Monday, July 10, 2017

It's My Turn to Drive: Finding Inspiration in the Lyrics of Rush

For some reason, I got a number of new followers on Twitter this past week. Some came over because of a friendly exchange I had with Fox News anchor Bret Baier (he and I probably don't agree on politics, but he's a good reporter, plus he likes the music of Rush, so he's definitely okay with me). Others came over because every time I mention Rush on Twitter, new folks find & follow me. I hope I am not going to disappoint all of them:  sometimes I blog about Rush, yes, but a lot of the time, I blog about politics or sports or religion or some other subject that captures my interest.

But as it turns out, today happens to be a good day to blog about Rush.  I often find that music reflects my emotions.  For example, I turn to it whenever I'm feeling frustrated or discouraged, or when I want a temporary (and harmless) escape from problems that seem to have no immediate solution.  And of course, I turn to music when something wonderful happens too.  In fact, if you're anything like me, you have songs that are the soundtrack of your life.  These songs remind you of people you once knew; or places you went; or events that hold a special meaning.  There are also certain rock bands whose music consistently resonates, year after year.  As a former deejay, I feel that way about the Beatles-- much of their music is timeless, and it sounds as good to me now as when it first came out.  And of course, I feel that way about Rush.

I'll be honest:  I don't like every song on every album.  If I had to be alone on a desert island, I'd want to take "Moving Pictures" or "Permanent Waves" or perhaps a greatest hits collection like "Chronicles." But as I've told people before, when I've been interviewed, I can always find at least one song on every Rush album that speaks to me.  Most of the time, it's the lyrics that attract me-- even a simple song like "Working Man" speaks to those trapped in a routine, who wish things were different but don't see anything changing immediately. (And haven't we all felt that way at one time or other?)  But then, sometimes the change isn't what we hoped for-- I witnessed my profession (radio) change, and not necessarily for the better, so I can really relate to "Spirit of Radio."

But that song isn't just about radio-- as I interpret the lyrics, it's also about the effort Rush put into being true to themselves:  "One likes to believe in the freedom of music"-- but most record labels wanted artists who would produce lots of top-40 hits, something Rush didn't want to do.  And then there were the "glittering prizes and endless compromises" which "shatter the illusion of integrity"-- the guys in Rush somehow managed to remain relatively untouched by the music industry.  They never sold out, they never let it change them, and they never became arrogant. Yes, they wanted to make money (for their families, the charities they believed in, and their own personal pride), but they were not willing to compromise or give up their integrity to succeed. That's one of many things I've always admired about them, and it's a lesson worth learning:  be true to your ethics, and don't sell out for money or fame or power, or you will lose your integrity.

Another song with lyrics that I find inspiring is "Freewill."  I particularly like (and as my students will tell you, I often quote) the line about "if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."  Some people say the song is anti-religion, but I don't see it that way.  I interpret it as a request to avoid substituting belief for action-- there's nothing wrong with faith, but just sitting back and thinking your beliefs are all you need isn't useful.  Positive action is what's needed to make the world better, and so is critical thinking-- whatever side you are on, just believing everything you hear is no substitute for seeking out the facts and doing your part to make things better.  (I see the lines in "Tom Sawyer" similarly-- the part about "his mind is not for rent by any god or government" to me says don't give up your ability to think, to choose, to decide.  Don't rent out your mind to others, whether religious leaders or political leaders.  Don't abdicate your responsibility; gather the evidence and make up your own mind, in other words.)

Maybe that's why the line in "Driven" about "It's my turn to drive" appeals to me-- we are all driving on a road with twists and turns, trying to avoid danger, but we cannot let our fears stop us from making the journey.  Every day, we have an opportunity to decide what we can do; sometimes, the choices may seem equally bad, but at least we can decide how to react.  And even if we make some wrong turns, we have to find a way to get moving in the right direction.  No-one can do it for us:  after all, each day, "it's my turn to drive."

I am sure you have some Rush songs that speak to you too.  (I've also got a few interpretations of lyrics that some of you may disagree with, but we can do a blog post about that some other day.)  What has always impressed me about Rush is that their music is multi-dimensional; it speaks to fans in so many different ways, and on so many different levels.  And there are so many new opportunities for inspiration when you listen to their lyrics.  It's just another reason why I love these guys, and why it's such a privilege to know them.