Lee, Lifeson and Peart of Rush as Perfect Professionals

What does it mean to be a professional? There are no doubt many thoughtful articles written by those of us in the legal sector that address this question, but I’m going to refer you to a movie about a rock band for the answer.

Rush – Beyond the Lighted Stage premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April and was released last week for home consumption. Directed by Sam Dunn and Scot McFayden, it tells a story about the 40-year and counting careers of bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer and lyricist Neil Peart – together, Canadian rock band Rush.

Lighted won the Heinekin Audience Award at Tribeca. The media seems to have accepted the film too, though reviews published in the National Post, Washington Post and New York Times are guarded, as if the papers’ media critics needed to preserve their credibility by speaking without a hint of the adoration shared by the band’s followers. More significantly for Slaw readers, each of these three reviews suggest that Lighted fails to explain what makes Rush and its three oh-so-normal personalities “tick.” Jon Carmanica of the Times, for example, says:

There are plenty of other questions left unanswered too. Mr. Lee, Mr. Lifeson and Mr. Peart are stunningly fluent technicians — a handful of the band’s live concert films capture the Rush experience in all its absurd glory — but how did they get that way? What prompted the turn toward mythical imagery that was a hallmark of the band’s strangest, best and most popular records? And didn’t the members ever fight? In the shadow of umpteen episodes of “Behind the Music” and the 2004 documentary “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster,” a fascinating and grating document of a band in mid-implosion, this simple love letter feels dim.

While attributing normalcy to Rush is appropriate, I suggest that Lighted includes many clues to the band’s motivation. The most profound is in the segment that describes the Rush’s efforts in producing the studio version of La Villa Strangiato – the nine minute long instrumental from the 1978 album Hemispheres. Lee and Lifeson tell Dunn and McFayden how the process of learning and recording the notoriously complex composition nearly broke them, following which they purposely retrenched by creating music less likely to test their personal stamina and young families.

Then there all the stories that give clues about what doesn’t motivate the band. Like the case Alex Lifeson made to his parents for dropping out of high school that rested on the importance of music over material possessions. Like Gene Simmons’ story about the Canadian boys’ straight-to-bed attitude during the days that Rush toured with Kiss. And like Geddy Lee’s story about the period of the “absurdly prophetic robes” – a period in the mid-70s in which the band bowed to pressure to look the part by wearing Japanese Kimonos first acquired on a trip to San Fransisco. These stories make clear that, for Rush, it’s not about the money, not about the girls and not about the glamour. Lee puts it most clearly in drawing a conclusion about the robes: “…you go on stage thinking that maybe there has to be some other thing, but in the end it is always back to the music for us.”

So that’s it. Lighted makes very clear that, for Rush, it’s about making the most out of each individual member’s musical talent as well as making the most out of whatever fate brought three individual musicians so suited to each other together. Yes it’s about the music, but it’s also about professionalism.

Professionalism is not the kind of motivation that makes a typical rock star. It could be the reason why Rush has been labeled with stuffy attributions like “normal” and “proficient.” However, even setting aside all their talent, Lee, Lifeson and Peart would still inspire awe as perfect professionals – ones with an ethic and closet full of robes to which any lawyer would aspire.


  1. Fairly early in the film they talk about how well-read Neil Peart was when he joined the band and how his ideas made it into the lyrics. I found it fascinating that he could inject new ideas and (perhaps) elevate the group even though Lee and Lifeson were already very close friends when he joined. Perhaps this shows how even an individual can affect the culture of an organization, and that a true professional makes things even better than they were.

    I enjoyed this post immensely, Dan.I saw this film recently in a rep cinema when I was in Ottawa; I figure I have secured my place in girl geekdom by seeing it without the requisite male companion. ;)

    I highly recommend this film for anyone interested in the history of rock in Ontario–some great insights.

  2. I can’t resist bragging that the Rush film was shot by my stepson, Martin Hawkes. He’s been the videographer on the Dunn and McFayden heavy metal films as well. All of which is nothing to do with me, of course, but since I don’t have to be professional about this, I’ll take a modicum of credit — just enough to feel proud.

  3. Such a small world, Simon! He did good. :)

  4. Cool comments. Thank you! Perhaps we need to pipe in some metal to our next Slaw get together? Before then I’ll find some more silliness to write about. D.