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Finding Poetry in Music
A Poet in His Prime
RUSH, a Canadian band that got its start in the late 60s and has turned out over thirty five albums, is unique with their powerful instrumentation as well as striking lyrics. The trinity stars Geddy Lee on bass and lead vocals, Alex Lifeson on guitar, and Neil Peart the drummer and lyricist. While all of their albums are artistic and expertly performed, one is particularly noteworthy for its melodies and philosophical metaphors. In 1987 “Hold Your Fire” was released and featured the only female voice to be recorded in Rush history on the track, “Time Stand Still” and other classics starring just the trio such as “Force Ten” and “Mission”, both of which contain insightful lyrics. By diving through the levels of meaning behind the words in “Prime Mover”, a better understanding of Peart’s philosophies and poetic style will be unearthed.
The Short History
The professional musicality of every RUSH song is truly what drives the inner meaning. The evolution of the band from its original members has brought them through stages of development that are interesting and unique. The beginning lineup read Alex Lifeson on guitar, John Rutsey on drums, and Jeff Jones on bass and lead vocals (Gett 1). When Jones left the scene and made room for Geddy Lee the search for RUSH’s true sound resumed. Eventually, due to medical circumstances Rutsey left the band just before a U.S. tour and they picked up Neil Peart (Gett 1). In him, they found the missing piece that ultimately brought their true voice to the forefront. Throughout every album, new limits were tested and explored as the band grew together and became the Hall of Famers they are today. Particularly, their sound in the late eighties is truly remarkable and different from other stages of their evolution. On the album, “Hold Your Fire” there is an emphasis on keyboards, played by Geddy Lee in conjunction with bass and vocals. This addition is especially apparent in the song “Second Nature” which has a primary keyboard element.
The overarching theme in “Prime Mover” and on this album in particular is the concept of time and seizing the moment. Every song compiled on “Hold Your Fire” is an introspection of higher truths and the elements that are highlighted bring the listener to an elevated mindset. It is important to take all of the songs into account because the album is essentially a series of aphorisms; each a brief insight into the mind of a man observing, and experiencing the world. Part of what makes the message so powerful is Neil’s persona sung by Geddy. While I believe Neil writes from the heart and that his philosophies are illuminated in each song, Geddy’s perception of the lyrics is revealed every time he performs them. Every song is a team effort and it is the intertwined nature of the songs that enhances the band’s unity. However, in order to portray the insight RUSH is capable of, a closer look at an expertly crafted song is needed.
There are so many different elements in “Prime Mover”; hints to the frailty of experience, the brief and sometimes missed opportunity for love, the indecisiveness of humankind, and the power of man. It is amazing that one song can say so much, but in reality that is what great poetry and songwriting does. One of the reoccurring themes in the song are the personal alterations of an individual’s decisions and perception of life. In these lines, Neil highlights this using a fair bit of scientific background to make his point; “Basic temperamental filters on our eyes/Alter our perceptions/Lenses polarize” (Peart). It is proven that the brain picks out specific images while the eyes sift through the innumerable images collected throughout the day (What the Bleep do We Know?). It is iconic of Neil Peart to use empirical evidence to evoke his abstractions.
Love and Power
While love is one of the most impressive categories in music, RUSH takes it a step further in “Prime Mover” touching briefly on an ever-changing reality of experience. In these lines, a romantic scene is painted; “From the point of entry/Until the candle is burned/The point of departure is not to return” (Peart). Other countless illusions guide the listener to embrace the moment and seize any chance that arises. The ending lines in each stanza invite the individual to refrain from dwelling on the future and experience the moment. This line speaks directly on this matter; “From the point of ignition/To the final drive/The point of the journey is not to arrive” (Peart). Also, there is a repeated line throughout the song, “Anything can happen…” which embodies an unpredictable element in life (Peart).
Finally, the power of man is revealed in the bridge as Neil describes a scene in which a mere person controls the earth. The melody and point of view shift and encompass an individual’s seat on the earth’s control panel; “I set the wheels in motion/Turn up all the machines/Activate the programs/And run behind the scene/I set the clouds in motion/Turn up light and sound/Activate the window/And watch the world go 'round” (Peart). Some may refer to this as an illusion to God or a higher power, but personally I feel that it reflects the experience of someone who understands the world and is piecing it together. It is a creative reflection and would ignite any philosopher’s heart.
Music has an advantage in the public eye, or rather ear. More people accept music into their lives and it therefore becomes a source of learning and influence. Poetry can do the same, but the melodic aspects of music draw people in more so than poetry by itself. Maybe it has to do with the internal rhythms that echo in our hearts. RUSH has acquired a magnificent legacy as well as an impenetrable friendship. Their story is just as relevant as their lyrics and composition. They are real and I have yet to hear a band that describes life’s abstractions and unexpected moments better than they. Speaking of Neil in particular; he writes from and for the soul. His keen perception and experiences brought him to his incredible state of understanding that he is known for. He was the missing piece that truly made the band exactly what it was destined to be.
RUSH - Prime Mover (Lyrics)
Gett, Steve. “History of RUSH.” erikandanna.com. n.p. 13 Jan. 2012. Web. 30 Mar. 2014.
Peart, Neil. “Prime Mover” azlyrics.com. Musixmatch, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2014.
What the Bleep do We Know? Dir. William Arntz, Mark Vicente, Betsy Chasse. Perf. Amit
Goswami, Dean Radin, Candace Pert, et al. Roadside Attractions, 2004. Film.