The Writers’ Rush

You’ve probably guessed what a huge Rock Band fan I am. I still play every other Friday with my band even though all the instruments are slowly dying…so far we’ve lost 4 guitars, the keyboard, a drum pedal, and a microphone. Our bands are all named after something Lovecraftian. For Rock Band, it was the Ia Ia Ia’s, for Rock Band 2, it was Ftagn! And for Rock Band 3, it’s The Cthul Who.

We each have our fortes. Mostly, the boys don’t let me touch the instruments unless I need to get an achievement, and even then, sometimes they’ll play my character instead of handing over the guitar or the drumsticks. I sing…but, to be fair, I do have a good voice and am the only one with perfect scores on expert level for more than one song. Dean, my big brother in all but blood, plays the bass (with bass-wiggle), Chuckie, who taught me to fold time and space (well, sort of), plays the guitar, and J, my other half, plays the drums.

Oh the drums. Originally, we thought one of us would always have to sit out because none of us could finish a song on the drums. We would rotate so no one would have to take more than a one song-turn at it. Then we tried tag-teaming. Dean and I together make a half-decent drummer. He has one drumstick, I have the other. He hits the red beats, I hit the yellow ones, and each of us try to hit the green ones, blue ones, and the foot pedal when we can handle it. It’s kind of like a demented musical game of Twister, and we usually end up laughing so hard that we can’t finish the song. Moving limbs independently of one another requires some sort of 7th sense that none of us have.

Well none of us have but J. Something clicked about halfway through our third Friday, and all of a sudden, we finished a song without failing. And then another. And another. J has a very few bands that he absolutely loves. Since one of them is The Who, we would laugh and joke and say he was channeling Keith Moon. But his favorite band is Rush, so we agreed that someday he would graduate into channeling Neil Peart, the greatest drummer in the world (ok, yes, I’m biased, but hey, he is. Full stop. The greatest).

When Rush songs first came available for Rock Band, we bought them straight off. I knew their music and liked it, but I couldn’t call myself a true fan really. And then I tried singing The Trees and failed my first song. All of a sudden the pixelated audience was booing us off stage, and the living room went silent because the boys couldn’t figure out what happened. They knew they had hit all the notes. I will never forget them all turning in synch to look at me with disbelief.

We tried it again, and I finished…barely. My screen was blinking red when the last note of that complex melody faded. Yup, they took the mickey out of me. It was fair. I got more than enough 100% ratings and snickered when one or the other of them nearly failed. But it still burned. I was determined to learn the song. I bought it, loaded it into my iPod and started listening. And bought albums. And became a fan. And learned a lot. Not just about music, but things that translated over into writing. So let me tell you about the Writers’ Rush.

Inkslingers and wordsmiths can do much worse than looking to Rush for inspiration. The band itself is long-lived and prolific. Three guys from Canada who have been together and successful for over 40 years, still put out hit albums every other year or so (heck, they probably have enough gold records to pave the yellow brick road), sound as good live as they do in the studio, and work hard for every success.

With the exception of the Clockwork Angels tour, where they have a string section to accompany them for a few songs, it’s just them on stage making all that music. Live. No lip-synching. No naked dancers. Nothing but pure, unadulterated talent. They have diehard fans in the front row on every DVD who apparently go to every single concert (please tell me what job I need to get to be able to follow a band and pay for front row tickets for a whole year without doing anything illegal).

Any one of those things is something a writer could strive for. To be able to last and write bestsellers forever. To have fans that like your work so much that they will buy any one of your books without even reading the back cover. To stick the course and nail the landing. I may never get there, but I can look to each band member and see what he contributes to the success of the endeavor.

Alex Lifeson

Not only is he a kick-booty guitarist, but watch him on stage. He brings the joy. You can tell he absolutely loves what he’s doing. If you watch the concert videos (never been able to afford tickets when the band was playing close enough to go see them live), you can see how he interacts with the crowd and the sound guys and anybody else he runs into. He asks how they’re doing. He doesn’t brush them off. He’s not rude to the roadies or the sound guys or the fans. Now I don’t know what he does when he’s off camera, but what I’m looking to is public behavior.

I look to Alex to remind me of the responsibility and joy that make up the writer’s life outside my own worlds. The whole point for me is to share those worlds with others, and I can’t do that if I’m not willing to interact with people in a positive way and let them know how much I appreciate their support.

Geddy Lee

Not a bad writer’s role model in the least. I didn’t think it was in any way, shape, or form possible to play the bass and the synthesizer, bounce up and down, zoom all over the stage, sing (on key, mind you), and move the mike with your nose all at one time. Geddy does all of it flawlessly. But all his multitasking abilities aside, it’s Geddy’s bass playing that inspires me. It’s not just the dum dum dum that you usually hear in a pop song.

If you listen closely, the bass line of any Rush song is a melody in its own right…supportive and every bit as detailed as Alex’s guitar playing (watch his fingers to see what I mean) and it buoys the melody but doesn’t take away from it. It helps tell a musical story, and every Rush song is richer for that.

What I learn from Geddy is that the rest of the world I create and all the supporting characters have to be just as rich as the main character. Having a fully developed hero surrounded by cardboard cutouts and running around on a movie set where only the façades look good leave a reader with a feeling that ‘this could have been so much better’ or ‘gee, the author must not have really cared enough to do a good job’.

Neil Peart

As a drummer, he is perfection, a living metronome. If you have the chance to watch some of the stuff he’s recorded to teach drummers, you can see just how serious he is about his craft. I need to be just as dedicated to my own craft of writing. To constantly learn and practice the nuts and bolts of authordom. That means reading other authors’ works, and things as simple as not figuring out what new words I run across mean from context alone, but going out to look them up and add them to my writer’s tool box.

He keeps the beat of the story, fast for action, slowing down to give the audience a chance to catch their breath. Waltz, Latin, four-time, sometimes one floating over the top of the other. I heard him use that phrase in one of his interviews, but until I went back and watched the Time Machine concert, I didn’t understand what it meant. Only tuning in and listening to the drums did I realize how he, like Geddy with the bass, was telling three stories at different tempos all at one time. It left me gobsmacked and wanting to do that with a story.

Neil is the lyricist for the band (he’s also an author with a bunch of books to his credit),  and it’s the lyrics that sing. Pun Intended. Want to learn how to tell a complete story concisely and well? Neil does it better than any lyricist I can think of. (Aside: I love Styx’ album Kilroy Was Here, and it tells a great story, but Neil can do it in a single song.) To see what I’m talking about, check out Red Barchetta. Fully realized world, plot, characters, action, conclusion, it’s all there in 6 minutes. Want to know how to craft a twist ending? Can’t go wrong with The Trees. Flash Fiction like you would not believe.

If you haven’t listened to their music, please give it a go. But if you’re on the road to becoming an author, please don’t miss the Writers’ Rush.

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