Thursday, May 21, 2015


Two days back, I was having a pretty crappy day - an outcome that usually involves close interaction with armpits of fellow victims of the Mumbai local trains, and partially, idiotic meetings.

I knew I needed the ultimate remedy. It needed to be used with caution. Like Getafix would have us believe, overuse might render it useless.

I reached for my most excellent Hifiman HE500 headphones, and plugged on the track I knew would set everything right.

And it did.


Never has a piece of music moved me as much as that underrated genius, Alex Lifeson's solo on La Villa Strangiato. Along with Neil Peart on drums and Geddy Lee on bass/keyboards, he created 2:33 of sheer joy and beauty.

To say that Rush is just a band is like saying Nutella is just a spread. They are quite simply, the most efficient band ever - to think that so much sonic magnificence can come out of just three individuals is mind-blowing, and something process engineers the world over should study, before an MBA comes along and creates some stupid 6-sigma presentation.

But I don't want to beat about the bush too much - alas, being a strategy guy in advertising, that's my natural disposition - but here, I just want to talk about this solo.

The song itself is an instrumental, spanning eleven 'movements' over 9 minutes. It's the fourth part of this, A Lerxst in Wonderland, whatever that means, that I'd like to draw your attention to.

Here's the track:

If you're listening to this for the first time, then listen to the whole thing, from the beginning. Trust me, the solo sounds way better that way. In a way, it's like Sachin and Ganguly ripping into the hapless English bowling at Headingley in 2002, but only after Dravid has laid the foundation with an epic 148. Something like that. But anyway.

Read as you listen.

At 3:16, you can FEEL the shift in tone.
By 3:35, something has settled, but there's tension. You notice the world's greatest drummer, Neil Peart, manically hi-hatting away.
And then begins those guitar moans. Those incredibly sexy guitar moans. Oh, shut up, Jimmy Page, you don't hold a candle to this man.
At 4:02, Geddy Lee's bass note fills the air. You can sense it, something is gonna give. Like a tense father-son altercation after an opprobrious word was used by mistake.
The few seconds after that, Lifeson's guitar is almost reassuring. By 4:14, it's turned from tension to beautiful melody. It's just been a few seconds.
Slowly, the pace picks up. At 4:27, it's like a plane getting ready to take off. You know, that moment, it's just teasing you, gliding along the tarmac, as you clutch your seat, waiting for that gut-wrenching zoom to happen?

And then, my favourite moment.
As Lifeson slowly builds up the pace, there's a bit of subtle genius by Rush. Notice Geddy Lee's bass. Before the 'paragraph', if I may call it that, is over, he changes his bassnotes at 4:39 to become more aggressive. Hear it again. Now, suppose he'd waited till the next 'paragraph' began at 4:44, it would have seemed like the whole band just shifted together, it was a deliberate 'taking to the next level'. But since Geddy's already gone into next gear before Alex, you don't know what's hit you. Suddenly, before you know it, the pace has changed from slow and easy to third gear.

Some quick pyrotechnics later (4:48, hear that?), we are clearly going up, up and away - and that happens, at 4:56, as he launches into an astonishing array of notes that never dips in melody despite the speed. As the minute counter crosses 5, you realise that you're hearing something very, very special.

One final run, one final finger-blurring series of notes, before ending in an orgasm - that beautiful, beautiful muted guitar riff at 5:14, which carries on till the end of the 'movement', 5:49.

Phew. I mean, phew. Speechless. As always. Eyes, finally open again.

Rush don't allow you to relax, of course, the next movement throws you right back into action. Your fingers are itching to press rewind, but that's almost disrespectful. You wait till the song is over, and then play again. From the beginning of course.


Most guitar solos are just that - solos of guitar. The other musicians are just support acts.
Not LVS. The solo is as much Peart's and Lee's as it is Lifeson. The tension and atmosphere that their incredible drumming and basswork creates is as instrumental (hehe) to this song as Lifeson's fantastic guitar playing.

To fully appreciate what Peart and Lee bring to the table, it's worth listening to the track sans the guitar. Pay attention to Peart's oh so subtle changes. That's the genius of the man.

And see if you can keep time. It's maddening.


I've heard every version of LVS that exists on YouTube, including most of the covers. From the classic one (1979, Pinkpop) below, where he's probably played his fastest ever. And that's when you realise, the bugger was 25 when he played this. Twenty fucking five.


And of course, there's the 'old' Alex...

No matter which 'other' version I hear, it's imperfect. He's trying too hard, or adds something needless, goes too fast (like the solo outro in the above video), goes too slow, makes it too short... The original studio version remains, in my eyes (ears?) the perfect-est way to do this solo. I'm sure many hardcore Rush fans will agree.


I just realise I've written a fairly sizeable post about one guitar solo. But that's how much this means to me. If a piece of music is powerful enough to undo the damage a Borivili Fast train can do to you, it must mean something.

Thank you, Aleksandar Živojinović aka Alex Lifeson, for this.