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Entry updated 25 September 2023. Tagged: Music.

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Canadian rock band comprising Geddy Lee (1953-    ), Alex Lifeson (1953-    ) and Neil Peart (1952-2020). Their roots were in straightforward blues-rock, but their more prog-oriented second album Fly by Night (1975) made apparent the influence of the individualist ideology of Ayn Rand: the track "Anthem" from that album adapts sentiments, though not the storyline, from Rand's "objectivist" sf novel Anthem (1938; cut 1946) into a rock song (a cultural idiom that Rand herself, of course, despised). Better is the lengthy Fantasy song "By-Tor and the Snow Dog" about a warrior's battle with his canine nemesis on the banks of the river Styx: the group's characteristic fast guitar, bass and drum work, and the frantic high-pitched singing of Lee, create an appropriately kinetic, adolescent effect. Two long tracks, similarly prog-rock Fantasy, appeared on Rush's next album Caress of Steel (1975). But it was a return to sf and to the influence of Ayn Rand, that gave the band their first major commercial success, the album 2112 (1976). The 20-minute title track is based, somewhat loosely, on Rand's Anthem: the evil collectivist twenty-second-century Solar Federation cannot tolerate individuality; when a man finds an electric guitar and learns to play the autocratic "Priests of the Temples of Syrinx" destroy it and the man commits Suicide. The song ends ambiguously with the line, ponderously repeated, "Attention all planets of the Solar Federation: We have assumed control." The identity of this "we" is not disclosed. Overall "2112", though silly, is silly in a glorious way, and the splendidly crashing rock-clichés of the suite to some extent occlude its pernicious Randian premises. Certainly the album was an international hit.

Rush stayed with sf for their next album, A Farewell to Kings (1977), whose ten-minute song "Cygnus X-1" details an interstellar voyage to the titular destination. The album Hemispheres (1978) begins with a sequel to this, the twenty-minute track "Hemispheres", pretentiously identified as "Cygnus X-1 Book II". Taken together these songs tell of a spaceship journeying through a black hole to a land in which the followers of Apollo and Dionysus are at war. The ten-minute "Natural Science" (on Permanent Waves, 1980) dashes through a galactic overview, encompassing an evil "mechanized world" and an enlightened spirit who understands the flow of things; but it is too grandiose to be effective pop. Moving Pictures (1981) saw the group abandon their prog-rock mannerisms and concentrate instead on short, radio-friendly pop-rock songs. After this, broadly speaking, sf was no longer a part of Rush's repertoire, and although from time to time they recorded genre-influenced pieces these were rare and not especially memorable. For instance: "The Body Electric" (on Grace Under Pressure, 1984) is about "an android on the run" and features a chorus sung in binary code; and "Alien Shore" (on Counterparts, 1993) is about sex on a "world of red neon and ultramarine".

In the new century, the Steampunk-themed album Clockwork Angels (2012) is of particular genre interest; this was novelized by Kevin J Anderson as Clockwork Angels (2012), and Anderson has collaborated with the band's Neil Peart on further fiction set in the same universe, assembled as Clockwork Lives (coll of linked stories 2015).

There is an inescapable preposterousness to mid-period Rush's elaborate and lengthy sf songs, but it is a preposterousness that endears rather than alienates: an adolescent music for an adolescent variety of science fiction that still has its place in the genre. [AR]


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