Exclusive: New Book Puts Rush Under the Academic Microscope to Explore How They Were The "Voice of the Suburban Middle Class"
Published Sep 01, 2009It's not like Canada's favourite prog rock geeks, Rush, haven't had books written about them before - they have. But they've never been the focus of one quite as academic as Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class: Dreaming in Middletown. And, man, combine Rush, books and academia and there's about to be a whole lot of excited nerdlings running around Canada.
The book, written by Chris McDonald and set for release on October 28 through Indiana University Press, has some lofty goals. Take this description, for example, from the publisher's website:
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.
While we're quite excited about the idea behind this book, we had to track down McDonald to ask him a few things. Like, is Rush really the voice of the suburban middle class? Haven't they always been more like the voice of select geeky, middle-class dudes?
"You're right that the fans are a fairly specific community in some ways, but the size of the audience and the longevity of Rush fandom make it an interesting pop culture topic to study," McDonald tells Exclaim!. "Also, different segments of their audience are Rush fans for different reasons. For example, there's the musician-fan who gets fired up about the heroic musicianship; the more reflective reader-fan who is into the lyrics and thematic stuff - sometimes sci-fi and fantasy fans; and there are classic rockers who love Rush, especially during their late '70s/early '80s period."
McDonald is a teacher at Cape Breton University and an ethnomusicologist (yeah, we'd never heard of that word until now either) specializing in popular music studies. He first got the idea for this book while doing his PhD research, which had a thesis focused on Rush. And while compiling his PhD material, he realized that all roads Rush-related end up in middle-class suburbia.
"It's because Rush was very upfront and self-conscious about their suburban middle-class origins," McDonald says as to why he chose to write about the band in this context. "You see this clearly in songs like 'Subdivisions' or 'Middletown Dreams,' but also more subtly in a large part of their output. It's also obvious in the way they talk about themselves as musicians - they really want to be seen as highly skilled professionals and entrepreneurs, not just as rock'n'roll rebels. They embody middle-class aspirations and angst pretty vividly, I think, and a fairly large audience was attracted to how they made rock music out of it."
McDonald says that it's an academic book but rockers should enjoy it, "particularly the chapter about the fans." But really, will the Rush guys enjoy what McDonald's created?
"I'm not sure," he says. "I interviewed [Rush guitarist] Alex Lifeson during my PhD research, and he seemed flattered that Rush were getting academic attention."
Rush's last album was 2007's Snakes & Arrows.