This is part of my journey through all of Rush’s many albums in the wake of our loss of Neil Peart (and, basically, our loss of Rush). My journey began here. Please join me!
Content Warning: Suicide.
2112 was Rush’s fourth studio album, and their third album with the Lee/Lifeson/Peart trio. It was their first major commercial success.
This one was hard for me. It became quite clear that it was time to sample The Macallan 12. It’s much lighter colored than I expected. What does it taste like?
Good. Now that we’re properly fortified, let’s look at the album 2112!
Friends, if you’ve never heard the science fiction story 2112, or if you’ve only heard the shortened version of the song that gets air time on the radio, pause here with me for twenty minutes and thirty-four seconds. Get out your noise-canceling headphones and connect them to your phone or computer. Or connect your phone to your home or car stereo, and place yourself in an optimal spot where the music can surround you. Load a window with this link, which will pull up the lyrics and accompanying story. If you have a Spotify account, click the streaming link here. If you don’t, try this YouTube version. Listen to the whole song with the lyrics and the story there in front of you, and the music loud enough to engulf you. Then come back here. If not now, when? Just do it. I’ll wait!
So, yes. Some of the sound of the music was borrowed or heavily influenced by others. The story is borrowed and heavily influenced by the first half of the Ayn Rand novella “Anthem”, and is problematic in many ways. It’s super easy to rip apart the story, if I want to. On full display is Peart’s fundamental lack of understanding of what is meant when people who are not cis straight white men say they want equality, and why they say it in the first place. I also think we can safely say Jesus’ concept of “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” is pretty far removed from this vision of a dystopian world. All the same, the story is masterfully told through this song.
As I mentioned before, 2112 is what really pulled me into resonance with Rush. I’d been aware of them, of course. They had a few songs that got a ton of air time on the Houston radio stations I listened to, but I hadn’t really paid them a whole lot of attention. Geddy Lee’s voice grated pretty badly on my nerves!
This song, though. So much of the story is told purely through the music. It pulls you right in, with the supplements in the liner notes to guide you along. It’s magical in the way it transports you and you feel every part of the story, every emotion. I’m sure the story is particularly resonant for a teenager, especially an artsy teenager, especially an artsy teenager for whom making music is a really important part of life.
There are a lot of good things to say about this song, but the part I love best is “Discovery,” wherein our hero finds an ancient guitar in the cave behind a waterfall. It’s like the scene in the Fred and Ginger movies where they first get past their silly conflicts and discover how beautifully they dance together. It’s that first discovery of something you couldn’t have even conceived of before, and astonishment at the beauty. It’s falling in love. Alex Lifeson captures this so perfectly. First our protagonist picks at this strange unknown thing, haltingly discovers how it works, gains more confidence and then pure, innocent, unadulterated joy.
In the end, it’s a tragedy. The protagonist doesn’t know the Oracle has shown him a true dream. The grey life of the Solar Federation is all he has ever known, so he despairs and takes his own life, moments before the elder race of man returns to tear down the Temples and save the oppressed population. A tragedy, then, but with hope. And I wonder how many young people absorbing this story came away with that planted seed of hope, as I did. The seed of “…but what if?” Though you may despair and feel like the only way out of your pain is to take your own life, what if you just wait, what if things get better? And this is a truth. Things do always get better. This kind of art is so important. There are people alive today who might not have survived their bouts with major depression were it not for the planting of seeds such as this.
On side two, we have a set of ‘normal’ length songs.
The musical sound of “A Passage to Bangkok” makes me cringe, and a friend just pointed out that this is definitely a song about enjoying lots of drugs. So I don’t feel I’ve missed a lot by generally skipping this song.
“The Twilight Zone” is exactly what you think it might be. It’s a pretty wonderful little love song to the television show. It’s always made me smile.
“Lessons” has a catchy sound to it and is nice to listen to, but the lyrics haven’t ever done much for me. Not really sure what it’s about, to be honest.
Most of Rush’s attempts at love song types of ballads leave me flat, and “Tears” is no exception. This is another one that I regularly skipped.
I really like “Something for Nothing,” though. This is one of my “Get Up Off Your Ass and Do the Thing” songs. Not only are its themes present in other Rush songs going forward, they also tie the album very neatly back around to the concepts in the title track. This song also sings a fundamental part of Peart’s life philosophy: Be Your Own Hero.
"Listen to my music And hear what it can do There's something here that's strong as Life I know that it will reach you"
We do. And there is. And it did. It does. Thank you for the story, Neil, and thank you Alex and Geddy for bringing it so vividly to life.
Friends, what does this album, or the songs on it, mean to you?