In 1978, Rainbow was a veritable super group carefully assembled by Ritchie Blackmore. The gatefold photo inside Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll perfectly captures the excitement of seeing these giants perform live. A festive crowd eagerly waits for the curtain to drop. A few fans even hold a banner to greet Blackmore and company as they hit the stage.
This sign has always struck me as problematic. Who makes a banner to hold up at a rock concert and decides NOT to include the name of the band? One hardly expects an elaborate design, but this sign is exceptionally plain. All it does is spell the name of an album that, quite frankly, does not exist. Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll had not been released at the time of the photograph. It’s highly improbable that fans created this sign.
In reality, we are likely viewing a staged photograph. In this scenario, the banner is not a sincere product of fan admiration, but a cheap prop to promote the upcoming Rainbow album. Simply toss the sign into the crowd and orchestrate the perfect shot. It’s all conjecture but this possibility makes sense.
Really, there was never any reason to seriously ponder this photograph. Thirty years passed. Then, a documentary entitled Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage was released. Brilliantly directed and filled with previously unseen footage, the film is a must-see for fans of Rush.
The packaging is equally impressive. To access the DVDs, the cover opens out to resemble the gatefold of an old-fashioned record. An assortment of vintage photographs are presented but one impressive shot of an audience was chosen for the coveted centerpiece.
The image looks disturbingly familiar. This is undisputedly the same crowd from Rainbow’s Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll album. As before, the fans hold a banner.
Making the connection between photographs is initially jarring. It soon becomes obvious that Rainbow and Rush toured together in 1977. Clearly there was a professional photographer on hand. It would make sense for both bands to utilize these services.
Once again, I find myself troubled by the presence of the sign. Structurally, it’s the same white banner, yet the content is very different. Here, the sign has nothing to do with Rainbow and everything to do with Rush.
This version is more in line with what one would expect from overzealous fans. The name of their hometown is proudly displayed to offer a warm welcome. A dead-on Rush logo and accurate rendering of the classic star man completes the canvas. The Rush banner is almost too nice. One would be justified in arguing that this is another professionally created sign dropped into the audience for a photo-op.
I want to believe in the idea of obsessed fans pouring their hearts and souls into a piece of art. Minimally, showing up to the concert with such a well-crafted banner practically guarantees premium seating. Still, youthful passion is the likely motivator. This was an era when music truly occupied one’s entire existence. These were guys that spent their evenings listening to 2112 through headphones and dreaming about Rush playing their town.
Comparing these photographs puts this banner at the heart of a great rock n roll mystery. How do we account for these discrepancies? No clear-cut explanations are readily available. We are only left with questions that haunt the curious music fan.
Did the infamously testy Richie Blackmore get jealous over attention given to Canada’s finest power trio? Perhaps he concocted his revenge by sabotaging their photograph. Simply swap Rush imagery with the name of the new Rainbow album, use it in the gatefold and essentially extend a middle finger to his rivals. If this is true, we have a case of villainous treachery!
Again, this is all conjecture, especially considering that examination of the Rush photo yields additional curiosities. It turns out that the photo has been doctored yet again, further complicating this saga.
While the faces are the same, clothing has changed. Suddenly, there are a lot of Rush shirts in the audience. Being 1977, one would expect to see a vintage vibe adorning all clothing. This is true, until we get to a handful of Rush shirts that look distinctly modern. There is no variety in design. Did these fans coincidentally all choose the same exact tour shirt? I’ve never encountered a more obvious abuse of Photoshop. Maybe this image IS another deceptive portrayal of fan allegiance.
Let’s assume that these fans truly attended the concert with a homemade banner. What if Rainbow DID steal this moment of glory from their tour-mates? Is it possible that Rush, or someone affiliated with Rush, have finally struck back?
The image inside Beyond the Lighted Stage may be an attempt at reclaiming this photograph. Digitally inserting Rush shirts into the crowd is a way of righting a wrong. A tacit message, that two can play the game of altering reality. Perhaps this documentary feels obliged to set the record straight and let the world know that these were indeed RUSH fans.
Also, what of the kids whose images are on display? Have they been reduced to hostages in a war between Rush and Rainbow? Is it wrong to have their memories hijacked and manipulated by corporate marketing departments?
Of course, in the end, it’s only a photograph. Really, it’s simply fun to imagine the circumstances behind these conflicting images. As far as the fans, it’s hard to feel bad for them. After all, they had front row seats to see Rush and Rainbow in their prime. Having been born much too late, it’s never been an option for me. Those who missed out on the glory days of rock and roll are left to make due with vinyl records and dubious photographs.