Hold your fire
Keep it burning bright
Hold the flame ’til the dream ignites
A spirit with a vision is a dream
With a mission

–Rush, "Mission" (1987)

Revisiting: Rush – Hold Your Fire

While my friends were hoping for cars that looked cool or were built for speed, I had other criteria. Ask my Dad. I’m sure it was embarrassing for him when we’d wander car lots on weekends, looking for my first car. He’s not a gearhead, but he knows the ins and outs of automobiles. He knows what belongs under the hood, what makes for a quality car. But his second son, he’d cup his hands against the driver’s side window and peer towards the center of the dashboard.

“Doesn’t seem to have a tape deck … think we can put a tape deck in it?”

I’d overlook anything for the sake of a decent sound system. I remember a sunny late afternoon at a dealership on Rossville Blvd, my Dad and I walked among the latest foreign-mades to hit our area. It didn’t even matter than these imports came fresh from Yugoslavia, they all had tape decks. Lucky for me and my social future, my Dad wasn’t impressed and we left without.

Some weeks after, my Dad brought home the car that would become my very first. A 1976 Ford Grenada. A two-door monstrosity, automatic, in pale gray and a little chrome. Maroon interior. And yes, it had a tape deck. It was the perfect first car.

The album I associate most with my first car, with my initial forays into driving on my own, going on those timid initial dates and experiencing for the first time the strangeness of a night drive home alone … is Hold Your Fire, the 1987 release by Rush. I don’t even recall why I bought it … and I did buy it. On cassette, of course.

I was never a Rush fan. An appreciation of that very Canadian rock band was a piece of nerd cred that went unclaimed.

Sure, I knew “Tom Sawyer.” It was one of the twenty or so tracks that Chattanooga’s KZ-106 kept on repeat, along with Heart’s “Barracuda” and Steve Miller’s “Fly Like An Eagle.” As such, Rush was another stripe in the sonic wallpaper of my young life. There, but not. Instead, I picked my fan obsessions from a mixed bag of New Wave, Hair Metal, Christian Rock … and Late 60s Rock & Roll. The latter might be a surprise, but pause please and remember the intense wave of nostalgia that permeated the late 80s like a thick fog. “It Was 20 Years Ago Today” … because back then, like, it really was, man. Dig?

Hold Your FireIf I had to hazard a guess, the cover must’ve struck me as pretty or profound or just plain interesting. This was the age of the Amiga, when high-end graphics were demonstrated with spheres shaded and shadowed to appear three-dimensional. As I look at the red-on-red image now, I wonder still what I’m meant to see. Planets? Gumballs? Blood? Surely not. Paintballs?

“Tough times, demand tough talk, demand tough hearts, demand tough songs …”

The highlights? “Time Stand Still.” It’s funny, but I remember thinking that the girl singing through the chorus sounded familiar, almost like that “Voices Carry” song. Turns out, it was Aimee Mann after all, back in her ‘Til Tuesday days. “Second Nature” is an attempt at some kind of humanist call-to-arms — “people got to make choices, and choices got to have voices” — but in the end, the politics fail to stick and we’re left with just a shimmering anthem to being decent folks. Likewise, “Prime Mover” and “Lock and Key” are appeals to rationality. The album’s title arrives in the opening chords of “Mission,” a track that praises human will and the desire to become more than the sum of parts.

Is it that simple? Is Hold Your Fire really just a collection of humanist hymns to being a better person?

And somehow, that cassette became the comforting soundtrack of me as a solo driver. As I listen now, standing some twenty-three years away, I’m not embarrassed. I won’t say that the album holds up, that it is somehow timeless. The lyrics are inspirational, by and large, mostly of the Carpe Diem variety. It doesn’t sound entirely like the 80s, but it doesn’t sound like the future. You’ve got your gated drums, your too-obvious keyboards. There are no saxophone solos as I recall, but that doesn’t mean an axeman wasn’t on standby during the recording. And since this is Rush, bass guitar is unmissable and plays off the percussion mathematically.

Worth a revisit? Certainly.

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  • As someone that’s never listened to Rush (yeah, I know Tom Sawyer too), any advice on 5-10 songs I should start with? What’s gonna get me hooked, cause I feel like I’m ready to dive into a new/old band right about now.

  • Thomas L. Strickland

    I’m big on albums.

    And so, I’d start in the early-middle of Rush’s discography with Moving Pictures (1981). For one thing, you know the opening track (“Tom Sawyer”) already. Chances are, you’ve heard “Limelight” as well. Geddy Lee sounds great on this album, both as a bassist and a vocalist.

    That done, go back one album to Permanent Waves (1979). This is the album that takes their earlier, brainier progressive rock sound and mixes it with the kind of New Wave sound that brought us The Police, The Romantics, even Peter Gabriel.

    Between the two albums, that’ll give you 13 tracks. Ought to be enough to get you started.

    (Warning: Don’t look for tracks from Hold Your Fire on YouTube. The 80s were not kind to a lot of musicians, but Rush put out some horrible videos.)

  • I agree with Thomas. Moving Pictures and Permanent Waves are great places to start. Another good thing to do is get the live records. Start with, “All The World’s A Stage,” then to “Exit Stage Left,” to “A Show Of Hands,” and so on. The live records have most of the good tunes from the era they were recorded. Another great starting point is watching the documentary, “Beyond The Lighted Stage.” It’s an excellent film. Once you’re comfortable then you might want to look into the Rush: Rewind DVDs which are the live concerts all remastered. They’re pretty good. “Rush in Rio,” is a great show however it’s plagued by a poor mix.