Toronto prog-rock veterans Rush have lasted more than 40 years because of their unique sound and songwriting by consensus.
So said drummer-lyricist Neil Peart as he, singer-bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson became the first band to be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall Of Fame on Sunday night during a gala ceremony at the Toronto Centre For The Arts.
“First of all - songwriting award? Rush? There must be some mistake,” joked Peart joined by Lee and Lifeson on stage as the band accepted their honor following a standing ovation and an introduction by Dave Bidini (Rheostatics).
Peart also made fun of the band’s ‘70s stage outfits “of alarming bathrobes and kimonos.”
More seriously, Peart said the band’s most successful album, 1981’s Moving Pictures, was an important one for the group.
“When we found our sound, we found our audience,” he said as he delivered a speech in both English and French. (He has a house in the Laurentians).
“We were slowly channeling the trend toward becoming more concise, more driving and more direct while still retaining the stylistic quirks and indulgences that pleased us.”
But Peart said the band’s signature sound was always the result of agreement amongst the three musicians.
“One big reason for our unaccountable longevity is that we have always been involved equally in creating our songs - words and music,” he said. “It should be remembered that a three-piece band cannot be a democracy. It’s no good having two winning members and one who feels like a loser. We always aim to find consensus.”
Rush, who are currently five songs into a new album, were feted at the CSHF gala with tribute performances that were quirky and original - Les Claypool of Primus (The Spirit Of Radio); YouTube phenom Jacob Moon (Subdivisions) who utilized a cassette player to incorporate Peart’s voice during a stellar one-man display that showed off his beautiful voice; and St. Catharines, Ont., hardcore band Alexisonfire (Tom Sawyer), who had opened for Billy Talent earlier in the evening at the Air Canada Centre before racing up Yonge Street to close the gala.
“If you’d told me when I was 16-years-old that I’d be friends with the guys in Rush, and would be involved in an event such as this I probably would have soiled myself,” said Claypool, who was joined by bandmates, including a cellist, all wearing strange-looking masks suitable for a bank robbery.
Alexisonfire’s Dallas Green dedicated the band’s screaming, ultra-loud performance of Tom Sawyer to recently deceased Junkhouse guitarist Dan Achen.
Rush, who formed in 1968 with original drummer John Rutsey before Peart joined in 1974 on the eve of their first U.S. tour and have since sold over 40 million albums worldwide (and rank fourth only behind The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Aerosmith in terms of most consecutive gold or platinum albums by a rock band), said inspiring a younger generation of fans with their music was about as big a compliment as they could possibly get.
“(There’s) no better quote than Bob Dylan once said, ‘What else can you do for someone with your music but inspire them?’” Peart told reporters backstage earlier in the evening. “There really is nothing else you can do. So if you manage that you’ve done the ultimate job.”
Added Lee at Peart’s side: “It’s the ultimate compliment I think.”
Alongside the CSHF honors, Canadian filmmakers Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn’s documentary, RUSH: Beyond The Lighted Stage, is due to be featured at this year’s Hot Docs Festival in Toronto.
By pure coincidence Dolores Claman’s The Hockey Theme was also being inducted on the same night as Rush’s classic songs Limelight, Closer to the Heart, The Spirit of Radio, Tom Sawyer and Subdivisions.
Peart recently re-did the iconic hockey song for TSN, originally written in 1968 by Claman who lives in England and did not attend Sunday night’s gala, and a clip of that performance was shown during a funny video montage of everyone from Canadian MPs and senators to hairdressers singing the theme to the instrumental, known as “Canada’s second national anthem.”
Gala host Gregory Charles also had the audience inside the George Weston Recital Hall sing it afterwards.
Others being inducted at Sunday night’s gala included Montreal songwriter Robert Charlebois, who said he was influenced by Hank Snow, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Oscar Peterson and Frank Zappa.
“I hope it’s not the end of a career because I’m still young,” said the 65-year-old Charlebois. “Hopefully there’s a lot to come because ....this is what a career is made of - magic encounters.”
He also joked the difference between Canada and France was that you could be alive and be honored with both a stamp and an honor in the CSHF.
“In France when you come to the Pantheon you’re dead, and when you have a stamp, you have to be dead,” he joked.
Songs like (There’s A) Bluebird On Your Windowsill and Come Josephine In My Flying Machine, the latter campily performed by comic Sean Cullen and Lily Frost, were among the song inductees.