The dream begins in darkness. Then suddenly, there is light.
I am on some sort of stage, and though there are no visual indications, I know somehow that the stage is located in the cafeteria of a children’s hospital. The musicians start, but though my fingers are resting gently on the keyboard, and I know the melody as well as I know my own name, I have no idea what I am supposed to be playing. My hands shake violently and my tongue is paper dry and sticking to the roof of my mouth, and when the music halts and the bassist wanders over to see what the hell is going on, all I can do is smile sheepishly and mutter an embarrassed apology.
You see, I have been invited to sit in on a 3-song set with the world’s most beloved aging math-rock trio. And though I am a drummer in real life–and, as my needlessly expensive robot-signed drumsticks will attest, a shameless Neil Peart fan–it is Geddy’s face that appears before me. And as this most patient and good-natured of rock stars heads back to his mic, shaking his head, it occurs to me that this might have been a good gig to actually practice for. I dig deep, trying desperately to remember the correct chords.
When I was twelve or thirteen, and a trombone player in the Montgomery Junior High School concert band, I endured the passionate air-drumming of our trio of percussionists as they banged out endless iterations of the drum solo for YYZ on their desks. As strange as it may seem, these stunning performances took place primarily in non-music-related classes such as social studies, where quite inexplicably our desks were arranged according to our choice of instrumentation: rhythm section at the back, then brass, reeds, and flutes in the front row. That this seating arrangement perfectly mimicked the natural order of the class–dudes in the back, quiet girls and boys in the front–and therefore gained the teacher nothing in terms of control–seemed lost on him. And like many teachers before and after, he taught primarily to the two front rows, leaving me and my trombone and trumpet-playing brethren to fend for ourselves in the middle. (The tuba player was a delinquent and had to repeat the 8th grade; the french horn player, a wild card).
The free time before and after band practice–when one might think the bulk of the air-drumming would have occurred–was taken up with idle flirtation and ski-jump preparation, the latter of which involved leaping from the drum throne into the air, lifting your heels behind you as high as they would go, and yelling “back-scratcher” before landing solidly on the ground.
At school dances–or shags, as I remember they were called at the time–I endured the overtly theatrical gesticulations of otherwise restrained young men as they creatively interpreted the lyrics to “Tom Sawyer.” I can picture one now: his hips gyrating strangely, his arms shooting out, fingers spread, his eyes closed, focused and intense.
Later, when I was a driver with nothing but an AM radio in my car, I endured the plethora of Rush classics that inevitably filled the airwaves, running down the dials to escape that high-pitched voice–and as Taylor Savvy once so aptly described: “sections that don’t go together AT ALL”–never once imagining that one day I might find myself running in the opposite direction.
I am not sure when the change came, for it came silently and without warning. One day, I was a typical girl–for as Alex Lifeson explains in the amazing documentary Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, being in Rush wasn’t exactly a great way to meet the ladies–with nothing but disdain for the Can-rock icons, and then suddenly, out of seemingly nowhere, I was a giddy fan; weeping (yes, weeping) during a screening of the equally fantastic concert DVD, Rush in Rio. And this was before I even picked up the drumsticks.
It was sometime in the early aughts, shortly after moving to Montreal, that I realized I was not the only woman experiencing a late-30s Rush crush–an expression I delighted in coining until I was told that it was in fact invented by Toronto music writer and Grid contributor, Stuart Berman (sigh). There was O, a fellow drummer and bassist whose love of Rush became apparent when we performed a from all accounts stunning karaoke duet rendition of “New World Man” at the old Nuikee on St. Laurent. A few months later I met J, with whom I spent a delightful evening listening to both Moving Pictures and an LP of orchestral Rush covers in their entirety. But it is N who has played the most pivotal role: teaching me how to play the drums, transcribing the opening phrases of “New World Man,” and providing me with my cherished collection of Rush memorabilia: the aforementioned Neil Peart drum sticks, my Rush playing cards–an “official poker sized deck featuring 52 full color images of the band RUSH” (no repeats), and my newest prize, the Rush Bic lighter, which sadly arrived after my first ever Rush concert last fall and so could not be held aloft.
And so with 2012, a most meaningful year for Rush fans on the horizon, I spent much of last year–or at least a few minutes here and there–thinking about what my creative response to 2012 should be. N and J have their own projects which will be announced later on, and O may herself be dreaming of such things, but what about me? Should I form a one-woman, one-drum cover band in which I play barely recognizable version of Rush’s most classic hits? Should I spend a year creating edible interpretations of my favorite 52 songs? Should I start a blog in which I write only about Rush-related happenings or a twitter account paying tribute to the heaviness that is the Neil Peart lyric? Or should I simply load up the record player and take solace in these very words?
Philosophers and ploughmen
Each must know his part
To sow a new mentality
Closer to the heart
– Neil Peart, Rush