You know the triangle is a special instrument. It’s small, yet important. Like the cherry on a sundae. It has a place.
But when you’re a drummer in a high school band and you see the sheet music for the Nutcracker and you’re playing the triangle you know it might be a light day.
That’s why anyone in a high school band around Christmas in the early 1980s might be familiar with the sound of the all-important triangle not from Tchaikovsky but from the band Rush and their song “YYZ.”
If you know the song, then you can hear the beginning right now: Drummer Neil Peart hitting the triangle sounding crotales to the Morse code Y-Y-Z—the International Air Transport Association’s location identifier of Pearson International Airport in Toronto, which was also the home city of the members of Rush.
For Y-Y-Z signified the Canadian trio’s departure from home—that anxious and apprehensive feeling we all have leaving for work. Like a Monday morning alarm clock, Peart’s pattern signals it’s time to go.
Now if you’re a drummer in the high school band in the 80s and you liked Rush and were holding a triangle you just couldn’t help playing the beginning to “YYZ.”
Until the band director walked in dismissively waving his hands for that sound, whatever that noise was, to stop because it was time to begin what would be a boring afternoon of band rehearsal for the triangle in the percussion section.
To this day whenever a Rush fan hears the beginning to “YYZ,” the pattern doubles as a dog whistle triggering an off into the distance stare as if receiving a message only you can hear, much to the dismay of a spouse or non-Rush fan.
There’s some history to that.
Because as a fan in the 80s, in the rare occasion you heard Rush on the radio you never changed the station. You were so excited they were on that if any non-Rush fan reached for the dial you would verbally berate him. How could they? And rather than enjoy the genius of the power trio they’d ask, “is that a girl singing?”
“No, you idiot it’s Geddy Lee!”
The first time I heard Rush was when we were rafted with a sailboat in Edgartown Harbor, Massachusetts cruising with another family—my sister and I were younger than the kids in the other family. With the adults on one boat and the kids playing Uno down below on the other, Geddy Lee announced through the speakers: “This is the Spirit of the Radio.” Dealing the cards, I asked:
“What band is…”
“Rush,” the other kids said.
Then, after the drum solo in “YYZ” I looked up from my cards and without asking a thing they just said:
“Oh,” I thought to myself, “the earth is round.”
And when we got home to Mattapoisett that Sunday, I asked my mom if she could stop at the North Dartmouth Mall and pick up an album called Exit…Stage Left by Rush.
When she brought home the only Rush album she could find I was introduced to Moving Pictures and “Tom Sawyer,” a “Red Barchetta,” “YYZ,” and “Limelight.” They were my new friends and kept me listening for hours on Saturday mornings just holding the album cover.
And eventually I listened to the “B” side and realized how much I had been missing with “The Camera Eye,” “Witch Hunt” and “Vital Signs.” A perfect Rush: Essentials and Rush: Next Steps in our playlist world.
And just as “YYZ” was introduced to Rush fans on Moving Pictures—it came alive in Exit…Stage Left the live recording—where Peart’s drum solo put a mid-twenty-year old son of a Canadian farm equipment dealer on the map, and into the hearts and souls of Rush fans forever.
The exchange between bassist Lee and drummer Peart in “YYZ” feels like F-14s trading lead in formation. Their back and forth signals they’ve found their work-groove as Peart veers off, spinning into single-strokes acrobats and out of sight to test the limits of his craft. And when his double bass crescendos into a snare drum flam and tom-tom fill we know that after the iconic around the world tom-tom run Peart is back in formation. It’s time to give the engines a breather as guitarist Alex Lifeson takes his turn at lead. And lead he does.
Because as a drummer there’s nothing more rewarding than finishing a drum solo and experiencing the pure joy of listening to the guitarist take his. In “YYZ” Lifeson’s solo is so profound and emotional especially when Lee’s synthesizer work brings all three artists together. You just want it to last forever.
And now Neil Peart has announced his retirement not only from Rush, but from drumming. Thankfully their recorded and live work will last forever.
And yes, I feel lucky to have been able to see Rush live in concert and pay my respects to three guys who inspired me to dream. To imagine. And to learn from Peart’s lyrics about Ayn Rand and Mark Twain and to make our own adventures and dream: What if?
Listen to “YYZ” from Exit..Stage Left and appreciate Peart’s solo. Then watch it live in Rio to see what it means to be a Rush fan.
And then, imagine what it feels like to come home after a long work trip. To see your luggage rounding the “Arrival” carousel with your hometown code of BOS, PVD or EYW on the tags. And now you know what it felt like to Rush to see YYZ on theirs.
It’s always good to be home.
Rush- YYZ Exit Stage…Left (live)
Rush- YYZ Live (Rio)
E.J. Smith - Your Survival Guy
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