It must’ve been tough for 1970s “arena rock” heroes to transition into the MTV era.
Many of these outfits were seemingly born-and-bred to be anonymous in a broader sense. For 90 per cent listeners (and I’m assuming even for a large segment of self-anointed “fans”), they would be hard pressed to identify the individual members of Journey, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, Kansas, etc. Even their names were fairly interchangeable and aesthetically none of them veered from the “white guys with considerable hair” template that was popular at the time.
The music was primarily crafted to be sold via cassette at your local gas station and sound decent blasting out of an FM radio in a panel van. Sweeping generalization but you get the gist. For once in “show biz”, looks didn’t (really) matter.
This model extended to Canada. We birthed outfits with names like Prism, Saga and Triumph. These might sound like video game studios or marketing agencies but NO! These were actual bands with guitars and drug problems and the like.
Occasionally in Canada, the model veered. Most interestingly, there was Aldo Nova and later, Alta Moda.
* Aldo Nova: Some dude from Montreal who was most notable for his butt rock classic “Fantasy”. The track featured a memorable video where Monsieur Nova emerged from a helicopter and shot lasers from his guitar. He did this while dressed like a leopard. While the clip is textbook 1980s cheese, the Wikipedia entry is almost as good.
* Alta Moda: A “funk rock” band out of Toronto who didn’t sound anything like Faith No Moore or Fishbone. Molly Johnson was in this band. Its Wikipedia entry is mainly about racist things.
Anyway, Rush were another top 1970s “arena rock” band. They were/are wildly popular in their native Canada and around the world. You could argue they were more well-positioned for MTV era since they were slightly more theatrical than Foreigner or Triumph. They spent parts of the 1970s wearing kimonos, after all.
Aside: Did Greg Norton of Hüsker Dü cop kimono-era Neil Peart‘s “steez” or were they both ultimately just ripping off Rollie Fingers?
Rush made a lot of videos during the 1980s. The clip for “Tom Sawyer” showed the boys trying to cram as many instruments as humanly possible into a really weird looking cottage. “Subdivisons” is a great video for spotting Toronto’s trash culture of yore and if you took out the music and added dialogue, it could pretty much double as an episode of Degrassi Jr High.
“Time Stand Still” was another Rush video of this era and it was a doozy! It was directed by Polish auteur/vowel hater Zbigniew Rybczyński, who boasted a long and really bizarre track record of working with artists who were completely dissimilar: the Art of Noise, the Fat Boys, Yoko Ono, Supertramp, Herb Alpert, Jimmy Cliff, etc.
The video was filmed in New York City against a green screen and features the band floating around while playing their instruments. Joining Rush in their floaty efforts was guest vocalist Aimee Mann, who was in the dying days of the underrated ‘Til Tuesday at the time this track was recorded in early 1987-ish.
Zbig’s motives for the clip weren’t and still aren’t entirely clear but one thing he knew: he simply MUST see the members of Rush floating around randomly and Aimee Mann must spend part of the time pretending to use a video camera(?!?). The effect is less “WTF” and more “Sure, whatever” in hindsight. Ostensibly, this was statement.
Here are a few thoughts from the clip’s editor from his website:
Zbig had shot footage of country landscapes for Rush. The idea was to shoot short pieces of Rush performing the song against green screen, then composite them together. When we started working, Zbig decided he loved the stage and wanted to composite Rush over that instead. I suggested that we shoot them live in the stage, but Zbig wanted everyone to “float” around it. He also insisted that everything had to happen “live.” Each new layer would be placed on top of the preceding layer without making protection copies or “laying off” a copy, as we used to say. The green screen footage was shot with the same giant studio camera Aimee Mann is using in the video. Zbig would give some vague direction to Rush; I would set up the effects, play the audio track and press record, causing multiple one-inch tape machines to roll up on the third floor. For 3 days in a row. It didn’t matter what time it was. If Zbig got an idea at 3 in the morning, he’d wake everyone up (I was sleeping in the control room) and we would all go to work. We started the Rush video on Saturday morning and finished Tuesday night. Wednesday morning Mr. Mister moved in.
The thought of Zbig waking up in a cold sweat and barking, “I must see Peart AND his drum kit upside down NOW!!!” is comical. However, it’s way too easy to poke fun at this video out context.
For those who have seen the great-even-if-you-hate-the-band documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage, the members of Rush reveal themselves to be as virtuous at comedy as they are at music. Therefore, it’s somewhat safe to assume that Geddy and pals knew full well the “Time Stand Still” video was a bit of a lark.
If so, this was pretty forward thinking for 1987. The “so bad, it’s good” post-ironic wave that hit popular culture in the 1990s was still years away. And yet Rush had the good humour (and good sense) to release a video that wasn’t artistic and wasn’t really anything beyond (yes) band members and Aimee Mann floating around over mildly-interesting file footage. The video was cheap and that was the point.
Lo-and-behold, this approach became common place years later, typified by the following high-concept clips:
* White Zombie sings “Thunder Kiss ‘65”
* Elastica sings “Stutter” (via the Buzzcocks)
* Stone Temple Pilots sings “Big Bang Baby”
* M.I.A. sings “Galang” (via Neneh Cherry)
“Time Stand Still”/“Time Stands Still” indeed.