TORONTO - Over the years, the members of the Toronto rock trio Rush have remained steadfastly ambivalent about their inability to crack the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — they maintained it was something they wanted for their loyal fans, not themselves.
And now that the band will finally be inducted into the Cleveland rock shrine, that hasn't changed. While it was easy to detect a note of triumph in guitarist Alex Lifeson's voice as he called to discuss the honour — announced Tuesday — the power-prog threesome still isn't about to alter its tune.
"I never really cared if it happened or not, to be honest with you," a cheerful Lifeson said down the line this week. "It doesn't change anybody's life at the end of the day. Are we going to become more popular? Are we going to sell more records? Are more people going to come to the shows? I don't know. We're quite happy where we are and with what we've accomplished.
"So we continue to do the kind of work we want to do and we will continue regardless of our induction or not," he added. "I think at the end of the day, really, what this is about is making our fans feel like their support has been worthy."
Indeed, this moment has been a long time coming for the band's many ardent fans.
Rush will officially gain entry into the rock hall on April 18 after a ceremony in L.A., where they'll be honoured alongside fellow inductees including fiery New York rap pioneers Public Enemy, disco innovator Donna Summer, influential blues guitarist Albert King, gifted songwriter Randy Newman and American-Canadian rock outfit Heart.
Rush had been one of the most egregious omissions for the rock hall, which opened in 1983 and annually saw its announcement of new members greeted by snorting derision from jilted Rush fans.
It makes sense. The trio is renowned for its virtuosic instrumentation, they've released 18 platinum-plus albums in Canada (while clearing the same sales hurdle more than a dozen times Stateside) and, with roughly 40 years behind them in their current incarnation, have fostered a live reputation that's nothing short of sterling.
For fans, their exclusion had been as galling as it was perplexing.
"If there's one band in the history of rock music that's deserved the acknowledgment of getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it's Rush," said Sam Dunn, co-director of the 2010 Grammy-nominated documentary "Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage."
"Here's a band that has been making creative and unique music for over 40 years now, has a massive fanbase around the world ... (and) they continue to be one of the best live bands on the planet.
"I think there's a bunch of good reasons why they deserve this achievement."
In fact, Lifeson struggled to pinpoint exactly why the band hadn't been deemed worthy before, acknowledging that the honour was "a long time coming."
Like Dunn, he does figure it had something to do with the style of music they've played.
"The progressive movement is not something the founders of the Hall of Fame are too keen on," said Lifeson, noting that well-regarded prog peers Yes and King Crimson have also been thus far excluded from the Hall.
"But it seems to be changing. If you look at this year's nominees, it's really quite an eclectic group.... I kind of like the idea that it is becoming broader and more areas of popular music are being included. And so therefore at some point in the near future, progressive music will start being included."
Even if Lifeson managed to remain somewhat reserved about the honour, he acknowledged the excitement of the people around him.
"I think my sons were like: 'Finally, Dad,'" he said with a laugh.
He also got a glimpse of the Hall's meaning when he went to a dinner over the weekend with friends he hadn't seen in a while.
He had to keep quiet about Rush's imminent inclusion — a secret at the time — but even the mere fact of the band's nomination for Hall consideration was enough to send a charge through his dinner-mates.
"Every single one of them was so excited about the nomination," he recalled. "It really meant a lot to them. And I thought, this is so weird. I never would have thought these people would have even cared or known. But there's something about it that's really important to a lot of people.
"And certainly for Canadians, any type of success that a Canadian artist or athlete ... gets, really means a lot to people in this country. So I'm starting to realize how big of a deal this actually is."
And it means even more to the band's diehard fans. Dunn says Rush's followers are as passionate as they are because the band strikes a particularly personal connection with its listeners.
And he acknowledges, as does Lifeson, that his documentary has played a role in the increasing interest in the band the past few years.
"I think the film helped remind everyone that Rush has been an important band in their lives," Dunn said. "I think also, the film showed it's not just the nerdy, pimply, 'Dungeons and Dragons'-playing male audiences that we long assumed was the entirety of the Rush fanbase.
"Young people, old people and increasingly women are coming to Rush shows and I think realizing there's more to Rush than just 13-minute prog epics. There's some really good lyrics in there, there's some great melodies and there's some really catchy material as well."
That the honour comes during another strong year for Rush — which saw the trio top the Canadian charts with the enthusiastically reviewed "Clockwork Angels" and pull off yet another successful arena tour — just makes the timing a little sweeter.
Of course, Lifeson isn't exactly sure what the impetus was for the Hall's finally seeing fit to recognize Rush now.
And he doesn't sound inclined to spend too much time trying to figure it out.
"I guess maybe it was just time," he said. "It's hard to argue that Rush hasn't been influential in some way. We've been around for 44 years, we're still touring, we put out a new album that's arguably one of our best."
"There's been such a controversy and so many strong feelings by fans who support our being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So I guess it was time."