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‘2112’ reissue brings back rush of memories

Rush’s 1976 album “2112” gets a 40th anniversary reissue this week.

For the Canadian progressive rock trio, “2112” was its commercial breakthrough, the album that defined its sound and appeased a record label disappointed by the sales of “Caress of Steel.”

For me it was the first album that became an obsession.

I was a freshman in high school when I bought it, a year or two into the transition from AM top 40 radio listener to FM album-oriented-rock radio listener. I don’t remember what made me buy it. Even on AOR stations, Rush didn’t get much radio play, especially in southern Ohio in 1976.

I probably saw an article in Circus magazine or, more likely, heard about the Canadian trio from a friend. Whatever the reason, “2112” and “All the World’s a Stage,” the live album that followed in 1976, spent more time on my turntable than any other vinyl that school year.

The obsession was the title track of “2112,” a side-long, 20-minute-and-34-second opus in seven parts set in a dystopian future where a young man discovers an electric guitar. He believes it will bring salvation and happiness to their world; the oppressive leaders see it as one of the tools that led to civilization’s destruction.

The sci-fi setting, Alex Lifeson’s melodic guitar work, Neil Peart’s massive drum kit, Geddy Lee’s piercing lead vocals and the authority figures who just don’t understand our music spoke mightily to a 14-year-old. Not only did I wear out the vinyl, I bought Ayn Rand’s “Anthem” (the novella that inspired “2112”), her other novels and even a couple of her pseudo-philosophy books. Luckily, this phase ended before I turned into Paul Ryan.

At the end of my sophomore year and a couple weeks before my 16th birthday, my first concert was Rush, Uriah Heep and Judas Priest at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Coliseum in 1978.

I kept listening through high school, although my taste shifted more to Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and Elvis Costello as I got closer to graduation. The last Rush album I bought was “Moving Pictures,” which came out my freshman year of college and after the group started to achieve some mainstream success with songs like “The Spirit of the Radio” and “Freewill.” I’ve always joked that I quit listening to Rush when Geddy Lee learned to sing.

I’ve been to at least a thousand concerts since that show in ’78; I never saw Rush again. I didn’t intentionally avoid them, but I clearly didn’t care enough to make it happen either.

But while a lot of that old high school vinyl got sold, I still have every Rush album up to “Moving Pictures” (with “Hemispheres” both on red vinyl and as a picture disc). Fond memories of “2112” lingered enough that I got a copy on CD, and it’s always been on my iPods.

For the new edition, the original music has been remastered at Abbey Road Studios. A second CD includes live recordings from 1976 and ’77 and some high-profile Rush fans covering “2112” tracks. Warren native Dave Grohl (on guitar, not drums) teams with Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins and Nick Raskulinecz (prominently featured in Grohl’s “Sound City” documentary) for the instrumental “Overture” to “2112” A black-and-white video of the song is included on the DVD. Alice in Chains, Steven Wilson, Billy Talent and Jacob Moon cover the side two tracks.

The DVD also includes a conversation with Lifeson and “2112” producer / engineer Terry Brown, who talk about everything from the pressure on the band from the label while making the album to those goofy kimonos the band wore on stage, as well as a 35-minute pro-shot black-and-white concert video recorded at New Jersey’s Capitol Theatre in 1976 (it’s readily available on YouTube).

There’s also a 3-LP vinyl version with all the audio and a laser-etched LP side, and a super deluxe edition with CDs, DVD, LPs and assorted collectibles.

I personally don’t need a 200-gram vinyl version of “2112,” although I certainly understand the lure. But I’ll never part with my copy purchased in 1976, even though it has enough crackles and pops that it sounds as if it was remastered around a campfire. That album is more a record of my freshman year of high school than any yearbook.

Andy Gray is the entertainment writer for the Tribune Chronicle. Write to him at agray@tribtoday.com

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