I’m sitting at my computer, double-checking the release dates of various songs by the band Rush, for the purpose of this essay. Just writing about the Rush concert I saw a few weeks ago gives me an exuberant feeling that any die-hard music fan will understand.
During the summer of 2007, I traveled back to Cleveland (my college town) from Chicago (my current home) to reunite with several college friends for the sole purpose of attending a Rush concert. One of the guys who still lives in Ohio had purchased several tickets, then sent an e-mail to the rest of us—who were scattered throughout the country—and I was one of the first to respond.
I hadn’t seen these college friends or Rush in about 15 years. As my excitement about the upcoming trip grew, I began thinking about the whole phenomenon of rock reunion concerts.
This particular concert could not technically be called a reunion concert, because Rush has never disbanded. But because the group has been making music for so long (its first album appeared in 1974), and because the group’s 2007 album Snakes and Arrows was its first release of new material in five years, the event had the feel of a reunion concert.
I located two excellent articles in the New York Times online about rock reunion concerts: “Not Reunions, Reinventions (Back and Better. Really.),” by Ben Ratliff (April 2007) and “And Now, a Few Words in Defense of Nostalgia,” by Kelefa Sanneh (May 2007).
Ratliff writes that the music itself is the main reason for rock reunions, while Sanneh emphasizes the sentiment aspect.
As my friends and I piled into the Blossom Music Center—a huge, outdoor, amphitheatre-style concert complex outside of Cleveland—the anticipation was palpable. I think that the whole lot of us—we’re all in our late 30s—suddenly got about two decades younger.
We had seats (actual seats—as opposed to a spot on the huge lawn behind the seating area), and I sat at the end of our group, so I was next to a stranger who was sitting to my left.
I had my backpack with me (my backpack is to me as Linus’s blanket is to Linus), and I immediately got out my notebook and started writing before the concert even began. I tend to take notes a lot, especially when I’m at an event I really want to remember. Some people take photos—I write stuff down.
Part of what I was writing down was the set-list as it revealed itself.
1. Limelight (1981)
2. Digital Man (1982)
3. Entre Nous (1980)
4. Mission (1987)
A few songs into the show, the guy next to me—a Caucasian man in his 40s—suddenly asked me, “Hey man—what’s in your backpack?”
I replied, “Just my notebooks and stuff.”
Then there was a long uncomfortable pause. Clearly he thought something was up. Also he smelled of alcohol.
“What are you writing down?”
“I just like to take notes.”
Another long pause.
Then: “Can I look inside your backpack?”
From the tone of the conversation, it was clear that he was afraid that my backpack housed something with ill purpose—a knife? a gun? a bomb?
Then he said something private to the woman next to him—who I gathered was his significant other—and they got up and left.
My college friend Scott, who was sitting to my immediate right, offered to switch seats with me to reduce the chances of further confrontation.
Accepting Scott’s offer would have probably been wise. But I was angry (at the guy, not at Scott) and I said, “No, if he’s afraid that he might be sitting next to a terrorist, then let him be afraid that he might be sitting next to a terrorist.”
There was no way I was going to switch seats to reduce this man’s discomfort—discomfort that was caused by his own prejudice.
Meanwhile, the concert was going on and it was exquisite. Rush sounded better than I ever remembered them sounding live. (And I’ve seen them in concert probably 5 or 6 times.)
5. Freewill (1980)
6. The Main Monkey Business (2007)
7. The Larger Bowl (2007)
8. Secret Touch (2002)
9. Circumstances (1978)
Soon the man and woman returned, each holding two beers.
Great, I thought. Beer and prejudice make a wonderful combination.
But something must have happened while they were away. My theory is that she must have berated him for what he’d done.
When he sat down, he tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Hey man, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean anything by it. I was just concerned for my safety. You understand, right?” He extended his hand to me as he said this.
I said, “Yes, unfortunately, I do,” and did not offer my hand.
He said, “Come on, man, will you forgive me?”
I didn’t believe that his apology was sincere, and I said, “No.” Also, I wanted to focus on the concert. In my mind, this was not a time for a frank discussion with a drunk-and-getting-drunker guy about racial profiling.
10. Between the Wheels (1984)
11. Dreamline (1991)
12. Far Cry (2007)
13. Workin’ Them Angels (2007)
14. Armor and Sword (2007)
As the concert progressed, I began to realize that there was another reason for reunion concerts—the kinship with the other fans.
Certainly, that kinship exists at any concert—you’re all fans of the same music—but with a reunion concert, that kinship is anchored by the weight of decades. As I visually surveyed the thousands of people in the audience, and as I listened to great songs, some of which were written 30 years ago, I realized that all of us fans shared some of the same history.
Over the years, we had all waited in anticipation for each new Rush album and each tour.
Many of us had probably attended the same Rush concerts over the years.
We all probably had personal stories associated with particular Rush songs.
15. Spindrift (2007)
16. The Way the Wind Blows (2007)
17. Subdivisions (1982)
When I was in high school, my parents bought me a Yamaha DX-100 synthesizer. The day I got it, I set it up in my basement and tried out the dozens of pre-programmed voices. When I tried the voice called “Analog,” I discovered that it was a passable approximation of the synthesizer voice used in the Rush synth-anthem “Subdivisions.” I could not believe how lucky I was.
I already knew how to play the entire song on piano, so I immediately got out my tape of the Rush album “Signals” (the first cassette tape I ever owned—my sister got it in a 12-for-a-penny deal and didn’t like it and gave it to me, and that’s how I got introduced to Rush. Her name is Rashmee and we always called her “Rush” which was maybe why she got that tape in the first place) and played synth along with “Subdivisions” over and over again.
Despite my new synthesizer with the “analog” voice, I was never able to convince the band I was in to cover “Subdivisions”—those guys were more into AC/DC, Poison, Van Halen, etc.—so I eventually found a couple of other musicians who were into Rush and I started committing bandultery with them. The affair was short-lived though, and soon I was back to jamming alone with the Signals tape in my basement or, sometimes, the garage.
18. Natural Science (1980)
19. Witch Hunt (1981)
20. Malignant Narcissism (2007)
21. Hope (2007)
22. Summertime Blues (cover)
23. The Spirit of Radio (1980)
At a Rush concert, the fans all know that when the band plays “The Spirit of Radio,” immediately after Geddy sings the lyrics “concert hall,” the spotlights and chasers will quickly pan over the entire audience for about 5 seconds and that is our cue to go insane with screaming and clapping and cheering. We also know that we, as a group, will appear on the huge video screens for those 5 seconds.
At this concert, that “concert hall” moment highlighted the audience bond for me, and immediately after it I turned to the guy who had thought I was armed, and I offered an observation: “That was awesome.”
During the rest of the concert (admittedly a small fraction of the show), the guy and I actually talked from time to time, mostly to express our unqualified approval of whatever song was being started. (At a reunion concert, part of your status as a die-hard fan comes from knowing immediately, within the first couple of notes, what song is being played.)
I never did shake hands with the guy, but at least Rush got us talking to each other and realizing that we actually had something in common.
24. Tom Sawyer (1981) ENCORE:
25. One Little Victory (2002)
26. A Passage to Bangkok (1976)
27. YYZ (1981)
In the end, for me, the music itself is probably the main attraction of the reunion concert. The sentimentality is a close second.
But I think that the rush of being with thousands of other people with whom you share a passion and a decades-long history is also, well, awesome.
|Ranjit Souri (rjsouri [at] gmail [dot] com) teaches classes in improvisation, comedy writing, and creative non-fiction in Chicago.|