Rush Through Time
It all started with a portable CD player.
It was the Eighties.
That probably goes without saying.
It’s hard to believe that there was a time when the idea of putting a CD in some sort of device and then actually walking around while the music was playing was a big deal, but it was, and let me tell you, when I was sixteen, everyone wanted one of those things. Young men were so desperate to have the option of actually selecting the track they were listening to while walking down the hall, that they did desperate, often bizarre things. Generic Mike (yes, that was his name) bought CDs out the wazoo, without any way to play them, hoping that his mother would take pity on him and by him a player. My best friend Justin got a job at the local grocery store to support his music-related lust. I mean, seriously, the boy wore a gray jersey every day and developed film. It was mortifying. But we were young, and we were boys, and we needed to have the option of walking around the hallways of high school with our own personal soundtrack playing in our heads. We all needed portable CD players, and nobody had one.
No one except Greg.
How he got one, I’m not really sure. I could hazard a guess, but I have a feeling that Greg would probably leave that detail in the past. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. The point was that he had one, and none of the rest of us did. The thing was, and this is not an insignificant detail: when you own a portable CD player, you had to actually go out and buy CDs. No one would invent a CD burner for another ten years. If you had a CD player, you actually had to go out and buy them, and since Greg had just gotten a CD player, he didn’t have any. The question was, where to begin?
I’m not sure what the selection process was exactly, but what I can tell you, what I remember with distinct clarity, is that the first CD Greg ever came to school with was the 1987 Rush album “Hold Your Fire”. For those of you aren’t familiar with Rush, they are either a seminal seventies progressive rock band, or a close second to the works of Yoko Ono, depending on your point of view. “Hold Your Fire” had come out the previous year, and Greg had heard Rush before, so what the hell. I’ve been told by those that would know that it was one of the Canadian rock trio’s best. Greg listened to every day for a year, or maybe it was a month, or possibly a week. After that, he bought another Rush CD, and a third, and then a fourth. You get the idea.
Another funny thing about the Eighties: there was no Internet back then. The standard resource of thoroughly useless knowledge was the American teenager. Greg was that teenager. He became obsessed overnight. He went and read absolutely everything he could find about Rush. He bought a bass, just like Geddy Lee. He studied their lyric sheets like they were the Torah. He talked about Rush incessantly and converted all of our friends. And of course, he went and discovered absolutely every Rush album ever made, quickly acquiring them all on CD. He bought every one, except a little LP called “Rush Through Time”.
What had happened to “Rush Through Time”, Greg didn’t know. It had never been released on CD and was long since out of print. We had never heard of a record going out of print, so it was very mysterious. Greg had heard a story that it was some sort of concept album about time travel. He was very impressed by this.
Somewhere in here Greg was relating to me one of his Rush inspired dreams when the subject of my opinion of Rush came up. Greg asked me in a casual sort of way which Rush album was my favorite, suspecting, I think, that I would casually name drop “Power Windows” or “Fly By Night” and then move on.
“I don’t like Rush,” I said, somewhat casually. Truth be told, I had never even heard Rush. I’m not sure that I ever have to this day, beyond a snippet or two on the radio. I hadn’t heard them, but I had been listening to Greg talk about them for weeks, and I was sick of them already. This shocked Greg. It didn’t compute. He wasn’t going to take this lying down.
With the help of my friends, Greg quickly went about the business of trying to get me to accept Alex Lifeson as my personal savior, and they leaned on me hard. I wouldn’t have it. I’d had a girlfriend who was born again, and if she couldn’t get me to accept God in the form of Jesus, I wasn’t going to accept it in the form of a prog-rock band. You can trust me when I say she had much larger breasts than Greg did. It wasn’t happening. I kept insisting I hated them, although in truth I probably couldn’t have picked out a Rush song if my life depended on it. Tension increased on both sides, and lines were drawn.
I was the first one to escalate the incident, which I did by forming a non-Rush rock band. All of our mutual friends joined, everyone except Greg, whose bass guitar sat in his room collecting dust. Instead, we recruited a kid from a neighboring town who was just as big a Rush fan as Greg was.
Greg retaliated by organizing our gang to go see Rush on tour. Everyone went except me. I was told by absolutely everyone that the concert was awesome. It was a cold winter night, and my buddy Justin reported that from the outside on every single window you could read the word “Rush” written backwards in the steam created by the heat of the roaring crowd. Even Generic Mike went, which was strange, because by that point he had moved on to industrial music. Greg talked about the concert talked for two days. By Wednesday, I knew the order that all the songs were played in, including the drum solo, even though I couldn’t have recognized any of the songs if my life depended on it.
As the war of extended power trio instrumentals escalated, my non-Rush band began playing a series of atrocious covers at parties around town. The age of alternative rock was upon us and we had decided to go with it. Unfortunately, just as I could see the dawn coming through the Power Windows, the Rush-loving members of my non-Rush band got hold of me. There was a meeting, and I was informed that if I did not acknowledge the lyrical genius of Neil Peart, then I was out.
I didn’t know what to do, so I stalled for time. “I really just don’t know Rush,” I admitted. It was the truth, but it sounded like a lie. “Let me just listen to them, O.K.?” This seemed to satisfy them, at least for the moment. I could see myself rehearsing an off-key rendition of “Tom Sawyer” in a matter of days. I prepared for the worst, when, incredibly, at the last hour I was saved. Incredibly enough, I was saved by Greg, and “Rush Through Time”.
Somewhere in an unimportant study hall, Greg began talking to the kid behind him. He began rifling through his standard Rush speech, underlying the necessity of etching Geddy Lee’s enormous honker onto some sort of Canadian equivalent of Mount Rushmore. The young man was apparently interested. He seemed to think that maybe his older brother had a few Rush albums, and maybe he would give them a listen. Greg welcomed him into the Brotherhood of the 2112, and told him the story of the great lost Rush album, “Rush Through Time”. I wasn’t there, but I’d like to think that Greg took a moment to point out what a clever play on words the title was. What I do know, what I can remember beyond any doubt, is that somehow Greg made an impression on him. I know this, because I remember what the nameless young man said when he came back to school the next day.
“I have that album,” he told Greg casually. “You know, ‘Rush Through Time’. I have it.”
That day at lunch, Greg had achieved the calm and vigor that Moses would have had if he had finally seen the promised land and God told him that he could actually go into Israel after all and everything would be OK. “All this time I’d been looking,” he said calmly, “and the answer had been behind him in study hall.” The young man would be returning with the album the next day, and at last Greg’s collection would be complete. That day at the lunch table he wielded a smile that could have run for Congress.
At last the record arrived, and I’d like to think that Greg, at last, took the record in his hands. His quest was complete. That was when he flipped the record over.
In researching this little portion of my past I went on the Internet and found a web page that mentioned “Rush Through Time”. The cover was a picture of three men with long hair playing onstage under badly-focused lights. The page I read supplied the following quote about the LP from drummer Neil Peart:
“Released by the German company entirely without our knowledge or consent (not that they need it), and certainly contains nothing of any interest – not even the cover, and certainly not that title. We wouldn’t do that. Have you noticed that everyone puns with our name except us?”
Oddly enough, it had never occurred to any of us that “Rush Through Time” was a compellation album. It was a “Best of”, a “Greatest Hits”, and nothing more. Why none of us realized this I will never know. We didn’t have the Internet then; we couldn’t look these things up. As Greg pointed out, “I could have made my own version of it, many times over, in better fidelity, using my portable CD player.”
I have to report that no one laughed harder at this little incident then Greg. I never had to learn to play “Tom Sawyer”, which was probably for the best. Greg still bought “Rush Through Time” off of the kid from study hall, and Rush released a live album from the tour that he saw. “A Show of Hands” featured the drum solo that I heard so much about and debuted on the Billboard charts at number one, vindicating Greg’s opinion in the eyes of the masses.
Still, none of us were all that surprised when we saw Greg the following week. The next Monday, Greg came to school dressed all in black. He’d spent the weekend with a pretty Goth girl we knew, and he’d shaved half his head. He had Bauhaus in his portable CD player.
David McLain is the author of The Life of a Thief, available from All Things That Matter Press.