. . .
In the summer of 1977, I started doing something that we called “mobiling.” I’d gotten on the CB radio and basically discovered a bunch of other weirdos on it — my first foray into social media! — and, naturally started meeting them face-to-face. It was called “mobiling” because people with CB radios in their cars as well as their houses would often be the ones making contact.
I, of course, didn’t have a car, but Craig from across the street as well as Larry (whom I met via the CB radio.) both had cars. And so we drove around northwest Fresno that srping and summer putting faces to voices. It was during one of those forays that I met my first Rush Guy, who turned me on to their double-live album, All The World’s a Stage.
Which probably didn’t take that much convincing: 1977 was probably the peak of my prog period, I mean, after all, Rush was purported to be an unholy combination of prog and metal, and boasted a great drummer, to boot. Not to mention, that was just how you discovered bands at that point: via their live albums. Getting All The World’s a Stage was no different to me than getting One More From The Road, Foghat Live, Some Enchanted Evening or You Get What You Play For, all of which I also bought around that time in order to figure out if I liked any of those bands enough to go deeper in their catalog. And while I might have heard “Working Man” on the radio, maybe, Rush was very much an unknown quantity to me at that time. Not for long, though, as shortly after I started listening to All The World’s a Stage, I think that Joseph bought both 2112 and its follow-up, A Farewell To Kings, which I remember not liking all that much (though I’ve come around on “Xanadu”).
In any event, I don’t remember what the impetus was for me to purchase Hemispheres, the final album of their proggiest period but it turned out to be my favorite Rush album of the 1970s, even though it opened with a sequel to a song I didn’t like all that much from A Farewell To Kings, but I enjoyed “Cygnus X-1 Book Two: Hemispheres” more than I would have expected for an 18-song that took up a whole side, and when you flipped the record, you got two shorter songs, the philosophical “Circumstances” and the political allegory “The Trees.” The latter song has often been cited for being some kind of bullshit Randian propaganda, but to me, it’s all about how if you’re a complete dick about your privilege, you might just get your head chopped off.
On both those songs, guitarist Alex Lifeson absolutely shines, but it’s the finale, the 9:35 instrumental, “La Villa Strangiato,” where he well and truly shines. Lifeson will now and forever be underrated as a guitarist because he had the fortune to be in a band with Neal Peart and Geddy Lee, and someone as the be the least-feted musician in that band, but his guitar playing on this song is amazing.
“La Villa Strangiato” is apparently a musical manifestation of the nightmares that Lifeson would have on the road, and whether he’s bouncing lightning licks against power chords, or just laying out long phrases, he’s totally on fire. The most famous part of “La Villa Strangiato” is probably when the whole band falls into a speeded-up adaptation of the middle section of Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse” — music that was used in dozens of Warner Brothers cartoons, often to depict an assembly line — twice, seemingly just for the hell of it.
My favorite part is the guitar solo that precedes the first use of “Powerhouse,” where the song slows down, and Lifeson takes a very long, very evocative guitar solo, straining for the sky like David Gilmour at first — both Peart and Lee are incredibly restrained during this — and then eventually shredding like Jimmy Page, creating a torrential downpour of notes everywhere.
The band themselves knew that none of this was strictly necessary, which is why they called it “an exercise in self-indulgence,” and, honestly, it also showed that they had a sense of humour about themselves, because while “La Villa Strangiato” is incredibly technically proficient — and a bit of a nightmare to record, taking longer than the entire Fly By Night album — there is a sense of play, a sense of fun to it that permeates the whole thing. Rush were somehow showing off and taking the piss all at the same time.
As it turns out, Hemispheres is the last of their albums to be so proggy; as in the 1980s, Rush would go in a completely different direction.
“La Villa Strangiato” official music video
“La Villa Strangiato” performed live in 1978
“La Villa Strangiato” performed live in 2011
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