Rush FAQ (Book Review)
Released: 2014, Backbeat Books
I’m a big Rush fan. (Are there any other kinds?) My story is pretty conventional for a kid born in Canada in 1970, I discovered the band at an early age, bought all the albums, sat staring at the vinyl reading Peart’s lyrics, saw them on tour a number of times etc, etc etc. Really nothing new compared to the 100,000 other 40 + year old, nerdy, Rush fans out there. So, of course I was really looking forward to RUSH FAQ, one in a long line of FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions, in case you need to ask) books produced by Backbeat books. I’ve enjoyed the other Rock/Metal related FAQ books (Zeppelin, Kiss, Sabbath) as well, but unfortunately this one was pretty weak. Disappointingly so.
RUSH FAQ, like the rest in the series, is a slightly oversized paperback, black and white, a simple design and layout. The premise behind the series is explained by the sub-title, ‘All that’s left to know about…’ and in this case it is, ‘All That’s Left To Know About Rock’s Greatest Power Trio’. The series is usually based on a number of questions, that chapter-by-chapter, asks an obscure question and then provides the answer. It is a clever idea to dredge up lots of cool trivia for fans. As a side note; in reality, probably isn’t really that much of an FAQ if by definition the question is obscure, people don’t ask those questions all that frequently. It should be SAQ (Seldom Asked Questions) or perhaps IAQ, (Infrequently Asked Questions). The book runs a decent 251 pages spanning 22 chapters and has lots of black and white photos, lots of memorabilia and so on. It also has the usual features one would expect index, bibliography, and a nice forward by Donna Halper, an American radio personality largely credited with being one of the first early supporters of Rush on rock radio in the early 70’s.
Focusing on the positive first, this book is loaded with Rush stuff. It is well researched, easy to read, well designed and laid-out and has a nice vintage photo on the front. There is nothing technically wrong with the book at all. If you are a Rush fan who must have it all, stop reading here and go buy it. It’s that simple.
The problem for me was the author, Max Mobley. He is an American journalist and Rush fan and he certainly knows his Rush trivia. Unfortunately he has this horrible habit of stating his opinion as fact. I lost track after a couple of dozen times when he stated his opinion as incontrovertible fact. It was really annoying. I disagreed with his ‘opinion’ on many occasions about the music industry, about bands and more. For example on page 129 he says, (speaking about 2003) that ‘…the MTV unplugged era was officially over a decade ago…” (meaning 1993) That’s odd, I could swear I just bought the brand new Scorpions MTV Unplugged Double live album a couple of weeks ago! A quick fact check of Wikipedia says that over 110 artists have been on MTV Unplugged since 1993. I guess it is not ‘officially’ dead after all. That is just one isolated example. He assumes something is unworthy or uninteresting but when Rush does an unplugged segment on a live album, it is cool again! This is just one little example but it happens over and over and over.
There were also several little mistakes in the book again stemming from the authors tunnel vision and/or lack of research. The main issue is Mobley loves Rush. That in itself is not a problem, many of us, do but he embodies one of the worst kind of Rush fan (or indeed any music fan) where he is so blinded by his enthusiasm and love of the band that it damages his ability to write an evenhanded accounting of the band. Of course, I would much rather have a dedicated and passionate Rush devotee and expert write a book than someone who has no clue, but often Mobley crosses the line from passionate author to gushing fanboy with blinders on. There are countless examples where he describes a common phenomena (such as people standing up at a concert) but when it happens at a Rush concert…it’s a miracle that has never happened before! Because Rush fans are the best fans in the world! Another example of his overwhelming bias, is evidenced on page 211. He days, ‘Previously, when a string ensemble or orchestra joins a rock band for a live event, it rarely works’. He goes on to cite Kiss, Metallica and Aerosmith as failed attempts to blend classical music and rock. However, when Rush does it, it works ‘amazingly well’!
Another example is when he says, “Rush fans are a unique brand of rock and roller. And any band throughout the history of rock music would be lucky to have such a large, faithful and enthusiastic following.” (p.120) The reality is Rush fans are no more special and unique than any other large scale Hard Rock/Heavy Metal band. Every band of a multi-album, multi-decade stature has loyal followings. Every band has people who travel to see shows. Every band has fans who own all the records. Every band has fans who get tattoo’s. I’d argue that Kiss, Iron Maiden, Slayer and Manowar fans are far more rabid and dedicated than Rush fans. He likes to ‘think’ Rush fans are in some way special and although it pains me to says this (as a life-long Rush fan) but Rush fans are not all that unique or special compared to any other band. It’s a small point but one of many, many statements that are just out of sync with reality. The whole prose is so overloaded with exaggeration and hyperbole it made it almost unreadable. Apparently, it is ‘astounding’ that Rush has multi-camera angle live concert DVD’s…just like every other major touring rock and metal act on the planet. But when Rush does it…it’s ‘astounding’!
Mobley’s love for the band really compromises his view of the band. In the opening chapter he paints the band as this underground phenomena. The reality is that Rush is about as mainstream as you can possibly get. The ‘Rush as world’s most popular cult band’ myth is very common and one that the fans (and even the band to an extent) like to perpetuate, but in reality, Rush is one of the longest running best-selling, most successful, highest charting, most award winning bands of all time. Rush are as mainstream as you can get and it foolish to think that they got to where they are without major label support videos on MuchMusic and MTV, hits on radio (in heavy rotation), books, documentaries, and merchandising.
The book really gets bogged down in the middle. He spends almost 50% of the book (10 of the 22 chapters, 112 pages out of 233 pages of actual text) micro-analyzing the 10 Live albums. Each live album gets an extensive chapter with description of gear, stage set-up, the videos that run on the screens, it is supremely detailed. He evens gets down to how to navigate your remote control to find the Easter Eggs (hidden content) on Rush DVD’s! Much of it is interesting but it does get slow reading about what kind of paint they used on Peart’s drum-kit ten years ago or what type of MIDI computer interfaced with Geddy’s synthesizer foot pedal back in 1984. Mobley is a gear guy and his knowledge is extremely impressive so if you want to know what brand of AA battery Lifeson uses in his wireless pick-up, call Mobley. I’m not a gear guy (or musician) so it bored me …but… it is the best description of Rush gear I have ever read and die-hard Rush musicians will love it, so credit where credit is due, even if it was not my area of interest.
This review may have had a bit of a negative tone but I think that is only because I was disappointed. As a Rush fan there was really not that much new that I didn’t know. Yes, Neil Peart is a travel writer. Yes, Rush played in Brazil and released a live DVD. Yes, Geddy is Jewish and No, Geddy is not his real name. Mobley trots out the standard Rush info and shines it all it all up, and sings praises of the band to the skies but it really is not all that much that is new or unique. If this was the first Rush book I had read, I would be utterly blown away. However, because there are already a dozen Rush books on the market (and I own or have read most of them) RUSH FAQ just did not have that much to offer me other than an extremely generous, and biased perspective of just one fan.
RUSH FAQ is an odd proposition. If you are a die-hard fan (like me) you will want to read and or buy this book. If you are a die-hard Rush fan, you will already know most of this information. My average rating is a reflection of the dual nature of this book with a slight bump up in rating because, well, Rush is one of the greatest bands of all time and that’s not just my opinion, that’s indisputable fact!