In Anthem: Rush in the 1970s (ECW, May.), Popoff presents the first in a three-part history of legendary Canadian progressive rock band Rush.
You have previously written several shorter volumes on the band and its music. What made you decide to write such a lengthy biography?
My first biography on Rush, Contents Under Pressure, was authorized by the band and was pretty casual and short, and since it came out in 2004, it was in need of an update. After working with Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen on their documentary Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, I realized that there were hours of interviews that I had transcribed, only a fraction of which were featured in the film. So I made an arrangement with the filmmakers to use that archive, as well as other interviews I’d done with the band over the years.
You’ve been interviewing Rush for decades. How has your relationship with the band members evolved?
I have had good relations with the band as well as the publisher, who worked on some of [drummer] Neil Peart’s books. We’re all in Toronto. And Rush’s management not only gave me its blessing to work on the book but also were supportive even after the band had retired in 2018. Their only request was to not ask for any more interviews with the band and to basically stay out of their hair, which was perfectly fine with me. It was so cool to have all this great material to use that I didn’t feel like I needed to—or wanted to—bother them anymore.
Neil Peart, recognized as one of the world’s greatest drummers, recently died. What was he like?
Early on in the band’s career, Neil was “the interview guy”—he was very open, very intelligent, happily gave long interviews, and was very good at explaining his lyrics. After interviewing him, you felt like you’d been best buddies all your life. After the deaths of his first wife and their child, things changed. He went off on various travels by motorcycle in North and Central America, experiences he poured into his books, which in a way are even more revealing than his interviews.
Over the course of writing this book, was there anything that surprised you?
First was the loyalty in the band and their associates. The number of members of their management office and crew from the 1970s who were still there in the 1990s and beyond was staggering. This was a band that did not make many enemies throughout its career. Second was the remarkable friendship and chemistry of the three band members. There was a little struggle between them after their breakthrough hit “The Spirit of Radio” in 1980, as they added more keyboards to their songs throughout the 1980s and into the ’90s. But what I found most impressive was that as they changed styles, sometimes radically, they didn’t explode.