Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Rand-Rush Connection: Grace Under Pressure in "Red" Sector A (Geddit?)

What's that, Tea Party, you're being smeared as racist and fascist? Yes, we know, it's nothing's just a waste of time...

("Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...")

My first exposure to the accusation against the band Rush for being "fascist" was in Paul Stump's The Music's All That Matters. Stump refers to the band as "politically suspect":
...their lyrics, often inspired by the far-Right Canadian philosopher Ayn Rand, featured social prescriptions of varying toxicity, such as exhortations to 'philosophers and ploughmen' to each know their respective places.
It was easy for me to dismiss Stump, based on the identification of Rand as a Canadian and the clever misquoting of the lyric from "Closer to the Heart" as "place" instead of "part." But it wasn't as easy to dismiss the question of why such an accusation even existed (indeed, I spent a lot of time trying to answer, via the work of Carl Jung, in my essays "The Trickster Archetype and Objectivism" and "The Objectivist Hero Cycle.") And it certainly didn't begin with Stump; in the case of Rush, it usually begins with Barry Miles...

In 1978, Miles had published an interview in the British New Music Express entitled "Is Everyone Feelin’ All RIGHT? (Geddit…?)." By this time, I was well-familiar with Ayn Rand, who I did not identify as fascist. But I wasn't ignorant of the charge against her, after reading in Barbara Branden's The Passion of Ayn Rand about The National Review's review of Atlas Shrugged, "Big Sister is Watching You," by Whittaker Chambers. So, it's only, um, logical, that Rush would be smeared in the same manner as Rand...

(Click to enlarge)
(I am not the only one who has taken notice of this similarity; Chris McDonald, in his class expose Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class: Dreaming in Middletown, says that he is "not sure if Miles was aware of Chambers's review, but the similarities in their respective appraisals of Rand are striking. I have more to say on that book here.)

Both Chambers and Miles were associated with Socialism (Chambers, a former Communist, Miles, a socialist who also had his foot in the world of Pink Floyd's London underground, and clashed with Frank Zappa as well, re his Libertarian leanings). Both were assigned the charge of reviewing their targets for similar reasons: Branden quotes William Buckley: “He volunteered,” Buckley insisted. “He had read the first one hundred pages and had said that it was off to a wonderful narrative start, and he exclaimed over how thoroughly he knew her material...". Miles claims that he "got the job of interviewing Rush because I was the only on NME who knew who Ayn Rand was–simple as that."

And both seemed to be reading from the same playbook; take Chamber's now-infamous line:

From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged," he charges, "a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding ‘To a gas chamber--go!'

Miles, in turn, had this to say about Rush:
So now I understand the freedom [Peart] was talking about. Freedom for employers and those with money to do what they like and freedom for the workers to quit (and starve) or not. Work makes free. Didn’t I remember that idea from somewhere? “Work Makes Free”. Oh yes –it was written over the main gateway to Auschwitz Concentration Camp…
At this point, I can't help but comment on the "strange bedfellows" aspect of this, in that both Ayn Rand and Geddy Lee are of Jewish ancestry (Rand, the Russian-Jew emigre, and Lee the son of Holocaust survivors, as detailed in the song "Red Sector A" from Grace Under Pressure.) A fact conveniently overlooked by both Chambers and Miles...

The major difference between the two hatchet jobs is that Chamber's attack was a book review, without Rand's input, while the members of Rush were made to dig their own grave, blindsided after-the-fact in their interview with Miles. Peart, in an 1979 NEM follow-up interview (this time, with John Hamblett), entitled "Rock Against Right-Wing Rock Being Called Fascist," had this to say:
That was a very dishonest article. I was under the impression that Miles and I had gotten on very well. I even gave him my address in New York and told him to stop by any time he was in the neighborhood. All that so-called political dialogue took place after the interview had finished; we were just chatting, really amenably, I thought, and he twisted it all round. I just feel that it was basically dishonest.
After reading the article myself, it's certainly easy to see why Peart was so upset. Miles would quote Rand or the band, followed with his interpretations of what they said, which was of the ad-hominem variety. I will note that Miles does little misquoting, unlike Stump. His objections are clearly based on his British National-Health variety of socialism, evidenced in the back-and-forth between he and Peart re the argument over whether or not America and Europe were truly capitalist; this is purely a fight between two clear-cut ideological opponents who know where they stand. In that sense, I can hardly expect a friendly interview from Miles; what's offensive is the two-facedness in which he did it.
Miles concludes by claiming the moral high road: "Rush would like to return to the survival of the fittest jungle law, where the fittest is of course, the one with the most money. Make sure that next time you see them, you see them with your eyes open and know what you see. I, for one, don't like it." Of course, Miles doesn't take the time to address Rand's actual words on that very topic in Atlas Shrugged; such as the "money" speech or the parable of the 20th Century Motor Factory (to which Peart alludes to in his interview.) Peart would have to wait until 1979 to have his rebuttal, but the blogosphere gives us the ability now to respond to statements like Miles's a lot faster; scans of the article are found at the site Rush Is A Band; read for yourself how the band and Miles handled themselves. (Hat tip to Paul L. for the heads-up on the scans.)
But as for Peart and Rand, future interviews would reveal just how deep Miles burrowed under Peart's ideological skin. The eventual "progress" from "right-wing Randian" of "Anthem" to the "left-wing libertarian" of Hold Your Fire may certainly have been an evolution as opposed to a reaction, but it seems pretty clear to me that the NME article was the mutation thrown into the intellectual "genetic blend" with "uncertain ends"...

Next: Pt. 4 of 8-"Interlude-The Making of 2112 and Moving Pictures"...
(Previous: Pt. 2- "Rock N' Roll Comix")


  1. Interesting, though I don't think the movement from Randian to Libertarian is actually an exchange of wings, probably because the egalitarianism required to keep libertarianism on the left is radically improbable in the real world ...

  2. Interesting, Anonymous, that you use the words an "exchange of wings;" consider Peart's own words on a recent entry of his blog:

    Of course there’s a political parallel to “Lead Left” as well, though I haven’t hammered it out quite yet. Ideally, such a metaphor would have to include flying with both “wings.” (The terms left and right wing date from the French Revolution, when royalists and revolutionaries sat on those sides of the National Assembly). A good leader would have personal integrity, be the same person in every situation—like Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, the same good, honest man in the courtroom that he was at home—and lead with basically conservative values, protecting the “state of the ride,” but would also have a quality of compassion.

    Such reflections have led me to define myself in recent years as a “bleeding-heart libertarian.”

    Do I believe in the sanctity of the individual and all freedoms and rights?


    Do I believe that humans should generously help others in need, and voluntarily contribute to public works of mutual benefit?

    Why, yes, of course.

    Do I believe that the general run of humanity can ascend to those noble heights of . . . humanity?

    Alas, I do not.

    So . . . lead left.