Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Mythos of Rush

At The Imaginative Conservative:

Frankly, I’d never encountered a mind like [Neil] Peart’s. In my world, only Tolkien and Bradbury rivaled Peart’s intelligence and intellect. He had seemingly read everything (and, I still don’t doubt this), and his music touched upon all the major themes that meant something deep and profound for me. He knew mythology, he knew fantasy (Tolkien, Bradbury, and others) and dystopian literature, and he knew the great authors of the past several centuries. The world of his characters always seemed very real to me.

And, perhaps, most importantly at the time--especially given severe family dysfunction and social pressures--Peart taught me, almost single-handedly, that living with integrity and individual personality has only this as its opposite: not living at all, spending life as a Hollow Man, or a Company Man, but certainly not as a man. I realize it’s nearly impossible for a person to know his path with any certainty, but as I look back at my teenage years, Tolkien taught me ethics and morality, Bradbury taught me community and unlimited possibilities of imagination, but Peart taught me individual self-worth and dignity.

A sample of his lyrics that gave me hope and strength:

Growing up it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided
The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided In the mass production zone
Nowhere is the dreamer
Or the misfit so alone
--from Signals, 1982

He's not afraid of your judgment
He knows of horrors worse than your Hell
He's a little bit afraid of dying
But he's a lot more afraid of your lying
--from Signals, 1982

Ragged lines of ragged grey Skeletons, they shuffle away Shouting guards and smoking guns Will cut down the unlucky ones I clutch the wire fence
Until my fingers bleed A wound that will not heal --- A heart that cannot feel --- Hoping that the horror will recede Hoping that tomorrow --- We'll all be freed
--from Grace Under Pressure, 1984

I also know I’m not alone. The number of men (and some women) my age, or within a decade on either side, influenced by Rush is too numerous to count, frankly. It would be no exaggeration to claim that Neil Peart influenced, inspired, and shaped an entire generation of conservatives and libertarians. For what it’s worth, it’s only fair to note that Peart tends to identify conservatism with control and hypocrisy, and he would probably be far more comfortable with those who found some form of libertarianism, broadly understood, from his lyrics than with some form of conservatism.

My friend, economist and social critic Steve Horwitz has argued quite convincingly that while Peart’s lyrics lend themselves toward libertarianism, they most readily identify with a form of individualism [see Horwitz’s excellent chapter in Rush and Philosophy (2011)]. I would take this only one step farther and claim that Peart’s individualism is the individualism of the Stoics of the pre-Christian world. He seems to present a nearly perfect form of classical Stoicism in the 1979 epic, “Natural Science.”

--Brad Birzer's "Rock as Mythos: Rush's Clockwork Angels"

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