21 years gone: remembering life as a 15-year-old Rush fan

For much of the past decade I’ve been systematically reliving my childhood. I’m not totally sure what stirred up this extended wave of nostalgia, but it may have something to do with the simple fact that I have vivid memories of things I did 20-plus years ago.

It started in 2002, on the 20th anniversary of my acquisition (as an 8-year-old second grader) of an Atari 2600. I went crazy back in that summer of 2002, buying up lots (as in, auction lots, on eBay) of the games I never managed to convince my parents to buy me as a child. In the end I wound up with over 350 games in my collection, counting duplicates, including a dozen copies each of Combat and Pac-Man.

This year I’ve been rekindling my middle school obsession with baseball. (Good timing, with the Twins in a new stadium and playing exceptionally well.) I went so far as to bid on a complete Topps 1985 baseball card set, but lost in the final bidding war I didn’t expect would happen. Back in the day I owned thousands of baseball cards, mostly from the 1984-1988 Topps sets, but ironically I sold the entire collection on eBay back in 2002 to fund my Atari collection. I should have had more foresight.

And then there’s Rush. My long-dormant obsession with the band I spent so much of high school listening to (when I wasn’t — ugh — reading Ayn Rand) had been renewed back around 2002 as well, when I played briefly in a Rush cover band in Atlanta, and then in 2007 with the release of their outstanding Snakes and Arrows album. But now I’m really beginning to relive the summer of 1989, when I was 15 and first immersing myself in the band’s already extensive back catalog.

I’m not sure what prompted the latest resurgence. It might have something to do with the great new documentary about the band, which I saw at the Riverview Theater last week. But as with my Atari fixation in 2002, it’s more like there’s just something in the air.

A friend introduced me to Rush during our freshman year of high school, right around the time A Show of Hands was released. That was my first exposure to their music. Or so I thought, until the Replay x3 DVD boxed set was released a few years ago and I suddenly remembered having seen the Grace Under Pressure concert special on MTV back in fifth grade. I know that concert video had a big impact on me (probably because with his New Wave hairstyle Alex Lifeson looked so much like Simon LeBon), but for some reason I never pursued the band further.

Anyway, back to 1989: I had just gotten my first job, bagging groceries for $3.69 an hour (minimum wage), and, flush with cash, I made frequent trips to the local ShopKo store. The store’s electronics and entertainment section was well stocked both with cheap Rush cassettes and cheap (probably bootlegged) PC games. I bought a lot of both that summer.

My first two Rush cassettes were A Farewell to Kings and Signals. Even all these years later, those are probably my two favorite Rush albums, because they had such an impact on my young ears. They were so different, it was hard to believe they were produced by the same band, just five years apart. And yet they were both so good, so unlike anything else I was accustomed to hearing on the radio or on MTV in the late ’80s. (You see, there was once a time when MTV played something called “music videos,” which were just popular songs with visuals, like the band pretending to play their instruments in strange locations. MTV just played music videos… 24 hours a day. And it was good. But not as good as a then-12-year-old Rush album.)

Whenever summer comes along, I start to reminisce about the summers of my youth, especially the summer of 1989. I can see, hear, almost smell my bedroom back then, window open, cool breeze wafting in, “Xanadu” blasting out of my Panasonic boombox on a hissy cassette tape I purchased at ShopKo in the $3.99 cutout bin. (Hey, that was more than an hour’s wages!)

Why am I drawn back so strongly to that summer of 1989? I’m not sure, but I do know something about it that is strongly compelling. Even though I was working at the grocery store, that was still the last summer of my childhood. The next summer, I had my driver’s license, and everything changed. But back in 1989, I was carefree, virtually no responsibilities, and I could just sit in my room and listen to Rush and play Adventure Construction Set on my Tandy 1000 computer.

Maybe part of what reminds me of then is that in some ways, my experience during the summer now is more like 1989 than it has been at any point in my life since. I have plenty of obligations and responsibilities now — I’m married with two kids, mortgage, car payments, etc. But I’m a freelancer, working mostly from home. And like in 1989, I can sit at my computer in my bedroom, cool breeze wafting through the open window, and crank “Xanadu” up to 11. Only now it’s an MP3.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Oh wait, that’s from Hemispheres.