Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Summer Albums: Exit...Stage Left

I was 12 and entering the 7th grade when I moved to Germany.  I was well versed in Top 40 hits but then I met Gilbert. 

I’m sure everyone can point to a few people who influenced them in the music they listen to. I’ve read so many stories about an older sibling influencing many of the musicians I listened to growing up and also to this day.  My father undoubtedly had a huge influence on me, especially the country music he would play.  He liked the rock, but I think he was geared more towards rock on Top 40 radio.

But Gilbert was a kid my age.  I would bring him tapes and he would load them up with stuff.  I was interested in AC/DC.  Gilbert also introduced me to Rainbow and then, I’m not quite sure, but I thought it was he who also suggested Rush to me.

I can’t pinpoint if there was a specific song, or maybe he let me borrow a tape.  But that first summer in Germany, between 7th and 8th grade, my soundtrack was Rush’s Exit…Stage Left.

Live albums in the 80s were sort of like the “Greatest Hits” for rock bands.  In Rush’s case, as far as I could tell by studying the backs of the records for dates, they recorded 4 studio albums then released a live album.

I lived in a newer area of a small town in Germany.  We rented a house that had 3 or 4 tiny apartments below it.  We had no yard, really, to speak of.  The front “yard” was mostly ground cover plants.  Same for the back yard.  It was a wide sidewalk made of pebbled concrete with ground cover for the remaining yard.  It didn’t seem out of place to me at the time.  We had a playground 2 houses down, and the following year they built another park about a block away that had a grassy field that butted up against a wooded area with trails.

The following summers I would have a Summer Hire job, where I would travel to work with my folks and usually work in some kind of food service capacity.  But that first summer, I was left to my own devices, and I would spend it listening to music and trying to find friends to hang out with.

Summers where I lived in Germany were warm, but not too hot, and the rainy days were mild as well, with not a lot of thunderstorms, as far as I can recall.  Whenever the days are overcast during the summer months, I am reminded of this album, because of the song, “Jacob’s Ladder”, which is about a thunderstorm.  I remember actually cueing up that song when it would become overcast.  Let me assure you, it was very dramatic.

The first thing I noticed about this live album was that it did not have the continuous crowd noise all the way through.  I’m not sure I figured it out early, but later, when I would construct mix tapes, this was a blessing, because I wouldn’t have that hard crowd noise coming in when I wanted to add a song from a live album (yes, I would always to prefer using the studio version of a song, but if I didn’t HAVE the studio version, or if the live version was better, then I would use it).

I rather enjoy Geddy Lee’s brief banter before some of the songs;  “This is a song about a car, this is called ‘Red Barchetta’.”

I recorded this album to a tape, and I remember listening to it on my sister’s Walkman.  It wasn’t a Sony, though, it was a KLH and was the size of an English textbook.  I think it used like 8 AA batteries.  You could crank up the volume on “Broon’s Bane” and I remember it sounding so great. Of course, that segued right into “The Trees”.

I was never a fan of instrumentals until later in life.  Sure, “YYZ” is great, but I never knew how regarded “La Villa Strangiato” was for it’s technical prowess.  “Xanadu” seemed overly long, but again, I rather enjoy the dynamics and feel of the song.

With the recent storms we’ve been having, as well as the weather getting warmer, I was again reminded of this album and wanted to revisit it.  

The album takes selections from 2112 to Moving Pictures (as well as “Closer to the Heart” and “Beneath, Between and Behind” from Fly By Night). For me, this was my favorite period of Rush albums.  I am also quite fond of Signals but from that point on, they progressed their music to include more “world” influences and I was diving deeper into more gritty music.  I would not have gotten there, however, without my friend, Gilbert.