By Rick Coates
Filmmakers Sam Dunn and Scot McFayden will be in Traverse City this week with their latest project Rush: Behind The Lighted Stage, an intimate look at one of rock musics most influential yet often misunderstood bands. The documentary gives an insiders look and unprecedented access to the Canadian power trios musical journey through the decades.
The film will screen Friday night at 9 p.m. and Saturday at 11:59 p.m. with Dunn and McFayden appearing at both screenings as well as at the panel discussion on Saturday morning.
Rush ranks third for the most consecutive gold and platinum albums in the world behind The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Yet unlike the latter two bands, Rush has been primarily ignored by critics despite being revered by musicians and having legions of loyal fans. Even the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has failed to recognized the groups accomplishments by not nominating them for the HOF.
Rush is a musical anomaly; as the band says themselves, you either love us or hate us -- there is no middle ground with Rush. The bands music is hard to define by traditional categories.
We are not the kind of music you put on to dance to or as background music at a party, said Geddy Lee, lead singer and bassist. Our music requires some thought and work to listen to, and that is not for everybody.
Rush has never been a band that has sought the public spotlight. They have avoided the tabloids, and while they have made themselves accessible to the media, there remains a mystique about them.
The documentary created by Dunn and McFayden doesnt eliminate all the mystique but it certainly quenches the thirst for avid Rush fans. Even the non-Rush fan will be fascinated by this film.
So what was the biggest surprise the filmmakers found about Rush when making the film?
Their sense of humor, said Dunn. I think when you look at the intellectual aspects of their music and lyrics you wouldnt gather that they have much of sense of humor, but actually they do and I really feel that without that sense of humor this film would have been different.
The filmmakers were also impressed with the groups genuine respect for each other - a key factor in the bands longevity.
So what inspired Dunn and McFayden to make a film about Rush (the duo recently had a metal documentary on Iron Maiden)?
Rush is one of the longest-running intact rock bands ever, said Dunn. I started asking a questions such as, how does a band accomplish that? Equally important was finding out how a band makes as many stylistic changes over the years as they did and maintain their fan base. So when you look at them you ask, why hasnt this band had their story told?
So how much did Rush control the final product?
Amazingly they didnt. They wanted this to be our film not a film from Rush, said McFayden. Their management was very hands off whereas Iron Maidens was very hands on. Rush really trusted us to tell their story and when you are given that sort of trust you really want to make sure you get it right. They were very cooperative, even Neil.
Drummer Neil Peart is revered as among the greatest rock drummers of all time. He also brought the lyrical complexity to the group. The tragedy of his 19-year-old daughter being killed in a car accident in 1997 and his wife passing away of cancer a year later resulted in Rush taking a hiatus. When Peart announced four years later he was ready to return it was agreed that he would not participate in media interviews and meet and greets. So it would be expected that Pearts contributions to the project would be minimal, but the filmmakers found otherwise.
Neil was great, once you got him talking he really had a lot to say, said McFayden. We worked our way into those challenging years for him. We essentially talked to him on his turf and that is after a long bike ride (Peart motorcycles to all Rush shows) out to the desert. We took a different approach and instead of sensationalizing those tragic moments we had him reflect through his healing process.
Dunn is quick to add the following:
There is this misperception about Neil. He is very articulate and its not that he doesnt like to talk, he just prefers to do it in a controlled setting, Dunn. He feels uncomfortable in an environment where fans are gushing over him. Neil loves conversation, he is very intelligent and very reflective.
HARD TO SAY NO
Why did Rush give Dunn and McFayden essentially unlimited access and creative control?
They are very likable guys, laughs Lee. It was hard for us to say no to them.
As for whether they like the film or not, Peart has yet to weigh in publicly while lead guitarist Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee have given their nod of approval.
I think it would be a lot better with less of me talking, said Lee. But for me it is hard to assess and I think for Alex and Neil as well. We are forward-thinking in our approach, so certainly there are some sentimental aspects of reviewing the past, but our focus is more on the future of Rush and less on the past.
While Lee may not be focused on the past, it was his collection of memorabilia that was the most help to the filmmakers.
Geddy is definitely the Rush archivist; we sifted through lots of photos and articles on the band in his basement, said Dunn. We found a lot of really cool things like some lost concert footage from the early days.
As to what the secret component that has kept Rush intact for 36 years, the filmmakers said that Rush has mastered something few bands and relationships have been able to do.
Communicate, said Dunn. Rock bands typically do not know how to communicate with one another and these guys do. These guys genuinely care about each other. It is not that they dont disagree, they just know how to disagree with each other and still get along. It is this ability that will keep this band intact for years to come.
Rush: Behind The Lighted Stage screens Friday night at Lars Hockstead at 9 p.m. and Saturday night at 11:59 p.m. at the State Theater. Tickets remain for both shows. Sam Dunn and Scot McFayden will appear at both screenings and will speak at the filmmaker panel discussion Saturday morning. For additional details check out www.traversecityfilmfest.org.