Real Music

OK, silly, meandering bit of nostalgia here. Meant to post it just before March Break, but didn’t get around to it.

The Friday before March Break this year was the 30th anniversary of the day I always point to as when I finally discovered “real” music.

Sure, before that I listened to stuff. But it was mostly radio pop: things I haven’t really had any interest in revisiting since I was a kid. You know: Duran Duran, Heart, Honeymoon Suite, Platinum Blonde (mid-80s radio pop, this was current then!) I guess you could say the first “serious” record I bought was U2’s The Joshua Tree in 1987, but though I liked it, I can’t say it hit me as anything extraordinary. Parts are excellent, parts are meh.

But the morning of the Friday before March Break in 1988, I turned on MuchMusic while we were getting ready to hit the road for Niagara Falls to spend a few days with Grandpa and Lottie. And this video came on.

Now, I’d heard a couple of Rush songs on the radio and seen a couple of cheesy videos (‘Distant Early Warning’ and ‘The Big Money’, and I suspect ‘Mystic Rhythms’). Maybe it was the videos, but they didn’t make an impression on me.

This one did. And it’s not even one of their particularly well-known songs.

I know it’s silly, but at the time I’d literally never heard anything like this. The bass is playing the lead part in the verses, with the guitar doing atmospherics. The drums are wonderfully elaborate. The progression of the whole piece makes for a wonderful build and release. And the vocals are great, too. Never struck me for a second that Geddy was thought to have a “weird” voice.

Anyway, we got on the road and stopped for lunch or something at the Orillia Square Mall. I went into the record store there and wouldn’t you know it: A Show of Hands is there on the new release wall, cartoony cover art making it look very approachable. I bought the CD — the first one I bought for myself, even though I didn’t have my own CD player yet — because I knew that cassette wasn’t appropriate for this one.

Lottie’s son Blair was living with her and Grandpa at the time, and he had a great stereo that he let me use; I listened to the whole album a couple of times over the weekend, louder than I should have. Those three songs I’d been vaguely aware of earlier were on it, but I got them that time. More important, there were tons of songs I’d never heard that I instantly fell in love with. Among their live albums it’s not held in high regard, but for me I think it’s got the definitive versions of a lot of their 80s songs.

After that, of course, I started catching up with recent Rush. Also on CD, though I only got my own CD player that fall, after a summer of working in dad’s lab.

Rush, of course, led to Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and more, just in time for me to escape high school just as grunge was happening. I spent more time digging through record stores than almost anywhere else while I was in Toronto.

Since then, of course, my tastes have diversified quite a bit; I may seem fixated on Steven Wilson and his various projects at times, but it’s only because at the moment his stuff consistently clicks for me like Rush did back in 1988. In reality, I’ve got a pretty weird collection of stuff, most of which I know would just make you all look at me funny. Funnier than usual, I mean.

I kind of regret that I didn’t truly get into music earlier; I only got serious when I was 16 or 17. I also kind of regret that the stuff that truly worked for me was the sort of thing I’d never have the slightest chance of learning to play myself. But on the other hand, I was (and remain) into stuff that really rewards close listening, and has enough depth that I’m still noticing new details years later.