Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class

Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class

Dreaming in Middletown
Chris McDonald
Distribution: World
Publication date: 10/12/2009
ISBN: 978-0-253-00404-8
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Winner, 2012 IASPM Canada Book Prize
Canadian progressive rock band Rush was the voice of the suburban middle class. In this book, Chris McDonald assesses the band’s impact on popular music and its legacy for legions of fans. McDonald explores the ways in which Rush’s critique of suburban life—and its strategies for escape—reflected middle-class aspirations and anxieties, while its performances manifested the dialectic in prog rock between discipline and austerity, and the desire for spectacle and excess. The band’s reception reflected the internal struggles of the middle class over cultural status. Critics cavalierly dismissed, or apologetically praised, Rush’s music for its middlebrow leanings. McDonald's wide-ranging musical and cultural analysis sheds light on one of the most successful and enduring rock bands of the 1970s and 1980s.

Author Bio

Chris McDonald is an ethnomusicologist who specializes in popular music studies. He teaches at Cape Breton University.


"A well-researched, provocative glimpse into one of the most popular, yet oft-overlooked bands in the history of rock." —Theo Cateforis, editor of The Rock History Reader

"McDonald makes an important contribution to our understanding of the middle class as a force in North American rock culture, and at the same time offers a pioneering look at one of the most idiosyncratic and influential bands of the past four decades. This book should be welcomed not only by those with an interest in hard and progressive rock, but also by anyone who wishes to understand the role of social class in recent popular culture." —William Echard, Carleton University, author of Neil Young and the Poetics of Energy

"As Chris McDonald correctly points out in Dreaming in Middletown, writing on rock music traditionally has tended to privilege the working class as the ultimate site of authentic expression. It is refreshing to encounter a scholarly book that finally takes up the challenge of interpreting popular music’s meanings in relation to its substantial, yet often neglected, middle class fan base. Deftly interweaving in-depth musical analyses with the insights of sociology, cultural studies, philosophy, and the voices of Rush fans themselves, McDonald has produced a smart, probing, and illuminating scholarly work that deserves a place alongside Susan Fast’s In the Houses of the Holy as one of the best musicological studies of a single rock band." —Theo Cateforis, Syracuse University, editor of The Rock History Reader

"If you are the sort who is a Rush freak, a musician, and a fan of academic writing, you'll enjoy this book." —PopMatters

"McDonald has a lot of interesting points to make about the music, the band, and what was going on in the world surrounding them at the time. Rush fans who are interested in something more in-depth than the normal run of band biographies should at least take a look at this volume." —Goldmine , February 12, 2010

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Table of Contents


1. "Anywhere But Here": Rush and Suburban Desires for Escape
2. "Swimming Against the Stream": Individualism and Middle-Class Subjectivity in Rush
3. "The Work of Gifted Hands": Professionalism and Virtuosity in Rush's Style
4. "Experience to Extremes": Discipline, Detachment, and Excess in Rush
5. "Reflected in Another Pair of Eyes": Representations of Rush Fandom
6. "Scoffing at the Wise?": Rush, Rock Criticism, and the Middlebrow

Works Cited
Selected Discography