Reviewed: June, 2021
Released: 20215, Rowman & Littlefield
There is an interesting book series that I recently became aware of. It is called ‘A Listener’s Companion’ published by Rowman & Littlefield. The basic idea is that an expert on a band writes a detailed analysis of the music of that artist’s catalogue. This is not unlike Martin Popoffs ‘song by song’ series. As of 2021 there seem to be about 40 titles in the series covering all forms of music. For our purposes at Metal-Rules.com, there are four in the series worth our attention; Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Rush and Alice Cooper. I’m going to get and review the other ones as well. I reviewed Alice Cooper last month in case you are interested in this series.
I think the recent passing of Neil Peart and the unfortunate realization that the band is official no more, there has been quite a bit of activity. books and tributes and reissues and so but Durrell Bowman’s book EXPERINCING RUSH pre-dates the end of the band by a year.
EXPERIENCING ALICE COOPER-A LISTENER’S GUIDE is a nicely appointed hardcover book just over 165 pages. The series has a semi-academic approach so it is black and white, there are no pictures, no celebrity endorsements. After a brief introduction from the author we just dive right into it. Bowman is a bright fellow and hard-worker. His C.V. is impressive including three degrees from universities in Canada and the US. Check out his web-site for all the details. Most importantly he is a pretty dedicated Rush fan. I suppose that goes without Saying as he wrote not one but two books about the band, contributing heavily to 2011’s RUSH AND PHILOSOPHY.
EXPERIENCING RUSH covers everything from the debut to a brief comment on the bands appearance and induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. The book starts with a handy timeline and overview of their admittedly huge success. It was refreshing for Bowman to embrace that success instead of some folks who still cling to some misguided notion that the band are an obscure ‘underground’ cult band that is their little secret.
Bowman is a musicologist and he does say, ‘Put the song X and listen to (01:23 to 1:45) and you will hear what they are trying to do” Thankfully he doesn’t get to too deep into musical analysis, as I have no training in music theory, but musicians will appreciate what the does.
One aspect I really liked was that Bowman also focused on Peart’s many literary references laced through his lyrics. I learned a lot from his insightful and intelligent comments. I was also pleased he didn’t just review the big hits. He chose a nice cross-section of songs and styles, (fast, slow, long, short etc) and then adds a few words of comment on other notable songs on the album.
I’ve been a Rush fan for many years and I have learned a lot and enjoyed his thoughtful and well-presented perspective, even if I didn’t agree, which was extremely rare. The only example I can think of is how Bowman is perhaps the only person I’ve ever read who has completely misinterpreted the lyrics of ‘Nobody’s Hero ‘ from COUNTERPARTS. It is strange because that song has been widely discussed as to the meaning of the lyric including Peart himself, explaining what the song was about on several occasions in the media. However for every one Bowman got wrong he got 99 right, even though ‘wrong’ and ‘right’ in music interpretation are so subjective.
If I had one other minor complaint is that Bowman choose to only analyze a few select songs; maybe one or two from each album. I suppose if he had dissected all 167 songs this book would be 500-pages long! However, in his defense, this book was deliberately aimed at the lay-person and non-Rush fan. The raison d’etre of EXPERIENCING RUSH is mentioned by series Editor, Gregg Akkerman, in the foreword and later by Bowman himself. I feel that might have been the fatal flaw of Bowman’s approach. In his concluding remarks on page 153 he says, “After experiencing Rush-and hopefully listening to some of its music-you not actually ‘like’ the band. However that has not been the point of this book. Instead the point was for you to try to understand the music and context of a band about which you may not have known much-if anything.”
To me this seems…like the wrong reason to write a book. Who is going to read an academic exploration of a band EXCEPT fans of that band? Nobody! I can almost guarantee you that not a single ‘non-fan’ of the band read this book. People don’t just randomly pick up expensive intellectual books about bands they don’t like, they don’t know and aren’t interested in and jump into the deep end. For those who want to scratch the surface, they go to Youtube, Wikipedia or wherever and then ‘maybe’ go buy a DVD or record. That is not to say it is not a noble and well-intentioned attempt but why not just embrace it, go all out and cover all 167 songs and it make the ultimate song-by-song analysis for the fans? I’d love to see it expanded with his thoughts on every song…but that would be a heck of a lot of work.
EXPERIENCING RUSH is so well done that any and all Rush fans will find something to learn and enjoy when they add it to their library.