Wednesday, May 9, 2012

No. 757 – Distant Early Warning

Performer: Rush
Songwriters: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart
Original Release: Distant Early Warning
Year: 1984
Definitive Version: Snakes & Arrows Live, 2008

One of the first days we were in Hawaii, Mr. Lee and Dad took me, Jin, Scott to the Swap Meet, which was (is?) a huge flea market set up around the exterior of Aloha Stadium, where—at least as I write this now—the Pro Bowl is played.

The booths were the mostly usual collection of sunglasses, records and clothes. Scott bought a styrofoam boogieboard for the beach—50 cents. Mr. Lee was effusive when Scott showed him his treasure: “Look at the deals you get at the Swap Meet.”

Later that day, we went to Nanakuli Beach on the Leeward Coast, and literally the first wave that Scott took it out into, a bigger wave formed behind him and wiped him out—and snapped the boogieboard in two. Mr. Lee was beside himself when Scott showed him: “Oh, what kind of junk do you get at the Swap meet?” No one could turn on a dime like Mr. Lee in his heyday.

Anyway, one of the other things we bought was Grace Under Pressure. Even though the album was brand new, it was in the cutout bin—all of the records were. Although I hadn’t been listening to them as much at the time, Exit Stage Left and Signals had been major plays on my turntable, but for $2, I’ll buy some new Rush.

It was actually the beginning of the end, however. When we got home to Columbus, we played the record and it left me cold. I knew this song from MTV, of course, but all of the other songs sounded too much the same to me. I might have listened to the album once more before putting it away for keeps. The rest of Rush soon followed after that.

Of course, I got back into them in a big way, and as it would turn out, Grace Under Pressure has become one of my favorite Rush albums. But I still was lukewarm to this song, until a few years ago.

Dave, who saw Rush many times before I saw them even once, has retired from going to major concerts for a while, so he sees Rush now only vicariously through me. Since 1996, I’ve sent him song-by-song reviews of each show, and he comments on the song choices.

On the first leg of the Snakes & Arrows tour in 2007, Rush played Summertime Blues from their Rewind covers EP as the lead in to Tom Sawyer, the second set finale, and I wrote in my email to Dave: “This would have been a perfect place to throw in Distant Early Warning instead.”

I don’t know why I chose that song: I could think of at least a dozen songs that, honestly, I would have wanted to hear more. I suppose I was taking into consideration songs that Rush might actually play.

The next year, Snakes & Arrows Live came out, and Dave sent me a copy. The setlist was exactly the same as the show I saw with one important difference: Instead of Summertime Blues as the lead-in to Tom Sawyer, it was … yup, this song. Do I know Rush, or do I know Rush?

Rush included a particularly symphonic version, and it did sound great in the set-up-to-the-grand-finale position. It only took 24 years (1984 to 2008) for Rush to get me to like this song, but better late than ever. Mr. Lee was right after all: Look at the deals you get at the Swap Meet.

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