ANTHEM: RUSH IN THE ’70S: Deeper Into Canadian Prog, The Popoff Way

Prior to releasing Anthem: Rush In The ’70s, hard rock specialist and critic/journalist Martin Popoff had released three separate books on history: Contents Under Pressure – a paperback study of their first 30 years as a band, Rush: The Illustrated History – a jumbo combination of lavishly illustrated coffee table tome and career chronicle and Rush: Album By Album – a discussion of each of the group’s albums between the author and fellow scribes and musicians. That roster of publications might lead you to believe Popoff had taken the subject of Rush as far as it could go.

And yet, Popoff has turned up again with Anthem: Rush In The ’70s, the first of three books that expand the concept behind Contents Under Pressure into a trilogy that goes into deeper detail on each album and tour while also providing granular biographical detail on the lives of the three musicians who made up Rush.  The cynical could wonder where he would come up with fresh material and the answer lies in his work on the hit documentary Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage. Popoff had access to the countless hours of interviews done by himself and the filmmakers for that production, including not only the band members but their families and professional support team.

As the book reveals, that gave Popoff a treasure trove of new info and he applies it with style and precision in its pages. In the author’s traditional style, you learn plenty about each album from 1974’s self-titled debut through 1978’s Hemispheres, seven albums in total, as well as the lengthy touring that preceded and followed each release. You get the stories behind every song, which really comes in handy when dealing with side-length epics, and detailed information about the recording of each album.   

Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart are front and center throughout the book with their musings on their development during this crucial period as they sought to develop their art while making a living. They’re all forthright and articulate, especially Peart, and really draw the reader into the excitement of these days. Producer Terry Brown is involved in the discussion of each album and reveals the technical challenges and artistic joys and/or frustrations involved getting each on tape: the stories about the difficult, protracted sessions for Hemispheres in particular are pretty absorbing. He was essentially the fourth member of the band during this era of Rush so it’s great to read his enthusiastically told and artistic-minded tales.

However, it’s also worth pointing out that Anthem: Rush In The ’70s steps outside the usual just-the-albums-and-tours comfort zone of a Popoff book and gets into biographical content. For instance, you learn how Lee and Lifeson’s experiences as the sons of immigrants alternately nurtured and challenged their drive to be musicians and how being a brainy misfit during his school years shaped Peart’s personality and approach to music. Lee and Lifeson’s mothers and both of Peart’s parents get to speak their piece in these sections and its fascinating hearing them not only discuss their pride in their children’s achievements but also the challenges and fears inherent in being a parent to a budding musician.

It’s also worth noting that you get a lot of detail on the development of Rush before they ever began recording albums.  Rush’s career-long manager Ray Danniels and longtime tech and confidante Ian Grandy are on hand, fleshing out the band members’ recollections of their early club days and how the reduction of the drinking age dramatically expanded the concert circuit for Rush and other bands. Everyone involved also provides insight into how John Rutsey was much more than just the band’s pre-Peart drummer. You learn what a dominant figure he was, functioning not only as percussionist but also M.C., road manager and the leading light of the early days. Insight is also provided into what a difficult and complex soul Rutsey was, with an erratic and turbulent personality that ultimately played a role in his undoing.

Finally, it should be mentioned how the book gets into detail on how the band’s team and a few sympathetic industry figures helped such an unusual, constantly evolving band break into the professional side of the business. There’s keen insight from Donna Halper, a Cleveland radio figure renowned to the band’s fans for giving them their first American airplay and helping them get a record contract (Cliff Burnstein, the then-promo man and future super-manager who got them signed to Mercury, also chimes in here). Most fans know about this chain of fortuitous circumstances but both Halper and Burnstein provide advanced-level insight into the complexities of how radio could break bands in the ’70s and the specific factors that made Rush appealing to Mercury. 

The other half of the aforementioned breakthrough was provided by a relentless, often exhausting cycle of touring. Howard Ungerleider, a key managerial part of Rush’s touring team, gets plenty of space to discuss what life was like on the road as the band worked its way up from opening act to headliner.  These parts give an atmospheric portrait of the grind inherent to touring and the ways they learned to cope with it, as well as colorful stories about different acts they worked with (everyone from Gene Simmons to Dennis DeYoung makes cameos in these stretches with their thoughts on Rush). You also learn about the challenges of keeping a band afloat financially before they’re big enough to turn a profit, something that only really kicked in for Rush circa Hemispheres.

In short, Anthem: Rush In The ’70s proves that it is worth the effort for you to make room on your bookshelf for another Popoff-penned book on Rush. The interviews presented here are unique to this tome and simply can’t be beat for insight. Even better, Popoff’s wordsmithing gives it all structure and focus that synthesizes the diverse collection of voices into a coherent, richly-textured narrative that Rush fans will savor. Once you finish it, you’re likely to find yourself looking forward to the next installment in the trilogy.

To purchase Anthem: Rush In The ’70s directly from Martin Popoff, click here for ordering info.

To read Schlockmania’s review of Contents Under Pressure, click here.

To read Schlockmania’s review of Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage, click here.

To access Schlockmania’s archive of Rush album and book reviews, click here.

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