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)

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