What’s the Rush? Here is the second part of a long interview I did with Martin Popoff.
Boppin (B): I read an L.A. reporter writing about how Rush fans ruined the Rock and Roll Hall Of fame induction day and was quoted as saying “F*** Rush fans”. What I gathered from this is they were only there for Rush, which if I was there I would be there for the whole thing. There were a lot of other acts deserving to be in the Hall, but the reporter didn’t appreciate the way these were, and I would assume he is a non Rush fan.
Martin: Yeah Rush fans are very dedicated. They do like a lot of other bands, but the thing with the whole Rock Hall is that Rush is such a unique and strange band that there is a even a jarring thing, and a more jarring contrast between them and everyone else. I can see how the fans felt like outsiders, or outlaws or different. The movie Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage, which I worked on full time for nine months basically the tag line was we are the worlds biggest cult band, and that is a complicated thing. There is some truth to it, but I can understand the sentiment behind that. They are not a band that is particularly in the mainstream of thought. Slightly derided and ridiculed. There is this idea of them being this massive cult, operating outside of the realm of normal fandom. I suppose the biggest part of that is the band was not critics darlings. They did everything else that a big band did. They rolled into town and put on a huge show in a hockey barn and they put out albums on a major label. In those ways they are not a cult band. I guess the main way they are like a cult band is that they were critically derided.
B: I read a few things about Rush after shows. When they were on tour with Primus, Neil would get both bands to compete by playing the instruments they did not normally play, and another time Kiss saying that Rush would stay in the room watching tv while we went out partying.
Martin: Yeah. they were all in long term relationships and for them it was all about the music and not being hung over for the show next day. They were just serious about the music as a lot of progressive rock bands are. It is interesting as you said because in the early days they were out with much more meat and potatoes hard rock and heavy metal bands. So it is funny. They were the proggiest and the most complicated of the bands they were out with. Aerosmith, Kiss, Ted nugent, Thin Lizzy, Queen. Well Queen was pretty complicated. Uriah Heap, probably Black Oak Arkansas. They were on bills with pretty much everybody. Cheap Trick. They were the band that had to concentrate the most when they were doing their set.
B: I could not imagine being a drummer in the Seventies when Rush were still openers and going on after Neil. It would be, especially the first time you saw him in soundcheck and you thought what am I getting into here. I am sure headliners tell the openers to keep the volume down a bit. I wonder if anyone ever told Neil to tone it down a bit, you are making me look bad.
Martin: I just know in the general sense, certain people were good to Rush, some not so good to Rush. You have to realize though that the headliner is there, people who bought tickets love their songs, and there is a certain thing about the simpler the music, it will go over better in a live environment anyways because you are fighting all that mud, and you can not hear all the details, so imagine in the Seventies, and they are the support band, you know half of that subtlety that those guys are doing is not getting heard that well. Plus they are the support band plus they have this funny singer, these long songs that we do not know, so the headliners looked at Neil and probably thought God I am not half the drummer that guy is, but the fans still went crazy for their headline set because they love those songs, just think about when you hear Dave Mustaine talk about a balls to the wall, very fast, double bass drum song and you compare that to AC/DC-Highway To Hell. Highway To Hell is gonna do great live, and that super muddy, super fast song with double bass drum in a hockey barn and when standing at the back just sounds like mud.
B: You had mentioned Max Webster. There was some inclusion with some of the Rush songs lyrically with Pye Dubious (Max Webster and often time Kim Mitchell lyricist). Can you tell me a bit about him? To be quite honest with you I have tried searching him out numerous times over the last number of years and I thought maybe someday, something will pop up, but I just have not been able to find him. I would love to speak to that man. Just to ask him about Max, and about Rush, and about music in general. Can you fill me in on anything you know about him?
Martin: Pye has called me a couple of times in the last month, and I was not here, and he left me long messages, no call back number, and he also writes me letters from time to time. I get those letters and there is no return address. He splits his time between here and Florida. So one of these days I will get him again. My email address for him does not work, so I am basically sitting here receiving those messages from Pye, and I have no way of getting a hold of him. So the next time I answer I will collar him, because I would like to do a poetry book with him. But having said that Pye was involved with a handful of Rush songs, including the big one Tom Sawyer, and then everybody from Rush and Max got together for this great epic Battle Scar from their last album Universal Juveniles. But the way Pye and Neil would work is Pye, I have seen his notebooks, Pye basically has a lot of scribble. Some things are long pieces, some things are just a few lines. So what Pye would do is he would give Neil his idea for a song, and it would be quite a bit of stuff and Neil would hammer it into shape, into something logical, into something short enough, that reads line to line, that has a story through line through it. So that is how they would work. It was not a collaboration in any way. It was usually Pye would hand him something, and Neil would say we should do a song together, or Neil would ask Pye if he had anything. There was a Hold Your Fire song (Force Ten), one from Counterparts (Between Sun & Moon), one from Test For Echo (Test For Echo) but Tom Sawyer is the big one. It started as Louis The Lawyer, some people say Louis The Warrior, but Pye told me directly it was Louis The Lawyer, and basically Neil hammers into this great song Tom Sawyer, which turns out to be their biggest song.
B: It would be neat to see any of that scribbled down stuff. To say this is the Pye version, this is what Neil converted it into. Mostly out of musical curiosity because I do love both of their lyrical abilities, in different ways. I hope that you and Pye can connect because I would love to read anything about that man,and he may have 100 songs written for all we know. I saw Kim Mitchell many times, and the Max reunion shows and Max was so out there. So much different than almost anyone. I do not know who you might compare them to. Canadian musicians can sometimes be seen as being quirky. To me Max Webster was definitely quirky.
Martin: I do not have any sort of…I have a hard time saying any bands from a certain country sound a certain way. I think Canada is a really good example of that. I do not think there are any characteristics. Triumph is not quirky. Bryan Adams is not quirky. Moxy was not quirky. Rush and Max Webster were quirky. Well they grew up together, they had the same management, the same record label, and they played all those shows together so I am sure there is some cross pollination. I just think those bands went together for a good 10 different reasons.
B: You have interviewed a bunch of famous musicians over the years. Can you tell me about who may have had the biggest Rush crush?
Martin: Yeah I had to do a book called Rush Album By Album, I did 5 of these for Voyageur Press. For that we had Michel Langevin from Voivod, Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater, Kirk Hammet from Metallica, and a bunch of others. Scratch any heavy metal guy from the eighties or nineties and beyond and you will find tons and tons of Rush fans. Obviously the Foo Fighters guys are big Rush fans, Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree. Steven Wilson had Alex guest on a solo on Fear Of A Blank Planet, so yeah there are tons of Rush fans because it is so much fun to learn Rush songs when you are a teenager. Those guys that were teenagers in the late Seventies, they became the heavy metal stars of the early Eighties, and all of them were raised on Rush.
(End of Part 2) Tune in tomorrow as Martin and I wrap up our talk about Neil, Rush and all things music.