30 October 2008

Don't fear the reaper

I got an email from a friend telling me that Rush's Hemispheres is 30 years old.

(Same friend who asked me if I'd seen the Moving Pictures tour, looked at me again, and then said, "No way, you'd have been too young." Dear man, I will adore you always for that!)

I avoid the total fangirl posts (but I'm a rotten fan in that I don't keep track of how old records are, what exact songs were played each tour--look, I'm lucky if I remember what day it is when I get up in the morning--don't visit message boards, etc. However, I'm a great fan in that I buy all the records, tapes, CDs, mp3s and play them until they fall apart (or until the spouse hides them from me, which is what happened with Counterparts) and I have to buy another copy. And I go to concerts. Geez, do I go to concerts.)



I was a young teen when Hemispheres came out. I had very little discretionary income in those days, mostly what I could earn babysitting and watering people's yards when they went out of town, and most of that went to keeping me decently clothed. So records were precious and rare in my youth. But that didn't stop me from hanging out in record stores, digging through the bins, checking out the artwork, reading song titles and album notes, and keeping mental lists of what I would buy someday.

A year later, autumn 1979, I was on deadline to choose music for a solo I had to choreograph (that's what happens in dance classes. My grade was dependent on a solo I had to choreograph for myself and perform the following spring). The dance teacher decided I needed to be pushed a little out of the box at that point, and told me my piece had to be classical--even though it was a modern dance class. I was also banned from classical lite (think Tchaikovsky).

So there I was standing in the Wherehouse at Park Mall, early evening, cradling a Bach album in my arms.

I had $10.

Albums in those days cost about $3.98. I'd given myself the gift of choosing a second album since I was being forced to spend my hard earned cash on something for school.

What do I remember about that evening? I was hungry because in those days I tended to skip lunch in order to get homework done. I was tired because it was one of the days that I had six hours of dance in addition to a full load of academic classes, and whatever effervescence I'd gotten from my afternoon TAB had long since run out. I remember how the fluorescent lights in the store seemed so harsh.

What do I really remember? I was wearing a dress! Which may be why the clerk started talking to me.

I was running my fingers over the records in the bins, thinking about what I wanted to buy (something loud...). In the rack above the bin was Hemispheres. In the rack next to it was Blue Oyster Cult's Agents of Fortune.

I took the Hemispheres LP down from the rack, tracing the contours of the brain on the cover with my fingertip. That cover art just screamed at me. That cover art was my life.

(Which is at least one reason why I remember this particular occasion so well.)

My parents had little patience for me in general, but even less with the way I liked to juggle my life. In their view, my life was to be going to church, succeeding academically and becoming a lawyer (their random career choice for me), and dating one of the nice young men in the CYO group. It wasn't supposed to be dancing and performing, excelling academically in everything--especially math and science, working at the local PBS TV station, and persistently hanging out with nice young men of the wrong religion (come to think of it, I don't believe I ever dated a Catholic).

I looked at Agents of Fortune. I liked "Don't Fear The Reaper," which I'd heard on the local AOR station.

"Get Hemispheres," said the clerk, a tall, very skinny young man with wire rim glasses and a blonde Afro.

"Hmm," I replied. The real issue was I knew a song on the BOC album. I didn't get to buy albums very often...

"Really. Get Hemispheres," the clerk persisted, looking slightly doubtfully at the Bach album I was holding. "You'll like it."

So the story should end with me bearing off Hemispheres in triumph, a confirmed Rush fan for life.


I bought the Blue Oyster Cult album. Rush had to wait another few years ("Tom Sawyer," of course. Just how irresistible would that line "mind is not for rent to any god or government" be to an older teenage pain in the neck like me? And believe me, by then I'd established exactly how big a pain in the neck I could be). Signals was the album that claimed me for good.

(The son has just discovered that album, after hearing "The Analog Kid" on the radio a few weeks ago, and suddenly he's listening to Rush like he's found a new religion.)

Agents of Fortune? I listened to "Don't Fear the Reaper." I didn't find the rest of the album very compelling.

I performed my solo to Bach's "Little Fugue in G Minor" in March 1980. It's a beautifully triumphant and moving piece of music, and I still listen to that album. I got an "A" in the class.

In 2002, I unintentionally put on a performance to Rush's "Circumstances" for several neighbors. I had no idea anyone was standing outside the window, but while grand jeté-ing the length of the house, I caught sight of them standing there, mouths ajar.

I have no idea what they thought, but I gave myself an "A" just for the shock value.

Go listen to some good music: "Don't Fear the Reaper" from the album Agents of Fortune by Blue Oyster Cult.

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