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!
A Farewell to Kings is Rush’s fifth studio album, and will always be one of my favorites. This album has always been, and will always be, closer to my heart. (I’m sorry. I had to.)
I was worried that listening to this album would come with ugly crying like 2112 did, but I was wrong. There’s an undercurrent of sadness, but mostly there is JOY!
I don’t know how to fully articulate what I love about this album, its stories, the sound of its music. And y’know, that’s okay. I don’t think I need to. So here’s just a few thoughts.
First we have the title track. This song meant a lot when it was made, and it meant a lot when I first discovered it in the mid-80’s, and it means even more now. I mean, come on:
When they turn the pages of history When these days have passed long ago Will they read of us with sadness For the seeds that we let grow We turned our gaze From the castles in the distance Eyes cast down On the path of least resistance
The hypocrites are slandering The sacred halls of Truth Ancient nobles showering Their bitterness on youth Can’t we find The minds that made us strong Can’t we learn To feel what’s right and what's wrong
Then there’s a fantasy story of the successful search for immortality in Xanadu, based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem. (Spoiler: immortality sucks.) I love the bit at about 3:30 where Peart goes to town on the … cowbells? (Percussion-playing friends, what’s he jamming on there? Here’s the drum kit he used on this album.) After about the eighth time listening through, it occurred to me that maybe this bit reminds me of a little Hot Butter Popcorn party! Ha!
And then, of course, Closer to the Heart. I know I have a problem with hearing what I want to hear, especially in music, and probably most especially with Rush. If this song isn’t about the need for all different kinds of people to bring their diverse skills and talents together to make a better world, I don’t want to know. Seriously. Don’t tell me. Let me have this one song.
I don’t know enough about percussion instruments to say exactly how, but I know that Peart’s unique kit with all its bells and chimes and things really makes the sound of this song for me. Other bands who make covers of Closer to the Heart lose some of the magic in their attempts to recreate the sound with synthesizers.
Cinderella Man is another I’ve always liked. I’ve always wondered if it’s based on a real life story. Turns out, not exactly! Geddy Lee wrote the lyrics for this one, and it’s based on the romantic comedy Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, a Frank Capra film starring Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur. I may have to watch that now!
Even Madrigal doesn’t annoy me very much and is mostly okay, which is saying something for one of Rush’s attempts at a love ballad, complete with that wtf high pitch. After multiple listens, I’m convinced that I would like this song even more if they didn’t have that weird high pitched whatever. The lyrics do pull at me. Some people apparently love that high pitched stuff, though, so I’m glad they have it!
And finally, at the end of the album, the science fiction story of the journey to the black hole Cygnus X-1. Its full title is Cygnus X-1: Book 1 – The Voyage, and the next album starts immediately off with Book 2 – Hemispheres. In high school I made myself a tape with the two parts of the story back-to-back, so it’s weird and difficult not to go immediately to Hemispheres at the end of this song! There’s some musically interesting stuff going on in Cygnus X-1: Book 1, and of course the journey into the black hole fills my little astronomy-loving heart with joy! Here’s a little more information on the real black hole.
I’ve lingered here with this album for quite awhile. Okay, also, my audio book got really good and I needed to listen to it exclusively for eight or nine hours. And then my NEXT audio book also got really good. 🙂 But mostly, I needed to sit with this album for awhile. And now here are the tears, as I decide it’s time to move on.
A Farewell to Kings will still be here for me whenever I want it. Onward now to Hemispheres!
Here’s the drum kit Peart used for this album. Not pictured: the birds whose songs they captured outside of the studio.
Friends, what does this album, or the songs on it, mean to you?