Closer to my heart

Published 01/16/2020

By Andrew Berthoff

This SOCAN blog post, written by SOCAN Chief Communications & Marketing Officer Andrew Berthoff, was uploaded to The Toronto Star website on Jan. 14, 2020, and printed in the newspaper the same day.

I was a 14-year-old in, of all places, the subdivisions of St. Louis when I learned about Rush.

My friend Bret alerted me to this weird Canadian trio. Bret knew about them because his cool older sister, between her apparent penchant for Zeppelin, Steely Dan, and the Moody Blues, got A Farewell to Kings.

Before I knew it, our small, socially awkward, intelligent band of friends were playing the grooves off of Hemispheres, mesmerized by the lyrics and percussion virtuosity of Rush drummer Neil Peart.

We had our own little clique. We were cool to be outcast. And it was mainly Peart who brought our hearts closer to Canada.

To put an even stronger nerd-factor into my musical tastes, I became a bagpiper, as engrossed in piping culture as I was in Peart’s mystic lyrics, Lifeson’s double-necked riffs, and Lee’s improbable bass-falsetto combination. Bagpipes and Rush: unlikely watchwords of my adolescence.

Those halcyon pre-Internet days made us wonder just what they were all about. Geddy? Romantic poetical references to Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”? Cygnus? Where was this Lakeside Park and its fantastical willows in the breeze? And just how was “Peart” pronounced anyway? Pert? Pea-art? Or could a twist of satined-mustachioed-lyricist-cool make it rhyme with “heart” itself?

One thing was sure: the heart of Peart was art.

Soon I was discovering and enjoying more made-in-Canada music. April Wine. Max Webster. Neil. Joni. I’d wonder what the obscure reference to “Becker’s chocolate milk” meant on the credits on an album sleeve.

We saw two Rush concerts: December 1978 at the Checkerdome and February 1980 at Keil Auditorium. They played three sold-out nights at the latter, having somehow secured a fan base toehold in St. Louis, with the help of Bret, Keith, Rick, Matt, and me.

By that time, though, Rush’s Permanent Waves foreshadowed and countered new wave. As the ironic album title suggested, Rush would stay true to their craft, even though cool was now coming from the U.K. in the form of deliciously synth-y bands.

I went off to college in Minnesota. It was even less cool to love Rush. After detecting some slight musical and video compromise with The Big Money (more irony), I left them for local fare like Prince and The Time, while soaking in as much of The Cure, Echo & The Bunnymen, and REM as possible.

But my interest in Canada, spawned by Rush, continued. Through bagpiping, I discovered that Canada possessed the best pipers in North America, and a thriving scene that I wanted to be part of.

My father and I would journey to Ontario from St. Louis for me to compete in piping competitions in unlikely towns like Cambridge, Dutton, and Maxville. Hours of dad-driven 55 mph travel in our radio-less, ochre-coloured Dodge Aspen.

My heart would leap up driving across the 401 at the top of Toronto. In the distance, could it really be the same high-rise housing featured on the cover of A Farewell to Kings? Eyes cast up on the path of least resistance.

Canada would hold its cool. Within a year of completing university, I fulfilled my subconscious dream and somehow landed in Toronto for good. It was May 1988, and I’d even live in Alex and Geddy’s Willowdale ‘hood for several years. I became a Canadian citizen by 1995, and here I remain.

I would continue to learn and love music made in Canada, and eventually transfer that love, and my career in communications and marketing, to fulfil another subconscious dream: working on behalf of Canada’s songwriters, composers, and music publishers, fighting for their rights, promoting their success.

When I turn my pages of history, I can’t help but to give much of the credit to those days long ago in St. Louis. I thank this unusually compelling power trio for bringing me closer to their art, compelling me to Canada, through music and words.

Neil Peart’s words.

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About Andrew Berthoff

Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, as a bagpipe- and baseball-playing (not at the same time) teenager, Andrew Berthoff was an unabashed fan of Neil Young, April Wine and Rush, seeing the latter live no fewer than four times at Kiel Auditorium. With the tubular bells of "Closer to the Heart" going through his head while rounding third-base and thinking about the next piping competition, "home" eventually became Canada, where he slid in to in 1988. In Toronto, Andrew started a career in publishing as an editor with several trade magazines, before taking his communications and media skills to a career in public relations and marketing. He worked for many years to establish what is now one of Canada's top communications agencies before joining SOCAN as Vice President, Communications & Marketing in 2013. Still a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals and Rush, and an active piper and editor and publisher of pipes|drums Magazine in his spare time, even closer to his heart are his wife, Julie, his teenaged daughter, Annabel, and his young West Highland terrier, Millie.

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