In January of 2015, Rush announced that they would belatedly celebrate their 40th anniversary with a North American tour. "These not-to-be-missed concerts will highlight four decades of the band's music," they said in a press release. "It will most likely be their last major tour of this magnitude." Notice all the qualifiers in that statement: "most likely," "major tour" and "this magnitude." That wording left them a lot of wiggle room to keep going, but the billing was more than enough to help them sell out arenas all over the country. It was also enough to justify a new Rush documentary, even though 2010's Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage is one of the greatest rock docs ever created.
Unlike Beyond the Lighted Stage, Rush: Time Stand Still – in theaters nationwide Thursday for a one-night-only Fathom Events screening – takes place largely in the present. It's the story of a band facing their own mortality as they attempt to pull off the ultimate final tour as a gift to their fans. It also delves into history a bit, as the members tell funny stories from tours past, and stops occasionally to introduce some of Rush's most hardcore fans.
Here are 10 things we learned from the film.
1. Neil Peart didn't want to go on the tour.
With a young daughter at home, the 64-year-old drummer initially had no intention of going on a tour last year. The group had been on the road pretty consistently for more than a decade and each outing was becoming increasingly hard on his aging body. Rush took a year off after the Clockwork Angels tour with no clear plan for the future. "In November [of 2014], we all got together in Toronto and I was quite prepared to say, 'Sorry, I'm done,'" Peart says in the film. "I realized I was kind of a solitary misfit in that context of being the one that wanted to pull that plug. I left one little window in my mind that if somebody wanted to do it one more time and didn't know if they'd be able to, [I would do it]."
2. Alex Lifeson is beginning to suffer from arthritis.
During the meeting, the guitarist revealed that he has arthritis and doesn't know how much longer he'll be able to play guitar. "It's easy to blame everything on the drummer not wanting to go back on the road," Geddy Lee says. "But there's other factors at play here that can't be ignored. One of those factors is Alex's arthritis, which is kind of a ticking time bomb."
3. Neil Peart went into a rage when he realized that he was cornered and would have to go back on the road.
"The bastard pulled that exact card," says Peart. "Alex said he has arthritis and said, 'I'd really like to go out one more time and don't know if I'll be able to.' That night in my hotel room, I had the worst attack of Tourette's you've ever heard. I felt trapped. I was stomping around and cursing. But by the next day it was like, 'It is what it is. Deal with it!'"
4. Their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction continues to reverberate in their heads.
After years and years of fan outrage, Rush were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. Hardcore fans flooded the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles, and went absolutely nuts for minutes on end when Hall of Fame chairman Jann Wenner merely said, "and from Toronto …" during his introductory remarks. The entire ceremony paused while the fans cheered and cheered to the point where the members of the group had to stand up and take a bow. "If you were in that room, you understand what our music means to them and what they mean to us, in one incredible reaction that I'll never forget," says Lee.
5. Neil Peart dealt with agonizing foot pain on the tour.
As always, Peart traveled from show to show on his motorcycle. "Of all the things I worried about before this tour, and I worried about my elbows and cardiac arrest, I didn't worry about the bottoms of my feet," says Peart. But as he rode through torrential rain with wet boots on his feet, he developed a fungus that grew into eczema psoriasis and bacteria infections. A topical ointment only made the condition worse and walking became nearly unbearable, let alone playing drums for three hours a night. "By the end of the second leg I was walking on two raw stumps," he says. "So drumming, of course, was agonizing." But he powered through it, and if that wasn't enough he developed painful blisters all over his hands at the same time. "He's such a stoic guy," says Lifeson. "I can't believe he played through that." Adds Lee: "There were two weeks of utter hell for him, like really utter hell."
6. Management wanted to add another leg onto the tour.
The R40 tour lasted a mere 35 shows, all of which were in North America. (By comparison, the 2012-13 Clockwork Angels tour went to Europe and lasted 72 shows, the 2010-11 Time Machine tour was 81 shows, and the 2007-08 Snakes and Arrows tour was 114 shows.) Rush manager Ray Danniels was hopeful that Neil Peart would agree to more R40 gigs, and Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson were also extremely willing to see that happen. Peart didn't budge. "It makes it hard that we're not doing more and we're not taking this to Europe," says Danniels. "That we're not doing another 20 shows in America. The other side of that coin is that we almost had nothing and 35 is a lot more than zero."
7. The tour finale in Los Angeles was an extremely emotional evening.
They wrapped up the run at the L.A. Forum on August 1st, 2015. "I tried to absorb as much as I could," Lifeson recalls. "The building, the crowd, the lights. I tried to be acutely aware of everything that was going on." Fans flew in from all over the globe, waving flags from their home countries. "That made me feel good that so many people came from so far away," Lee says. "All those places we knew we couldn't get to ... The closest I came emotionally to losing it was when I was saying goodnight. I got choked up and I got momentarily overcome."
8. Neil broke one of his rules on that last night.
The Forum show ended with "Working Man" and a sprinkle of vintage rarity "Garden Road." When the gig wrapped, Peart shocked his bandmates by heading to the front of the stage to join them for a bow. "I've never crossed what I call the back-line meridian," he says. "I stay behind my drums and cymbals for 40 years and never go out front, never. It's not my territory. Eventually, I talked myself into it. ... It was totally the right thing to do."
9. A tour with anything less than the three members of the classic lineup is unthinkable.
They may have had a different drummer on their first album. They may have toured with a string section for Clockwork Angels. Violinist Jonathan Dinklage (brother of actor Pete Dinklage) may have occasionally joined them for "Losing It" on this last tour. But Rush is Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart. They will never do a show without all three of them. "It's not like you just get new members of a band and just go for it," says Lifeson. "Rush has never been a band like that. We'd never, ever do something like that." Adds Lee: "We always said that if the three of us aren't on board, we don't do a thing. There have been other decisions in our career where the three of us weren't on board and we didn't do it. Nothing as profound as ending our touring life, but fair enough. So one guy doesn't want to do that thing anymore that I love to do. That hurts. But there's nothing I can do about it and that's part of the agreement."
10. The group walked away with mixed emotions.
"I'm sure down the road I'll feel fine with it," says Lifeson. "But I still lament the fact that it's likely we won't be doing a major tour anymore." That feels like an optimistic statement. Judging from Peart's statements throughout the film, even a single show in the future would be a big surprise. At least they went out with one amazing final tour and had the foresight to film everything.