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Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class

Dreaming in Middletown

Chris McDonald

Publication Year: 2009

Canadian progressive rock band Rush was the voice of the suburban middle class. In this book, Chris McDonald assesses the band's impact on popular music and its legacy for legions of fans. McDonald explores the ways in which Rush's critique of suburban life -- and its strategies for escape -- reflected middle-class aspirations and anxieties, while its performances manifested the dialectic in prog rock between discipline and austerity, and the desire for spectacle and excess. The band's reception reflected the internal struggles of the middle class over cultural status. Critics cavalierly dismissed, or apologetically praised, Rush's music for its middlebrow leanings. McDonald's wide-ranging musical and cultural analysis sheds light on one of the most successful and enduring rock bands of the 1970s and 1980s.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Profiles in Popular Music


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

There are many people whose input, time, and generosity helped this project to develop, and I want to acknowledge as many of them here as I can. Thank you to my instructors, mentors, and colleagues, who helped shape the intellectual trajectory of my research. ...

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pp. 1-26

Toronto in the 1960s was not a stereotypical rock ’n’ roll city. It was a running joke in urbane, clean, and conservative Toronto that the sidewalks retracted at seven o’clock in the evening. Musically, its vibrant folk scene of Yorkville (Toronto’s equivalent to Greenwich Village) ...

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1 “Anywhere But Here”: Rush and Suburban Desires for Escape

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pp. 27-61

In 1982, Rush released “Subdivisions,” a song that scathingly depicted the suburbs from which the band’s members came as a dull, parochial, and stifling environment in which to grow up. The suburbs grip its inhabitants in conformity, and for many of its young, the song asserts, suburbia is something from which to escape. ...

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2 “Swimming Against the Stream”: Individualism and Middle-Class Subjectivity in Rush

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pp. 62-100

When Neil Peart joined Rush in 1974, “Anthem” was the first song produced by the new trio. It established Rush’s working arrangement— with Lee and Lifeson composing the music and Peart providing the lyrics—and it prefigured several hallmarks of Rush’s mature style, ...

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3 “The Work of Gifted Hands”: Professionalism and Virtuosity in Rush’s Style

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pp. 101-133

As a teenage Rush fan in the 1980s, I had a voracious appetite for reading newspaper and magazine interviews with the band members. In retrospect, I am struck by how odd this obsession seems now, given that these pieces were fairly dull, at least by rock ’n’ roll standards. ...

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4 “Experience to Extremes”: Discipline, Detachment, and Excess in Rush

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pp. 134-156

There is a striking moment near the end of Rush’s “Freewill,” a propulsive rocker from the Permanent Waves album (1980). Following one of Alex Lifeson’s most searing, rapid-fire guitar solos, the band prepares the final chorus with one last verse where Geddy Lee sings in the strained, upper register of his tenor voice. ...

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5 “Reflected in Another Pair of Eyes”: Representations of Rush Fandom

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pp. 157-184

Rush has been the only band that matter[s] to lone-wolf suburban kids,” critic Bob Mack wrote in his 1990 review of Rush’s Presto album. Although clearly typecasting, there is here, as with most stereotypes, a kernel of truth in Mack’s characterization of Rush fandom. ...

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6 “Scoffing at the Wise?”: Rush, Rock Criticism, and the Middlebrow

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pp. 185-208

According to conventional wisdom, Rush was never a critic’s band. The group’s biographers have frequently used the putative indifference and hostility of rock critics as a dramatic contrast with Rush’s commercial success and longevity.1 Rock journalists themselves have also associated Rush with an abiding lack of critical acclaim. ...


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pp. 209-232

Works Cited

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pp. 233-246

Selected Discography

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pp. 247-248


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pp. 249-255

E-ISBN-13: 9780253004048
E-ISBN-10: 0253004047
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253354082

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Profiles in Popular Music