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Willie Nelson - Beyond the Lighted Stage

  by Spencer Robertshaw

published: 25 / 6 / 2010

Willie Nelson - Beyond the Lighted Stage


‘Rush – Beyond the Lighted Stage’ is an award winning music documentary about the Canadian stadium act, Rush. Spencer Robertshaw finds it compelling and fascinating

I remember Rush from when I was knee high to an Afghan coat. They were the rock band that those in the know had embroidered on the back of their denim jackets. A band that made a massive sound despite there being only three of them and which had big, clever lyrics (written mostly by Neil Peart, the drummer) which went into many a strange land apart from the odd normal mainstream track such as ‘Working Man’. How could three people make so much noise and not just a wall of sound? ‘Rush – Beyond the Lighted Stage’ is an award winning music documentary with critical acclaim, which is very hard to achieve. Even if fans think the film is good, critics are a very different breed. Their very nature is to criticise the subject matter and they look for any mere flicker to scrutinise and jump on. So how did this one get through the net? Well, it got through because it is fascinating and here’s why… We start off from the beginning (and why not?). The film begins by telling how these geeky young lads begged their poor parents for their first instruments. Bassist, keyboardist and vocalist Geddy Lee’s family were holocaust survivors. Lead guitarist Alex Lifeson’s family were broke and borrowed the money for his first guitar, Neal Peart worked for the family business. His father could see his son’s dream and, like any good parent, helped him follow it, reminding his son that the store would always be there if it didn’t work out. It’s the start of a documentary with facts and little parts like this which make you want to know more. Rush’s first drummer John Rutsey had poor health, so he only has a small part to play at the start of the film. Neil Peart came along to an audition and, after he played his small four piece kit, left Lee and Lifeson dazed and confused in amazement. His playing was on a par with greats like Keith Moon and John Bonham and with that he signed on the dotted line and the journey began. The film has great historical reference points in both the individuals and the band’s development which are compelling enough to keep you watching. Cut with footage of the band playing and explanations of where the band was at the time of each album or major song, you really get taken along a path of great knowledge. It shows well how Rush progressed from church halls to massive sell out stadium tours and you really feel as though you could hold your own with one of the band’s big time fans in the way that the information is given to you –it is not hard to remember, another good sign of great film making. Neal Peart, as already mentioned, wrote most of the band’s lyrics and if you like clever lyrics then you are also in for a treat (I remember when I was a teenager listening to Tolkien-like stories of immortal kings going mad). The band don’t brag or big themselves up at all. In fact they take the piss out of themselves about what a set of geeks they were and laugh about how anyone could of wanted to come to their gigs and stood for the terrible outfits they used to wear. They thought the clothes at the time were “what they should wear.” We go from historical visits to old footage and interviews with the band’s parents, manager and producers and within all there is enough there for us viewers to start getting into the film more and more. Neal Peart’s daughter Selena died in a car crash in 1997 and his wife Jacqueline sadly passed away from cancer in 1998. The film shows how Peart tried to subsequently deal with it and find himself by going on a 55, 000 mile motorbike journey and just trying to be a normal guy and hide his identity. He explains that he is much comfortable talking to normal people in everyday situations than meeting and greeting fans – he can’t handle it. The idea and action put him at great unease and more often than not it will be Lee and Lifeson who sign autographs and have photographs taken with adoring fans . Rush fans are totally in love with the band. It is “the cult of Rush” which even has its own ‘Star Trek’ style conventions which has fans comparing stories and Karaoke singing to their favourite tracks. It’s absolutely bonkers, but brilliant to watch. We see deep into the personal sides of each band member, who love to laugh at themselves so much that it makes you warm to these three geeks who just happen to be in a super band which play to mammoth audiences in super bowl stadiums. There is good footage of the band in action which takes you on the road with them when they tour. showing how it really is and how hard it can be if you’re not “match fit.” The release comes with a second disc, which has some outtakes which were too good to be cut out, but didn’t fit in with the main film. It also includes footage of Rush performing a few tracks with John Rutsey when these young boys were still pretty raw and hungry. We also get to look at the musicians themselves and dig into the technical ability that they have. Neal Peart, despite being one of the world’s best drummers, just gets on with it. Whether using his original four piece kit or one bigger than the likes of John Bonham, it is never just for show. Geddy Lee is a fantastic bass player who is at home playing complicated jazz scales as he is rock riffs. Alex Lifeson is the same with his guitar. From the band’s start and initial mysterious musical journeys on their first few albums to their more standard later albums which could be aimed at a perhaps wider audience and had more mainstream targeted tracks (‘Spirit of the Radio)’, you are given a full explanation into the band’s development. The film is well made and has a quirky humour that is entertaining at the right times. It is roughly calculated that Rush have sold around 50 million units and have double figures in terms of Gold and Platinum albums ,being third behind the Beatle and The Rolling Stones – not bad for a band that most Beatles and Stones fans will not have heard of. If I had seen this at a friend’s house I would seriously consider buying a copy the next time I walked past whatever record store is still in business. There is something here for every intelligent music lover.

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