One of my guilty pleasures, which I don't mention very often, is occasionally listening to the music of Canadian prog-rock band Rush... sure, their music is overlong and overindulgent, but every once in a while, you just have to listen to something which somehow manages to be ponderous yet sprightly. Bearing my dualistic feelings towards the band in mind, I am genuinely bummed out about the death of Neil Peart, Rush drummer and lyricist, at the age of 67. Peart was an incredible drummer, bashing his formidable kit like a madman, changing time signatures at a bewildering rate.
Neil Peart joined Rush in 1974, after the band's original drummer had to quit for medical reasons shortly after the release of the band's first album. After Peart joined the band, their sound became less bluesy with the album Fly by Night.
The title track to Fly by Night is a pretty straightforward paean to relocating overseas as a young person:
Soon, Peart introduced a Randian subtext into his lyrics, with Anthem being a tribute to an Ayn Rand novella:
Then things get weird, with the outré By-Tor & the Snow Dog being a Dantesque epic about... uh... two dogs fighting at the gates of Hell:
I know that it's a joke, I just don't get it... but the drumming is virtuosic. At any rate, the band must have dug the joke, because they released a sequel to the song, Necromancer:
Peart went all in on the science-fiction themes he flirted with on the album 2112, a dystopian tale of a society in which a cadre of priests suppresses creativity. It's all very earnest and goofy, but the music really saves the day here:
I would have to say that the band's Libertarian bent hit its peak with The Trees, though they seem to have gotten over this particular insanity eventually:
Peart had a way of making simple activities, such as listening to the radio, seem mystical and transcendent:
Even when writing about fast cars, a popular subject of rock-and/or-roll since the very beginning of the genre, Neil Peart introduced a dystopian regime and police hovercraft into the mix with Red Barchetta (my personal favorite song by the band):
The band's music was catnip to nerdy adolescent boys, and I'd bet actual folding money that Neil Peart was a more potent vector for Libertarianism than even Ayn Rand herself... a kid who won't get through Atlas Shrugged in a million years could listen to The Trees and get the basic gist. Me? I always preferred more stripped-down music such as punk (and the more lefty politics common to the genre), but a little bit of Rush was an interesting, occasional diversion. I did see Rush play live in the New Haven Coliseum, courtesy of a friend who was program director for a local Connecticut classic rock station... the seats were great (about ten rows back), the stage show elaborate, but there wasn't the visceral feel of being in the pit at a punk show.
I will be listening to Rush tonight throughout the graveyard shift, it's a perfect opportunity for slogging through twenty-minute rock operas about future dystopian societies while forgetting our current, dreary dystopia. Maybe if the news had a constant accompaniment by musical virtuosity, propelled by muscular-yet-brainy drumming, things would be more bearable.