Rush – Presto (1989)

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by Tom Johnson

I’m not one to believe in magic, or fate, or other mystical things in general. I tend to fall on the more analytical side of things, favoring more grounded, scientific answers for pretty much everything. But sometimes I look back and can see how a chain of events is all linked back to something that seemed so small at the time, and it’s hard not to think it’s all been fated from the beginning. Sometimes you have to look back from this very moment in time and point to a single thing that got you where you are now. Is that fate? Can it be denied no matter how analytical you get about it?

Looking down the mental timeline in my head, there’s a string stretching back decades, to the fall of 1989, when I would take myself to bed with a Walkman and usually a cassette of some kind. That string begins on one of the nights when I opted to listen to the radio rather than whatever tape I hopped into bed with, and amid the usual DJ chatter there was that song. What is that song? Maddeningly, the DJ never mentioned who it was. Strumming guitar, then a soaring solo, and something about “I radiate more heat than light.” It was epic, it was beautiful, and it was gone.

I kept listening, night after night, and eventually I ran into it – either midway through or actually getting the whole thing. Finally, close to Christmas, the DJ clued me in: “That was Rush with the title track to their latest album…” What? Rush? Rush? Even back then I rarely listened to the radio and quickly tuned out whatever I didn’t care for. Albums were my main musical choice, and if not that, the radio was quickly changed when something I didn’t want to hear came on. Rush, to me, was the band the idiots in shop class had been going on about last year, and this did not sound like that kind of band, because those guys could not possibly like a band that sounded this, well, mature.

But Rush it was, and after Christmas, with a little gift money in hand, I hit up one of the now long-gone music chains and approached the R section. There it was, Presto, the cover emblazoned by bunnies. Bunnies? Not even something cool like an evil looking magician? Just a bunch of bunnies and a top hat? Am I sure about this? Well, it’s on sale, I told myself, it won’t hurt as much if it sucks.

That initial listening session is one where I’d merely intended to listen in the background while I did other stuff, but I quickly found that I couldn’t. After a song or two, I couldn’t concentrate. I sat down, leaned back, and just absorbed everything coming at me, with shivers constantly racing up and down my spine. When the last notes of “Available Light” faded, something was different. This was Rush and everything I’d thought about them was wrong. Everything I’d looked for in music was here in this album – incredible musicians, smart, sometimes witty lyrics, and songs that immediately captured me. I couldn’t get enough.

To say it’s a favorite album is an understatement. It’s an important album. That string, you see, started spooling out over the years, but it would be a while before it started picking up other elements.

[SOMETHING ELSE REWIND: Click here for reviews of six classic Rush songs, including three from ‘Presto.’]

Years later, in college at just the time the internet was beginning to be of real use to regular people, we had easy access at school. The very first thing I did when I got into that primitive, stripped down internet was look up Rush. You have to understand that the landscape of the internet was so very different in those days, not the rich media experience it is today. Back then if a band was available on the internet, there were fan-run, usually unofficial mailing lists where banter of often the weirdest kind would go on about every minutest detail imaginable – cover art dissected, lyrics interpreted, lyrics parodied, articles painstakingly retyped for all to read and discuss. It was, really, pretty dorky, and yet it was a pretty wonderful and fun thing. In those early days, there was a real sense of community on the internet, something I think has been lost since then. You joined these lists, you got involved in the discussions, and you made friends. Something happened in between then, where a lot of bitter people got in and made it less friendly. But back then, everything seemed more open and hopeful because people were just happy to find someone else who shared their interests with the same enthusiasm they felt.

And then I got an email out of the blue, from some girl on the Rush mailing list. It’s slightly less unusual to hear about women being into Rush today, but back then, so elusive was the idea of “the female Rush fan” that it was actually fodder for discussion on that mailing list. This girl, it turned out, was a fellow ASU student and simply wanted to say hi to another local fan, as she noticed my school email address in a recent posting on the list. It turned out we had an amazing set of coincidences – we not only went to ASU together, but we’d also gone to the same high school (several years apart), same junior high, same elementary school, and, the real kicker, we had lived no more than a mile apart for most of our lives. More than that, we shared similar senses of humor and had similar interests. A friend, commenting to me while we were talking to her over a very early online chat, said, “She’s exactly like you.” Indeed, we really were.

And this is where I really have to start asking myself if it’s fate or if I can continue to assign it to the bland happenstance of mere coincidence. Everything was so easy and so right, none of the conflict I’d ever felt before. Everything fell perfectly into place as if it was made to do so. She popped up in my life at exactly the right moment and then it all just went the way it seemed it should.

We got married March 20, 1999, and Rush accompanied us as we made our entrance to the reception – the instrumental “Where My Thing.” Rush isn’t exactly wedding music but something of theirs needed to be there. I knew, even then, that as Doubting of a Thomas I am, I couldn’t question how important their music was to us. Without it, I can find absolutely no other way we could have met, no way we could have married or had the two beautiful, amazing daughters we have now. I can trace it back to 1995 and a Rush mailing list, I can trace it back to the internet a year earlier, I can trace it, most importantly, back to 1989, and hearing “Presto” on the radio. Without that one single song, it’s entirely possible that nothing in my life would be as it is now. And that, I have to admit, is almost impossible for me to deny, has to be some kind of fate.

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