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.        


  1. I can totally relate to what you speak about, Doona. Fly By Night being my all time favourite Rush album and the song Making Memories for some reason, even as simple of a little tune as it may be, is one I can whole heartedly relate to. I love your writing, my dear friend

  2. I cant believe i mentioned your name to a couple of people and you showed up! You are an inspiration to all of us!!

  3. Marc S. BellaviaJuly 10, 2017 at 4:56 PM


    Finally, one of your blogs that I can say I not only love, but one that I act agree with 100%! I have so many songs that make up the 'soundtrack' to my life. "Red Barchetta" is one such song. I just love the idea that in such a restrictive society, this kid can go out to his uncle's country place that "no one knows about", and can take out that sportscar and drive and in his own way, take on the oppressive government regulations (lol, couldn't resist that) (the "gleaming alloy air car" and out run them. Then "race back farm to dream with" his "uncle, at the fireside".

    ALL of Hold Your Fire was the soundtrack to the summer between high school graduation and first year of college.

    For some reason when I'm down, I listen to "2112" , and I feel better. For another reason a song like "Losing It" or "Tai Shan" (one of most fans hates songs) will always calm me down.

    I have too many to list here. But suffice it to say, I have a Rush song for most of my moods.

    1. Marc, HYF is similar for me. I was a sophomore in college when it came out and it was the first CD I bought (still have it and it still plays). To be clear, I had every other album they released in multiple formats, but I bought a CD player that year and that was the first one I popped in to play.
      It goes without saying that I drove my roommate crazy as I played it over and over again. I can still listen to that album and it takes me back to that time. It puts me back into that room, lying on my bed reading a book (I was deep into King's It at that point).
      Other albums can put me in a similar time warp - back to when I was in 8th grade and showing my mom some of their lyrics (see mom, they're not just some loud group with a high-pitched lead singer) or using Peart's words in an English class project to show different poetic devices (alliteration - machinery making modern music, personification - the trees, etc).
      I haven't listened to them as long as Donna has, but it's been about 35 years now and they were my first real toehold into the world of music and much of my other favorite music is because of the appreciation these artists have for their craft.

  4. Well said, Donna. Their music has influenced my life on many levels. Driving, dreaming or drowning, I've changed over the years but they have always been the same reliable band everyone can find strength in. Timeless and fundamental, the Rush sounds will go well beyond 2112

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  6. Well said, Donna. Their music has influenced my life on many levels. Driving, dreaming or drowning, I've changed over the years but they have always been the same reliable band everyone can find strength in. Timeless and fundamental, the Rush sounds will go well beyond 2112

  7. Great post Donna! Overall, YES, 'Moving Pictures' is definitely Rush's finest hour. 'Red Barchetta' and 'Witch Hunt' are the standout songs for me on that one.

    However, I'd also add 'Power Windows' as a VERY close second. Some of Neil's most compelling lyrics are on here. 'Middletown Dreams', 'Marathon', and 'Mystic Rhythms' are all top notch. Add producer Peter Collins' talents to the mix and you have a true masterpiece!

    My favorite Rush song of all time? Hmm...that award goes to 'Natural Science' from 'Permanent Waves'. Quintessential! Everything that makes Rush so awesome is summed up in that song, in my opinion.

    Great comments everybody!

    1. Natural Science is easily in my top 3. It's tough to pick as that list would change depending on my mood. Right now, my other two would be Bravado and The Garden. Well, those three are probably permanent fixtures in my top 5...

  8. Everything you write is a treasure, Donna, and this entry is no different.

    Your interpretation of "Freewill" is compelling. Like you, I've never considered the lyrics anti-religious or even anti-theistic.

    Your assessment of "Freewill" as "(A) request to avoid substituting belief for action" is rather poignant to me. When you further state, "(T)here's nothing wrong with faith, but just sitting back and thinking your beliefs are all you need isn't useful," I'm reminded of the scriptural passage from the New Testament book of James, Chapter Two, verses 15-17:

    "If a brother or sister be naked and destitute of daily food, and you say to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' yet you give them not those things, what has your faith profited?
    Faith, if it has not good works, is dead."

    Mind you, my intent is not to turn this into a theological discussion; it's simply that, as both the son and grandson of church pastors, I was struck by the virtually identical sentiment of your comments and that particular biblical passage I recall from my youth.

    Funny--Neil makes no secret of his agnosticism and aversion to organized religion, yet his lyrics often evoke notions of religious ethics and spiritualism! (As a prime example, "Wish Them Well" from "Clockwork Angels" is a virtual primer on the Judeo-Christian concepts of righteousness, humility, long-suffering, and mercy.)

    Having stated the above, I believe "Freewill" ultimately to be Neil's expression of his libertarian principles--principles I happen to share.

    1. While all three of the guys claim to be agnostic about organized religion, they are totally committed to ethics, and in my view, that's what truly matters. I've quoted Micah 6:8 on several occasions (including in a previous blog post about my favorite scriptural verses) and I am very familiar with the verse you quoted. Bottom line: too many people are walking around being self-righteous, passing judgment on others and showing no compassion. The lyrics say to us that hiding behind "belief" is not going to make this world any better... the philosophy of Rush is about DOING, rather than just believing... Thanks for your comments!

  9. Awesome Donna.
    Thanks for your pin point accurate impressions. I really love Subdivisions for the way it revels in glorious despair and escapism. Like someone who loves a cloudy day.

  10. Rush has provided the soundtrack to my life.
    I was a teenager full of anger and rebellion when 2112 came out and the entire album
    fit me oh so well, so did their concerts, me standing in a mostly male audience with our fists raised raised in unison.
    Over the years I too had songs from every album that spoke to me in an intimately personal way, as if the songs were written just for me. No other band has had this effect on me, and I am an avid rock and roller.rush is like a magical strike of lighting that still lights up the sky and their sound thunders on an on to this day showing no sign of fading.
    I did not list a bunch of songs because I love them all and I am ever so blessed and grateful to be a lifelong fan. God Bless you Donna for this blog and you sharing Rush with the world.
    Tim Bowman

  11. Been a fan about as long as you. Have a fav off of every album. "Before & After" "Hemispheres" & "Moving Pictures" albums. "Trees", & "Witch Hunt". I even had "Archives" in vinyl. Did you ever meet John Rutsey? Bill Smith

    1. Yes I believe I did meet John, but he was already about to leave the band. My first encounter with Neil was also interesting. I had formed a friendship with the band's management and with Alex & Geddy by that time, so Neil was uncertain how to interact with me-- he was very shy (he felt the most comfortable as a performer) and perhaps he saw himself as the "odd man out"-- because everyone else already knew me. But he and I forged a good relationship, even if we didn't speak that often. And over the years, whenever we have spent time together, he has always been very cordial. To this day, I wish John Rutsey's story had ended differently-- I know he wasn't healthy and couldn't tour, but he really did love music. However, back then, being seriously diabetic was a liability and there was no way he could have stayed out on the road for months at a time. Today, diabetics do just about everything and insulin is quite portable and easy to use. Back then, it wasn't. In a way, the fact that John left paved the way for Neil. But it also meant the end of John's career. I'm glad he was remembered affectionately in "Beyond the Lighted Stage." He helped Rush to get to where they were ready for Neil, and that took the band to the next level.

  12. Nice read. Thanks for sharing. I was a huge Rush fan in high school (bordering on obsessed). I became a more casual fan as I got older - but still listened to every new release and saw them many times - including their R40 show in Toronto two years ago.
    The song I always reflect on is "Time Stand Still". I recently hit 50 and it seems that the years are rocketing by. I love my life and I just want things to slow down so that I can enjoy every sweet moment. Whenever I attend another birthday or graduation or retirement party - I reflect on those lyrics.
    All the best.

  13. Great post, Donna. I commented on Twitter about this, but I'll elaborate a bit here.

    "Time Stand Still" is something that, since I had kids in 2003, is very important to me. The notion that "summer's going fast, nights growing colder...children growing up, old friends growing older" is right on point. The years are flying by - almost too fast. Several years ago, I was turned on to a video version of David Foster Wallace's excerpt from his graduation speech at Kenyon College called "This is Water" (it's on Vimeo). The gist of his excellent speech was that it was about life before death. I see that a lot in Time Stand Still.

    "Everyday Glory" is a sad, discouraging song in how it starts, but it ends as awe-inspiring. But it's overwhelming theme is that of resiliency, and bouncing back with fury, rising from the ashes with "Everyday Glory". This is such a great Rush song....where Rush was famous for time signature changes throughout songs, they did it lyrically in this song. From despair, sadness, and pain to resiliency, this song is perfect.

    Finally, a nod for "The Anarchist". Many of us have a chip on shoulder about something, we can all relate to this....we don't see the situation clearly, and as much as the chip drives us, it also serves to inhibit our growth "A missing part of me that grows around me like a cage". Brilliant song, lyrically and melodically.

  14. J Patrick MorganJuly 12, 2017 at 2:56 PM

    I love your outlook. Soundtrack of my life includes many bands and genres. I think I'm a bit too cynical for the #RushFamily, but my anticorruption volunteer work holds the blame for my cynicism. Such laid back personalities amongst Rush fans, and that is refreshing.
    "Force Ten"is on the soundtrack of my life as well as "The Pass". Since agnosticism was brought up, I'm the opposite but spiritually the same. I'm an Orthodox Gnostic Initiate.

  15. The lyrics for Frewill on my album state, 'If you chose not to decide you can't have made a choice' I wonder if it was a typo or an earlier version of the song?

  16. The lyrics for Frewill on my album state, 'If you chose not to decide you can't have made a choice' I wonder if it was a typo or an earlier version of the song?

    1. I think a record company typo. Later versions I've seen have the lyrics you and I are familiar with.

  17. I love your wisdom and honest insight Donna.

    Vincent Ulyssis