Clockwork Angels

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2012/06/13 by MarkInPDX

I became acquainted with Rush when I was about 13 or 14 years old, in eighth grade. My friend Landon, whose dad is a guitarist, initiated me via the Retrospective compilations (released in 1997 to promote the remaster of the band’s 1974 – 1987 catalog).
I have to admit, I was not impressed upon first listen. I’d grown up in a small, mostly white and conservative town. The only music I was exposed to growing up was what I heard when my parents played one of the Christian radio stations, playing bland, adult contemporary music about submitting to the will of the Lord and the evils of sin or whatever. Either that, or conservative talk radio. As I got a little older, I would sneak over to the radio to turn the dial over to the oldies station, 99 KXA, or the ‘forbidden’ pop station 103.9 KW3, which was a mix of ’80s and ‘90s pop. I would hear Everybody Wants to Rule the World, followed by December, then some Madonna or Matchbox 20 song. You get the idea.
Landon and another friend Austin, among others, introduced me to Weird Al and Monty Python. In middle school, Austin started listening to the Cranberries, AC/DC and the classic rock station 106.7. But back to KW3. At night, they had a playlist called the Alternative Heatwave. This was the summer of 2000 – they played Incubus, Radiohead, Deftones, Tool, stuff like that. Keep in mind, I came of age during the rise of NuMetal. Not all of it was bad, but Grunge 2.0 this was not. The good (Radiohead, Tool, etc.) stayed with me. In a way, those bands prepared me for Rush.
While all this was going on, I was still soaking in the briney, stale water that is the Christian music scene. Again, it wasn’t all bad, but let’s just say creativity is not fostered or encouraged. Our TV tuned in the Trinity Broadcast Network; there were a couple of programs that did their best to ape MTV, like Real Videos and later G-Rock (“’Cause No One Rocks Harder Than GOD!”) the Christian resonse to the Jackass/CKY phenomenon. It was kind of cool for what it was – nowhere near as good as the show it was trying to imulate, but alright. They played Christian punk rock like MxPx or Squad 5-0, sometimes POD and other NuMetal-wannabes.
So. This was my reality. Enter Rush.
Like I said,I wasn’t a fan at first, but Landon was relentless. He started playing Retrospective II, and it took awhile, but eventually I got hooked by songs like Red Barchetta, Time Stand Still, Subdivisions and Mystic Rhythms. I already loved what little ‘80s New Wave and synthpop KW3 had exposed me to growing up, and I could appreciate Rush because of it.
Some fans probably consider 1982 – 1987 a nadir for the band, musically, at least their *rock* fans. But I loved it. My friends and I loved Rush so much we decided to form a band ourselves – me on bass and vocals, Landon on guitar and Austin on drums.
Landon had the most talent of the three of us, having played the cello since the third grade. He went on to perform win awards at state championships in high school. Austin’s dad used to play for the Seattle Seahawks in the early ‘80s, and Austin inherited a lot of his dad’s athletic ability. Austin is a cool guy – totally humble and down to earth. Like I said he was kind of a jock, but such was the commitment to our middle school band that he joined the drum line to learn how to play. And me? I was what you’d call full of shit. I didn’t even buy a bass until I was 19 years old. Can I play it? No. Has it stopped me from buying an electric guitar that looks like a matte black version of one of Alex Lifeson’s Gibson ES-335s? Nope.
I was a band geek for four years, starting in seventh grade. I wanted to play the trumpet, since they always had the melody, but my dad wanted me to play trombone, since he did as a kid. I hated it. When I started, there were only two other kids who played, sixth graders. One of them was this annoying twerp ‘Drew‘ and the other was a girl who quit after a month. I never practiced consistently. Like I said, I pretty much hated playing the trombone.
The town I lived in had a decent punk scene one of my friends Ryan was a big part of. The third wave of ska had already risen and crested in the mid ‘90s, but in my town it was still popular among the Christian kids well into the early 2000s. The fact that I played trombone meant I could have formed a half-ass ska-punk band, but I never did.
The next bit of Rush I listened to was their 1998 live album Different Stages. I’d never heard any of their material after 1987 and I didn’t really know what to make of it. Time went on.
Of course I had other geeky interests, mainly Star Wars, Weird Al and James Bond movies. I had a paper route too that I had to quit when I joined the high school marching band. That was when I started being exposed to serious geekery.
I was pretty much a loner. I was two years older than Austin and Landon, they were seventh graders when I was a freshman. The nice thing about being in band was that it gave me contact with other stunted loners, at least the other freshmen in my section, low brass, were. This was 2000-2001, everyone was listening to System of a Down, Linkin Park and complaining how Metallica had ‘sold out.’ The upperclassmen in low brass were mostly potheads who still loved Sublime and Rage Against the Machine, some were Dave Matthews fans *shudder*.
I was exposed to anything from Iced Earth (okay) to some really crappy symphonic metal, Marilyn Manson (the devil’s music!), Silverchair, and a lot of really bad cult films like Hackers.
I rode on the Color Guard bus, aka the ‘gay bus.’ I’m not proud of myself in hindsight, but I was a pretty typical teenage dick. Any and everything uncool or that made me feel weird was instantly labeled ‘gay.’ I never used the terms ‘fag/faggot’ or ‘queer,’ but mostly because I thought they were really *bad* words, worse than ‘shit,’ ‘fuck’ and right up there with the N-word. Anyway, Color Guard. It was only considered ‘gay’ because there were a couple of guys in it at any given time and they were, in fact, into other guys.  My friend, ‘Nikki,’ a peppy blonde who was also in Color Guard, told me one time that the captian, ‘Jeremie,’ said I had a nice ass. I was confused – flattered on the one hand, but annoyed that none of the girls had ever said anything. (#Humble Brag ). But I digress.
We were a marching band, but we did field competitions. We played a set about 15-20 minutes long and marched in formation on the football field. We traveled around the state on weekends to compete. My family was kind of poor when I was in middle and high school; my dad cycled through jobs every two years or so. Having spending money was an extreme luxury. My parents gave me a twenty to get food all day, and after a competition in Seattle, the band stopped at a mall. I bought my first Rush CD, the 1997 remaster of 2112 at a Sam Goody for maybe $10.99.
This brought my Rush collection up to burned copies of Retrospective I, II and burned copies of all three Different Stages discs, and now 2112. That winter I was in Portland with my family. It was 2001 and Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Rings had just come out. I bought Fly by Night (remastered) for eleven dollars at a Fred Meyer on 82nd Ave with some Christmas money. I was in extasy when first heard the cheesy glory that is Rivendell. Later I bought Hemispheres and A Farewell to Kings, both remastered.
My sophomore year, the band traveled to Victoria BC to march in the Victoria Day parade. I bought four Rush CDs – Caress of Steel, Signals (both remastered), the original CD pressings of Moving Pictures and Grace Under Pressure. I listened to Afterimage on repeat all the way home. I quit band at the end of the year. My grades were lousy and I was ready for a change. That May, Vapor Trails had been released. Landon bought it and I cherished my burned copy. We listened to that CD all summer. To this day, that is still one of my all-time favorite Rush albums.
That summer, I had a job at A&W/KFC for all of three weeks, then wrecked the family car, a 1991 ‘champagne’ colored Honda Accord. I loved that car. That August, another radio station, 102.1, held a contest for Rush tickets. Austin’s mom entered and won. It was awesome! We went to see in them at the Gorge in September. I bought a white Starman t-shirt that my dad made me get rid of because it had a ‘satanic symbol.’ I told dad it was a symbol of *resisting* the star, and besides, to be considered a satanic symbol, the pentagram had to be facing upside down, overlaid with the face of Baphomet. Didn’t matter. “Rush is a SATANIC BAND! You will be in danger of God’s wrath if you continue to fall under their influence!” Oddly enough, he never seemed all that bothered by the naked guy. Hmm.
My junior and senior years of high school were great for many reasons, mostly because Austin and Landon were in the shit with me now. Austin played football, basketball and ran track; Landon did orchestra. I took another direction and joined the freshman boy’s ‘men’s chorus’ Bass Clef, which Austin also joined. I was a tenor from the word go. Austin was a bass. I tried hard to push my voice into a lower register so I could sit next to him in class, but no dice. I somehow managed to get maybe an octave and a half lower by impersonating a crooning lounge singer. I tried out for the elite choir at the end of junior year as a baritone and was amazed to be accepted. Of course, the whole reason I did it was to hang out with Austin, and he went into Bel Canto instead of Chamber Singers like me. I am a natural mid-range tenor, so to be in the Bass section was kind of a joke. But it all worked out because the majority of the tenors were douche bags anyway.
Senior year, the Chamber Singers got to sing in Carnegie Hall. It was quite an honor (we were really good) and it was the first time I had ever been to New York. I bought the remastered CDs of Hold Your Fire and A Show of Hands at the Virgin superstore in Manhattan. I also had some honest to god spending money as I finally had my first ’real job’ at Fred Meyer. That job was great because it finally allowed me to buy all the CDs I ever wanted.
My dad wasn’t happy about all this ‘secular’ music I was listening to. He said it had ‘messages’ which were ‘ungodly.’ Uh huh. One day, he built a fire in the back yard barbecue pit and forced me to bring down all my non-Christian CDs to throw in it. I ran upstairs and threw all my Rush CDs that I couldn’t part with deep under my bed and in a hole in my closet. I brought down an armful of CDs I didn’t like that much and tossed them in. I regret that one of them was the original version of Test for Echo. I bought the 2004 remaster since, but the idea that I had to is just sad.
Back to Rush. I was 21 years old, fresh off a trip to Uganda with a Christian mission organization, living on the couch of my sister’s one room apartment in Lake Oswego in 2007 when Snakes & Arrows came out. That album helped me to let go of all the religious bullshit that had been forced on me and some that I‘d willingly bought into. It was a hard and painful process that left me open and vulnerable. Letting go of a cherished illusion like that was like a bad break up with no closure. But I really embraced Faithless and Armor and Sword. I also had help from my sister who had gone through the same thing when she was the age I was at the time. But that’s her story.
I bought a ticket to see them at the Clark County Amphitheater (now the Sleep Country Amphitheater) by myself. It was a little awkward, but at least I wasn’t worried that dad would make me throw away my tour t-shirt.
I eventually met a girl and soon fell in love with her. I was on the verge of proposing to her after only ten months (how naïve was I?) but in my heart I knew she didn’t love me as much as I did her and I broke up with her instead. Despite the fact that I was the ’dumper,’ I was in the worst emotional pain of my life up to that point, way worse than losing my religion. A few months later I met another girl and five months into this new rebound relationship, she got pregnant.
I did what I thought at the time was the right thing. I proposed to her with the ring I had bought for my ex. Douche move, I know, but under the circumstance it was the best I could do. She accepted and we got married in a courthouse in Hillsboro. My son was born late July, 2009. We couldn’t afford rent anymore and had to move in with my aunt in Happy Valley.
Months after that, I lost my job and, temporarily, my mind. I was actually in the psych ward for a few days because I was becoming violent and cracked out from the Adderall I was prescribed for ADHD. Two months after I was laid off, my wife lost her dad. It sucked because he only got to see his grandson twice. I didn’t know him very long, but he was a good guy. Losing him really wrecked my wife.
A lot of other shit was catapulted into the proverbial fan for the next three years. On the plus side, I went back to college and finally have all but one science credit. I‘ll just take it at PSU. We had a daughter last year, one year after my father in law died. She was born with a small hole in her heart, a condition known as a Vertical Septal Defect (VSD); and some digestive system issues. She’s super tiny, but thriving, just had her first birthday last March.
Also, after being in and out of marriage counseling pretty much from the time we got married, my wife and I are finally getting divorced. It was a long time coming, and I don’t think anyone who knows us very well is surprised at all. Nevertheless it sucks. On the hand, I’m relieved to be able to move on, on the other, I’m heartbroken and depressed.
In other news, Clockwork Angels was released today… er, yesterday now. I really like the album so far, especially the title track. It’s a good distraction from the shit I’m sorting out. It sounds like Snakes & Arrows, production-wise, but a lot more, well, proggier.
Through all the crap in my life, Rush’s music has been there. I started writing this thinking I would review Clockwork Angels, but instead I wound up pouring my heart out. I haven’t touched this page in about two years maybe. School, domestic drama and trying to raise my kids has taken all my energy.
I don’t know exactly what my future holds, but I do know a million ways to fuck up your life. And I know that despite the fucked-up-ed-ness of it all, life can still be pretty awesome. Its time for me to be me. This year I begin my Headlong Flight.

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