Often I need to hunker down in my office while working on confounded spreadsheets in the pursuit of corporate gobbledygook. And often enough in those times, I have a little music playing in the background to prevent me from gnashing my teeth. Call it musical therapy, call it homicide prevention, either works really. So, a few weeks ago I found myself doing just that, navigating the latest corporate directives while listening to Rush on the one-year anniversary of Neil Peart’s passing. A strange year, by any definition that one would care to use, which also happened to be one day after the riots and attempted insurrection that happened in Washington. Strange days indeed. I got to thinking about the song playing and what, if anything, it could have in relation to what we were living through that day.
It’s funny how we can interpret songs in different ways over the years. Or how music and lyrics don’t always walk in lock step with each other, perhaps tricking you into thinking that the little ditty is about sunshine and roses when it’s really about the end of the world. Case in point, 99 Luftballons by one hit wonder Nena. A somewhat catchy pop tune that maybe, could be, about 99 pretty balloons that have gotten away from a pretty girl, but is really about Cold War brinksmanship during the inspired and visionary leadership by the morons in charge at the time, Reagan and Brezhnev.
Or how the song Distant Early Warning was titularly about the same thing, The DEW line set across our frozen tundra, to guard against the red hoard sneaking up on us. But listening to the lyrics you think maybe the song is really a warning about environmental calamity – too right you can’t sing in the acid rain or swim in the heavy water. Wait, but what the hell is the chorus about?
The world weighs on my shoulders
But what am I to do?
You sometimes drive me crazy —
But I worry about you
I know it makes on differenceRush
To what you’re going through
But I see the tip of the iceberg —
And I worry about you…
The ending of the song has Geddy crying out Absalom, Absalom. Back in the day I didn’t know and didn’t much care what was being said when it wasn’t abundantly clear. Just about anyone can understand the simple lyric – “I wanna hold your hand” or “We’re not going to take it” so I stuck to what I thought I knew. But as has often happened as I age, I came back to things to explore them a little deeper. Thanks to Google I now know that Absalom, Absalom was a Faulkner novel set in the south, in the Civil War era. So I am sure it is some happy easy reading. And on to other happy reading, Absalom was a biblical character that was both painfully handsome and a scrapper of some note. He liked to partake in some mayhem from time to time. In fact, in the end, he died fighting his father’s armies – King David of all people. When hearing of his son’s death he supposedly Tweeted out “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” Methinks this is where Faulkner got the idea for the title of his book and Neil added to the tapestry of Absalom mythology with his own crying out, so to speak.
I suspect, in the end, that Neil was stringing together a number of visions to paint a picture that spoke not only of coming calamity but of the sometimes close hold personal shit people go through right in front of our eyes. And how those things, in the moment, are as monumental as say a glacier melting.
The allegorical nature of art, in all its forms, allows for multiple interpretations on the part of the masses. This is not a new observance of course but I do think it’s important to note the subjective nature of the audience. Knowing this, we better understand that any number of factors can and will influence the reader, the listener, the viewer. And as they say, knowing is half the battle.
Which brings me to this part of the song –
Left and rights of passageStill Rush
Black and whites of youth
Who can face the knowledge
That the truth is not the truth?
I feel this speaks greatly to the mess of today that we all face. The pandemic, the disaster known as the tRump presidency, and what has become of the political and economic systems that we have lived with for so long. Conspiracy theories are taken as biblical prophecy or cold hard fact. A system that rewards the few on the backs of the many. People being too young for a wise head is one thing, but the idea that we have purveyors of misinformation coupled with vitriol on all sides is pushing us into dangerous territory. Too many of us are convinced of our own cleverness and righteousness, shutting down and shouting down any and all that dare question what we believe. I think it means we are potentially fucked. Instead of inching closer to each other, we find ourselves increasingly driven apart by lunacy. And in the background, we can hear the wailing – Absalom, Absalom.