Popoff, Martin-Anthem (Book Review)

Spread the metal:

Reviewed:  June, 2020

Published:  2020, ECW Press

Rating:  4.5/5

Reviewer: JP

I must admit when I heard that Popoff was writing a fourth(!) book about Rush I rolled my eyes. I felt he was going back to the well a bit too often and doing another book about a band from his favourite musical era, the 70’s. After all his last book on Rush, ALBUM BY ALBUM, was published less than three years ago. Another one already? Too much, too soon.

As a sidebar Popoff has yet to write a biography of a band that was formed later than 1984, (I looked it up) and while I wish he would tackle something a little more contemporary on occasion, I still love everything he has ever done. I knew I would buy this book and no matter what, as Rush is way up in my personal musical pantheon, my favourite ‘not-Metal’ band by far. So I bought it.

Those mild fears that ANTHEM might be a bit of a retread were swept aside immediately with the sweep of a pen or perhaps the stoke of a few keys on a keyboard. He explains in his introduction that his last real biography of the band was 16 years ago and a lot has happened in Rushville since then. A lot. A book badly in need of an update combined with recently granted access to the massive audio/video interview archives of the Rush documentary BEYOND THE LIGHTED STAGE, meant Popoff has a mountain of new material to share. By the time I finished reading the introduction I was already 100% on board why this book needed to be written.

ANTHEM as a book itself, is a well-appointed hard cover; very classy looking with gold gilt inlay, embossed text, and a simple but elegant glossy photo of the band. Bearing a subtitle of, ‘Rush in the 70’s’ you just know there will be second, third maybe even fourth part, hopefully one book for the 80’s, one for the 90’s and one until the end.

In my review of his new Saxon book, (also published this month) I gently chided Popoff for balking on wanting to write a sequel covering the next 15 or so Saxon albums circa 1990-2020. Unless Popoff gets hit by a bus, I can guarantee he will do at LEAST one sequel to ANTHEM. He can’t write this book this epic and not finish the project, that would be cruel. Bypassing a second Saxon book? Possibly. Not finish the Rush catalogue in a series of books? Impossible. He has gone down the rabbit hole or opened that can of worms or use whatever cliche you might want. He can’t back out now!

I suppose I should actually talk about the book in this book review.

With the aforementioned design, ANTHEM reminds me of an encyclopedia in terms of presentation and when you will line all three of four of them up on your bookshelf in the year 2023, it will be a thing of beauty. Maybe then, and only maybe, will he stop writing about the damned band! Over 350 pages long, this comes with a full and very detailed discography, notes, credits, biography and two sets of glossy colour photos on glossy plates in the middle. It’s a really nice looking book.

One factor I really enjoyed about ANTHEM is that it is very much based in prose. His last several books maybe even 10 or more, have been a more, shall we say analytical, an album-by-album format dissecting each musical offering down to a song-by-song evaluation. Those are wonderful too but this is a nice change in pace to a more lyrical, storytelling, style of delivery. It flows very nicely and is not as choppy as song by song by song.

To that point, this is more of a pure, traditional biography in the sense that it might even appeal to a more broader range of rock fan fan or more the causal Rush fan who wants the story but doesn’t need a micro-managed song-by-song analysis.  However, I don’t know if such a creature exists, most Rush fans are pretty die-hard, so ‘casual Rush fan’ might be an oxymoron. Regardless, this was a relaxed fun read that flowed along nicely.

The amount of detail is astonishing.  Popoff draws on quotes and interviews from so many people, friends, family, roadies, managers, producers, engineers, artists and colleagues.    There are quite a few extended sections with Gene Simmons talking about how great the guys were and how fun those tours were in the mid 70’s.  Pretty much everyone involved has the same thing to say; Rush were really nice guys, maybe a bit unintentionally aloof with noses buried in books and such, but nice guys none-the-less.  Rush has always downplayed the sex, drugs and rock and roll element of their early career but I think we would be naïve to think that Rush could tour across the US in the 70’s with Kiss or Ted Nugent or Aerosmith (or whoever) and not get into some sort of shenanigans. However, those stories are few and far between.

There is quite a bit of coverage of gear and studio talk, recording sessions and stuff, managers talk about the numbers but not to the degree that these stories would be dull for non-industry people or gear-heads. Popoff paints a pretty vibrant picture and you can almost picture (and smell) the band driving for hours on end, crammed in the station wagon to open up for Blue Oyster Cult in Fred’s Bar and Grill in BuffaloDump, Iowa (Pop: 5000).    If you want the story of the early days of Rush, it doesn’t get any better than this.   It was a bit tough to read this so close on the heels of the passing of Peart, it must have been even harder for Popoff to write.

In his introduction Popoff says, that this book, “….stands as the most strident and detailed analysis of the early Rush catalogue in existence.” This is no mere bravado. In fact, it is quite uncharacteristic of Popoff to make such lofty claims. However, it is true. This is the best book about Rush in the 70’s that has ever been written.