Thursday, April 09, 2015

Rush R40 Countodwn at No. 7: Signals and the dangers of working in the bowling alley with the 'New World Man'

How do you follow a masterpiece? Will and I are counting down to the R40 concert in Chicago by ranking Rush albums from "least glorious" to Moving Pictures.

No. 7: Signals
Released in 1982

Highlights: “Subdivisions,” “Analog Kid.”

Least glorious moment: “Countdown.”

Cool Neil Peart lyrical moment:

“The fawn-eyed girl with sun-browned legs
Dances on the edge of his dream
And her voice rings in his ears
Like the music of the spheres”
-- "Analog Kid"

I can’t listen to “New World Man” and not think about my old 300 Bowl co-worker Dominic.

Dominic at work one day boldly proclaimed that the song, Rush’s first top-40 single, perfectly described him.

To be sure, when you combine a song that’s a string of descriptions—“He’s old enough to know what’s right and young enough not to choose it”—and cocky and somewhat self-centered high-school-age boys, these things happen. No doubt we all claimed ownership of the song, but Dom was the only one who said it out loud.

And I can’t think about Dominic without remembering one fateful night at the bowling alley where we worked. I toiled at the front desk, handing out shoes and score sheets and collecting the money. Dom worked in the back with the machines.

The pinsetter in action is actually a pretty cool machine to watch. Each alley has two full sets of pins, scooped up and set through a series of wheels and conveyer belts. Since pins go flying everywhere, they occasionally end up facing the wrong way or in the wrong spot, sometimes blocking the hole where the ball is supposed to roll to be sent back to the bowlers.

About 80 percent of the time, a problem can be fixed by simply rolling another ball down the lane, dislodging whatever is gumming up the works.

Every serious bowler knows this and makes this fix from time to time.

Here's a great live version of "Subdivisions," one of the best Rush songs.

One night, I was in my spot behind the counter and Dom was in the back, and one of the alleys near the bar was having issues. Dom shut down the alley and entered the machine from behind, laying on his back where the pins usually are set, reaching up to fix something.

Well, one of the bowlers stepped out of the bar, saw that the machine wasn’t working and casually picked up a ball and rolled it down the alley without looking.

It happened quickly, before anyone realized what he was doing and could stop him. Then it was as if time slowed as the ball rolled down the lane. Everything stopped, except for the ball.

All we heard was roooooooooooooooollllllll, roll, roll, roll, roll, roll, roll—and a soft thump. That, of course, was the sound of a bowling ball striking Dom somewhere in the head or shoulders.

Then we heard the inevitable scream. Then, Dom yelling as he crawled out from the dark recess of the front of the machine. It was half in English, half in Italian and entirely in language inappropriate for a family bowling alley.

It didn’t help that most of the bowlers, seeing now that Dom wasn’t seriously injured, thought this was hysterical.

It was a bad night to be Dominic, but Signals—with the song that may or may not be about Dom—is a good album for Rush. If Moving Pictures cracked the door for keyboards and synthesizers, the followup blew it wide open.

Give Rush credit for not simply remaking the masterpiece. And there are some magical moments on Signals. “Subdivisions” is a top-5, all-time classic. “The Analog Kid,” with its soaring chorus, is wonderful, and “Chemistry” is fantastic.

 “Countdown,” about the band’s experience witnessing the first space shuttle launch, was cooler in concept than in execution. Neil resorts to clich├ęs—“Excitement so thick, you could cut it with a knife”—which is unusual for someone so talented.

The rest of Signals doesn’t reach the perfection of its predecessor, but that’s an unreasonable demand. And there is no shame in being the seventh-best Rush album.

And Will jumps in:

Well, it took 14 albums, but I'm finally shocked, shocked that you used to work in a bowling alley, that is.

OK, so I'm a little shocked that Signals is this low, if No. 7 counts as being "low." Anyway ...

No. 7: A Farewell to Kings
Released in 1977

Hemispheres, part 1, as I noted the other day. I'll address this album in three bullet points:

* When I said that Side 1 of 2112 might be No. 2 on a list of Rush sides, its chief competition for that spot would be Side 1 of A Farewell to Kings: "A Farewell to Kings" and "Xanadu" both made my top 1,000. Again, just to dig up Secretariat so I could flog it once more, flip that disc over, and you get something you don't get with 2112: more good music. "Closer to the Heart" and "Cygnus X-1." Nuff said.

* The mere inclusion of "Xanadu" meant this album had to be placed fairly high. "Xanadu" is my favorite Rush song, period, coming in at Good Ol' No. Keith Hernandez on my list. It might even be their best song, period, although I'm willing to yield that point due to preference. I've been fortunate to see them play at least part of that song seven times, although only once since 1994. I'll have fingers crossed in June that they blow the dust off it once more.

* I might have heard the last if not only time "A Farewell to Kings" and "Xanadu" were played over commercial radio. (Actually, I'm pretty sure I, myself, played "Xanadu" over the air waves at least once back in my college days--and it was a commercial station--now that I think about it.)

Anyway, in 1997, the Blitz in Columbus celebrated an anniversary--can't remember which--by playing "entire albums" in alphabetical order, supposedly everything in their playlist. This went on for months. They didn't play the entire album in many cases, of course, but enough so they weren't playing just one or two songs and calling it good enough. Anyway, as I drove into work early in the process, I caught A Farewell to Kings. The played all of Side 1, and I realized I'd never heard the studio version of "Xanadu" before, let alone "A Farewell to Kings" at all. As the station faded into "Closer to the Heart," I realized I had a purchase to make as I was pulling into downtown. Off to the record store ...

Your countdown so far:

No. 8: Counterparts (Dave), Hemispheres (Will)

No. 15: Fly by Night (Dave) and Counterparts (Will)

No. 16: Vapor Trails (Both of us)

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