Rush Rocks (But Suffers from a Misguided Anthropology)

Time to address a major crisis: a total lack of Rush references on Mockingbird. This […]

Time to address a major crisis: a total lack of Rush references on Mockingbird. This oversight is especially shocking considering Mockingbird’s regard for all things sci-fi, quality cultural artifacts of the early 1980s, and rock-n-roll. On those criteria alone, Rush may just be the perfect band of all time. Not to mention the fact that they have an album called Grace Under Pressure (1984), which includes a song entitled “The Enemy Within”! This is fertile soil, people.

Sure, Rush concerts may boast the largest gatherings of pony-tailed goateed men (think Comic Book Guy) on the planet; and yes, Rush is from Canada, which is clearly not as awesome as America. But, hey, we simply cannot dismiss the work of a band whose career spans over four(!) decades.

So I want to talk about Rush’s song “Freewill,” from their classic Spirit of Radio (1980). Watch and listen, and get ready to live:

Neil Peart, the band’s chief lyricist, penned these lines for the chorus (you can read all the lyrics here):

You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose freewill.

In other words, human beings have a choice. To make sense of the world, religion is the easy (and intellectually inferior) way out. Peart equates it with “phantom fears and kindness that can kill.” (If this reminds you of Ayn Rand’s thought, it’s because her writings were hugely influential for the band.) As an alternative, Peart offers “free will.”

The irony, however, is how un-free Peart sounds. One might ask, “Are you free to choose religion?” Obviously, he is as bound to his views as any religious zealot. His own needs and psychology drive him to reject religious faith for secular one in a quest to establish his identity.

Many Christians would reject Peart’s paean to godless free will. The irony, however, is that at the same time, they are just as enamored with the language of “choice” as he is. Speaking about “choosing” is as ubiquitous as it is seductive. How many times have you heard someone say, “She just needs to make good choices”? Or, “He was doing well until he started making bad choices”?

We love to believe we are free agents, surveying the landscape of moral choices, acting rationally to make good choices. But the fact is, we are a mix of motives, known and unknown, most of which are totally out of our control. That’s why Jesus says, in John 6.44, that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” Our natural un-free state is to always move away from God. Thus Jesus speaks of a need to be born again, not merely fixed up. The Christian message is one that seeks to kill people who falsely believe they are free, and raise them anew. And only then do we find, as the Morning Prayer collect for peace says, that service to God “is perfect freedom.”

PS–and if you haven’t been exposed to the Canadian glory that is Rush, you’re not alone. Check out the awesome Rashida Jones getting educated by Paul Rudd (moderate language alert):


4 responses to “Rush Rocks (But Suffers from a Misguided Anthropology)”

  1. DZ says:

    AZ, this is an exemplary post! On behalf of everyone, thank you for filling in our Rush-sized blindspot. That song rocks like crazy. How many bands are there where the non-singing drummer is responsible for the (ridiculously metaphysical) lyrics?! Just incredible.

    When I think of Rush, I think of Jason Segal – and not just because of the amazing scenes in I Love You Man (which are amazing) – but because of his Neil Peart obsession in Freaks n Geeks. The episode where he plays drums for Lindsey may be the greatest (and most awkward) moment of that series, which is saying something.

    But re: the free will stuff, your analysis is so piercing and seamless. Self-evident even! It would appear that Neil has never met an addict, or a depressive, or even someone with a bad temper…

    Roll the bones, AZ, roll the bones.

  2. StampDawg says:

    Nice Aaron. Loved it.

    And absolutely, Dave, the stuff in Freaks and Geeks is wonderful. As you say, "The episode where he plays drums for Lindsey may be the greatest (and most awkward) moment of that series, which is saying something." Totally.

    For anyone at MB who doesn't know about this show (F&G), it's a big favorite of ours.

  3. Aaron M. G. Zimmerman says:

    Thanks DZ and StampDawg. F&G has been on my list for a while. It just moved up a few notches.
    By the way, Rush's song "Subdivsions" (from 1982's Signals) deserves a post of it's own. Not to mention "War Paint" from Presto (1989). Both describe the crushing social divisions in high school settings. Teenagers feel the law most acutely, and Peart seems attuned to that.
    DZ: I think Peart has matured in his lyrics, although they are still occasionally preachy. His 19yo daughter was killed in a car accident in 1997, then his wife died of cancer 10 mos later. The double catastrophe just devastated him. Not sure where he is these days with the idea of freewill. He is remarried and just had a baby last year. I have yet to check out their recent album (Snakes and Arrows). A cursory listen was not promising (to my ears). But apparently, he explores a lot of religious questions. I can say that Love has emerged as a major them in his later writing.

  4. Matt Johnson says:

    I love me some Rush. Exit Stage Left (their double live 80s album) was the first album I ever bought with my own money. I bought it at Kmart and it was a toss up between Ozzy's Blizzard of Oz and Exit Stage. I chose the latter of course. So glad I did. Because of Peart, the next year I started playing drums and have been playing ever since.

    I've got to say I'm pretty amazed that this came up on MB and heartily agree that worldview-wise Rush is ripe for ye olde MB treatment. I've thought about writing about Rush from a theological/philosophical perspective (in light of Peart's interest in Ayn Rand) and the law / gospel perspective here is great.

    Not sure how many appreciators a death/black metal write-up on MB will garner but I've had something brewing in my noggin for a while. Stay tuned! Extreme metal is as ripe as it comes when it comes to pure law….and may just top the nerd factor 🙂

    Thanks for the great post!

    ps, in total agreement on the Freaks and Geeks mention. So great…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.