I tagged along with the neighborhood rocker when he went to score some weed one day when I was about 11 or 12. His dealer was a serious freak, which was what the full-time smoker was referred to back in those days. A really heavy cat. Dark, scary dude. Bordering on evil. While they sampled the product and made the deal, the dealer played Rush‘s 2112 on his monster stereo. Cranked the shit. It instantly blew my little mind. Completely.
Giant monstrous humbucker guitar blasting away with all that trippy delay. Big bold bass snaking everywhere but still holding everything together confidently. And the drums? 2112 is one of the albums that set the bar for rock drumming on planet Earth. Percussion you could have never even imagined in your wildest dreams. So clean. So tight. And yet so effortlessly fluid at the same time. (How many drummers did this album spawn? How many air drummers? I’d say damn near most of them out there.) Undeniably one of the greatest rock drummers of all time. Ask any dude at least 25 years-old on any street in the world who the trap kit king is. Dollars to donuts they’ll tell you it’s my man, Neil. Because he is. He burns, man. Burns. He lights that album on fire. Whipping on those toms like a mad man. And one the most distinct high register voices of all time cutting through everything. So unique. So tonally fitting for the music. And singing about such cool shit. Stuff with depth and intelligence. Something besides partying down and getting laid. When I first heard it, I was sure Geddy had to be a female. There was no way a man could get up that high with that much power. But when the weed man assured me he was all man — the bass man, at that — I was floored. Between the smoke drifting around in the air, the heavy weight company I was with, and the biggest, heaviest, hardest, balls-out stadium rawk blasting forth from the baddest speakers weed money could buy, my top was officially blown. That was one of those little life moments that really had a profound effect on me and my musical development. A right of passage. An epiphany, dare I say.
Side two was cool, especially the marijuana anthem “A Passage to Bangkok,” and the rocking closer, “Something for Nothing,” but for me, “2112” (parts I through VII) on side one is where all the real gold is. It was my first experience with the concept album. And that concept is one that I have identified most with my entire life. From that moment until today. “The sensitive, alienated artist who’s world can’t fathom his intentions and can’t understand his art so he quietly plays his songs to and for himself away in self imposed isolation with a heavy heart…” As the dealer smoked, he became a little more friendly and broke the story down to me along the way: In the future, a young man finds a guitar and teaches himself to play it in a supposed Utopian society and goes to show the people he respects the most and assumes will appreciate his find and his playing but they shun him for it. Which breaks his heart. He falls asleep and has a vision where he is shown life and art and love and peace and happiness as it once truly existed and still does in other worlds and times and dimensions. Where creativity is magical and revered and encouraged and celebrated. Where the spirit of man was wondrous. And minds were hungry and hearts and eyes were open. He awakes inspired and hopeful to one day see and know these things for himself, but simply cannot bring himself to be a part of a bullshit world where mediocrity and complacency and immediately gratifying distractions and control and submission and meaninglessness are not only are accepted but held in high regard. So he leaves and lives a quiet, reclusive existence in nature playing his music and awaiting the day his soul can join up with the magic of the elders he saw in his dream.
I thought that was fucking brilliant. And beautiful. I thought I was that guy. As stupid as it probably sounds, I actually feel like that even more today. On a heavy day, 2112 can almost bring a tear to my eyes. Every once in a while you can identify and connect with a piece of art — a song, an album, a book, a movie, a painting, etc. — so much that it becomes part of the fabric of what makes you you. This album was and is that for me. (One time I asked my old drummer from the Secrets, Brother, what that was for him. He said it was the song “I’m a Girl Watcher.”)
But 2112 also did something I have rarely seen done before or since. It unified two of the strangest groups of people this world has ever known. The freaks and the nerds. Never before had the Medieval Times obsessed, math and science clubbing, girl-fearing, Star Trek-loving, audio/visual teckies and the ass kicking, dope smoking, skirt chasing, wood shop taking, class cutting, hell raisers stood proudly and served together under one banner. You know what banner I’m talking about. The one with the naked guy in front of the big red star. (Was he cowering in fear or taken aback with awe? I could never tell.) The Rush Army is a strange lot. Johnny Throat-Slitter will be rocking out right beside Nerdy Ned, The Human Calculator like it was nothing. Where normally the freaks would have eaten the geeks just for something to do while they drank beer, now they were actually on the same team with them. A very strange pairing: switchblades and dungeons and dragons. That’s the beautiful power of prog rock hard at work.
Rush was a band that if you liked, you loved. For life. And if you didn’t, you just didn’t get at all. You were either a fanatic and knew every word and drum fill or you didn’t dig on them ever. (You may have thought the beginning of “Tom Sawyer” was kind of cool.) And girls? No. The only ones involved were the throat-slitters’ old ladies. By default. Wondering what the fuck all this weird shit was all about. (The recent movie I Love You, Man has a hilarious scene in it about this very thing. A must-see for any Rush fan.) I was a fanatic. Completely obsessed from that day forward. They lost me at Signals. (I saw it coming from as far back as Hemispheres.) But everything up until then, they had me hook, line, and sinker. All the World’s a Stage ended up being the big one for me. It had pretty much all of 2112 on it. And all the rest of their best stuff. I was always blown away by how well they pulled all that shit off live. But it was 2112 that started it all for me. I thank God for the moment I heard it. It definitely changed my life.