Why you should take your kids to see the rock band Rush--and how to prepare
by Debra Ross
Taking kids to rock concerts is an important part of helping them become culturally literate. I say this not just because I happen to love rock: If a young person is going to be well prepared to function as an adult in our culture, an ideal childhood is filled with all kinds of experiences: Classical, jazz, blues, pop, rap, and folk concerts, as well as ethnic festivals, soccer games, art museums, history lectures, nature hikes, and the like. Rock concerts are a part of our culture that create vivid memories you want your kids to have. And, goodness knows, properly done, they're a lot of fun.
But why Rush?
The prog-rock power trio Rush comprises Geddy Lee (bass, keyboard, and vocals), Alex Lifeson (guitar and some vocals), and Neil Peart (lyrics & drums). Here is why I'd rather take my kids to a Rush concert than to any other rock concert.
Throughout their 40-year history, Rush's audience has been almost exclusively male. I was one of the few girls I noticed in the audience atPhiladelphia's Spectrum for my first concert, during the Hold Your Fire tour in 1987. What attracted me at the time was a) Alex Lifeson's hair; b) the energy of Rush's music; c) Neil's lyrics, which resonated for me as a college student; and d) the trio's musical prowess (although what did I know, I was just a cellist).
These days, with the 2010 release of the Rush documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage and their recent induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, it has suddenly become cool to be a Rush fan. Here's why it became cool for me a long time ago:
- Rush stands for excellence, persistence, and hard work, and what these mean to a life well-lived--not just in their song lyrics (which saw me through many a tough time) but in the way that Geddy, Alex, and Neil have conducted their lives.
- It is inspiring to watch people who are already geniuses at what they do working relentlessly to get even better. It makes me want to put the pedal to my own metal.
- Everything I read and hear about these three Canadians tells me that they are ordinary good and smart humans who have never lost sight of what is important.
So whenever Rush tours anywhere near where I live in upstate New York, it's Take Your Daughter to Rush Day in the Ross house. And nowadays, when we go to a concert, it's not only a much higher ratio of women to men in the audience, but there are a ton of parents, kids, and even grandkids. No one even looks twice at my girls, there are so many others milling around.
How do my girls feel about Take Your Daughter to Rush Day?
The photo above pretty much says it all. Ella (on the left) plays guitar and snare drum, and she loves Rush. Madison, on the other hand, is more of a classical music and musical theater fan. She's not exactly hooked on Rush, but she has a good time at the concerts. She pretends she doesn't, though, just to push my buttons. She's 13, after all.
Why should parents take their kids to a Rush concert?
Here's why I do it:
1. I want my daughters to be culturally literate.
As a general principle, I want to expose my kids to all kinds of different things in their world. I want them to grow up well-rounded, with an understanding of history, literature, science, nature, the arts, and pop culture. Rush means something in our culture. They should know about it.
2. Rush has a great stage show.
Geddy, Alex, and Neil take great pride in careful preparation to give their audience a lot more than they're paying for. They don't use an opening band, and they play almost 3 hours! They have fun with special effects. In recent tours, they have eased into a style of humor, too; they not only are obviously having a good time playing, but they enjoy poking fun at each other.
The show is also, technically, family-friendly. It never was crass, not even in the late 80s when I first saw them (who else remembers the bouncing bunnies from the Presto tour?), but as their audience started to get a bit older, the tone of the show became even more mature and intelligent without losing any of the fun of being at a rock concert. The audience gets it. They're there for the music, and they are bringing their kids probably for the same reasons I am. I can't tell whether the guys in the band are deliberately sensitive to this, it's probably what they would do naturally anyway. But in short, I know that this crowd will be enthusiastic and positive rather than frenzied and stoned. It's safe to bring the girls.
3. Rush's success is what results from the relentless pursuit of excellence.
It would be easy for the guys to take the path of least resistence, occasionally playing reunion tours when the mood strikes them. But no, they show no signs of slowing down even though they are well into their fifties. In 2012, they released their 19th full-length studio album, Clockwork Angels, which received acclaim even from the rock-and-roll "intelligensia" that rejected them for so long. No one who has seen a Rush concert would dream of calling them "aging rockers."
The 2010 documentary about the band, Beyond the Lighted Stage, showed the guys describing how, from the very beginning, they were always over-reaching, always trying to write challenging music that would be hard even for themselves to play. Their point was always to keep getting better. This is a message that I try to push on my girls, but it's so much more effective coming by example from someone not their parent than from their mom yammering away at them about hard work, excellence, success... (or, as Alex put it so eloquently in his RRHF acceptance speech: "Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.") They'll take a listen to "Marathon" over a lecture by Mom any day.
4. Rush is a shining example of how real friends make good collaborators.
Geddy and Alex have been friends since junior high school; Neil, who signed on as drummer about 5 years later, is still "The New Guy." But this is as close-knit a trio as you'll ever meet. Beyond the Lighted Stage showed us that the secret to their success is really their extraordinarily ordinary friendship. And it's clear that they have stayed close friends for more than 40 years because they themselves are good people...decent, normal, good people who have their priorities in order, and who have focused on supporting one another's quest for excellence rather than being taken in by the hype that inflates the egos of many in the music industry.
Preparing your kids for a rock concert
1) Know the music!
Being in an unfamiliar environment can be a little unsettling for kids, so you want to make sure that at least part of what they encounter is familiar to them. So my recommendation is to get the set list in advance off the internet and play those songs often for weeks before the concert. I even put it on my iPod in the right order. Yes, it takes away the element of surprise for the adult, but it makes the music theirs. And it pays off big-time during the concert when your kid screams excitedly, Oh my gosh! It's the Analog Kid! I KNOW THAT SONG! And when they guess right about what is coming next, they're happy.
I made a nice printable PDF booklet of all of the songs from Set A of the first leg of the Clockwork Angels tour (because that's what we were going to see in Buffalo), and bound it for Madison and Ella to look at in the car while the music played. (Oh, come on, you know the Rush audience is filled with geeks, why are you surprised?) And then of course for the R40 tour I made one for Setlist C. Email me and I'll send you the PDF we're using in our family!
Make a connection between your kids and the performers
Nowadays, the night before we see a Rush concert, I typically toss Beyond the Lighted Stage on the computer for a little while so we can all get reacquainted with the guys. The sense of personal connection matters. (Note to parents of young kids: There are some fleeting mentions of drugs and sex on this video as well as a few F-bombs that some may find offensive.) Another option would be to download the fun iBook read from Toronto Star writer Vinay Menon, Rush: An Oral History, only $2.99.
Get t-shirts or other swag in advance
There's no kind of connection like a multi-sensory connection, and nothing creates a sense of ownership over an experience than actually owning something. Each of my kids has her own Rush t-shirt. It means something. Wearing it to the concert is part of the experience. The Rush Backstage Club is one place to pre-order gear. (Got Peart?)
Bring some earplugs, just in case
Especially in indoor venues, the noise level at any concert is unpredictable. A kid's discomfort will put the damper on any outing for both child and parent, and you certainly don't want that to happen at a Rush concert! So it's best to take along earplugs for your kids and use them at your discretion.
In any career, it is easy to confuse the quest for success with the quest for excellence. It can even be tempting in my own career--publishing--to cut intellectual corners to try to satisfy everyone, all the time. But whenever I listen to Rush, I'm reminded that Geddy, Alex, and Neil never once sacrificed their artistic integrity in order to appeal to the wider public: They kept doing what they loved, and worked at it until they were the best in the world.
Work with focus and passion for 40 years at something and you're likely to get darned good at it. More than anything, that's what I take, and what I want my girls to take, from Rush.
© 2013, Debra Ross.
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