In Defense of Rush Being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Two Los Angeles Times music critics taking to the Internet to bash the Canadian trio highlights how low some may go.
Full disclosure: I'm not a Rush fan. Don't get me wrong, they're fine. But in terms of the gigantic, all-knowing "Rush is a band sent from God" fan base that the group typically enjoys, I don't even come close to being a member. I've been playing drums for my entire life, and not once have I looked upon Neil Peart as an inspiration. I'm a pretty consistent fan of prog rock, but I prefer my 17-minute songs with a splash of Peter Gabriel from early-era Genesis records. And, maybe most importantly, the movie I Love You, Man -- a 2009 flick starring Paul Rudd that explored the bromance between a couple dudes who love the Canadian trio -- was a fairly big disappointment. (Sorry, guys. Rudd is just ... blah).
But something raised my ire recently when a dear friend emailed me video of two Los Angeles Times music critics, Randy Lewis and Randall Roberts, sitting around, talking about why Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart shouldn't be included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame despite the group finally earning a nomination for inclusion after years of being dismissed. My ambivalence toward the issue did a 180 and turned defensively passionate as the two talking heads veered directly off the sensible railroad and ended up in a pile of pretentious wreckage.
Or, as my friend Adam put it, "There's been plenty of (somewhat intelligent) back and forth on this between critics and fans, but I must say that the following video discussion between two L.A. Times music critics pretty much sums up everything I hate about smug music critics. I will concede these guys provide some valid criticism points about Rush, but their overall argument is weak and often conflates Rush with prog music in general (and I will argue that Rush really isn't a true prog band -- but that's for another time) and also relies mostly on their own specific and often uninformed judgments without really making an argument. It seems they're doing this out of spite of a fanbase more than anything, and is that really what they should be doing?"
In addition to being one of the smartest people I know, Adam has also been a longtime Rush fan, so I understood that the note he wrote -- while level-headed and concise -- should probably be taken with a grain of salt. But then I watched the video myself. And then I re-watched the video. And then I began to fast-forward and rewind through the ten-plus minutes of dribble that these two guys were offering. And then I came across the part where both guys hold back some pretentious, suggestive grin while noting that "they want to hear from fans" because they know "a lot of people might be angry" about what they had to say. And then I unplugged my headphones and closed my Web browser. And then I came up with a two-word phrase that I wanted so badly to say to both Roberts and Lewis face-to-face:
You can ague until you are blue in the face (because most music fans/critics do) about the legitimacy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an institution, noting, for instance, how it's ridiculous to include members of the hip-hop community, or how it's all just one big vanity project for Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner. You can cite how the absence of some artists utterly devalues the concept as a whole because, let's say, acts like Kiss aren't included and they had such an enormous impact on the rock 'n' roll culture. You can even question the voting process, personal agendas, $10 hamburgers at the museum's cafeteria, or the nerve of a group of people claiming that such a creation should be the single go-to source for what's great in popular music history. You can do all of that, and you'd be justified and supported by a throng of aficionados who probably agree with most everything you say.
But let's remove ourselves from all that for a minute and focus solely on the argument that this particular band should be void of all Hall of Fame recognition based on what Roberts and Lews -- who are admittedly two successful and respected voices in music critic circles, and who, it should also be noted, are far more celebrated than silly, stupid me, who couldn't ever even dream of a gig at something like the Los Angeles Times -- had to say. Both argue that Rush took music from where it should be located on one's anatomic structure -- they say the heart and soul -- and brought it to the head. This, apparently, is a sin of monumental consequence.
What both critics fail to grasp, however, is that, fundamentally speaking, it's also a product of one's interpretation and definition of what heart and soul in musical composition actually is, which in turn, is a fundamentally gratuitous approach toward an argument against one's inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Or, in other words, since when is Randy Lewis and Randall Roberts' perception of emotion in music the gold standard for all things groovy? You can dislike the band all you want, and you can most certainly have your own individualized reasons for not liking both the band and the genre to which it is most associated. But what you can't do is mask such slanted personal preconceptions as objective reasons for why the trio deserves to be left on the Hall of Fame's sidelines.
Yes, Rush's music isn't particularly lauded for the amount of attention it pays to soul, and sure, it may be harder for the everyday, common music fan to find a connection with Geddy Lee's voice than it would be, say, Freddie Mercury, but that doesn't mean there isn't any heart in any of these guys' recordings. Try telling that to one of the trillions of Rush fanatics who could undoubtedly counter such a notion with precisely how much the words to "A Passage to Bangkok" somehow helps them get through feeling lonely because of the song's vivid imagery in words. To say what you said, Mr. Roberts and Mr. Lewis, you begin question the common fan's level of intellect. And it doesn't matter if you are debating Bob Dylan or Flo-Rida -- no fan enjoys having his or her IQ level disputed.
Actually, such condescending overtones throughout the argument made by both these critics and other nay-sayers prove to be the most damning aspect of all this. There is a difference between being intelligently opinionated and simply talking down to your audience, and both Lewis and Roberts, among others, cross that line more than once during the video in question.
"If I want to go in the head, I'll probably go listen to some serious jazz players," Lewis says at one point.
"... I thought that they were so pretentious, so wordy, so inelegant," Roberts says, "and you couldn't dance to them."
Pot. Kettle. Black.
The most ironic aspect of all this, of course, is that the Los Angeles Times also published a story highlighting how so many people would love to see Rush in the Hall.
"Along the way there had been petitions, one of which laid out a convincing argument: We believe that Rush has been sorely overlooked in the United States for far too long by the popular media and the critics," Roberts wrote. "The Hall of Fame was founded to recognize outstanding achievements and contributions to the world of rock music. Inducting Rush will legitimize that claim by recognizing one band in particular that has contributed dramatically to the rock genre while continually preserving its integrity.
"Among the reasons Rush deserved inclusion, according to the petition: Rush has 22 consecutive gold records, and is fourth behind the Beatles, Stones, and Kiss in all-time gold records for a band. Fourteen of those albums have gone platinum. Rush has inspired such bands as Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, The Tragically Hip, Smashing Pumpkins, Primus, Queensryche, and many more. Rush's lineup has remained unchanged since their first major tour in 1974. Rush has consistently put out records that reflect their own artistic growth and change, without compromising the band's integrity for the sake of sales." ("Rush vindicated: A Rock Hall of Fame berth for Canadian rock band", by Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times, 4 October 2012)
It doesn't stop there. NPR's Mark Memmott weighed in, too, when he noted the results of an NPR poll asking if the band should be in the Hall of Fame: 21,647 voters clicked yes. 587 said no. ("Rush Fans, It's Time to Rock: Band's Been Nominated to the Hall of Fame", by Mark Memmott, NPR, 4 October 2012) The Globe And Mail's Brad Wheeler counted himself among the many who think the group deserves to be recognized as well. "Rush is the serious goods; no time for the dainty. And it’s called progressive rock for a reason, so, rubes, move on," he wrote. "If for the concept album 2112 alone, this audacious nerd trio belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, that messed-up place of Madonna, backbeats and and ersatz priests from The Temples of Syrinx. ... Pretentious lyrics and outrageous time signatures from Neil Peart? Bring it on. ... Listen to Rush’s music and hear what it can do, Rock and Hall of Fame in Cleveland. There’s something there as strong as life -- it’s about time it reached you." ("Does Rush deserve its Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination?", by James Adams and Brad Wheeler, The Globe And Mail, 5 October 2012)
But maybe the most telling argument of all came from the president and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame itself, Terry Stewart, when he spoke with The Cleveland Plain Dealer last year after the trio wasn't even nominated. "They simply haven't gotten enough votes to make the ballot," he told John Soeder. "I can't tell you why. Based on impact, influence, innovation, and excellence, they're worthy. I think it's just a matter of time before it happens." ("Why isn't Rush in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?", by John Soeder, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, 15 April 2011)
Is that time now? We still won't know for a little while, though if it's not, Adam and all the Rush acolytes in the world may want to take note -- Kiss, one of the bands that has yet to be enshrined, though lay claim to as rabid a fan base as anyone who's ever air-guitared to "Tom Sawyer", didn't even make the finalists list this year, after getting this far in 2011. A shot at finally making it into the Rock Hall's walls doesn't come often, but when it does, you need to seize the opportunity.
Then again, maybe the induction shouldn't mean all that much to the band and its fan,s anyway.
"You and I may have our differences of opinion on Rush, but quite honestly I will feel no sense of validation or vindication if they get in," Adam said later in his email. "I don't think enshrinement changes anything for an artist, and I don't think that Mike Rutherford goes to sleep in his Surrey cottage bedroom thinking how great it is to be finally be on Jann Wenner's short list."
That might be true, but the notion of it being a gratifying achievement in an artist's career, in this case, has been slightly overshadowed by exactly how polarizing the argument for this particular act getting into such an institution is in the first place. In some cases, such passion can bring out the best in rock fanfare. Though in Rush's instance, this debate has allowed for some fairly egotistical and overtly ostentatious diatribes that belittle the entire premise of what rock music is all about -- personal interpretation.
So, after all is said and done, should this Canadian rock trio be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? I think so (if nothing else, they have withstood the test of time, which, as we all know, is at least 75 percent of the battle, anyway). But should such an idea be deduced to yet another opportunity for critics, taste-makers and connoisseurs from all walks of life to reveal how much more they think they know than the common musical mind as it stands today?
My God, no.
And I'm sorry, Mr. Lewis, but there aren't enough jazz records in the world that could prove otherwise.