reader, will likely understand if you’ve had a close friend for thirty-some years, it’s difficult to adequately cover all the big ways in which Dr. Dave has been important to me. Instead, I’ll just list a few concrete examples of the little things he’s done, such as: 1) getting me to try asparagus for the first time; 2) teaching me how to do hammer-ons and pull-offs on the bass; 3) telling me I should give Pink Floyd’s Animals another shot after my initial rejection of it. Another friend in high school, Rick, had duped his copy of the album onto cassette for me as part of a pre-digital-music data-dump of multiple Pink Floyd albums. I’d listened to it once, then never really went back to it. My initial assessment was that it was too depressing, and as a seventeen year-old, rural Pennsyltukian in 1984, I had Van Halen albums to consume and couldn’t be bothered with depressing stuff. (Which today sounds a bit depressing, in and of itself.)

At some point in college I’d transferred to a school a couple hours’ drive from Philadelphia, where Dr. Dave lived. He’d sometimes visit, and I have a vivid memory of him walking up the stairs to my crappy college apartment, having just arrived from a two-hour drive, and announcing, “Dude, what a ride!! I listened to Animals, the whole time!” I expressed doubt about his choice, but he made an excellent case for the album’s merits, countered my suspect assessment of it, and I soon found myself listening to my cassette version, instead of just rewinding it each time I listened to Dark Side of the Moon, on Side A.

Like most (all?) Pink Floyd albums from the 70s to early 80s, Animals is a Concept Album, with its (few) songs unified on the themes of class politics, Capitalism and societal decay. So, sure, my initial assessment of “depressing” may have some basis in fact. But the album’s soaring guitars, earnest vocals, and the fact that the sheep defeat the dogs, make it far from a negative experience.

And as depressing as some of the themes may be, the record actually opens (and closes) with a sweet, folky song, “Pigs on the Wing 1,” about the value of love (or friendship!) among the indignities in life.

These indignities are symbolized by Flying Pigs, and, one can infer, the waste products discharged therefrom. As one might expect from a Concept Album titled Animals, and confronting class politics, this begins the continuing metaphor of the album of human types as animals.

First up are humans as those shaggy, friendly best friends of humanity, “Dogs.”

Writing about 17-plus minute long songs can be challenging. In the past, I’ve gone deep into the weeds to write about such songs, using hundreds of words to comment on parts played and sung by all the members of the band. For “Dogs,” two words may be sufficient: David Gilmour.

He opens the song, which he wrote with bassist Roger Waters, strumming difficult chords on acoustic guitar and singing a cynical take on how to succeed in the modern world. The lyrics are quite bitter in that fist-raising, indignant, beautiful way that young idealists have – and that old fogies like me tend to dismiss as “immature” and “out of touch with the real world,” mainly because we realize we had a chance to make a difference and that chance passed us by. Lines like “You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to / So that when they turn their backs on you / You’ll get the chance to put the knife in” leave little doubt about young Gilmour’s perspective.

These lines also lead in, about 1:48, to the first of his many brilliant guitar solos in this song. I love listening to the song, a slight difference from merely loving the song, to hear where Gilmour takes me – his solos seem to carry the listener along. They’re filled with great sounds and subtle intricacies, movement and emotion. Often times on this album I think of the band as merely platform onto which the lyrics and Gilmour’s guitar have been placed for careful consideration. The next solo is truly epic: beginning at 3:40, the song takes a turn to a commanding, pomp-filled tone, and Gilmour plays a double-tracked solo, with added touches layered underneath (listen closely from 4:30 to 4:45), that swirls into the type of section heard in many Pink Floyd songs, and of which, frankly, I could do with less.

I’ve barely ever used any marijuana in my life, so I may be way off base, but I associate these moody, open spaces in Floyd songs, oftentimes containing non musical, natural sounds (in this case dogs barking), with stoned teenagers exploring their minds while keyboardist Rick Wright holds a note for several minutes, and Gilmour gently strums the same two chords repeatedly. Of course, as boring as they can be, these long interludes do provide the framework for such wonderful beauties as Gilmour’s next solo, at about 5:32. I love this entire solo, especially the sort of “laughing” notes, around 6:20. Roger Waters’s bass during this solo is actually pretty cool (Gilmour himself has mocked Waters’s bass-playing ability), with nice, bouncy chords.

The song could easily end at about eight minutes, just after the really cool chicken-scratch guitar Gilmour plays during the vocals at 7:30, but this being Floyd, there are about 9 minutes left. And they’re a terrific nine minutes. And of course, this being Floyd, before we get to the terrific part, bongs gurgle everywhere as we sit through three-and-a-half minutes of Gilmour’s voice echoing while Wright holds a few notes, drummer Nick Mason taps a cymbal and those damned dogs bark some more. At 11:40, Waters takes over the vocals, and the song becomes his – sort of a jaunty melody. Although Gilmour is probably the better pure singer, I sort of like Waters’s voice better. It has more of an edge, a sneer.

But holy shit, if Gilmour’s guitar doesn’t take over and steal back the glory!! The solo beginning at about 13:27 is his fourth of the song, and each one has been different and spectacular. This one is a trip up and down the neck, until it falls into a sort of Galaga insect-esque descent at 13:55. The finale (because such an impressive song requires a finale!) starts about 14:10, with more soloing and finally Waters putting the finishing touches on the song, singing a list of characteristics of the everyman in the song – the dog? The victim of the dog? both? – and Mason shows off his drumming chops.

Besides the fact that Dr. Dave introduced me to it, another reason Animals reminds me of friendship is that it’s so much a Gilmour/Waters-sounding record (despite the fact that only “Dogs” is credited to both of them, and the rest are Waters songs). I like to imagine the two friends playing and laughing together, like Dr. Dave and I would if we were Gilmour and Waters. However, this is pure fantasy. The two seem to really have a shared distaste, if not outright hostility, for one another. They’ve shared a stage once since 1981 (okay, fact-check: three times), and seem unlikely to do it again. But while they were together, they sure recorded some great stuff! For example, “Pigs (Three Different Ones).”

In this song, we meet three humans of the “Pig” variety, those at the top of the Social Ladder, according to Mr. Waters. This song is carried by Waters’s vocal performance; sneering, growling, falsetto, talking … Waters uses several techniques effectively throughout. The fretless bass on this song is tremendous, starting right at about 0:10, and I thought I’d be complimenting Waters for it; however, it was Mr. Gilmour who took over bass duties for this song, and he nailed it. This is a good song for paying attention to the stuff going on in the background. For example, the guitar is really cool-sounding and echo-y during the verses, and Nick Mason breaks out the cowbell just before 2:00. There’s nice piano work (actual piano, not synthesizer) around there, as well, and nifty little guitar doodles, too.

The lyrics are quite harsh, once again full of righteous indignation at the powerful class. And as someone who grew up far, far from power and wealth, it feels good to hear Waters spew these lines, I must say. And one little tidbit that many Americans may not realize: the “Whitehouse” in the third verse IS NOT the U.S. presidency! It’s in fact a woman named Mary Whitehouse who was a moralistic crusader against sex and violence in 1970s Britain.

As you may expect, I’ll again fawn over Gilmour’s guitar playing in this song. Even during the repetitive, extended “bong section” of this song, from about 4:00 to 8:00, he does some little string bends on his chords that lift up the playing. Then comes a “talk box” solo, at 5:10, that brilliantly mimics a wah-wah trumpet. The mid-to-late 70s were huge for the Talk Box. Peter Frampton, Joe Walsh, Rufus … it was everywhere, and it’s interesting to see an “artsy” band like Pink Floyd use it. The song does sag a bit during this part (although be sure to listen to that bass during it!!), and this 11 minute song likely could have been five minutes. But they finish with a flourish, ramping up the energy on a final solo and an almost-disco bass line!

The last of the animal types we’ll meet are those from the big herd, the massive group of folks who aren’t the dangerous dogs or the gluttonous pigs. The you and the me, even if we’d rather not admit it: “Sheep.”

This song, both lyrically and sonically, is actually quite uplifting. Sonically, it has a driving urgency and a satisfying guitar ending that sounds like release. Lyrically, although the sheep at first seem meek and hopeless, they do set upon the dogs and defeat them in the end. The Rick Wright electric piano at the beginning sounds a little too Al Jarreau for my liking, but it ends soon enough, with a growing bass that signals more of Waters’s sneering voice. And sure, at this point in my post I should just say “Gilmour, Gilmour, Gilmour.” But I mean, come on. The stuff he does from 2:26 to about 2:50 is just insanely good. And he does stuff like that throughout the whole song (3:30 – 3:50, for example)!

It builds to a near frenzy by about 4 minutes, but then … spark one up. We’ve got another 3 minutes of mellow to enjoy the drugs’ effects. After swirling synths and burbling bass, there’s a distorted 23rd Psalm to occupy your mind. The song builds to a very effective guitar fanfare at about 8:07 to signal the death of the dogs and the sheep’s success. On an album with three very long songs, it’s hard to choose a favorite, but the guitar in Sheep may place it atop that list.

To end the album, we again revisit those dreaded flying pigs, in “Pigs on the Wing 2.”

Same song, slightly different words, a recapitulation of the original point: it’s good to have someone else to help you avoid the pigs’ shit (and the dogs’ teeth, for that matter). That’s the point of friends in a nutshell right there, isn’t it?

So thanks, Dr. Dave. And Julia, of course. And Dan and Josh and Rick. And Josh S. and Adam and Ximena. And Mitch and Kim and Ed and Tiger and … holy cow! Weird, I’ve always felt like it’s been one buddy, one friend, for me. But when you start to actually name them and count them up, it turns out I’ve been lucky to have more buddies than I can really even comfortably list! Thanks to all of you, named and un-named!! Because of you, I’ve never worried very much about those flying pigs.

Track Listing
“Pigs On The Wing 1”
“Dogs”
“Pigs (Three Different Ones)”
“Sheep”
“Pigs On The Wing 2”

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92nd Favorite: Fly By Night, by Rush

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Fly By Night. Rush.
1975, Mercury. Producer: Rush and Terry Brown
Purchased ca. 1984.

fly by night

nutshellIN A NUTSHELL – Mind-blowing musicianship on display in intricate, powerful, fist-pumping anthemic rock and multi-part story songs. If you don’t mind complex songs about discredited philosophical theories and allegorical battles between mythological beasts, played by virtuosos and sung by a harpy-esque voice, you will LOVE this album! It is amazing. WOULD BE HIGHER IF – it didn’t include the song “Rivendell.”

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just like plannedNo one sets out to be a dork. There isn’t a time in a young nerd’s life when he or she makes the decision that, “Dammit! Scorn, derision and an adolescence spent alternately falling for hurtful pranks and sitting alone wondering how to transform myself into some version of me that is less likely to be hated is the life I’m going to lead!!” Dorkdom isn’t a choice. Dorkdom simply is.

As with all human characteristics – from athleticism, to intelligence, to sexuality – there is a range of dorkocity, a spectrum ranging from the IN (Infra-Nerd) region on the low end (aka “What the fuck planet did that guy come from?!”) upward through an array of math aficionados, sci-fi and comic book lovers, arching across Renaissance Faire participants, role-playing gamers and subscribers to GAMES magazine and Popular Mechanics, and terminating in the AH (AdHuman) region (aka “She seems a little weird, right?”). It is a sort of Rainbow of Rejects.
reject rainbow 2

And while all American kids at one point or another feel like they are weird or not right, like they can’t wait one more second for the bullshit of adolescence to end, once and for all, only particular kids live with that feeling all the time. These are the dorks. The nerds. The geeks. Like war, or famine, or any other human hardship, you only really understand nerd-dom if you went through it.

And all nerds know they are a nerd. If you think you might have been a nerd, you weren’t. Simply having a fondness for comic books or Sudoku doesn’t count. This public service announcement from Portlandia explains:

All nerds understand. No matter where you fall on that Crescent of Kooks, sad nerdyou know the dread of waking up, getting dressed, looking in the mirror every day and thinking … “Oh, hell. What’s the use?”

But there’s a secret to dorkdom that many non-dorks overlook, and that keeps (most) dorks from getting so depressed that we take drastic actions against ourselves or others. The fact is – nerds have FUN!!

People tend to think that nerdhood is a result of poor social skills, or extra, yet misplaced, intelligence, or a lack of physical coordination. And while those conditions may well-characterize 99% of nerds, they are merely co-infections. funThe real unifying aspect is a desire to have fun. Nerds may wish for popularity when they are home alone, trying to sleep, thinking of that boy or girl they like who won’t even say hello to them; but when a nerd is with his/her friend or friends (admittedly a small group, but undoubtedly a tightly-bound one) the desire for popularity goes out the window. The main shared goal is to have a lot of fun.

Nerds aren’t too shackled by others’ opinions of what is or isn’t cool – they just know what they like – and they do it. This singularity of focus – doing what one wants to do – is a valued trait among adults, but among kids and teenagers it can be a socially fatal flaw. The terrifically awesome TV show Freaks and Geeks featured classic adolescent nerd life in every episode (thus the “Geeks” in the title), and in one of the best scenes ever, uber-nerd Bill gets to share “Seven Minutes in Heaven” with popular-girl Vicki, and he gets a chance to describe how a nerd can have fun even all by himself:

Nerds have fun. I had an opportunity to share this wisdom with my son when he was about 9 or 10. He had been invited to a classmate’s birthday party, nerd-dara boy with whom he was friendly, but who didn’t share my son’s interests of sports, sports and sports. As a nerd myself, I immediately recognized a kindred spirit in the boy. My son was skeptical of the giant chess board painted on the back yard, and the adults dressed in Harry Potter-ish get-ups, the juggling slack-rope walker and the tree house transformed into a miniature Elizabethan castle.

slack ropeBut when the afternoon spent in a role-playing treasure hunt ended – a hunt whose clues were embedded in a life-size chess game, and that relied on accosting costumed bad guys with plastic swords and rescuing a damsel in distress – my son exclaimed, “That was the BEST BIRTHDAY PARTY EVER!!” Nerds have fun.

My own dorkdom started early. Thanks to two older, very intelligent sisters – who enjoyed the blackboards my parents hung in our basement, and used them to full-effect while forcing their little brother to be a “pupil” to their co-teachers every single fucking time they played “classroom” – I was taught to read at a very young age. eggheadSo by kindergarten I read at quite a high level. This was no big deal, except for the fact that – as happens to nerds and geeks throughout their typically miserable educational experience – the teachers turned it into a negative. martinMrs. Confer (who I liked very much) excused me from class a few times a week to go read books with the first and second graders. My little classmates would watch me leave the room with looks that said, “What’s wrong with that kid, that he doesn’t get to color and play with blocks? He must be weird!”

In the early grades, being a “smart kid” was seen as a positive, and I was respected among my peers. Then “education” screwed it up again. Beginning in fourth grade, all the “smart” kids were rounded up and placed in the basement together for a few hours each week, where a few young, well-intentioned aides called us “gifted” and made us create and think and solve and shit like that, instead of just being normal kids playing on the playground.

bonesIf that weren’t bad enough, right about that time my parents decided it would be a great idea for me to learn the trombone.

Now, it may seem hard to believe, but there was a time and place when playing the trombone was really cool! Unfortunately, that time and place was 1912, in River City, Iowa.

And as slow-to-progress as rural Pennsylvania might be, by 1976 trombone playing was no longer cool. Even the Amish found it uncool.

amishMy life of dorkdom was well under way.

And by high school, my nerd credentials were firmly established:

credentials

On that Rainbow I described above, I was lucky enough to be on the normal side slope, in the AdHuman region. Similar to the oft-described hierarchy of skin tone among African-Americans – a prejudice among a group of people already dealing with prejudice from the larger society – there is a pecking order among geeks, as well, and those folks at one end of the Array of Errors are proud to be not as geeky as those at the other end. I was big and rather athletic and could amuse other kids with jokes, so my Hawaiian shirts and bright orange Chuck Taylors were typically seen by my peers as mere oddities, not as an invitation to pummel.
orange chuckhawaiian shirt
And like all dorks, I continued to have fun. I enjoyed playing trombone in the marching band, made some great friends – including Dan K., a trumpet player, and the closest thing I’ve ever had to a brother, and who shared my love of David Letterman, Bullwinkle cartoons and Hawaiian shirts. spnge pat

The marching band traveled to football games and band competitions and parades by school bus, and seating on the buses was assigned by groups of instruments. So, for example, clarinets and saxophones and trumpets might be on one bus, French horns and majorettes and flutes on another, etc, etc. For an entire school year, you rode on the buses with the same group of kids.

In my first year of band, the trombones were assigned to ride with the drum line. Now, if you accept that there is, indeed, a hierarchy of nerds, and you assume (probably rightly so) that all sexy drumthe members of the marching band are part of that hierarchy, then the very far edge of that hierarchy – on the fringes of actual adolescent coolness – would undoubtedly be the drum line. I don’t know if it’s because they’re the only ones whose lips don’t touch their instruments (usually) or because they get to carry their instruments around in a sexy fashion but the drummers were pretty dang cool.

On these marching band bus rides, the drummers had a boom box to play music, and they played one musical act more often than any other, a band I had never heard before, but that would become one of the biggest influences in my life, my first real band-crush – necessitating hundreds of dollars of cassette buying, hours of daily listening, and round-the-clock having my frickin’ mind blown, dude! – and most definitely ensure that my nerd-hood was here to stay: Rush.

rush double

The first two things you notice about Rush are 1) the singer tends to sing like a frightened teen girlslasher screaming in a slasher movie; and 2) the songs usually last longer than a typical slasher movie. These are two obstacles that many listeners never can – or even try to – surmount.

But if you can get over those two aspects (for me, the voice was just another high-pitched 70s dude in tight pants, and the musicianship was SO GOOD that I didn’t mind spending time listening) the next thing you’ll notice about the band is how well each of them plays their instruments. Bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart are each recognized as rock virtuosos, and I think as a young musical nerd, this is what really endeared them to me. Here were three guys who had spent hours and hours mastering their instruments, three guys who didn’t seem like they were trying to do the things the popular acts were doing, three guys who seemed to be doing what they were doing simply because they were having fun doing it – even if nobody else thought it was cool. Simply put: three dorks. How could I not fall for them?i heart rush

I bought Fly By Night on cassette sometime in high school, and it grew on me slowly. I was a fan of Rush’s radio hits, like “Limelight” and “Spirit of Radio” and – of course – “Tom Sawyer.”

Fly By Night has one song – the title track – you’d hear on the radio back in the 70s and 80s, and I often found myself fast-forwarding through other songs to listen to that one track. But at some point in college I started to listen more to the entire album, and I played that cassette until its squeak-filled demise.

Fly By Night starts off with the track “Anthem,” and it is an immediate display of the muscular musical chops of all three members.

You don’t start a song like that without feeling pretty damn confident in your talents. This rush 1 initial display is a sort of fanfare, an opening statement common to Rush songs, and part of the repertoire of any so-called “progressive rock” band, like Yes or King Crimson or early Genesis. The main part of the song opens about 35 seconds in, with a cool Lifeson guitar riff, and then Lee’s vocals kick in.

The vocal melody is a nice, bouncy line sung/screamed in typical Geddy fashion. Rush is an unusual band in that the singer for the band isn’t the lyricist. Neil Peart is the main lyricist, and Fly By Night was the first album on which Peart was a member of the band. peart 1 Much in the way many listeners don’t care for Lee’s voice, or the band’s long, complex songs, Peart’s lyrics have long been derided. In these formative years of the band, Peart – always a voracious reader – was digesting the writings of libertarian nut-job, gekkoand hero to the greedy, Ayn Rand.

The lyrics to “Anthem,” named for a Rand novella, are typical Rand bullshit, but one of the great things about the band is that with the incredible virtuosity on display, and Lee’s near-indecipherable keening, it’s hard to make out what the lyrics are all about anyway! About 2:20 into the song, there is an extended instrumental section.

lifesonWith most bands, these sections are simply referred to as “guitar solos,” and while it is true that Lifeson takes a lead here, and plays a spectacular, interesting solo, the playing of Lee and Peart behind him is so great that it’s hard to think of it as a guitar solo.

[Side Note – as I write about these guys, I find myself traveling back in time to my 10th grade self, my jaw slack with wonder as I consider just how frickin’ AWESOME THIS BAND REALLY IS!!!!metal dude Sorry. I’ll get back to the album now.]

Next up is the nerd anthem “Best I Can.” It’s a short song, by Rush standards, only 3:24, and it is a straight-ahead, 70s rocker – the type of song you might hear on an album by Bachman-Turner-Overdrive or Bad Company. I call it a Nerd Anthem because the lyrics – which are also typical 70s rock lyrics expressing what seems to have been a common desire among young male rockers in the 70s: Being Left Alone to Rock! – feature the chorus “I do the best that I can/I’m just what I am.” This couplet expresses the nerd life very succinctly. The musicianship on display, as usual, is what sets this song apart from typical Bad Company/BTO fare. The main riff is herky-jerky and odd, and as always, Peart finds a way to squeeze in extra beats and fills where there doesn’t possibly seem to be enough room.

rush 2The initial trio of short songs if is finished off by the almost funky number “Beneath, Behind and Between.” Now, it is true that the only band out there who may be less funky than Rush is perhaps – PERHAPS – the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but this song has a syncopated rhythm – the kind of rhythm that Rush seems to be able to write and play in their sleep – that almost has a danceable beat every few measures. The lyrics are a reflection on the lost promise of The United States as its Bicentennial celebration approached.

The title track of the album is one of Rush’s best-known (i.e. “radio-friendly”) songs.

It’s a catchy number that sounds pretty simple, until you listen to the (as usual, awesome!) playing behind the melody. geddyThis is also a good song to point out the fact that Geddy Lee plays some of the trickiest, wide-ranging bass parts in rock, and does so while he sings! In later years, he also played keyboards and synth-pedals (AND BASS!) while he sang! And he plays the parts live, too – it’s not recording-studio manipulation. As someone who has played bass and sang (neither even a quarter as well as Mr. Lee does) I can attest it is extremely difficult to do what he does! “Fly By Night” is a classic rock staple, and the lyrics about movin’ on are a well-established musical theme. It also had a renaissance of sorts a few years ago when Volkswagen used it in a commercial.

The album has a couple songs, “Making Memories” and “In the End,” that are nice, classic-rock songs, the type that I tend to forget about, but when I hear them I think, “Hey this one is pretty good!” “Making Memories” is acoustic-driven, with a bit of a hippy vibe. “In the End” is a stomping, crunching slow rock song, the type of which would’ve scared the shit out of me when I was 10.

Fly By Night also includes a song that defines Rush and its music – an example that helps explain a) why so many people love this band and b) why so many people do not.

The song is an 8 minute, multi-part story/song about a fight between evil and good, as personified by two mythical beasts: “By-Tor and the Snow Dog.”

The album actually lists the parts of the song, as you might see movements of a symphony listed in a concert program (I imagine.)

I. At the Tobes of Hades
II. Across the River Styx
III. Of the Battle
a. Challenge and Defiance
b. 7/4 War Furor
c. Aftermath
d. Hymn of Triumph
IV. Epilogue

The music includes:
– a simulated dog fight (MYTHICAL dogs, I should say – not Michael Vick insanity) as interpreted by bass and guitar (1:51 to 3:50);
– a crazy call and response of drums and full band, culminating in a complex riff that ends in a very nerd-satisfying pattern of six notes, then five, then four, etc, down to the final ONE NOTE (3:51 to 4:42);
– a quiet interlude of Lifeson coaxingrush pot haunting tones out of his guitar, and building to a slow jam, off which the scent of freshly sparked doobies can almost be detected (4:43 to 7:34); and
– a final reprise of the main melody and a final wind chime (which, on the vinyl version, was cut into the runout groove so that the chime would continue to play on if the listener didn’t have an automatic return. This is all very technical “vinyl” stuff you may not want to know) (7:35 – 8:39).

This creation, this eight and a half minutes of sonic wonder and power, is the type of song that inspires Rush-heads to create artwork of their own …

fan art

… and inspires most others to run for their nearest Lou Reed, Chuck Berry or Joni Mitchell album, hoping their bleeding ears don’t foul the headphones.

ear pain

This type of Epic music causes many people to criticize the band for taking themselves and their music too seriously. However, what these people are missing is the fact that Rush are nerds – and as nerds, they are HAVING FUN! The song is not a serious exploration of good vs. evil! The song is actually based on a story one of their roadies told about being in a room with two dogs who didn’t like each other, and how scared he was. It was a funny story, and lyricist Peart transformed it into a tale of Mythical beasts with funny names (“By-Tor” = “biter”), the way nerds will do. Evidence that the band doesn’t take themselves very seriously includes the following animation that accompanied the “dog fight” movement during some concert tours, projected behind the band to amuse the audience while they played:

The virtuosity displayed by the band, to my ears, never sounds pompous or stuffy – it sounds to me like three guys who enjoy playing together, just HAVING FUN. guitar funI don’t detect a sort of “hey, look how great we can play!” attitude in the music. To me, it sounds like, “man, we sure do like to play our instruments!”

(The band is actually quite funny, and there are various clips of them being goofy all over the web.)

But many folks don’t understand. And they probably never will. They look at Rush, and hear them play, and they think, “Who the hell are THESE guys? And what the hell do they think they’re doing!!?? I just don’t get it!!!”

But maybe it takes a nerd to understand a nerd. If you know, you know. And being cool doesn’t really matter when you’re hanging out with your friends. If you’re having fun with friends, you’re as cool as can be.

dan me

Track Listing
Anthem
Best I Can
Beneath, Between & Behind
By-Tor and the Snow Dog
Fly By Night
Making Memories
Rivendell
In the End

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