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Ted Leo’s Life With Rush: Closer to the Heart

The punk-rock lifer reps for the ultimate prog-rock band

Scene Three: Winter 1995
When I say I don’t really get “star struck,” it doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate the gravity of being in the presence of certain people, even when I’ve known some of those people for years. You can still be congenial and “yourself” while giving someone else the respect due his or her position in your life. I had a tough time remembering that, sitting at one head of a long banquet table in the back room of some Italian restaurant in Minneapolis on this frigid winter night. My band at the time, Chisel, was on tour with both Lungfish and Fugazi. Pause here. See what I’m saying? Some of you out there may now need to take a second to catch your breath. 1995. Lungfish. Fugazi. Think about it. Add to that the fact that we were all invited to this restaurant by Todd and Bob from Shellac, and you might begin to understand just how red-faced I got when, in the midst of what I thought was quiet conversation about music with people at my end of the long, long table, someone says to me (a little too loudly, I guess), “You like Rush!?!?” Cue needle-sliding-across-record sound effect, maybe a dropped fork or two as the silence descends, my blood pressure rises, and all faces turn toward me. And the face at the other end of the long long, long, long table, who shall remain nameless, points his knife at me, repeats the question indignantly, and when I don’t answer, says, “Man, ‘Working Man,’ I can dig, but songs about talking trees? No thanks.”

I was, for all intents and purposes, still a kid in so many ways, and very cowed by being called out in such a manner, but I was not gonna take this lying down. I spat back other song titles, bits of other lyrics, explanations of the talking trees song itself, dissertations on how their youthful take on Ayn Rand came more out of a leftist libertarian distrust of authority than an espousal of Capitalism and selfishness. I went on and on about their embrace of new trends in music as evidence not of their “trendiness,” but of their love of music; I pointed out how “proto-punk” Caress of Steel was, I hammered them with the example of “Spirit of Radio” over and over and over again. I think I ended just defending myself, along the lines of, “I don’t believe in guilty pleasures, and even if I did, this wouldn’t be one of them.”

In all honesty, the rest of the night is such a blur to me, I don’t even remember how it all turned out. I did wind up becoming better friends with pretty much everyone at the table, so I suppose I have Rush to thank for that, but I fear I didn’t change many minds that night. “That night” still goes on though, and I’m not done trying.

Rush / Photo by Andrew MacNaughtan

Scene Four: Autumn 1997
Just enough older at this point to have lost most of that nervousness around people I admire and respect so much, I wanted to dive right in with Brian from U.K. punk band Doom, who was driving my then band, the Sin Eaters, around his homeland for a couple of weeks. But between jet lag, and the business of picking up gear and getting to the first show, and blah blah blah no cellphones (and him just being a really sweet and kind of quiet guy) we didn’t get much of a chance to go deep until the night after the second show, when were driving from Blahbeyecantremembstonshire to Whogivesacrapston-on-Rye. Quiet in the van, quiet on the moors. (Yes, we were driving through the moors somewhere. That much I remember.) Then the clicking as he pops in a tape, and the clang of my fist hitting the metal ceiling as the opening riff to “Bastille Day” comes through the tinny speakers, all midrange and growl. Then me looking at Brian in a new light, and he at me, as we talked Rush all the rest of the way to, um, Bramptsongreensfordshireorwhaeverhampton. (Then me apologizing to everyone else in the van for punching the metal ceiling and startling them out of their reverie).