Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Rand-Rush Connection: Hold Your Fire

"Having enjoyed writing around the central theme of 'Power' last time, I decided to try something like that again, this time working with the theme of 'Time'…. But as I set that one aside after a while, and went on to work on other ideas, it was strange to see that what I had thought was my theme suddenly turned itself into something else -- without even asking me!...the theme suddenly changed to 'Instinct', or perhaps 'Temperament' -- the idea of primeval or subconscious drives. Well okay, I thought, if that's what my brain wants to work on -- go ahead!

"'Hey Brain -- I don't care what you get fired up about -- as long as you (you guessed it!) Hold Your Fire.'


I first read the work of Ayn Rand in 1996, and soon devoured everything I could find in print, either by her or about her. Of particular interest to me, as a artist and musician, was The Romantic Manifesto, especially her sections on music. This book spurred me on to look at my own aesthetic choices in a whole new way, and so I re-evaluated my cd collection, which consisted mostly of rock music. (The horror, right?) I must have had some bad premises, I thought back then...

But surely Rush was ok, right? I looked to their back catalog with high expectations, and all was going well...until I got to Hold Your Fire.

Hold Your Fire, released almost 10 years earlier, in 1987, while I was still in high school, and not yet familiar with Ayn Rand. It wasn't my favorite Rush album, but I did like it better than Power Windows, which took me a long time to warm up to. I found them both to be a bit too "poppy" for me (The opening to the song "Mission" is just plain schmaltzy), but Hold Your Fire at least had a bit more "bite" in places. However, both were "optimistic" in the "benevolent sense-of-life" way celebrated in The Romantic Manifesto. And gone was the "metal" sound of 2112, in favor of pop beats, major keys, and even classical music samples (Vladimir Horowitz, to be exact.) You know, everything a good Objectivist is supposed to like...(yes, that attitude is out there; and I, myself, almost threw out my Pink Floyd collection.) So, to be a good Objectivist, I gave this album a listen with new "ears," and read the lyrics with an "active mind." Surely, they would be reasonable...

At first, there was no problem; the lyrics to "Mission" are still quoted favorably among Objectivists (and even caught the attention of Barbara Branden on one web forum).
Hold your fire/
keep it burning bright/
hold the flame til the dream ignites/
a spirit with a vision is a dream with a mission/
"Hold Your Fire..." Inspiring enough...But there's a double entendre, isn't there? "Hold your fire, men..."

To the surprise of that newly-minted "student of Objectivism," the shock was upon reading the lyrics to "Second Nature" or "Open Secrets." The drummer known as "the Professor" who penned the Rand-inspired "Anthem" and "2112" was now writing this:
I find no absolution /
In my rational point of view /
Maybe some things are instinctive/
But there's one thing you could do/
You could try to understand me/
I could try to understand you/
And with that, the double-meaning comes to the forefront; hold your fire, good Objectivist, hold back your reason, and your logic...(actually, there's some foreshadowing of this on the preview album, Power Windows, with the closing song, "Mystic Rhythms." That theme is continued on "Tai Shan": "I stood there, like a mystic/Lost in the atmosphere..."

As a newly-minted "student of Objectivism," all I could ask was, "Why?" It was around this time, as well, that I was discovering the Branden biographies and their claims about Ayn Rand promoting dogmatism, emotional repression, while others were calling her fascist. This wasn't just her enemies, mind you, like Barry Miles's accusations of fascism against Rush in the New Musical Express, but her former fans, friends, and lovers. I'd learn about the schism soon enough, but to stay on topic, what was Neil Peart's beef? Well, fast-forward to when Liberty magazine published an article title "A Rebel and a Drummer" for a clue. The author notes that "For long-time observers of Rush, it is clear that Peart has drifted from his more obvious attachments to Objectivism. The more overtly Randian references in Peart's lyrics have dwindled."

“Dwindled?” Not surprising, as Peart tells Bullock why he distances himself from the Objectivist "movement": "I tend to stay away from it [now]. It's in the nature of the individualist ethos that you don't want to be co-opted." (A sentiment echoing his 1994 comment in The Rush Backstage Newsletter: "the extent of my influence by the writings of Ayn Rand should not be overestimated -- I am no one's disciple.") He then goes on to mention the influence of other thinkers like Jon Dos Passos and Carl Jung. Peart (who also used the word "Randroid" in the article) claims his eclecticism as a badge of honor, and understanding that eclecticism is important to understanding the Rand-Rush connection, and the lyrical themes on Hold Your Fire.

The articles addresses the ambivalence found in Peart's lyrics long before Hold Your Fire. One such area of disagreement revolves around art versus commerce ("The Spirit of Radio," "Big Money,"):"The dilemma faced by Rush in the mid-1970s reflects a certain tension in Rand's philosophy -between her insistence on integrity and individualism on the one hand,· and the demands of the marketplace on the other."

Peart is described as having only "two specific areas of disagreement." Ah, but what disagreements they are! Contrasting with the Peart of the NME article, who argued against government intervention, we now have the "left-wing Libertarian": "Contrary to Rand's rejection of any form of government welfare, Peart supports a safety net for those in need. Although he would prefer that welfare be funded voluntarily, he is not convinced that private charity alone could support the truly needy."

Was the lyricist who wrote "No, his mind is not for rent/to any god or government/" now endorsing forced charity? The answer lies in the song "Second Nature":
A memo to a higher office/
Open letter to the powers that be/
To a god, a king, a head of state/
A captain of industry/
To the movers and the shakers.../
Can't everybody see?/
Before long, the bleeding heart is on the sleeve:
It ought to be second nature/
I mean, the places where we live/
Let's talk about this sensibly/
We're not insensitive/
I know progress has no patience/
But something's got to give/
The song supports Peart's turn towards government welfare when he writes:
I'd like some changes/
But you don't have the time/
We can't go on thinking/
It's a victimless crime/
No one is blameless/
But we're all without shame/
Not only that, but the Peart who once claimed to hate compromise has now "grown up":
It ought to be second nature/
At least, that's what I feel/
Now I lay me down in Dreamland/
I know perfect's not for real/
I thought we might get closer/
But I'm ready to make a deal/
That new found maturity seems to have a religious overtone, along with another theme at odds with Objectivism, "original sin":
The balance can sometimes fail/
Strong emotions can tip the scale/
I don't want to face the killer instinct/
Face it in you or me/
So we keep it under lock and key/
Peart goes on to say that
It's not a matter of conscience/
A search for probable cause/
It's just a matter of instinct/
A matter of fatal flaws/
And then, perhaps most "offensive" to Objectivist ears, there's the aforementioned mysticism of "Tai-Shan," speaking of a mystical experience in China:
Somewhere in my instincts/
The primitive took hold/
Even while rebuking reason for instinct, Peart's lyrics have an Objectivist irony:
I thought of time and distance/
The hardships of history/
I heard the hope and the hunger/
When China sang to me...When China sang to me/
Were these "hardships and hunger" due to a lack of reason, while primitive mysticism ruled, perchance?

The album ends with "High Water," taking the return to primitive instinct to its logical conclusion:"
When the waters rose in the darkness/
In the wake of the endless flood/
It flowed into our memory/
It flowed into our blood/

Waves that crash on the shoreline/
Torrents of tropical rain/
streaming down Beyond our memory/
Streaming down inside our veins/
Peart paints a scene of evolution here:
When something broke the surface/
Just to see the starry dome/
When something left the ocean/
To crawl high above the foam/
We still feel that elation/
When the water takes us home/
In a driving rain of redemption/
The water takes me home.../
This religious overtone is at odds with the other explanation in Peart’s left-wing libertarianism, as Bullock notes that Peart “could never be a conservative due to the right’s intolerance and support of censorship.” Adding to the confusion, Bullock adds that “Moreover, the rise of religious fundamentalism in America and throught the globe ‘terrifies’ him. But, as if emphasizing the “libertarian” over the “left wing,” Bullocks also adds that Peart “also sees rising intolerance coming from the left, exemplified by a Toronto law ‘forbidding smoking in any bar, restaurant, coffee shop, doughnut shop, anywhere.’ Thus, though he believes that economic freedom is generally increasing, Peart also observes that ‘socially it seems to be the opposite-there is actually more oppression.’”

(Given that this article came 10 years after “Second Nature,” and that those freedoms have eroded even more since then, I wonder if Peart is still ready to “make that deal?”)

This theme of mysticism seems to be linked to a greater theme of reason versus emotion, or logic versus instinct. This isn't the first time Peart used this theme, indeed, it was the theme of Hemispheres, which used Nietzsche's and Rand's discussion of Apollo and Dionysus as metaphors for "the battle for heart and mind," with the answer being (on Hemispheres) a need for "balance." (With Nietzsche, the answer layed with Dionysus, Rand sided with integration, but with a heavy dose of Apollo.) Peart follows up on this theme strongly on Hold Your Fire, with frequent appeals to "instinct." It's no wonder, either, if you listen closely in interviews; he often describes himself as a "child of the sixties" and a "romantic mystic."

If all this weren’t enough, the “making of” essay from the tour book has Peart joking that
It really is hard to believe that Hold Your Fire is our twelfth studio album -- in thirteen years together. But then it's also hard to believe in the expanding universe, superconductors, indoor baseball, 3-D movies, artificial sweetener, offensive weapons, objective reality [emphasis mine], rock music ...
Really? Objective reality is hard to believe? Talk about your Kantian overtones; Platonic, even…but that’s what happens when you accentuate instinct over “the evidence of the senses…”

Despite Peart’s joke, and the marginalizing of logic for instinct, reason is not totally dismissed; in the aptly named “Prime Mover”, Peart intermingles the “Platonic” with the “Aristotelian”. Peart identifies the “prime mover” in our “animal” nature:
Basic elemental instinct to survive/
Stirs the higher passions/
Thrill to be alive/
In a seemingly “Kantian” moment, Peart addresses the subjective interpretation of sensory input:
Basic temperamental/
Filters on our eyes/
Alter our perceptions/
Lenses polarize/
But from there, we see the evolution from instinct to logic:
Alternating currents force a show of hands/
Rational responses force a change of plans/
And the evolution turns technological:
I set the wheels in motion/
Turn up all the machines/
Activate the programs/
And run behind the scene/
This leads to Peart’s other “specific disagreement” with Ayn Rand; as her attitude towards the Woodstock generation (see her essay "Apollo and Dionysus" in The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution) rankled with “child of the 60’s” Peart:
I always loved machines, and I always loved the workings of mankind in making things. I stayed up all night to watch the Apollo moon landing, and at the same time I was just as excited by Woodstock. There is in fact no division there. In both cases you're talking about the things that people make and do. So I didn't see any division, but of course Rand did, in seeing us all as the unwashed Bohemian hordes.
With that statement, Peart contradicts the Objectivist notion of the "dual between Plato and Aristotle." How to explain all this? It could be said that the "evolutionary" aspect counters the "mystical" aspect, except for the allusion to the Christian baptism ("driving rain of redemption). This lyric also evokes memories of another literary influence on early Rush, Tolkien's Lord Of the Rings; (there's a beautifully written moment where Legolas the elf stands on the shoreline, reflecting on the ocean as the common birthplace of all life, and how there's a collective longing to return among the species.) However, in an ironic turn of the cards, a hard-core Objectivist might pull a “Barry Miles,” follow the precedent set by Leonard Peikoff in his book The Ominous Parallels, and connect Peart’s talk of “instinct” that “streams down inside our veins” to his neo-Jungian Platonism to the Nazi idea of racial purity, Aryan blood, and the Nietzschean idea of the Ubermensch

Perhaps, if taken to the ideological root, those ideas would find their common origin, but I hardly believe this to be Peart’s intent. No, The best way to understand Peart's eclecticism and the contradictions between his Objectivist-influenced lyrics and his about-face is to understand how the hippie movement intersected with the Libertarian movement, well-documented in Jeff Riggenbach's In Praise of Decadence. Riggenbach argues that the student movement of the sixties was not predominantly leftist, but libertarian, and his arguments and research do explain the situation well. For example, he explores how members of the Woodstock generation that Rand wrote off as Dionysian savages who explored psychedelics, Eastern philosophies and "alternative lifestyles" could produce technological wonders such as the personal computer, the iPod, and Spaceship One. Not only that, but in tracing the history of the Libertarian movement, he explores the influence of Objectivism on the Baby Boomer generation. Riggenbach’s defines “decadence” as, contary to the consensus, a rebellion against authority and tradition that results not in decay, but in vitality and creativity. He also claims to identify contradictions in Rand and Objectivism that pit her defense of individualism against her own strand of authoritarianism that Peart claims turned him off. Riggenbach’s explanation goes a long way to understand the impulse to juxtapose the “Platonic” with the “Aristotelian” in Peart’s lyrics, while explaining the love-hate relationship between Objectivists and Libertarians.

But all that was beyond the knowledge of that newly-minted "student of Objectivism" of the class of '96, and while I learned of the charges against Rand, it would be some time before I learned of the various motives. But the friendly-fire towards Rand would lead me to questions and heretical questioning of my own. Would the answers prove critics like the Brandens, Riggenbach, and Peart right? Does Peart's rejection of "Randroids" in favor of eclecticism support or undermine the idea of individualism? Was it time to “hold my fire?” Or would I have to fire back?

Next- Pt. 6 of 8: "No, Neil, Hold YOUR Fire"...
(Previous- Pt. 4: Interlude: The Making of 2112 and Moving Pictures")

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