Stop it now. For some reason you dorks really like this band and I'm telling you they're not cool. The fact that they're still around, 40 years after they started, is scary and disappointing, because it means today's young generation of dorks will be downloading them to their iPods just as feverishly as their parents bought their albums, 8-tracks, cassettes, and CDs. Well, I'm telling you to stop it.
The first thing you need to know is, they haven't sung about Rivendell or any other J.R.R. Tolkien place in decades. They're over that, and you should be, too. They also haven't put out any songs about spaceships in just about as long. So, I don't know what the attraction is anymore. You can't keep listening to music that's 20-40 years old; you have to listen to music from your generation. (And stay away from the Decemberists! They might be of your generation and they might not sound at all like Rush, but stay away from them anyway. You don't need to turn listening to music into a history lesson. That's so . . . dorky.)
Okay, if you're a NASA scientist, then I'm not going to give you a hard time for listening to Rush. You have to do all that math, so if you want to listen to music that's been called math rock, then I'm not going to stop you. And it's understandable that you'd be affectionate for a band that wrote a song about the space shuttle Columbia. But the rest of you have no excuse.
I would not know this because I don't listen to them, but in the late 1970s they apparently helped create a musical genre called progressive metal, the fusing of heavy metal with progressive rock---in other words, Black Sabbath meets Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. I admit that's kind of a neat trick, but that was 30 years ago and today they don't do anything at all like that. What's more, they no longer dress up in those flowing robes or Chinese housecoats. Apparently they just dress like regular people, in jeans and T-shirts. I know this is cold water to you, but get over your fantasy.
It's also true they never acted liked idiots when they were on tour, thrashing hotel rooms and making headlines for adolescent behavior. Where's the cool in that? And their playing has always been technically proficient, switching time signatures multiple times in a piece without missing a beat.
All this is exactly why you want to stay away from them. That's not what music is about at all. You don't listen to music--especially when the lyrics are thought-provoking--you wear music. When you wear music, you don't think about it, just like you don't think about the sunglasses you wear. This is all about looking good.
This band burst onto the scene in 1976 with a 20-minute-long piece called 2112, about some dork living in a future socialist dystopia whose leaders not only pick out what health insurance you have but tell you what art to like. This dork finds an old guitar, shows it to the socialist leader, then goes off and . . . kills himself because the leader smashes the guitar. What the heck? Who in their right mind puts a story like that to rock?
Lately they've been singing about religious and political extremism. If you want to write an instruction manual for how not to act cool, you can start with everything this band has done. If coolness were a light bulb and cool people moths, these guys would be the anti-moths, fluttering around in the dark. So, take it from me: you want to head to the light, like Daedalus.