When Rush's Geddy Lee sang, "It seems to me I could live my life a lot better than I think I am" on "Working Man" from the band's 1974 eponymous debut, he couldn't have possibly imagined what lay ahead.
His band was struggling, he had yet to meet his longtime lyricist and drummer extraordinaire, Neil Peart, and the mere thought of someday releasing a double DVD like the new "R30" — which celebrates the band's 30-year career — was less a pipe dream than a crazy acid trip. At the time, Lee's musical dreams consisted of getting his group out of the Toronto bar scene and onto some proper club stages so he could earn enough cash to pay his rent.
"In the early days, we frequently found ourselves unemployed, and when we really needed some dough, [guitarist] Alex [Lifeson] and I would get some extra work," Lee recalled. "Once, we painted a movie theater, but that was the closest I ever really came to having a day job."
In the three decades that followed, Rush more than lived up to the lyrical hope of "Working Man," selling more than 30 million records worldwide and playing countless shows to millions of fans. But while their glories have been many, there have also been agonizing setbacks. The most heartbreaking were the tragic deaths of drummer Peart's wife and daughter, which resulted in the band's six-year hibernation prior to 2002's Vapor Trails.
"It's somewhat of a miracle that we carried on after that, to be honest," Lee said. "We were all pretty well convinced that was the end of the line. But fortunately, to a certain extent, time heals, and we were able to have another stab at it."
The tours for Vapor Trails marked a rebirth that encapsulated all that Rush had achieved. The shows were captured on video, both on the 2003 DVD "Rush in Rio" and on the new double CD and DVD package "R30," which debuted at #2 on the Billboard video chart, right behind Green Day. The first disc of "R30" is a concert filmed in Frankfurt, Germany, on September 24, 2004, and songs span the band's eclectic career — from early numbers like "Working Man" and "2112" right on through to "Earthshine" from Vapor Trails. The concert also includes Blue Cheer's "Summertime Blues" and Robert Johnson's "Crossroads" from Rush's 2004 covers EP, Feedback.
While "Rush in Rio" was shot in Brazil in order to capture the sights and sounds of the band's festival concert there, Frankfurt was chosen as the setting for "R30" simply because the band was running out of shows to film.
"We have a tendency of screwing these decisions up pretty well," explained Lee. "At the beginning of the tour, I said, 'Hey, are we gonna film any of these shows? And if we are, let's plan it now, well in advance.' And everybody said, 'Well, we just put out "Rio." Why do we want to do two DVDs back to back? Let's just go out there and have fun.' Then, of course, we were halfway through the tour and were playing really well and the crowds were great and everyone says, 'Hey, let's record this for posterity in case we get hit by a bus or something.' So, we about-face and throw the plans together to film the show in Frankfurt since we were just about done with the American tour."
Fans might ask the same question the bandmembers were pondering before the beginning of the 30th anniversary tour: Why release two DVDs back to back? After all, there has been no new original material released since "Rush in Rio," and the two sets were pretty similar. "We did 'Rush in Rio' with very low-tech gear, and the goal was really to capture this big outdoor event," explained Lee. "This DVD was much more about taping the R30 tour with good gear to get more clarity and precision in the recording."
As accurately as the "R30" concert DVD chronicles the band's career, it's the second disc that provides the real history lesson. The DVD features five interviews with the bandmembers, filmed in 1979, 1981, 1990, 1994 and 2002, and nine live clips shot over the years. The earliest, "Find My Way" and "In the Mood," were taken from a 1975 airing of the show "Don Kirshner's Rock Concert," and the most recent, "Closer to the Heart," was filmed at the 2005 tsunami benefit concert "From Canada for Asia." Other highlights include full performances of "A Farewell to Kings" and "Xanadu," in which the bandmembers are clad in flowing robes that make it look like they just stepped out of the shower.
"There's some funny stuff on there," admitted Lee. "For me to watch it is really psychedelic. It's so strange to see some of the old performances and the interview clips: how we look and how we talk and how young we were and bad haircuts, big glasses. I thought I was so grown up and complete as a person, but I look back now, and man, we were just kids."
Maybe so, but they were kids with a mission. Between 1974 and 1985 the group released 11 studio records and two multidisc concert albums, and when they weren't in the studio they were on the road. "We were just mental," Lee said. "We always felt we had something to prove. We were never a darling of radio, so the idea for us was to get out in front of people, which meant being on tour. But that was fine. We didn't need much impetus to get us going. That whole lifestyle was completely intoxicating, and we were total workaholics."
Today, life is different. The bandmembers have wives, kids and pursuits outside the band. So as Rush face the prospect of starting work on the follow-up to Vapor Trails, they're understandably ambivalent. "The whole process of writing, recording and getting ready for a tour is usually a two-year process, and that's somewhat daunting," Lee said. "In many ways, we have to psych ourselves up to begin, but once we start working together, it feels like it always did."
Recently, Lee, Lifeson and Peart have been getting their home studios ready to start writing, and in January they plan to begin the collaborative process. While Lee hasn't a clue what the record will sound like, he wants to capture some of the freshness and spontaneity of Feedback. "There's a great spirit on that record, and I'd like to kind of learn from that," he said. "But that's a very abstract thing. When we sit down to make a record, we have these conversations at the beginning, and then the record takes its own life and bears little resemblance to the conversations you had in the beginning."
Lee hopes the band will write quickly and have the new album ready for a summer 2006 release. However, he's not sure it's a realistic goal. "Vapor Trails took 14 months and Feedback took three weeks, so at this stage it's safe to say that we have no idea when the next one will be ready."