Big birthday greetings today to Alex Lifeson, one-third of the Canadian legendary power trio Rush, whose guitar work and his approach to it puts him firmly square in legendary territory. Lifeson, who also celebrates the milestone of the 40th anniversary of the release of the band’s debut album this year, turns 60 years old today.
Alex Lifeson is a sort of lone wolf of Rush via the perception of him by most of the band’s listeners, and even though he and frontman/bassist Geddy Lee were cultivated by childhood friendship and are always linked as such, it’s still the titanium attack of Neil Peart on the backbreaking backbeat that gets more attention. Ultimately, there remains that Peart/Lee kind of familiarity that gets tread upon long before one gets to Lifeson, even after all these years of the band’s existence. But the guitarist is a concrete explosive anchor for this band. Many people think it’s Peart, but Lifeson always seems to be the vibrant weigh station when the rest of the band takes off into its sonic oddities and delectables in its medicine chest. Lifeson has those too of course and also goes to those areas indeed, with a guitar style that is like a jumbly aural cornucopia of sound, at once fast, loose, intense, dynamic; a Lifeson solo is brimming with buoyancy, with life, technical and soulful, and there aren’t many guitarists, even those “all-time ones” (a list that Lifeson is also a part of), that can do that.
Lifeson works with the delicate approach of making the impossible sound accessible to the mainstream, just the opening notes alone on “The Spirit of Radio,” or his fretwork sprinting on “YYZ,” or the pained arrangements of “Here Again” on the band’s very first album, and so many others, exhibit the hot rod playing of Lifeson; witness aurally the progressive times two jumbled-laya of notes on masterpieces like 2112, A Farewell to Kings, Caress of Steel, and Hemispheres, an era of records that surely, not arguably remains the peak performances on wax (record) by the Canadian trio to any real fan of them, and even those who tread lightly in the group’s rich history by way of greatest hits packages or the 1981 breakthrough for them and their sound, Moving Pictures, still get the ferocity and intensity that waves into the atmosphere from the amps transmitting the kick ass sounds Lifeson effortlessly conjures up like a wizard.
Although the Rush sound is at moment’s notice recognizable, each member of the band still gives a fresh approach to the way they barrel down the musical road when their instruments are fully locked in drive, Lifeson notwithstanding. The man really has an ear for being able to apply a bluesy style, coupled with the highest recesses of the technicality of progressive rock sounds, and even will sometimes exhibit a tendency for funk. It’s because of that one-two-three punch and the way he sticks and moves, bobs and weaves, that makes him like a limber prizefighter on stage and record, musical jabs and notes that emanate from his guitar like a flurry of moves like Joe Louis or Rocky Marciano or Muhammad Ali in their primes.
The best artists, whether it’s the aforementioned athletes or artists, alway come at the viewer, the audience, or the absorber with the most well rounded (so to speak) attack on the person absorbing that art, and are able to do it in manners of constant spontaneity and control. And it’s spontaneity and control which best describes the work of Alex Lifeson on all those Rush albums, whether they are good or not so good, whether they are the masterpieces or the sonic have nots, all of them have that sense of unbridled and expected unexpectedness when one puts a Rush record on for the first time from the individual players, and for the most part, that’s always attacked successfully. A Rush fan knows there’s always going to be the fulfilled expectation of hearing archetypical Neil Peart playing, replete with certain roles and fills that are expected of him; or Geddy Lee’s soulful sprinting and runs on his four-string fretboard that continue to make him possibly the greatest living bass player on the planet today. And Alex Lifeson too is able to also fulfill his role in that sense, and his solos also slice as hard as a diamond cutter, with grit AND a glitter, always rooted in a bluesy rock sense, too. It is one of the main, ultimate reasons why it seems Rush gets bigger and bigger with each subsequent release they put out.
And now, with the band’s induction into Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an induction that many thought had been long overdue, your faithful reporter included, the highlight of that night (save for the spectacular Foo Fighters’ “2112” rendition) clearly and hilariously had to be when Lifeson, after his bandmates had already given the earnest, sort of expected kind of sincere multiple thank yous to the many who helped them down the road to get them there, gave a lengthy “speech,” which consisted of him simply saying “blah, blah, blah” in varying tones and emotions to the delight of the crowd, who responded with sheer electricity. It showcased Lifeson’s off-kilter, innocuous wackiness he’s always been known for, or it was simply him, who sort of unofficially is like “The Quiet One” in the band, simply still remaining the fun enigma that he is, or finally, it may have been a giant middle finger to the Hall and the many people who have been on the black side of Rush’s extreme division in terms of criticism of the band. Either way, it was a day of victory for the band and Peart, Lee, and Alex Lifeson.
And even though the band never seemed embittered or jealous or angry at half the world’s treatment of them, they have been soldiering on and then some, as thousands, if not millions of fans worldwide still come and lap up Rush in every form: record, DVD release, and especially live performance. It’s what keeps them in the limelight (their achieved universal dream) and will continue to. It’s almost safe to say and assume that ultimately, Rush will has the kind of longevity ala The Rolling Stones, where nobody gives a shit about Father Time and never has.
So a very happy 60th birthday today to Alex Lifeson, sonic keeper of the temple and a template for some of the coolest, most jaw-dropping music that remains and always will remain ever flowing from the rock and roll wellspring.