He worked at a pizza place and played bass.

Sometimes he would drive over to my house at midnight to bring me peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and talk until three in the morning, when I would tiptoe back inside to find my insomniac mother sitting on the stairs with her chin resting on her hand, her flannel pajamas rumpled.

“So how is he?”

“Good.”

And then I would tiptoe back upstairs, both relieved and kind of offended that my own mom knew I wasn’t going past first base.

He was a good bass player and he, like all good high-school jazz-band bass players who play World of Warcraft on the side, loved Rush and Geddy Lee with all of his beating heart. “Do you know how many bass players are also iconic frontmen, Kathleen?”

I was like, “Paul McCartney? Lemmy? Gene Simmons? Sting? Roger Waters?”

His prog-loving brain grudgingly gave me Roger Waters before he turned up “Tom Sawyer” and drummed along on his steering wheel, struggling to keep up with the one-handed sixteenths, his teeth gritted, his eyes fiery.

When he asked if I thought it was cool, I fiddled with the hole in my hoodie sleeves where I stuck my thumbs out like the skater kid I longed to be and said, “Yeah, it’s great,” because I could tell the music was played well.

Dream Theater fooled me with the same line of thinking.

 

What I Think Now: In the pantheon of prog rock, Rush rode out the 1970s to stay relevant in pop culture. “Tom Sawyer” is still played on every classic-rock radio station, and Jason Segel and Paul Rudd go apeshit over Rush in I Love You, Man.

I think a big part of me wanted to “get” Rush because they are constantly marketed as a boys’ band. Prog rock in all its forms from King Crimson to Rush is marketed as boys’ bands.

This is not me saying that women don’t like prog. I am saying it is one of most obvious examples of a genre that seemed to actively try to keep women out by how it was packaged and presented. It took the cerebral over the emotional and attached that braininess to the endless parade of white male-fronted bands.

But the content of prog didn’t keep women out; the culture of prog did. While the 1970s kept pumping out concept album after concept album, leaving fantasy metal and psych rock in its Brahms-worshipping, double-tracking wake, women who loved busts of classical composers wired onto guitar necks were presented with close to no chance to participate. It always bothered me, hearing that nice bass player say things like “It’s so cool that you like Rush, girls never get Rush.”

But I didn’t like Rush. And not because I didn’t get Rush.

It’s because the sound of three of the world’s best musicians in constant competition, fighting for attention, pushing the boundaries of how a snare is tuned just to fuck with one another, is interminably boring.

And frankly, that’s not my shit.

If you have to isolate Neil Peart’s drum track to “fully appreciate” it, then you’re listening to a drummer and not a band. I’ve heard Rush devotees argue for hours over who carried the band, because it’s clear that the band did not carry each other.

 

Was It Worth It: It wasn’t not worth it.

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I do really like a lot of prog, though I tend toward the Jethro Tull end of the spectrum because I played flute for 10 years and I kind of thought Ian Anderson was on to something. Actually, now that I really dig into these feelings—Thick as a Brick tricked me into thinking flute was relevant in popular music for far longer than it was, which dashed my young dreams and broke my heart, so maybe I’m just bitter.

Neil Peart’s isolated drum tracks are insane, by the way. recommended