There’s no greater anomaly in popular music than the Canadian power trio Rush. Members Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart have reached the height of their profession, achieved levels of superstardom unmatched by most. Yet, if the documentary Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage is to be believed, they remain fundamentally unchanged from the nerdy outsiders they were as teenagers and young men living in Ontario in the late-’60s and ’70s.
They’re not, frontman Lee freely admits, fashion icons. His offbeat looks — long hair, tiny soul patch, small sunglasses permanently perched at the bridge of his large nose — instantly set him apart from his more glamorous counterparts. His high-pitched voice is a primal scream of difference, boldly signifying the band’s unique place in the musical sphere. Lyrics like, “the massive grey walls of the Temples rise from the heart of every Federation city” don’t exactly scream popular appeal.
Yet, here they are, propelled to legendary status by an extraordinarily devoted fanbase who largely see elements of themselves in the group, and by big hits like “Tom Sawyer” and “Limelight.” Filmmakers Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen trace the Rush journey to the top in this straightforward but consistently engaging doc, which blends the bandmates’ candid, revealing interviews with some top notch concert footage in a fitting tribute to these most unlikely icons.
The picture follows a familiar path, beginning with Rush’s formation and the later addition of Peart, cycling through its major periods (including the creation of the best-selling “Moving Pictures” and some experimenting with synthezisers) before arriving at the group’s current place as perhaps the world’s best known progressive rockers. Along the way, surprising revelations lend depth to the portrait. Lee, born Gary Weinrib, is shown to be the son of Holocaust survivors; the band very nearly called it quits after the tragic deaths of Peart’s teenager daughter and wife of 22-years in 1997 and ’98.
The co-directors structure the film in the fashion of a predictable Behind the Music special, but an entertaining, fast-moving one, even for non-fanatics. Yet, it’s the three-dimensional portraits of the band members that emerge from the formula to set the film apart. Lee and Lifeson, two-thirds of the original lineup, appear to love “living in the limelight,” greeting fans, signing autographs and putting on a happy public face wherever possible. By contrast Peart, who joined in 1974 and who Lee on camera jokingly refers to as “the new guy,” shuns the spotlight, questioning why anyone cares about him away from the stage and desperately seeking the life of a regular, unrecognized guy. Each understands the needs and desires of the others and never pressures them to change to conform to some sort of conventional standard.
That dynamic permeates the story of the band, illuminating the inner workings of the deep personal bond that’s kept the men together for so long. Its depiction transforms Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage from an on the level telling of the Rush story to a testament to the right ways to stay humble in the face of enormous fame, to exude the sort of authenticity that attracts legions of followers, no matter how high your voice, how unhip your dress and how much you sing about temples rising from federation cities.