Grand designs: A musical, social and ethnographic study of Rush

McDonald, Christopher James. 
 York University (Canada) ProQuest Dissertations Publishing,  2003. NQ82808.

Abstract (summary)

The Toronto-based rock band Rush has sustained a professional career which is nearing 30 years. When one observes the string of platinum records and accolades from fellow musicians which Rush has received, one might expect that Rush would be assured a secure place within the rock pantheon, yet the histories of Rush recount how the band accrued limited respect from rock's taste-making “in-crowd” in the pages of such publications as Rolling Stone or Crawdaddy. This dissertation examines, from a number of angles, Rush's career, musical style, critical reception, lyric style, performing style, reception by fans and the character of its audience.

Through these excursions into the history, repertoire and audience of Rush, much is revealed about an area of rock culture which has not, until recently, been given serious academic attention. Chapter one introduces Rush and their history, as well as providing a literature survey and introduction of the theories and methodologies used in the dissertation. Chapter two explores how the politics of “hipness” bear upon the sometimes condescending reception the group received from critics; yet, such critical reception also acts as a site around which defences of Rush's authenticity and distinctiveness can be elaborated by fans and advocates of the band. The group's critical reception also reveals how different discourses of musical taste develop in different sectors of the rock media. Chapter three maps the development of Rush's musical style, in which it is shown how the influences of many different genres and artists were appropriated and transformed by Rush into a distinct style which is unmistakable to fans. Chapter four examines the lyrics of Rush, and discusses how the putatively “intellectual” (or, to some, “pretentious”) aesthetic of lyric writing is important to the reception of Rush's music.

Chapter five looks at four Rush songs—“Xanadu,” “Limelight,” “Distant Early Warning” and “Roll the Bones”—through the eyes of twelve Rush fans, producing a “dialogic” interpretation and description of these songs. Finally, chapters six and seven examine both the construction of Rush's style as performers and patterns of Rush fanhood, which comprise the most “visible” social aspects of Rush-related activities. Methodologies and theoretical issues utilized in the dissertation include musical analysis, discourse analysis, reception theories, ethnography and social surveys. Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of dialogism and “addressive” discourse is used as an over-arching paradigm, which frames the approaches used in each chapter.

Indexing (details)

0413: Music
Identifier / keyword
Communication and the arts; Ethnographic; Musical; Rock music; Rush; Social
Grand designs: A musical, social and ethnographic study of Rush
McDonald, Christopher James
Number of pages
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 64/08, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Bowman, Robert
York University (Canada)
University location
Source type
Dissertation or Thesis
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
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