There is an absurdly vast selection of music movies and documentaries available on Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, and on and on and on. But it’s hard to tell which ones are actually worth your 100 minutes. Watch the Tunes will help you pick what music doc is worth your time every weekend. This week’s edition covers Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, which is currently streaming on Netflix.
This week has been a blur and I ended up watching a few different things waiting to see what felt right. It’s So Easy and Other Lies, the autobiographical examination of Guns N Roses bassist Duff McKagen? I mean, Appetite just turned 30, but I think I’ll save that for next week when my heart’s in it. The documentary about Snoop Dogg’s rasta phase, Reincarnation, got in the mix, but we just did a thing about Dr. Dre last week so I think we’ll kick that one down the line line as well. I was honestly comin’ up empty handed until I spotted Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage in my Netflix queue where it has been sitting since we started this column almost two years back.
At the very least, I think to myself, this film would perhaps finally put to rest that pesky question Steven Malkmus posed two decades back on Stereo: “What about the voice of Geddy Lee / How did it get so high? / I wonder if he speaks like an ordinary guy?” I would hesitate to say that I know him, but, as it turns out, he does!
So, I hit play on this thing and Trent Reznor was the first face to pop up extolling the virtues of Canadian proggers, followed in quick succession by Billy Corgan, Jack Black, and then we hear the voice of Gene Simmons. It’s a strong opening, for sure, highlighting the broad variety of musicians who took these guys to heart.
Rush used to tour with KISS it turns out, crisscrossing the midwest with those supposed knights in satan’s service, and wouldn’t you just believe that Geddy Lee and company have nothing but the nicest things to say about their touring buddies. “Their hotels were always fun to... watch,” says Geddy Lee, with a very diplomatic pause between those last two words. Simmons on the other hand seems thoroughly baffled that the fresh faced guys opening for him wouldn’t be super psyched to catch his groupie run-off after each show.
This movie got me thinkin about a few things. Firstly, are there still bands that we’re ashamed to like? Rush, and a few of their famous fans, bring up the fact that they were considered a pretty nerdy group to like and were unjustly knocked around by reviewers who were by and large turned off by pretension. To be fair to the reviewers, they were correct in pointing out the pomposity of the lyrics and the ornate orchestration of their side-long suites, and I mean the group didn’t do themselves any favors with their whole self-described “kimono” phase... but what are you gonna do? Those were all strengths, for the most part, extensions of their chosen aesthetic. Well, maybe not the kimonos, but everything else was pretty much of a piece and kicked ass for what it was.
A question that always nags at me when I consider acts like this are whether or not they still enjoy getting out there on the road and plowing thru their greatest hits for literally the thousandth time, and lo human metronome Neil Peart gave me an answer that I truly believed: No, he doesn’t get tired of playing “Tom Sawyer” every night, and it’s for the unexpected reason (unexpected by me at least) that it is a really difficult song to play regardless of the crazy number of times he’s gone through it. Pert feels good every time he plays it and plays it well because to do so is very simply a legitimate accomplishment. Peart’s the kind of inspirational guy who would basically reinvent the way he played the drums as he was approaching middle age despite already being seen as the pinnacle of the medium, so there ya go.
You know what’s nerdy? Hearing Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan say that at one point in time he knew every note of 2112. The amount of time he must have spent locking all that down boggles the mind, but makes sense when you figure that this is the dude who do hundreds of takes in the studio recording Siamese Dream and still not feel like he had really nailed it. There are nerds, and then there are nerds, the kind of shut ins who feel compelled to treat an album like it’s musical scripture. Corgan was not alone, it turns out: a 12-year-old Sebastian Bach, later of Skid Row, went out and bought himself a copy of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead because 2112 was dedicated to the book for better or worse.
I was reasonably acquainted with the music of Rush when I sat down with Beyond the Lighted Stage, and to be honest don’t think it really did much to push me any farther down the rabbit hole of their dense discography, but hot damn was this thing fun and informative. The coolest takeaway I had was this: By embracing their own insane impulses, Rush carved out a uniquely safe space for themselves and their fans. And on a lighter note, more documentary crews should interview their subjects’ parents, since as we see here, moms and dads are generally the best and they are even better when the moms and dads in question are Canadian.
Chris Lay is a freelance writer, archivist, and record store clerk living in Madison, WI. The very first CD he bought for himself was the Dumb & Dumber soundtrack when he was twelve and things only got better from there.