Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Rand-Rush Connection: Pt. 1-Introduction

In my post "Rush versus Rand Paul", I mention an article from The Journal of Ayn Studies entitled "Rand, Rush, and Rock" by Chris Matthew Sciabarra. While the influence of Ayn Rand on the group Rush is well-known (the album 2112 does bear the inscription "Dedicated to the genius of Ayn Rand"), Sciabarra's piece was intended to be a more in-depth introduction to not only the Rand-Rush connection, but Rand's influence on academic scholars via "progressive rock":


Though studies of Rand are published with increasing regularity, there has been no attention given to her presence in the scholarly literature on Progressive rock music—that virtuoso "art" style noted for its experimental blending of rock, classical, jazz, and other idioms. References to Rand usually specify her connection to the Canadian Progressive rock band Rush and its lyricist and drummer, Neil Peart, whose Randian pedigree shows up in many of his compositions. This link has been noted by writers such as Barbara Branden (1986, 419) and Jeff Walker (1999, 127), but what has gone unnoticed is the extent to which scholars have grappled with Rand's broader influence.
My planned (um, yeah...planned...meaning "when I get to it"...) series of posts will focus more specifically on the Rand/Rush connection, but the theme of Sciabarra's article serves as an interesting starting point in a trend I've noticed in the discussion of Rush. Earlier bios of the band tended toward the superficial, but since the 2002 publication of "Rand, Rush, and Rock," there has been something of a "Rush Renaissance," with the band receiving some long-overdue recognition from even its harshest critics. There has been something of a sea change, with books like Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class: Dreaming in Middletown, and, most recently, the authorized documentary Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage. What's interesting is how the "intellectual" side of this "thinking man's band" is treated. In books about more traditional British progressive rock bands, much is made of the meaning of the lyrics and the concepts. Rush, however, is not exactly a "traditional" progressive rock band, and the reception to their conceptual side has been handled cautiously.

There are a few reasons for this. First, they're Canadian, not British, and in the U.S. and Canada, there was less concern with the subject matter of the British band's work; second, they came to fame in the 70's, not the 60's, and third, they were more of a hard rock band with progressive influences. As a result, they found their largest audience among hard rock/heavy metal/stadium rock fans of North America in the post-psychedelic revolution, which also suggests that Rush are more appreciated for their musicianship than their ideas. To what extent can be debated, but while books like Rush, Rock Music and the Middle Class may exist, two other examples seem to look at the band through the eyes of those who don't "get" the intellectual side. The Inside Rush:Music in Review dvd features one egregious example; one "talking head," in a move, it seems, to appeal to the "metalhead" stereotype, almost revels in his ignorance of the lyrical content. Even in the Beyond the Lighted Stage documentary, the "thinking man's band" is undercut by comments from their peers about not "getting it." (Even when the "intellectual" side is appreciated, it is more along the lines of "I don't understand it, but I feel smart listening to it..." It's that American pragmatism which simultaneously admires and distrusts intellectuals.)

This is a continuation of a vicious cycle for a lyricist who has written that he "found it frustrating, and often hurtful, to be judged, misunderstood, and insulted by people who, if they were going to help me, ought to know more than I did about the music I wanted to make. Sadly, they did not."

With that said, this is a series that I've been wanting to tackle for a while; though I may be critical at times, I am still a fan at heart, and their scope, style, and ambition have been a major inspiration in my own music and thinking. So I hope to be an honest critic of a band that deserves much more, and to go "against the run-of-the-mill" of the poor analysis that plagues their work.

Next: 2 0f 8: "Rock N Roll Comix"...

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