Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage
Directed And Co-Written: Sam Dunn, Scot McFadyen
Produced by: Banger Films
Review by Chris Galea
“I always like to consider us the world’s most popular cult band.”
(Geddy Lee in “Beyond The Lighted Stage.)
Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen have produced a string of documentaries related to Heavy Metal, such as “Global Metal” and “Iron Maiden: Flight 666”. The two are Canadian so it was no surprise that at one point they would make a feature on one of the biggest bands to emerge from Canada: Rush. The duo’s knowledge, passion and dedication for the band helps make “Beyond The Lighted Stage” an engrossing account of the history of this longstanding power trio.
The documentary starts by looking at the band’s roots in Toronto and Ontario. Geddy Lee (bass/keyboards/lead vocals) and Alex Lifeson (guitars) visit the school basement where they first performed live together and where they formed a friendship that would last a lifetime. At the same time, we get to hear audio clips of some very early recordings of Geddy and Alex, which I thought was all quite fascinating.
Both their mothers reminisce on their sons’ first steps into learning their respective crafts. They admit being befuddled as to why young Geddy and Alex were giving music so much attention but ultimately both were quite supportive of their sons’ endeavours. We learn from the documentary that both their families came from harsh background. For example, Geddy’s parents were WW2 holocaust survivors….perhaps that was partly why the band endeared itself to Kiss’ Gene Simmons (Gene’s own mother was a concentration camp survivor).
“Beyond The Lighted Stage” provides quite a comprehensive insight into the band. Amongst other things it discusses the tenure and dismissal of Rush’s first drummer, John Rutsey. Then it focuses on each band member individually in an attempt to learn more about their personalities, motivations and salient memories. The documentary then moves the spotlight onto Neil Peart who, on being recruited as Rutsey’s replacement, had just 2 weeks to learn Rush’s existing repertoire before that line-up’s first gig: in front of 11000 people supporting Uriah Heep and Manfred Mann. Of course, since then, Peart has become a benchmark for aspiring drummers around the world as well as a highly respected lyricist.
The documentary shares lots of amusing stories about life on the road with Rush. Of course it also sheds light on the band’s repertoire, such as “2112”, the crucial album that cemented Rush’s credibility with music industry boffins as well as asserting the band members’ reputation as musicians in the eyes of die-hard fans.
Meanwhile the band is forthright enough to acknowledge that fans don’t always react positively to their albums but this to be expected because Rush never repeated themselves, musically speaking. In fact, as one journalist puts it: “Nobody could really put a finger on what they were.” Curiously that same journalist – who used to host a 1-hour Heavy Metal radio show back in the early 1980’s – is today chief White House Correspondent for Fox News.
Numerous personalities and well-known musicians offer their take on the band and its music….fans, journalists, Rush’s manager, Mick Box, Mike Portnoy, Trent Reznor, Gene Simmons, Sebastian Bach and Billy Corgan amongst many others. Extensive trivia…whether sad, funny or tragic…is balanced with lots of live music and a good deal of insight.
Along with triumphant moments, “Beyond The Lighted Stage” also covers some dark periods in Rush’s history, chief of which was when Neil Peart lost two members of his family in a short space of time. The way the trio handled that situation contextualises the endurance of the band’s line-up. On his subject Les Claypool, Primus bassist, says, “It’s spectacular to see 3 guys tolerate each other for all these years and still make good music.”
While providing convincing arguments on the influence of Rush on contemporary music, “Beyond the Lighted Stage” is primarily about the three down to earth and open-minded musicians that lay behind the music. Neil Peart confesses that Rush was never so arrogant that the guys wouldn’t allow themselves to be influenced by other musicians and by other music. Indeed, he says: “There was no such thing as ‘that didn’t suit Rush’. Those words have never been uttered.”
Another thing that I observed is that Lee, Lifeson and Peart never expected success to fall into their laps. They all seemed to have an ingrained attitude that ambitions could only be attained through hard work and a steadfast determination. In all honesty I found it very hard to pull myself away from the screen, so intriguing is this documentary. And excellently edited too.
The ending of “Beyond The Lighted Stage” is a very endearing and befitting way to round off the documentary. Since its release, Neil Peart has passed away (in January 2020) and Rush is no more but the band’s legacy endures…a factor which might validate Geddy Lee’s description of Rush as a ‘cult band’.
Watch the trailer here:
The 40th Anniversary Edition of “Permanent Waves” by Rush is available now:
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