Sunday, July 12, 2015

Bad postcard of the week: Greenville, the healthiest town in America


Today we have a classic example of not one, but two bad postcard genres.

We’re headed out to Greenville, Mich., for United Memorial Hospital and Extended Care Unit, which the back tells us is an accredited community facility of 110 beds. The hospital still exists today as Spectrum Health United Memorial.

Greenville’s a nice place, and there are many people who live there. Not a single one of them is in our postcard, though. That means we have the classic ghost town genre, usually associated with government buildings.

Then, we have a hard time getting a look at United Memorial in our United Memorial postcard. It is there, somewhere beyond the vast and empty parking lot and trees. It’s a bad sign when the most prominent in our hospital postcard is a street light and not a hospital.

On the bright side, we know that Greenville is a very healthy place. And we know this because there are no cars in the lot. No patients, no workers, no ambulances – nothing!


We can only assume that everyone except the photographer is at the Danish Festival, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. 

Bad postcards of the past:


April 13, 2014: Newsflash -- water is wet!

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Ballpark adventures: Lansing Lugnuts, Cooley Law School Stadium and the nicest employees ever


Nephew Zack came to spend a day with me at the office, and naturally we needed to finish off a day in Lansing, Mich. by attending a Lugnuts game.

Thomas Cooley Law School Stadium was previously Oldsmobile Park, reflecting the company’s ties to the city and connecting with the automotive theme, including the team’s name.

Now, nitpickers out there will point out that the Lugnuts' logo is technically a screw. This is true. Stop thinking too much and enjoy the game.
Naturally the Gnome of Victory and Celebration came along.
And there is much to like at Cooley, which is nestled just three blocks from the state Capitol and is the center of a revitalized neighborhood of restaurants and apartments, including a new building rising in centerfield that will allow people to watch games from their balcony.

Zack and I walked around the stadium and parked in our seats in the eighth row behind the visitor’s dugout, as our allegiance is with the rival West Michigan Whitecaps.

This is key, because I told Zack it’s always good to know the name of the third base coach. Whitecaps Manager Andrew Graham was manning the spot, and when he scooped up a slow-rolling foul ball and looked to the stands, I yelled “Andrew!” and he tossed the ball to me. We also yelled “thank you,” of course.
Thank you, Whitecaps Manager Andrew Graham!
The Lugnuts, in the Single-A Midwest League, were for years affiliated with the Cubs but have been linked to the Toronto Blue Jays for a while now. The list of former Lugnuts we care about is headed by Noah Syndergaard.
Thor experienced the joys of Lansing before heading to the Big Apple.

Here are some of the highlights:

Ultra-friendly staffers: It’s not that you run into too many grumbling people at a ballgame. Working at a stadium must be fun, especially if you are a fan. But every Lugnuts employee – and I mean every single one – was over-the-top friendly, and not in fake way. Lots of nice conversation, from whether we were enjoying the game or where we came from. I don’t know if this is a team policy or people are just generally happy to be there, but it was very pleasant.


Employees who understand the glory of the Pass-Port program: Zack and I had our books and went straight to the Nuts and Bolts team store. The nice folks had the stamps ready to go, took a practice run to make sure the stamp was right-side up and even paused so we could document the activity. Good job!

Nice statues: There are several outside the stadium, though they are of generic players and fans. Even cooler is the giant lugnut atop a nearby smokestack.



The food choice: It was fair. Again, we’re spoiled by the Whitecaps. But the pizza looked good and the ice cream was plentiful. There was something called a “pulled port parfait” that mixed pork with potatoes. We were not that adventuresome on this evening.
We passed on the pulled pork parfait.

Autograph zone: The Lugnuts have a designated area where players stop by before the game. This sure makes things easier, and if players are coming over, you know you are not interrupting their work. Our Pass-Ports have a page for autographs, and we enjoyed meeting three Lugnuts. This is a brilliant idea.

Good use of the MiLB ap: We were able to use the ap to enter various contests and post photos on social media. We attended a game on “Flat Screen Friday” and Zack was one of nine people to win a television.

Minor grumble: The team has rules against bringing your own food into the ballpark. I like to bring my own peanuts in than overpay at the concession stands. It's not like we're not going to buy other things once we're inside. 
This is Big Lug.
Overall, we watched a good game – the Whitecaps won – and got to meet some nice people and enjoy a fun ballpark. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

What if MLB treated Pete Rose's gambling as an addiction and offered help instead of a lifetime ban?


Pete Rose is in the news again, and not for the reasons some expected in the weeks before the Reds host the All-Star Game. 

There are new allegations that Rose gambled on baseball not just as a manager, but during the waning years of his playing days.

That has me thinking, and so far Will and the Crane Pool Forum friends think I’m out in left field, like Rose was as debris rained down from the Shea Stadium mezzanine in the 1973 playoffs.

 I think Major League Baseball mishandled the Rose situation back in 1989 when he was banned for life after being accused of gambling on baseball. I don’t think the situation then or now has helped the game; despite what I’m sure were best intentions.

A few disclaimers are in order. First, hindsight is easy. I’m in no way an expert in addiction or mental illness. And, I understand fully why baseball can’t allow people to suspect that players or managers are throwing games.

Now, go back the late 1980s. Pete Rose had just retired as a player after breaking Ty Cobb’s all-time hits record, managing the Reds and was a player writers speculated would be the first unanimous selection to the Hall of Fame.

And, apparently, while this was going on he was betting thousands and thousands of dollars on sports, allegedly supporting this habit by getting involved with unsavory people who enabled and profited from his activities.We are not condoning this behavior on any level.

And we know the path that was chosen both by MLB and by Rose in the 25 years since this revelation. It’s not been pretty – not even a little bit. Rose's combative denials, then partial confessions have not served him well.

What if MLB chose another path? What if, instead of banishing Pete Rose, MLB pulled him closer?

What if MLB instead took the guy who had been one of baseball’s brightest stars and gotten him the help he apparently needed?

The volume of Rose’s gambling and the risks he took to support it suggest compulsive behavior that a person might be powerless to stop.

Today we look at addictive behavior as a disease. There are efforts to eliminate the stigma of mental illness. Baseball teams have staffs to deal with physical issues, but what do they do to care for a player’s mental wellness?

Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton is a high-profile example of a player who has tragically struggled with addictions. He’s been suspended – several times -- but teams also have worked to help him. His addictions have been recognized and helped, even after unfortunate relapses. Rose’s addictions got him banned for life.

That leads to another issue. We know why the threat of a lifetime ban is necessary, but there is a danger in absolutes. There’s a difference between a guy with a sickness he apparently can’t control and the Black Sox conspiring with gamblers to throw the World Series. One is a compulsion and the other is a conspiracy.

Having an absolute punishment – the lifetime ban – probably makes it less likely for people to get the help they need. We know about “zero tolerance” policies for weapons in schools, and we’ve heard the stories about elementary school students getting expelled for bringing plastic butter knives to class. People in authority need to be able to look at each situation individually.

Today, Rose is banned not for throwing games, but for gambling on baseball. Today we also have MLB allowing the families of team owners to also own casinos. Something seems off.

Pete Rose should face consequences for his actions. People aren't absolved of transgressions because they struggle with an addiction, even when they get the help they need.

But I think baseball would have been better served all these years by helping Rose, and by working with a more flexible method of dealing with his struggles. 

It seems fair that he should not be allowed to manage a team again. And, now that he’s in his mid-70s, I’m not sure that’s an option for him anyway.

He should be eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Considering that writers today won’t enshrine Mike Piazza because of alleged bacne, they’re not going to elect Rose anyway, at least in his lifetime.

But Rose should be allowed to participate in on-field celebrations, such as the Reds Hall of Fame days or even the upcoming All-Star Game. 

More importantly, let Pete Rose into the clubhouse to do things like talk to today’s players about the dangers of addictions and compulsive gambling – and hopefully direct them to an MLB program that can get them the help they need if they ever face the demons Rose allowed to conquer him 25 years ago. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Ballpark adventures: South Bend Cubs and Four Winds Field


Father’s Day weekend usually means a trip to the ballpark, and this year we hit the road to South Bend, Ind. to see the West Michigan Whitecaps play the South Bend Cubs.

It’s the first year of the team’s affiliation with the Cubs, which meant a new name. It was previously called the Silver Hawks, after the car made by Studebaker, which had a presence in the area.

The stadium name is also relatively new. Four Winds Field was previously named after Hall-of-Famer Stan Coveleski, who lived in South Bend for years.
There were some vestiges of the old Silvehawks name.

It’s a nice park and we had a good time despite only finding lawn seats available and the Whitecaps losing 3-2.

Fun things:

Stan

There’s a neat statue of Stan Coveleski near the centerfield gate. Fun facts about Stan include that he was one of 17 pitchers allowed to keep throwing the spitball after it was made illegal. 

He also was known to give kids free pitching lessons in the field behind his service station.

The Cubs Den

I like how the stadium worked some of the nearby buildings into the stadium rather than have them leveled. The gift shop is a vacated synagogue, and the team treats it respectfully, with a plaque detailing the building’s history and a verse from Exodus on the wall.

The prices seemed a little steep, even by ballpark standards, but there were some fun things in here, like foam rubber Cub heads.

Star Wars Night

It’s always fun when minor league teams wear special jerseys, and we were lucky to catch the Cubs on Star Wars Night. There were not as many people in costume as the Whitecaps seem to attract,  but there were enough to feel the Force.

The Cubs wore sweet Boba Fett jerseys. Gift shop had jerseys with Yoda, Chewbaca, R2-D2 and Darth Vader, which weren’t worn on the field.

The scoreboard replaced the player photos with Star Wars characters, with the Cubs swapping out for heroes and the villains replacing the Whitecaps.

Stuff for kids

The Cubs have a whole section in the outfield with giant Cubs-themed inflatables that dominates left-centerfield, making for a fun backdrop. There’s a splash pad beyond the lawn seats, and a playground just beyond that.

There also was a Cubs Performance Zone with batting cages that looked pretty neat. I liked that each cage was designated using the logo of a South Bend team of the past,

Trains and cars

South Bend’s Union has been closed since 1971, but the tracks are still there and the beautiful building looms over the wall near right field. Trains rumbled along the tracks in full view throughout the game.

Right behind the train station was the old Studebaker factory. 

Lawn seats

The lawn section was pretty small – and fairly expensive compared to other stadiums, especially considering that you have sit on the grass. But rather than the hill or berm you get at many places, the Cubs have a terraces to keep up from sliding down the hill during the game.


The down side of a lawn section is that you get a lot of disinterested kids, who in good times run in a clump to the location of any foul ball, even one four sections over. In bad times, you get kids like Noah and Manny.

Minor grumbles

Not many. Overall, the prices seemed steeper than at other minor league parks. And the team didn't have its Pass-port stamps yet after making the name change. (The stamps have since arrived, and the folks are taking care of fans who left un-stamped. Very nice people working for the Cubs.)

Overall

A good ballpark! I get spoiled by the West Michigan Whitecaps and the stadium experience there. But South Bend was a good destination for a short road trip.



Sunday, June 14, 2015

Rush R40 concert in Chicago: 40 years, three musicians, two buddies and one awesome concert


I start with a warning: This post includes spoilers.

The day of the epic R40 Rush concert finally arrived, wrapping up an insanely busy period that included a conference in Louisville, four intense work days at Mackinac Island, a visit from a king and queen, an honors ceremony, a high school graduation and finally an open house with relatives and many, many marching band members.

With all of those events going well, a celebration was in order. And a long-awaited Rush concert with my buddy and fellow Rush fan would do the trick!

I arrived in Chicago around 1:30, in time for a late lunch. Will used to write restaurant reviews and knows lots of cool places to eat. I know lots of things on the Panera Bread menu. So Will picked our lunch spot, a neat place in Lincoln Square. We spent the afternoon checking out a store filled with action figures of the past and catching up.

While we communicate frequently by email, it was our first time together since Will's epic birthday surprise just over a year ago. Fiancee Laurie pulled off an amazing feat -- gathering friends and family from across the country in a U.S. Cellular Field skybox to celebrate a milestone birthday.

Will has shed his ponytail after five years, and we've both had eventful years. It was a long overdue opportunity to share stories and photos.

We then made our way to the United Center, which also is home to the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks, the latter still competing for the Stanley Cup.

There are statues of Michael Jordan and Blackhawks heroes, and Jordan is wearing a Blackhawks jersey – that’s a “sweater” to hockey fans.

From our seats in section 314, we determined that the rest of the audience leaned toward middle age, but not as old as we thought it would be, and heavily male, though with more ladies than expected. Perhaps Rush is suddenly becoming cool!

Billed the R40 tour to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Neil joining the band, the show is decidedly an effort to look back at a long and glorious career.

I peeked at a set list online, but Will prefers to be surprised. I offered only that it read as if Geddy and the gang said, “Dave and Will, create a set list for the show” then accepted, and said “Well, we’ll make some changes, but this is pretty good.” Part of the fun for me was knowing what was coming, and watching Will’s reaction to hearing some long-unplayed favorites.

Note that this is twice in two years that I've been able to keep a big secret.
You know you are at a Rush concert when the line for the men's room is out
the door and down the hall, and there is no line for the ladies' room.

And Will was indeed surprised when the band ripped into “The Anarchist” from Clockwork Angels as the curtain raised, a curious choice to be sure.

The show was a trip back in time, starting with three songs from the most-recent release and the stage filled with some of the steam punk props form the Clockwork Angels tour.
The band proceeded to work backwards through its catalog, from Clockwork Angels though the debut album, and even a snippet of a pre-Rush song at the very end.

But as the band played, guys in red jumpsuits – like the movers on the cover of Moving Pictures – began disassembling the props, replacing them with a wall of Marshall amps on Alex’s side and white washing machines on Geddy’s stage right. On past tours, Geddy’s sounds were pumped directly through the PA, so he filled his side of the stage with various appliances, including revolving dessert trays.

The second half curtain rose to reveal a wall of amps on both sides and Neil’s old drum kit with chimes, and bells.

Geddy and Alex also pulled out older instruments as the set list worked backwards, including the double-necked guitars and bass for “Xanadu.”

And there were concert effects of the past to go with songs of the period, like the lasers shooting across the United Center during “YYZ,” which was greeted by Will yelling, “Hey, it’s “XYZ!” More than 30 years later, we are still bitter.

As the band proceeded to play older songs, the movers started removing amps. By the end of the show, Geddy was reduced to one amp set on two chairs and Alex with one stack – and the screen behind the stage showing a high school gym, showing where it all started.

Highlights

The set list was amazing, with the band dusting off favorites that have not been played in decades, including “Jacob’s Ladder,” “Hemispheres Book II Prelude,” “Cygnus X-1,” “Lakeside Park” and “What You’re Doing.”

The video screens were a big help, showing close-ups of the musicians and also videos from the past.

Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson is photographing the tour, and even from the upper bowl we could pick out the 6-foot, 10-inch “Big Unit” at the edge of the stage snapping away.

The intermission included outtakes from previous tour videos, ending with the South Park “Lil Rush” into to “Tom Sawyer,” which the band used to start the second half.

Speaking of “Tom Sawyer,” the guy sitting behind us was funny. He was a little older, and needed help from a kid when he wanted to post a concert photo on Instagram. But he went nuts as the first notes of “Tom Sawyer” burst through the PA, loudly singing both the lyrics AND the keyboard parts – “Wooo-woo-woo-woooo—woooooo.” He also knew all Geddy's song intros from the live albums.

Was this annoying? Yeah, a little. But he was clearly a huge fan having a great time.  And he somehow convinced his wife to come to the show with him. Enjoy the show and rock on, my loud friend!
Printed tickets are convenient, but I miss real ticket stubs!
Geddy noted that it's still hockey season in Chicago, with the Blackhawks battling the Tampa Lightening. And one of the red-jumpsuited movers came out in a Hawks jersey for one of the prop changes. That's cool because when I saw Rush at the Nassau Coliseum for the Permanent Waves tour, Geddy and Alex came out for encores wearing Islanders jerseys, noting that the team was in the Stanley Cup finals. A year later on the Moving Pictures tour, Geddy again noted that the band was performing on eve of a Stanley Cup victory.

So, if the Hawks win, Geddy and the boys get some of the credit. 

Minor grumble

One minor beef: The band worked backwards through its catalog, but skipped songs from Test for Echo, Presto and Hold Your Fire, and Power Windows. Since Will and I earlier in the week ranked Presto and Hold Your Fire at No. 2 on our R40 Countdown, we were bumming that we didn’t get to hear songs from those discs. It’s easy to look back and think they could maybe trim two of the Clockwork Angels songs and one of the Snakes and Arrows songs and work in some things from the omitted.

But that’s minor. And as Will pointed out, Rush could add three hours to the show and would still not be able to play all the songs we want to hear. That the burden of being spectacular.

All in all, a wonderful concert experience. It included a great band with great songs with a great show – all experienced with a great friend.


And Will jumps in:

I told Dave ahead of time that there were two things that Rush usually does at a show, besides kick all form of butt:

1) They play something old I'd never heard live before.

2) They play something I'd never heard before, period.

Mission accomplished:

1) “Jacob's Ladder” (a wish fulfilled, thanks boys), all of” Xanadu”(thanks again), a large chunk of “Cygnus X-1,” “Lakeside Park.”

2) “What You're Doing.”

I, too, loved the retro sets and lights. I half expected Alex and Geddy to come out in kimonos for 2112, like the Foos did at the RRHOF ceremony, but, well, you can't have everything.

I, too, was similarly disappointed about the skipping of certain things. Skipping Test for Echo was no surprise, because, as I assume, Neil just absolutely refuses to play anything from it. Skipping Presto was a disappointment, however. (I also would've preferred “Dreamline” instead of “Roll the Bones.”)

The second half of the show more than made up for the first half. After “Spirit of the Radio,” the boys served up a big steaming plate of progressive: It was basically an hour-long chunk of 10-minute songs broken up by only the obvious “Closer to the Heart.” I ate it all up and was asking for seconds.

In thinking about it more, the disappointment of no Presto was two-fold, not only for not hearing one of those songs again but also I was hoping for the rabbit to re-emerge from a top hat one last time. Hey, if you're doing retro staging, that had to have been one of their most famous pieces. It then could have stuck around and "rocked out" to “Subdivisions.”


Here's a video with the rocking rabbits in the background!

Unlike Dave and the unknown poster below (ahem), I didn't like the roll-back set list, although I understand why they did it that way (for the set), and it was a good choice, but, as Dave noted, I like to be surprised, and as soon as I realized what they were doing, I was able to start guessing most of what was coming, which wasn't as much fun. The only times I was truly surprised was “Hemispheres” and “Lakeside Park.” (I was surprised for “The Anarchist,” too, but only because I couldn't imagine that as a lead song. It was more a WTH surprise than an OMG surprise.)

It wasn't my favorite Rush concert, but it was awesome, like a hundred million hot dogs, sir.

Here's the R40 Countdown Will and I compiled as we waited patiently for the show.

No. 1: Moving Pictures (both of us)
No. 2: Hold Your Fire (Dave), Presto (Will)
No. 3: Permanent Waves (Dave), Signals (Will)
No. 4: Roll the Bones (Dave), Permanent Waves (Will)
No. 5: Power Windows (Dave), Roll the Bones (Will)
No. 6: Test for Echo (Dave), Grace Under Pressure (Will)
No. 7: Signals (Dave), A Farewell to Kings (Will)

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Rush R40 Countdown at No. 1: Moving Pictures, otherwise known as 'the music of the universe'


Less than a week from the epic R40 concert in Chicago, and Will and I wrap up our countdown with an entry that will surprise no one.

No. 1: Moving Pictures
Released in 1981

Highlights: Every. Single. Song.

Least glorious moments: None.

Cool Neil Peart lyrical moment:

“They say there are strangers, who threaten us
In our immigrants and infidels
They say there is strangeness to dangerous
In our theaters and bookstore shelves
That those who know what’s best for us
Must rise and save us from ourselves”
-- "Witch Hunt"

Moving Pictures isn’t just the best Rush album. It actually might be the best album ever.

This is perfection on vinyl – and cardboard, because the album cover is brilliant, too.

Even Rolling Stone magazine, which hates all things good, had to begrudgingly rank Moving Pictures among its best albums of all time.

Moving Pictures was released in February 1981, my junior year in high school. I embraced it about as hard as a high school kid can embrace anything, carrying me through all the joys and sorrows a 17-year-old can muster.

Much of the music from the 1980s sounds dated. That’s not a bad thing if you, like me, love all things 1980s. But all the songs on Moving Pictures still sound fresh and exciting. They are timeless.

We are going to have to go through each of the seven brilliant tracks.
Here's a live version of "Tom Sawyer" with the classic "South Park" intro.  

“Tom Sawyer”

“Tom Sawyer” is “the music of the universe” according to an episode of Chuck, with the song serving a central role in the plot.

In the spring of my junior year, I boldly ran for treasurer of the General Organization, the not-so-cleverly named version of our student council. This was a strategic move, as I knew I was not popular enough to be president or vice president, but knew enough of the popular kids to think I might get enough sympathy votes to snag a lower office. Everybody wants to run for president, but who wants to be treasurer?

I designed a populist campaign around the idea of allowing local bands to perform concerts after school. Naturally, I used “Tom Sawyer” lyrics for my campaign posters.

“What you say about his company is what you say about society
Catch the mist – catch the myth – catch the mystery – catch the drift”

I came in second out of three candidates, but gained office midyear when the very nice girl who won left early for college.  Serving on the council with me was the sister of the acting Baldwin brothers, who also was very nice.

I’m not sure if credit for the one little victory of sorts goes to Neil Peart, or to Pye Dubois, the Max Webster lyricist who collaborated with Peart and likely never had to work again.


“Red Barchetta”

The lyrics were inspired by the short story “A Nice Morning Drive” by Richard S. Foster. Set in a future when cars are banned, our protagonist goes for a ride in a brilliant red Barchetta preserved by his uncle and encounters the authorities, whom he eludes after a high-speed chase.

Neil tells it better, of course. But all high-school boys love the idea of rebelling against the authorities.


“YYZ”

This is a tale of heartache, which is pretty neat for an instrumental.

I wrote concert and album reviews for the Berner Beacon, our school paper. It was, perhaps, the only thing I did that was cool.

The sporadic publishing schedule meant that an issue included both my glowing album review of Moving Pictures and an equally glowing review of the tour stop at the Nassau Coliseum.

Now, like any good Rush-obsessed fan, I was aware that YYZ was the three-letter airport code for the airport in the band’s native Toronto. I also knew that the opening notes of the song were those letters in Morse code. I even knew that, being Canadians, the guys in Rush pronounced the letter Z “zed.”

In those days, we wrote our stories on a typewriter and turned them over to the editors who turned them over to someone else to typeset. This was a dangerous thing, as I learned.
The morning the papers were delivered, I rushed to the stack to see both my reviews in print and bask in the praise.

Then I read the copy.

Someone – the editor, the typesetter, who knows – either decided I didn’t know what I was talking about or wasn’t paying much attention and changed “YYZ” to “XYZ.” They did this in both reviews.

Not even the retired Pye Dubois would have been able to find the words to describe the sorrow and humiliation of that day. Because, for the rest of the day, people stopped me in the corridor to inform me that the name of the song was “YYZ,” not “XYZ.”

I know, friends. I know. I will get over this someday – but not any time soon.


“Limelight”

“Limelight” is a top-five Rush song and has always been a favorite. But I didn’t quite understand the full meaning of the lyrics until I read "Roadshow," one of Neil’s travel books, where he writes about riding his motorcycle between shows.

Throughout the book, Peart tells about how he is uncomfortable meeting fans, leaving that role to Alex and Geddy. He’s uneasy with the trappings of rock stardom, which is fine.

“Cast in this unlikely role, ill-equipped to act  with insufficient tact. One must put up barriers to keep oneself intact.”

And:

“Living in a fisheye lens, caught in the camera eye. I have no heart to lie. I can’t pretend a stranger is a long-awaited friend.”

So if you run into Neil, don’t tell him how “Time Stand Still” changed your life and ask for an autograph. Just say “Thank you for the music” and move on.


“The Camera Eye”

This is a Rush song about New York. Do I need to say more?

“The Camera Eye” – the phrase doesn’t appear in the song – actually compares the homeland and London. Clocking in at nearly 11 minutes, it was the last of the long Rush songs. And all of it is glorious.



“Witch Hunt”

I had a really cool creative writing teacher who allowed us to bring in a song that we thought had great lyrics and play it in class.

If you’ve read this far, you knew I was going to use this opportunity before a captive audience to extoll the virtues of Rush. I settled upon “Witch Hunt,” with its soaring keyboards and haunting lyrics about prejudice and fear.

I remember beaming as one classmate said, “That was pretty cool, Dave.” Any opportunity to spread appreciation for Rush. 


“Vital Signs”

Moving Pictures ends with the fairly experimental, “Vital Signs” which merges reggae and electronica to create a Rush classic.  

The lyrics are unusual by Neil standards. But he ends with the phrases “Everybody got to deviate from the norm” and “Everybody got to elevate from the norm.” When you are a teenage boy who feels like an outcast much of the time, this is a rallying cry.

The album cover

I have a wonderful job that allows me to meet many incredible people and visit amazing places. One special day, I was allowed to tag along when my boss visited Toronto.

Now, there were many fascinating things that occurred on that day, including sitting in the far back seat of an SUV wedged between the general consuls of two countries. These are the kinds of things the uncool kid in high school would have a difficult time believing could ever happen to him 30 years on.

Our agenda that day included a meeting with the premier of Ontario. As I sat in her outer office, it occurred to me that I was not just sitting in a beautiful and historic Canadian building. I was sitting in the Ontario Legislative Building.

Had we arrived at the main entrance, and not a side entrance closer to the street, I would have seen the three distinctive arches and short steps.

Yes, I was in the very building on the cover of Moving Pictures.

While there were many interesting things on the walls, I could not find the framed paintings of the Starman logo or the dogs playing poker.

It’s all well and good that I didn’t realize this right away. Because I’m not sure the others in my travel party would have appreciated my demand that we all re-create the album cover. 

So there we are, with Rush albums ranked from the least glorious to Moving Pictures.
What did we learn from this exercise?

First, there is something special about a band with longevity, especially when you become a fan fairly early in its career. Rush was with me from high school to college to jobs to a marriage to kids and friends to new jobs and homes and growing older.

Second, Rush is really, really good. The bulk of the music stands the test of time. It was a challenge ranking the albums, especially in the middle. There are great songs and great memories associated with all of them. 

And Will jumps in:

No. 1: Moving Pictures
Released in 1981

Well, I couldn't have said that any better ... but I'm going to try.


No, just kidding. After all that, what's left to say?

I have a few things, and I'll do them in bullet form:

* "Red Barchetta" was THE song that got me into Rush, period. Loved the story, loved the sound. That said, it isn't my favorite song on the album. "Witch Hunt" is.

* Six of the seven songs made my top 1,000, the highest ratio of any album with that many songs on it. The only albums that had more songs make my list were the double album Quadrophenia, by The Who, and Ten, by Pearl Jam, which has more songs than Moving Pictures does. The only song from Moving Pictures that didn't make my list is "Limelight." It was an early favorite, one of the many things I played to death back in the Eighties ... which is why I probably don't like it as much any more. I just got tired of it, unlike, say, "Tom Sawyer," which I played to death but probably never will get tired of hearing.

* Moving Pictures is not my favorite album of all time by any group. (Quadrophenia is.) I didn't do an album ranking, but Moving Pictures has to be in my top 5, maybe No. 3. The only albums I know for sure I'd rank ahead of it are Quadrophenia and Duke, by Genesis. I'd probably also rank Lifehouse ahead of it if it existed as a Who album in 1971 the way Pete Townshend finally assembled it in 1999 as a solo effort. (Most of Lifehouse ended up on Who's Next. You might have heard something off that album once or twice ... or 10,000 times.)

* I've cited Bill James before, and because he's my favorite author, I'm going to close by citing him again: In his New Historical Baseball Abstract, James writes about how Satchel Paige is a victim of revisionist history (or attempts to make other players look better). He says it's become common to write things like Paige wasn't even the best pitcher on the Monarchs, let alone the best pitcher in Negro League history if not all of baseball history. James doesn't buy it, and the reason is that Paige is the reference point in any such discussion. Everyone has to compare with Paige, because ... well, he IS the greatest. The same thing with Walter Johnson and his fastball. As James points out, Johnson was the reference, because his fastball WAS the best.

You see this with music. It's become hip and cool to make lists of albums where Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles isn't listed No. 1. Heck, you often will see that it isn't even the No. 1 Beatles album. Someone will rank Revolver or Rubber Soul ahead of Sgt. Peppers, saying that those albums laid the groundwork for Sgt. Peppers and hold up better than Sgt. Peppers does: "Revolver is the best album, not even barring Sgt. Peppers." It's the same thing as with Satch or The Big Train. Sgt. Peppers IS the best Beatles album--and, by extension, the greatest album of all time--again, because it's the reference point.

That's where we are with Rush and Moving Pictures. Moving Pictures IS Rush's greatest album, period. The difference between Moving Pictures and Sgt. Peppers is that NO ONE tries to argue that another Rush album is better than Moving Pictures. Sure, people might have different favorites--my brother the other day told me he'd put Signals in his top slot--but if we're talking quality, the vote is unanimous.

So, that's all I have to say. I'd like to thank Dave for including me in this exercise. It was fun, and I'm looking forward to Good Ol' No. Pete Rose--14, as in this will be my 14th Rush concert. If it's my final one, because the boys aren't going to tour any more, I leave with no regrets.


And here is the rest of your Rush R40 Countdown:

No. 2: Hold Your Fire (Dave), Presto (Will)
No. 3: Permanent Waves (Dave), Signals (Will)
No. 4: Roll the Bones (Dave), Permanent Waves (Will)
No. 5: Power Windows (Dave), Roll the Bones (Will)
No. 6: Test for Echo (Dave), Grace Under Pressure (Will)
No. 7: Signals (Dave), A Farewell to Kings (Will)