RUSH: 3. 2112 (studio album #4)

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?

It tastes like CANDY!!
[Disclaimer: I haven’t eaten sugar in two years.
Your mileage may vary.]

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.

Goodbye, Neil.

Friends, what does this album, or the songs on it, mean to you?

2 Comments

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  1. And here we go with *2112*. This. This is the album that made seventeen-year-old pot-smoking burnouts in my high school, who most decidedly did not “get” Rush in any profound intellectual sense of the word, decide that they were nevertheless Rush fans. And you know what? That is, in its own way, fine. Rush has always embodied that sort of weird triplet intersection at the union of “fantasy lit fan,” “druggie musician,” and “semi-pretentious smart kid.” Whichever direction you come in is okay by me, as long as you’re cool with the other two-thirds of the equation.

    So, to the songs. First of all, “2112” itself which, I know is technically one long song, but which always seemed to me more like the seven-and-a-half songs glued together that it actually is. These are seven songs in search of a stage musical, for sure. The story is, as you say, masterfully told. It’s a beautiful art-kid collage of a gutpunch. That said, the individual bits definitely have varying effects for me.
    “Overture” – that dissonant “wadalah-waooh” chord at 3:04 gets me every time. Something about it makes me think of the “Ullah” of the Martians from Jeff Wayne’s “War of the Worlds.” And the explody “And the meek shall inherit the earth,” always seemed to me to be a snarky commentary on nuclear Armageddon, as in “the meek shall inherit the earth, but it won’t be much worth having by the time they get it.” And yes, as a preacher, I can definitely say this is based on a misunderstanding of what Jesus meant by that. But whatever, onward.
    “The Temples of Syrinx,” is, by design, harsh. The image of “syrinx” is, perhaps likewise by design, ambiguous. In myth, Syrinx was a nymph known for her chastity, i.e., purity. Are the Temples of Syrinx temples of intellectual and cultural purity? Also in the myth, the god Pan lusted after her, but she fled from him and was transformed into river reeds. The god then cut the reeds and made them into the first panpipe, the sound of which was supposed to be seductively irresistible. Are the Temples called that because they are irresistible in the way that they control every facet of life? Or is it a hidden drug reference (“syrinx” as a species of hollow, sharp reed is the source of our word “syringe”)? Is this a nod in the direction of how, in dystopian fiction, the population is often kept under control with soporific drugs? Again, whatever. What I will say is, yet again, my favorite thing about this part is listening to my brother Matthew and his best friend Robbie singing along. Onward.
    “Discovery” – you described it better than I could. It’s pure magic. I’ve felt that feeling several times in my life, and there is no purer hit in the world.
    “Presentation” is a master-class in how to write an antagonistic duet. You are never in any doubt as to which party is talking. This is sheer brilliance. The priests become every adult in the gifted, nerdy teen’s life that has stifled his or her creativity: “Forget about your silly whim; it doesn’t fit the plan.”
    About this point, sad to say, I usually sort of zone out. The music becomes more important to me than the story. However, I’m usually snapped back into the story when the Elder Race of Men show back up.

    I’ll confess, as I mentioned on *Fly By Night”, that I encountered Ayn Rand’s *Anthem* when I was thirteen, before I ever heard this album. So my reaction to side one was, “Wait a minute, this is *Anthem!* Sort of? Anyhow, what?”

    “Passage to Bangkok” starts with a textbook example of the “Oriental Riff” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oriental_riff). My oldest son, who is a massive Rush fan, confessed that he had listened to Rush for probably 11 years before he “realized this song was about weed,” that’s how oblique the innuendo is. To me the funniest thing about it is the moment where we, the audience, are invited, quite literally, to take a drag (1:49).

    “The Twilight Zone” has a permanent spot in my Hallowe’en rotation. As a fan of the TV show myself, this song is a perfect excursis of what the show is, and what it means to people who love it. It’s a delightful standalone piece that probably deserves to be covered by a modern band to enchant a new generation of fans.

    “Lessons” is a song that I always forget about until it’s playing, and then I go, “Oh, yeah, I love this song!” It feels a lot like a holdover from the band’s Led Zepplin cover-band days, like they came up with this song as a sort of answer to Zep’s “Ramble On.” I do appreciate how it ‘s musically almost identical to the guitarist/musician character’s song in “Presentation.” You can sing the lyrics of “Presentation” to the verses of “Lessons” and vice versa.

    “Tears” is pretty dang maudlin, and goes too slow to suit me. As a song, it makes a better poem. A side story—I knew a particular teenager who made a cassette tape, I kid you not, of just this song, over and over, for an entire 30-minute side. Not sure to what end, but apparently the song meant a lot to that one. I do appreciate the keyboard wash over the chorus, though, to be honest.

    “Something For Nothing” sounds to me as though, in an exquisite time-paradox, someone who knew that Guitar Hero was a thing traveled back in time to write the perfect song for Guitar Hero before it existed. I don’t know that I agree that you can’t get something for nothing, but I do think it’s true that you can’t have freedom for free. Anyhow, the song is a straight-up jam.

    This album definitely feels like the band is really starting to jell and come into their own. They haven’t peaked yet, but you can definitely see the summit from here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, I’ve been called a lot worse than semi-pretentious! 😀 I come to Rush from 2.5 of your 3, and absolutely I don’t begrudge anybody finding and enjoying amazing art in ways that aren’t mine. It’d be an awfully boring world if we were all the same.

      So, see, “Tears” is a great example. Though it did nothing for me, it meant a lot to some, and I’m really glad that they have it.

      I love hearing your memories of experiencing Rush with your brother and friends. Some of my memories of Rush are with friends also, but I did a whole lot of immersing in music on my own.

      That’s a really interesting observation about “Lessons” and “Presentation.” I hadn’t noticed that before!

      Is “Something For Nothing” on Guitar Hero? I’m going to have to find out!

      Thanks for listening along with me!

      Like

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