Rock n’ Roll Bibliophiles – Rush

Rush_Fly_By_NightWe’ve talked about bands with literary interests here before, such as Iron Maiden. Today let’s review some choice cuts by classic progressive rock band, Rush. Rush formed over thirty years ago and have developed a significant following ever since. Through nineteen studio albums their lyrics have covered just about everything, including their favorite books. Here are some samples of Rush’s bibliophilia.

Anthem,” from Fly By Night. Musically this track finds Rush very much in its raw, blues-based power trio phase. That aside the lyrics cover something which drummer/lyricist Neil Peart fixated on for years – writer Ayn Rand. Combining his own experiences as a Canadian expatriate in London, Peart weaved in sections of Rand’s Anthem into this hard rock track. (Note the link goes to singer/bassist Geddy Lee at his helium-high singing best.)

2112. All of it. “Attention all planets of the Solar Federation. Attention all planets of the Solar Federation. We have assumed control. We have assumed control.” 2112 is high-falutin’ 70s prog rock at its best – and Yes or Genesis didn’t even write it. The entire album is a paean to Ayn Rand’s  Anthem, this time half an album instead of one song. The suite starts with “Overture,” which bleeds into “The Temples of Syrinx,” one of Rush’s all-time most famous songs. Rand’s story is more or less referenced by Peart into a rock n’ roll album with its own narrative. The unnamed central character is based on Equality 7-2521 from the novella, but instead of literally bringing light in the form of electricity, this protagonist brings… ROCK AND ROLL, of course! He, a street sweeper like Equality, discovers a neglected old guitar and brings it to the Priests of Syrinx. They mock him and destroy the guitar, and in his grief our hero has dreams of a precursor civilization which ruled before the classless, joyless Solar Federation took over. The suite ends with the interstellar battle and ambiguous, previously quoted outcome. Just who did take control of the Solar Federation once it was over? Rush has never said for sure.

Xanadu,” from A Farewell to Kings. Peart has always been an introspective sort, and “Xanadu” is another song which uses literature as a reference, not a strict adaptation. “Xanadu” is influenced heavily by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” a poem based on Coleridge’s own dream about the fabled vacation home of the Mongol ruler. Peart expanded the story into one where the protagonist seeks and finds Xanadu, achieving immortality. Only after a millenium, he realizes immorality isn’t what he thought it was. It’s a definite “be careful what you wish for,” allegory.

Discarded track – song based on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. During the making of “Permanent Waves,” the album containing FM radio standard, “Spirit of Radio,” Neil Peart attempted to adapt the famous King Arthur tale into a Rush song. It was scrapped during preproduction, and would be a huge find if Rush ever attempted a demo for it, and that demo was found some day. Green Knight is one of the most overtly Celtic of the Arthurian tales, featuring a cyclical storyline, an otherworld setting (The Green Knight’s fiefdom), and a “hero’s trial” where Gawain is tested in might and morality by the Green Knight.2112

Tom Sawyer,” from Moving Pictures. Again Peart doesn’t adapt Mark Twain’s story, he uses it in allegory and reference. Sawyer is a young, clever and carefree spirit in Twain’s novels, one who is happy to shirk responsibility for adventure. Peart saw a lot of himself in that character, and the song reconciles imagery from the book with a “modern day warrior,” who unfortunately must face the judgmental adult world and all its pitfalls.

“The Body Electric,” from Grade Under Pressure. This was deep into Rush’s reggae and New Wave period. It appears loosely based on Ray Bradbury’s “I Sing the Body Electric!” Bradbury’s story (Also adapted for The Twilight Zone) is different in tone from Rush’s song, but there is a connection from the fact that both main protagonists are androids, and both examine the idea of artificial sentience. Peart and Bradbury got their title from Walt Whitman’s famous poem from his collection Leaves of GrassThough not a science fiction work of any sort, Whitman’s prose is a bit like a creator admiring his creation.

Clockwork Angels – full album. Rush’s most recent became its first novel. Though not explicitly based on any literary work, Clockwork‘s distinction is being Rush’s first full concept album ever, and was novelized by Kevin J. Anderson. The album and novel combine Peart’s stock in trade hero with an alchemical, steampunk world with pirates, anarchists, carnies and lost cities. Highly rated by both AllMusic.com and Amazon, if you like steampunk this album and book might be your thing.

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