Saturday, May 30, 2015

Rush R40 Countdown at No. 2: Hold Your Fire, Presto, life-changing albums without apologies

So close! We're less than two weeks away from the epic R40 concert in Chicago, and Will and I are in the final stages of our epic countdown of Rush albums from the least-glorious to Moving Pictures. 

This week we're at No. 2 -- with two picks that will surprise many Rush fans. 

No. 2: Hold Your Fire
Released in 1987

Highlights: “Time Stand Still,” “Prime Mover”

Relative least-glorious moment: “Tai Shan”

Cool Neil Peart lyrical moment:

I turn my back to the wind
To catch my breath
Before I start off again
Driven on without a moment to spend
To pass an evening
With a drink and a friend.

I let my skin get too thin
I'd like to pause
No matter what I pretend
Like some pilgrim who learns to transcend
Learns to live as if each step was the end.

Time stand still
I'm not looking back
But I want to look around me now
See more of the people
And the places that surround me now.

Freeze this moment
A little bit longer
Make each sensation
A little bit stronger
Experience slips away.

I turn my face to the sun
Close my eyes
Let my defenses down
All those wounds
That I can't get unwound.

I let my past go too fast
No time to pause
If I could slow it all down
Like some captain
Whose ship runs aground
I can wait until the tide
Comes around.

Make each impression
A little bit stronger
Freeze this motion
A little bit longer
The innocence slips away.

Summer's going fast
Nights growing colder
Children growing up
Old friends growing older
Experience slips away.

-- "Time Stand Still," and you get the entire song this time!

I’m not going to apologize for ranking Hold Your Fire so high in the R40 Countdown.
I recognize that the album is not as beloved by many in the Rush universe. Even Will has it near the bottom of his list. It didn’t sell as well as many of the band’s other releases.

But for me, it was the right album with the right message at the right time.

“Time Stand Still,” particularly, changed the way I look at life.

Realize that the album was released in September 1987. That was a very special time for me.

I had just graduated from college and was working as a reporter, a job I had dreamed about having while growing up. The Mets even were the defending world champs. And, best of all, I got married in October. Everything was … perfect. I remember walking around Chicago on our honeymoon with “Time Stand Still” working through my head.

You see, while loving all things ‘80s, I’m not really someone who lives in the past. I can let go of the past pretty well. But I want to grab the present and not let it go until I can study, experience and learn from it all. Admittedly, this tends to exhaust people around me

I think that might be what Neil is talking about when he writes, “I'm not looking back, but I want to look around me now, see more of the people and the places that surround me now” and more so in, “Freeze this moment a little bit longer make each sensation a little bit stronger.”

Twenty-eight years after the album came out, I probably think about that concept every day. I try to look closely at things and remember because I might not get that chance ever again. I try to meet people and make them smile because I might not get that chance ever again – and it’s really a challenge for some people.
Here's a tremendous live version of "Time Stand Still."

Today is a good day. Even if it’s a bad day, it’s a good day because there are people in our lives who might not be there tomorrow. Tell the people you love that you love them and the people you are proud of how proud they make you feel.

My daughter leaves for college this fall. I know it’s the best thing for her. But I also know things will change forever. I’m going to enjoy every minute I can spend with her this summer, and I know it will go by too quickly. If time were to stand still this summer, I’d be OK with that. "Summer's going fast, nights growing colder. Children growing up, old friends growing older." 

But while “Time Stand Still” is my favorite song of all time and would carry any album, there are wonderful tunes throughout. I love the unbridled optimism of “Prime Mover,” with stanzas ending with “Anything can happen!” On Roll the Bones, that sentiment would seem to be a warning. But on Hold Your Fire it feels celebratory, that adventures and something good are around any corner.

Look to the album title. Like Moving Pictures, it’s a clever pun, with a photo inside of a guy juggling balls of fire. The band takes the phrase the other way: Hold your fire, as in “Don’t shoot – don’t hurt, see what the other person is saying. Just slow down and see things from another perspective.” It’s still a good message as we see a world increasingly torn by conflict.

And, yes, there are keyboards. There are people who think Hold Your Fire was the peak of Rush’s flirtation with synthesizers. This isn’t Rush becoming A Flock of Seagulls, but I like A Flock of Seagulls, and the Human League and other ‘80s new wave bands Will mentioned last post. Leave it to Rush to take the best of that genre and Rushify if to create something magical.   
And Will jumps in:
Nor should you apologize to anyone about making Hold Your Fire your No. 2 pick. I'm not gonna apologize for this one either:

No. 2: Moving Pictures
Released in 1981

Just wanted to see if anyone still was paying attention. No, I'm not gonna Dick Whitman you at this point. There can be only one conclusion possible to this here list, which means I'm heading back to New York to write the iconic Coke jingle. No. 2 has to be:

No. 2: Presto
Released in 1989

Like Dave, I chose an idiosyncratic pick as my runner-up Rush album, and I never thought about it once. When I began my list, I put Feedback at No. 20, Moving Pictures at No. 1 and everything else in between to be moved around, with one exception: I immediately put Presto at No. 2.

It's funny to me how many people include this album in the Synth Era. The first time I heard "Superconductor," I thought it was a return to the old Rush sound and a big step back from, say, the stuff on Show of Hands. Goes to show you what I know.

Anyway, this album is strong all the way through: Five songs from it made my top 1,000: "Show Don't Tell," "The Pass," "Scars," "Presto" and "Available Light." "Scars" and "Available Light" made my top 100, and "Scars" -- Rush at its funkiest -- is in the top 30. Actually, there isn't a bad song among the bunch in my inexpert opinion.

But that's not the only reason why Presto finishes No. 2. Gather round, kids. It's story time again: Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to October 1990.

As a rule, I'm a negative person. It's an unfortunate character flaw that I can't seem to shake. What I try to do then is surround myself with as many positive people as possible and feed off their energy. Dave's one of those people; God only knows what he gets out of our friendship, maybe a little surliness as well as someone to attend card shows and Rush concerts with.

In the fall of 1990, I was in a pretty good spot. My beloved Reds were in the playoffs for the first time in a decade (a long time for a Reds fan who grew up with the Big Red Machine), and I was embarking on my first trip to Cooperstown. I'd take a week and drive from Flint.

To make an epic story somewhat reasonable, it was a trip fraught with peril after I crossed the U.S.-Canada border at Niagara Falls. In keeping with the road trip I'd taken the previous year, I wanted to avoid big cities and highways. My plan was to take U.S. 20 from Buffalo across New York. By the time I got to Batavia, roughly, it didn't take long for me to learn that there were no motels on U.S. 20, and it was getting late.

Here's a great live version of "The Pass," one of the great songs on Presto.

I drove around for at least an hour in several directions. At one point, I decided to give in and drive up to Rochester until I realized that it would take me two hours out of the way. Discouraged, I turned around and headed back ... to nothing.

Being 26, male and stubborn, I decided I didn't need no stinking motel, so I found a quiet country road, pulled off, put a few shirts up on the windows, turned on the radio broadcast of the ALCS between Boston and Oakland and called it a night.

The next morning, I awoke to a brilliant fall day (and the realization that I hadn't stumbled upon the family from The Hills Have Eyes, thankfully). I wasn't more than hour on the road when I came across a flea market to the side of the road. With visions of baseball-card finds dancing in my head, I pulled off in town to grab some lunch ... and my car wouldn't start. Wouldn't start, wouldn't turn over, dead as a door nail.

It being Saturday, this was a problem. No one could tow my car. In fact, except for the gas station where I parked, which wasn't a service station, nothing seemed to be open except the flea market. Fortunately, I noticed a motel almost right across U.S. 20 from the flea market, and after going to the flea market--and buying only a 1954 Topps Spook Jacobs card--I headed to the motel to check in and wait until a tow truck could get my car.

It was a long wait, because, like I said, nothing was open on Saturday, which meant nothing was open on Sunday either. A long day of walking back and forth from the town to the motel a few times was broken up by a single Jets game on TV.

I took my Walkman on my walks with a tape I'd made--Manic Nirvana by Robert Plant on one side and Presto on the other. The Presto stuff stood out (and continues to stand out in my memory). I have a clear vision of walking up the hill to the town overlooking the meadow where the flea market was with "Available Light" playing.

Finally, I got a call first thing Monday morning. The tow truck and taken my car to the nearest repair shop, and they were working on the problem. The problem was a bad starter motor, and within an hour--$80 lighter plus the motel cost--I was back on the road.

The drive itself was one of the best I've ever taken. It was a gray foggy day, but U.S. 20 provided an endless sea of red, orange and yellow trees in full fall bloom. I didn't take a picture of it, but I don't one to remember how everything looked.

I made it to Cooperstown at night and checked into my motel two days late. (I'd called to let them know the situation.) I drove into town to get dinner and realized "Hey, that's the Hall of Fame right there!" I wasn't going to go until two days later, but ... it's RIGHT THERE! Of course, I went in for a quick "pre-visit."

The Hall of Fame was everything I was hoping it would be and Cooperstown was everything I could have wanted it to be. Every store sold some baseball paraphernalia. That's MY kind of town.

The next leg of my trip was Toronto. I wanted to spend more time there, but I just made a quick in and out having lost two days to my car woes. By the time I hit Collingwood, a sleepy town on the Canada side of Lake Huron, I was in a very gloomy mood. I was thinking about how interesting and cool my trip was ... which made it absurd.

I realized as I opened a box of 1990 Upper Deck while watching The Simpsons on a grainy TV in my room that I'd taken all these photos and I'd never show them to anyone. Who wants to see pictures of a solo vacation? Exactly. No one. I was feeling very alone, so I decided to just drive home a day early.

When I arrived, my phone rang while I unloaded my car. I decided to let the answering machine get it. It was Dave, calling me to offer some pearls of wisdom about the NLCS game that was about to start. It was Game 6, and the Reds had a shot at closing out the Pirates and winning the pennant. As Dave was in mid-sentence I decided to pick up.

"Hey ... you're home?"

Yeah, I explained. I cut the trip short a day.

"Well, what are you doing home? Get over here and watch the Reds win the pennant with me!"

That was just the thing I needed to hear. In short, Dave wasn't going to let me get a good funk on, so we ordered pizza, swapped baseball cards and watched as the Reds, in fact, won the pennant that night. It was a friend coming through at exactly the right moment.

After that, how could Presto--the soundtrack of that trip--NOT be my No. 2 Rush album?

Our R40 Countdown so far:

No. 3: Permanent Waves (Dave), Signals (Will)
No. 4: Roll the Bones (Dave), Permanent Waves (Will)
No. 5: Power Windows (Dave), Roll the Bones (Will)
No. 6: Test for Echo (Dave), Grace Under Pressure (Will)
No. 7: Signals (Dave), A Farewell to Kings (Will)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Bad postcard of the week: Perilous playgrounds of the past

Playgrounds today are for the soft!

Kids back in my day had to be tough. Going to the playground involved danger and risk.
I’m reminded of my perilous youth by this week’s bad postcard.

The back reads: “Arrowhead Campsites, HWY 90 East, Marianna, Florida, Children’s play area, 250 wooded campsites, camper’s store, lounge, laundry, pool and gamerooms on a spring-fed, seven mile lake.”

I’m assuming that this is the children’s play area, notable for the lack of children playing in our photo. I see three of those arch monkey bars, which were always the most worthless of all things on the playground. I even see a rare pentagon-shaped bar, which seem even more worthless than the arches.

Seriously, what were you supposed to do on those things? Climb on top and then what? And why would any playground need four of them?

The real action seems to be at the back of the card, by the swings. We had those at Brady Park in Massapequa Park. The swing support is shaped like a person, and ours had an Indian head, which probably would happen today.

Marjorie Post Park, where I later worked for three summers as a seasonal, had perhaps the most dangerous with three-level structures shaped like rockets with a metal slide on the second level that was hot enough on a sunny day to fry eggs. 

The really bold kids would climb all the way into the nose cone, with less-strong kids falling to the metal floor, still two levels above where any adult could climb and console.

The park also had those spinning things that kids would spin so hard any that any occupant would either lose grip and go flying on to the sand – or asphalt – or hurl their PPJ and Cheetos, which project in a circle.

All of these, of course, were like our campsite arches, all hard metal bars. Our schools had the same stuff. It’s amazing that we didn’t return from recess covered in burns, bruises and broken limbs.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Rush R40 Countdown at No. 3: Permanent Waves is a masterpiece, Signals recalls exciting times

And then there were three! And that makes sense for a power trio like Rush. Will and I are continuing our R40 Countdown, marching toward the very best from our favorite band.

No. 3: Permanent Waves
Released in 1980

Highlights: “The Spirit of Radio,” “Entre Nous,” “Freewill.”

Relative least-glorious moment: “Different Strings.”

Cool Neil Peart lyrical moment:

“Just between us
I think it’s time for us to recognize
The differences we sometimes fear to show
Just between us
I think it’s time for us to realize
The spaces in between
Leave room for you and I to grow.”
-- "Entre Nous"

I’m feeling emboldened by Will’s decision to rank the glorious Permanent Waves at No. 4.

From the very start, I had this epic release at No. 2, right behind Moving Pictures. But something happened as I started to study the albums as we prepared each installment of the countdown.

There was one release that I kept going back to, over and over. It was always a favorite for many reasons, and you’ll learn more about that next week.

But each play revealed new nuances, new thoughts about lyrics and a stronger appreciation. I’ve found my thoughts drifting back to that release, over and over.

Here’s where things get bold. My No. 2 is not a release generally loved by Rush fans. It will be the biggest difference of opinion between Will and I, as he has it in the lower reaches of his list.

Thinking some more, I wondered whether it was possible that I enjoyed the release more than Permanent Waves. That’s blasphemy to many Rush fans. But I have to be true to myself.

So here we are at No. 3. There is no shame in being the third most-favorite Rush album. Actually, there’s no shame in being the least-glorious Rush album at No. 20.

I love Permanent Waves. “The Spirit of Radio” is an amazing song, immediately distinguishable from Alex’s stinging intro. It’s one of two songs – “Tom Sawyer” being the other – that Rush will probably play before being allowed to leave a stage now and into the future, whatever that might be for the band.
"Entre Nous" has been played live on only one tour -- and here it is!

A few years ago, my friends at the Crane Pool Forum had a thread where someone would list 10 consecutive songs from their iPod playlist, and then someone with one of those songs would start there and list the next 10 from his own list.

I remember listing about six different versions of “The Spirit of Radio,” and someone posting, “Isn’t that a bit excessive?”

The only answer is, of course, “No. Why do you ask?”

But the real gem is “Entre Nous.” It doesn’t rock as hard as “Freewill” or some of the others, but I love the message that we are all different and can still find ways to get along.

Being an impressionable high-school student when this came out, I embraced this album. One art class called for us to match lyrics or poetry with our artwork, compiled into a book at the end of the year.  I called mine “Entre Nous,” which made sense since most of the projects were based on Rush lyrics anyway.

The disc sounds amazing, leaping from the speakers with plenty of space between the instruments. And with shorter songs than the predecessor – Hemispheres – Permanent Waves is considered more accessible, opening the world of Rush to a much wider audience.

It is, in many, ways, a darn-near perfect album. I just happen to like two others better.

And Will jumps in:

I happen to like three, but that's just me. It's been fun to see as our lists dwindled what still was left. A couple weeks ago, I got clued into the likelihood that Dave and I were going to finish the same way--with a super-personal and somewhat idiosyncratic choice at the No. 2 spot and the obvious choice at No. 1. In honor of the 25th anniversary of the Newhart finale (the best ending of a TV comedy ever), maybe one of us is going to slip you a mickey, but my money's on the favorite.

That being the case, that makes my latest pick ...

No. 3: Signals
Released in 1982

I have a theory of music--feel free to argue with me if you think I'm wrong. I believe that most people gravitate to the music that was on the radio or record player or 8-track or CD carousel or iPod playlist or stream (we'll see) when they first got laid.

That can be the only possible explanation for the extended run of "Classic rock radio" and the death of modern rock radio. The people who still listen to music radio are old, like me and Dave (not that I still listen to the radio), and when Boomers go to the radio, what do they want to hear--the music of their youth, when they first were doing the dirty deed. Led Zeppelin, Clapton, The Beatles, Boston, etc. It's as comfortable as a pair of old jeans and always there when you need it.

That can be the only possible explanation for why I love--without any irony whatsoever--what I refer to as 80's synth-pop crap. Give me a steady dose of Duran Duran, The Waitresses, Flock of Seagulls, Psychedelic Furs (with maybe a little Phil Collins thrown in) all interlaced with the dulcet tones of J.J. Jackson, and I'm asking for seconds.

Signals came out in 1982, the year I finally grew a pair and asked that super-hot strawberry-blonde babe who kept coming into the grocery store where I worked my senior year in high school out on a date. And I had it in heavy rotation on the record player in my bedroom my sophomore year at college--the year when I and that super-hot strawberry blonde finally consummated our relationship. (Signals wasn't actually on at the time of that momentous moment, because it happened when I was home in Columbus over Christmas break.) Et voila, as Eddie Izzard would say.

Here's a great live version of Will's fave -- "The Analog Kid."

All that aside, however, this album spoke to me in a big way 30 years ago, and it continues to speak to me after all these years. The first time I heard "Subdivisions," I thought Neil wrote it solely for my benefit. Needless to say, I WAS that kid from the video who was out playing Tempest while all the cool kids were doing what cool kids do.

Then there's "The Analog Kid," which is, simply, my second-favorite Rush song of all time, behind only the saintly "Xanadu." With no apologies to Dave or any other Rush fan, Neil DID write that one solely for my benefit. (Sorry.) The chorus is magical, and the final line "When I leave I don't know what I'm hoping to find, and when I leave I don't know what I'm leaving behind," has been something of a mantra to me my whole life--looking forward and back with longing and regret all at the same time. If I had to pick one, it's probably my single favorite Rush lyric.

The rest of the album ... isn't as strong, of course. Nothing dishonorable about that; that's a pretty formidable one-two punch there. However, "Digital Man," "The Weapon" and "Losing It" also made my top 1,000.

"Losing It" in particular has taken on more weight now that I'm older, and I can begin to relate to the characters in the bittersweet elegy who are losing the skills that made them great at their peak. It happens to us all; it just happens to some people more slowly if they're lucky. Every time now that I say something and come to a screeching halt mid-sentence because I forgot what I was going to say (and it happens enough now to be more concerning than frustrating), I think of this song.

OK, so I'm as guilty as anyone about gravitating back to the music "of my times," ahem, but I wonder how many people are listening to Derek and the Dominoes and finding something that relates to their life now, not the life they wish they still lived--when everything was new and wonderful?

Speaking of wonderful, I know I'm running long, but I want to leave you with one final story. I couldn't tell it on my blog, because the song didn't make the list. Dave mocked "Countdown" earlier, and I won't disagree with what he said about it and its datedness, but it makes me think of something specific.

When I took American History my junior year of high school, I took it in the fifth period, right after lunch. Consequently, I was in the class with all of the burnouts, and I mean every single one. (The reek of smoke--not all of it cigarettes--was fearsome.) It was OK; they paid me no mind, much like most of the rest of the high school (which was the way I liked it after a brutal junior-high experience).

Anyway, one day in 1981 after the bell rang, Mr. Brewster greeted us at the front of the classroom standing next to a TV set wheeled in by the AV guys. I'll never forget what he said: "This is a history class, and today we're going to watch some history."

He turned on the TV, and we watched the Columbia land, the end of the first flight of the space shuttle--the blast-off of which, of course, inspired "Countdown." When it landed safely, the whole room burst into applause--and I mean everyone, including the burnouts. It took me by surprise, because it was the last group of people I expected to show spontaneous joy at something that was part of the establishment. But everyone got it.

If I may digress further, a decade or so ago, VH-1 ran a show counting down the top 100 TV moments of all time. I tried to guess the top 10 and got most of them right including the inevitable No. 1--9/11. I chose 9/11 because it was huge but also because it was the most current (in 2004). Other things, like, say, MLK's I Have a Dream speech, The Beatles on Ed Sullivan or Oswald being assassinated, were so old that the kids watching wouldn't have as much attachment to them.

It was kind of like when ESPN did its list of the top 100 athletes of the 20th Century. I knew No. 1 was going to be Michael Jordan, because everyone watching had seen him play. ESPN didn't have any footage of Jim Thorpe--who clearly was the top athlete of the 20th Century.

When the bit about 9/11 ended, however, the screen went black with the words "A second opinion," and the producers gave the final word to Walter Cronkite. Cronkite, who knew a little about big TV moments, said in his opinion the biggest TV moment was the No. 2 moment--The day the Eagle landed on the moon. Fear and sadness are powerful emotions, he agreed, but they'll never be as important as the forces of wonder and joy, which was what Apollo 11 meant. Cronkite said man is always at his best when he's striving for greatness and achieving beyond the wildest dreams of imagination. Consequently, the images of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon will be the ones that ultimately endure.

That brings me back to watching the Columbia land. Everyone in that fifth-period history class understood that they were watching something wonderful, something bigger and better than themselves, yet something that also represented and touched the best in themselves.

Neil nailed that emotion perfectly: "In fascination, with the eyes of the world, we stare ..."

And from one "Countdown" to another, here's where we stand:

No. 4: Roll the Bones (Dave), Permanent Waves (Will)
No. 5: Power Windows (Dave), Roll the Bones (Will)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Bad postcard of the week: Mysteries of the Marco Lodge and Kentucky's magical Top Brown

The Marco Lodge still exists, but I suspect it has changed.
It’s important to have culinary adventures when on the road.

This is only a recent declaration for me. Previously, boldly dining abroad meant finding a Panera Bread eatery and having a different kind of cookie for desert. I can find Panera Bread in just about any town, even in St. Louis, where they are disguised by calling them St. Louis Bread Co.

And I was tempted when I was in Louisville this week, because I found one a few blocks from the hotel.

But first, you’ve no doubt guessed that this week’s bad postcard is about a restaurant.
We’re heading to Florida for the Marco Lodge! The back reads: MARCO LODGE Dining Room. Goodland, on Marco Island, Florida. Home cooked foods – pies – cakes – overlooking The Island Waterways.”

It still exists today, but it’s known as The Old MarcoLodge.

I’m sure it’s fancier today. But back in the days of our postcard, well, it’s not a good sign with the drop ceiling gets such prominent display.

But it’s the stuff on the floor that caught my eye. Note the plant growing from the coconut? Very Florida, and very cool. There are at least two on the floor, which means they get touched by every kid and knocked over all the time.

But what’s over there by the register? Is that a giant bottle of booze? Why is it on the floor? Did someone set it there while paying the bill, then walked away? Actually, where are customers or staff?

There’s just a lot we don’t know.

Just like I didn’t know something on my plate in Louisville. We were in town for a conference and were treated to a buffet by our hosts. It was pretty yummy, with plenty of the things you expect at a buffet: pasta, meatballs, cheese and veggies.
But there was something I didn’t recognize. It was a small white meatball, covered in a white cheese sauce with a slice of a small tomato on top. The whole thing was on a small piece of toast.

I tried to cut it with my fork, and half of the sphere jumped from my plate to my shirt then my lap.  This is why we pack multiple outfits for a short trip.

The bite that actually made it to my mouth was good -- really good! But I couldn’t quite identify the flavor. I asked the others at the table, all from out of state as well, and no one could figure out what this delicacy was.

So I boldly approached the staff, inquiring about the delicious but difficult to cut food item.
We learned some history. The Top Brown is a Louisville treat created back in in 1926 by Fred Schmidt at The Brown Hotel.

The hotel still exists, and its website tells the story:  “In the 1920's, the Brown Hotel drew over 1,200 guests each evening for its dinner dance. By the wee hours of the morning, guests would grow weary of dancing and make their way to the restaurant for a bite to eat. Sensing their desire for something more glamorous than traditional ham and eggs, Chef Fred Schmidt set out to create something new to tempt his guests' palates. His unique dish? An open-faced turkey sandwich with bacon and a delicate Mornay sauce. The Hot Brown was born!

Our version mixed the turkey with sausage. Happily educated and ready to embrace a local tradition, most of the table went back to sample some more, careful to use a knife to cut it instead of just the fork.

Bad postcards of the past:

April 13, 2014: Newsflash -- water is wet!

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Rush R40 Countdown at No. 4: Roll the Bones and the death of baseball card collecting

The glorious Rush R40 concert in Chicago is just about a month away, which can only mean that we are in the home stretch of counting down the best Rush albums from the least-glorious release to Moving Pictures.

No. 4: Roll the Bones
Released in 1991
Highlights: “The Big Wheel,” “Bravado,” “Dreamline”
Relative least-glorious moments: “You Bet Your Life.”
Cool Neil Peart lyrical moment:
“When we are young
Wandering the face of the Earth
Wondering what our dreams might be worth
Learning that we’re only immortal
For a limited time.”
-- "Dreamline"

I remember driving somewhere along I-94 on the then-seven-hour trek to visit my in-laws playing Roll the Bones, and my wife suddenly saying, “This whole album, it’s about gambling!”
You can tell this was a long time ago and early in our marriage, because my wife was still willing to let me play Rush with her in the car. I pointed out that the theme wasn’t necessarily gambling, but chance – the things that happen to us and around us that we can’t control.
The always accurate Wikipedia notes that in the Roll the Bones tour book, Neil “described both the mindset of the lyrics written for not only the title track, but also the album:
‘No matter what kind of song you choose to play, you’re betting your life on it, for good or ill, and what you believe is what you are... No one can ever be sure, in this best of all possible random universes.
‘That's why the essence of these songs is: if there's a chance, you might as well take it. So what if some parts of life are a crap shoot? Get out there and shoot the crap. A random universe doesn't have to be futile; we can change the odds, load the dice, and roll again…. For anyone who hasn't seen Groucho Marx's game show You Bet Your Life, I mean that no one but Groucho knows the secret word, and one guess is as good as another... Anything can happen. That is called fate.’”
And since its Rush, the band tackles some heavy themes, like the end of the Cold War. How different were the lives of the people who happened to be born to families living on one side of the Berlin Wall than those born on the other?
Musically, the band continued stepping away from keyboards. There are some interesting experiments, like Geddy rapping in the title cut, at least as much as Rush is going to rap.
“Bravado” stands out as one of the few songs where the band in concert opens up and jams a little. And my favorite, “The Big Wheel,” has never been played live, so I’m hoping for an R40 surprise from the vault.
Will and I caught the Roll the Bones tour at the Palace of Auburn Hills. We killed time before the show opening a new box of baseball cards, which was not exactly unusual for us.

There are several things to note here. That year, 1991, was about the time the hobby took a turn for the worse.
Topps, after issuing what by any measure was a simply awful set in 1990, started righting the ship with a vastly improved issue. And you could still buy an entire box of packs for about $10.
We liked buying boxes and opening packs, because we could happily spend hours opening, stacking, sorting, trading, checklisting and, of course, playing the “stiff game,” where Rob Deer was a trump card.
This was fun, and the hobby had not really changed much from when we were kids.
Then the bad things started happening. First, companies started producing more than one set, each more expensive than the rest. Then, companies started the practice of “insert” cards – randomly inserted rare cards. The first were autographed cards, then it became cards of rookie stars, then – and here’s where the wheels came off – slices of jerseys and bats.
Suddenly no one cared about the base sets, all they cared about were the high-value insert cards. The base sets soon became an afterthought.
One of the great live versions of "Bravado."
Already some collectors were looking for more valuable “rookie cards” – the first cards of players. But, in theory, there were as many Ken Griffey, Jr. cards produced as the Rob Deers. Now, there were limited, limited, limited insert cards. People were ripping through piles of packs just to see if there were the special cards, which they’d then just try to sell.
Dealers soon started charging more for unopened packs because people could, in theory, pull out one of the expensive insert cards.
And, here’s where we get back to Roll the Bones. We realized that our favorite hobby had been reduced to chance. Buying a pack of cards now became almost like buying a lottery ticket.
This was an outrage to us, and the Flint Journal allowed us a forum to rant. Each week, we’d highlight the fun parts of the hobby and rail against what we – correctly – saw were storm clouds of people collecting for all the wrong reasons and the unsustainability of the concept.
We were the cardboard crusaders, and not entirely popular in some corners. But we had fun. And, I might add, all the things we predicted about the hobby became true.
And Will jumps in!

Of course they did! We knew what we were talking about, because we WERE experts who had collected for decades, not just some johnny-come-latelies who thought the hobby began with Don Mattingly. No one wanted to listen to us, and where are we now: One company runs everything and kids don't collect any more. It's an industry with no real future.

Sure, everyone realizes this ... now. We were saying that back in 19-aught-92 when "Dreamline" was kicking our rumps, and everyone was too busy plotting to finance their kids' Harvard educations with their TVP rookie cards!


On to my pick ...

No. 4: Permanent Waves
Released in 1980

Let me start by saying that if I were doing a list on the QUALITY of Rush albums--the "best" Rush albums and not our faves--this would be No. 2. I believe that most people would agree--except for a few hardcores who tout 2112 under the impression that one epic side is enough.

Why isn't Permanent Waves then MY No. 2 album? Context. Context, timing or whatever you want to call it makes all the difference. Permanent Waves was the first Rush album I knew, well, Side 1 anyway, but I didn't really gravitate to it until long after my Rush rebirth, in 1996. It was only then that I finally heard Side 2, which is outstanding. Consequently, it missed the key formative years that my top three all smacked dead center (and if you're paying attention, you know what they are by now). Put another way, memories based around playing Uniracers on your Super Nintendo don't stack up with memories of a first love, am I right?

Here's a live version of "Natural Science."

None of which is meant to slight Permanent Waves in any way. OK, so I'm not a fan of "The Spirit of the Radio," and "Different Strings" is meh. The four other songs all made my top 1,000, with "Natural Science" in the top 100, and if I had one pick for this Rush concert ... well, OK, aside from all of Fear and maybe "Fly By Night," I'd ask for "Jacob's Ladder" to be brought back to life just once more.

Rush hasn't played it on stage since 1981, so I've never seen them do it, and of all the songs from Permanent Waves, that one was there right from the beginning, thanks to Exit, Stage Left ... Maybe the boys think it's too repetitive and boring compared with other instrumentals; I don't know. It'd be nice to hear it, just once, live.

And while I'm at it, it'd be nice to have 50-cent packs of baseball cards again.

Here's our countdown so far:

No. 5: Power Windows (Dave), Roll the Bones (Will)