Erasing the Music of the Past

Jerry Lucky Commentary March 2014

Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2014 All Rights Reserved


I recently read a quote from Rush drummer Neil Peart who, while talking about the band’s early musical output, said: "Those were the growing years. I often equate that to children's drawings on the refrigerator that hang around too long, you know? I really wish they would just go away.  I think we really, given my druthers, I would make our first album "Moving Pictures."  I can't think of a single reason not to do that!" Here’s a “News-Flash” for Mr. Peart…I can think of quite a few reasons why not.


It’s an interesting comment though and one that I’m sure would create a fair amount of discussion within the Rush rank and file. As a Canadian, and thereby a Rush fan by birth I thought I’d weigh in on his comment because while I would say he has every right to feel and say this, I also think Neil’s more than a little off-the-mark. Especially for a thinking guy.


Look its one thing to look back on your career and want to distance yourself from your past efforts. We all do that. I managed to hang on to movie and music reviews I wrote back in the seventies and its a little cringe worthy reading them again. There’s plenty that I would write differently now. But that’s the thing isn’t it? It’s making those early efforts that matures and transforms your art. We learn from the mistakes we make and learn from the experiments we attempt. Not all of them will be successful, but all of them do go to make up who we end up being.


We love to as I once heard a historian say, “read history backwards.” – what he meant was we like to look at the past through the eyes of today and pass judgement on it. Except that “back then” we didn’t know what we know now. I think the historian was also saying that when we look at history it should be with the eye to looking forward not backward. It becomes a very slippery slope if we are “reading history backwards” because where do we begin to correct what we consider today to be the wrongs of the past. Furthermore every generation will likely be required to do the same and in the process it all becomes somewhat self-defeating. Rather than decrying the past as Neil has done, my history teacher would suggest to him we simply learn from the past.


The idea that Rush could actually start as a band with Moving Pictures is a bit ridiculous since everything they did up to that point is what made the album Moving Pictures what it is. Without the past recordings, there would be no Moving Pictures. Everything the band did beforeMoving Pictures musically, everything the band experienced before Moving Pictures all went into the process of making Moving Pictures what it is. Take away any one of those elements over the previous years and “the Butterfly Wings” effect takes place. Things change. That’s the peril of changing the past…change one thing and you potentially change everything.


Now something tells me Neil knows this. He is a very clever man. As to why he would say such an inflammatory thing one can only speculate. By saying it though he almost seems to be expressing an embarrassment of the music of his past. Yet I’m sure many of his fans, fans of those earlier albums would tend to vehemently disagree. Many out there in Rush-dom absolutely LOVE those early albums. Hey, I’m even quite sure there are fans who don’t like Moving Pictures and think the band’s career should actually start with Signals!


I have written in the past about how music is experiential. The music that we experience as we grow is inextricably linked to specific events so tightly that years later, for good or for bad, the hearing of a song will cause of flood of memories to envelop us. But it occurs to me that the experiential nature of music may be different for the creator of the music in question. I wonder if the effect is different when you are so closely tied to the music’s formation. The old adage about “being too close to the situation” may apply here. The musician or performer doesn’t experience the music the same way we do as hearers. Perhaps, just perhaps, unfortunately they never will. Their opinion is perhaps no less valid, but it comes from a completely different perspective.


It’s a bit sad really to think that the artist may never experience the same thrill from the music they create that we do when we hear it. Perhaps that’s why Neil feels the way he does. He’s never experienced those early albums like we have. If on the other hand that’s not the case, and I’ve got it all wrong, well, then I’m putting it down to Neil simply becoming old and cranky. At least that’s what I think.


Jerry Lucky  (3/4/14)