Rush: A rock band for introverts (Part One: Limelight)

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Rush: a rock band for introverts

This article is about the legendary Canadian rock band Rush.

Rush is a band known for their complex compositions, excellent musicianship and philosophical lyrics, and they seem to be a band you either love or hate.

Haters of the band can’t stand vocalist and bass player Geddy Lee’s voice, think their music is too self-indulgent and find drummer and lyricist Neil Peart’s lyrics too preachy. But for those who love Rush, they are a band whose music is more than just entertainment, it is a way of life.

Geddy Lee (vocals, bass, and keyboards), Alex Lifeson (guitars), and Neil Peart (drums and lyrics) have been playing music together since 1974 and they have released eighteen (!) studio albums since 1975. They are known to be perfectionists with a strong work ethic and a tendency to reinvent themselves over and over again. Their live performances are legendary and by staying true to themselves they have built up an incredible cult following all over the world.

Rush never tried to make a hit song and they simply didn’t care about being radio-friendly. Nevertheless, they have sold 40 million records worldwide including 24 gold records and 14 platinum records, placing them fifth behind The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Kiss, and Aerosmith on the list of rock bands with the most consecutive gold or platinum studio albums. Their most popular, and arguably their very best, album is Moving Pictures, released in 1981. After many years of making records and performing around the world, the band retired in 2018.

Since joining the band in 1974, drummer Neil Peart has been the band’s main lyricist. On the early Rush albums, Peart’s lyrics were influenced by fantasy writers like Tolkien, poems by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand. The main themes in his early lyrics were individualism, the dangers of collectivism, the importance of self-actualization, and artistic integrity. Peart soon grew out of the Ayn Rand-inspired worldview and started to formulate his own view on life, still strongly based on individuality, freedom, and creativity. In my opinion Rush released their best albums in the eighties and it was in this era when Neil wrote his most insightful lyrics as well.

I have decided to write two articles about Rush. Each article will focus on one particular Rush song. This is the first article, focusing on the song Limelight, from the 1981 album Moving Pictures. The second article will be about the song Subdivisions, from the 1982 album Signals.

Part one: Limelight

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In 1981, Rush released their classic album Moving Pictures, which is in my opinion their best album. By this time, Rush had become a well-known, successful rock band with a cult following around the world. One of the things that came with the fame of ‘living in the limelight’ was the attention of fans (often in the form of autograph or photograph hunters) and the media. Drummer and lyricist Neil Peart, being an introvert who cares greatly about his privacy, found himself having trouble with this life in the limelight. As an introvert, Neil was a person who needed solitude and having his privacy invaded by fans and press was something he had trouble adjusting to.

In the lyrics to the song Limelight, Neil writes about his discomfort with fame. The album is called Moving Pictures, so the title of the song Limelight obviously refers to the 1952 Charlie Chaplin film of the same name. Let’s take a step by step look at the song and the lyrics:

The track opens with a classic Alex Lifeson guitar riff and after about ten seconds Neil and Geddy join in on drums and bass. Having established the musical theme of the song Geddy starts singing the first lines of Neil’s lyrics:

“Living on a lighted stage
approaches the unreal
for those who think and feel

In touch with some reality
beyond the gilded cage.”

Immediately Neil describes life as a famous performing artist as ‘unreal’ and emphasizes the importance of staying in touch with reality ‘beyond the gilded cage’ of fame. In the next lines he talks about how he finds himself ill-equipped to deal with fame and how he feels the need to protect his privacy:

“Cast in this unlikely role,
Ill-equipped to act,
with insufficient tact,
one must put up barriers
to keep oneself intact.”

Many artists have had trouble dealing with fame and success, just think about the terrible impact fame has had on artists like Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain for example. Neil believes the secret to staying in touch with who you are is to ‘put up barriers to keep oneself intact’.
Now the song moves on to the chorus:

“Living in the Limelight,
the universal dream
for those who wish to seem.”

In these lines, Neil writes about the people who wish to be famous. He calls these people ‘those who wish to seem’. This is very true even today, one needs only to look at social media and reality TV shows, for example, to see how many people wish to be famous. The ‘universal dream’ to live in the limelight is still very much alive. But these are the people who wish to seem. So what about the people who really are artists? The people who want to be, not those who want to seem? Neil gives advice to these honorable people in the next lines of the chorus:

“Those who wish to be
must put aside the alienation,
get on with the fascination,
the real relation,
the underlying theme.”

Those who wish to be who they truly are, those who wish to create art instead of living the fake persona of a superstar, need to ‘put aside the alienation’ and ‘get on with the fascination’. In other words, the artist needs to remember why he became famous, not get caught up in the alienating life of stardom, and needs to keep his artistic integrity and the love for what he’s doing intact.

Now the lyrics go on to describe how it feels for someone who became famous, but is also an introverted person who likes his privacy, to be surrounded by admirers, journalists and fans who want to meet them, get their autograph and maybe a picture:

“Living in a fisheye lens,
caught in the camera eye.

I have no heart to lie,
I can't pretend a stranger
Is a long-awaited friend.”

In these lines, Neil perfectly describes how hard it can be for a famous person to act as if each fan is ‘a long-awaited friend’ at any given time when in reality the fan is someone the famous person does not know anything about. I think this also applies to introverted people in general. As an introvert, when I meet people and have to be friendly and show enthusiasm towards strangers at parties or other gatherings, I often think of those words: ‘I can’t pretend a stranger is a long-awaited friend’. Extroverts seem to have a lot less trouble acting like every stranger is indeed a long-awaited friend…

In the next part of the lyrics, Neil was inspired by Shakespeare’s famous lines:  “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players”:

“All the world's indeed a stage,
and we are merely players,
performers and portrayers.

Each another's audience
outside the gilded cage.”

What Neil is saying here is that celebrity status means nothing and that every living person is a star in some way. We are each other’s audience and we are all performers and portrayers. Life outside the ‘gilded cage’ is what really matters.

Now we go back to the chorus once again:

“Living in the Limelight,
the universal dream
for those who wish to seem.

Those who wish to be
must put aside the alienation,
get on with the fascination,
the real relation,
the underlying theme.”

Following the chorus comes the guitar solo. Rush fans have been saying Alex Lifeson is one of the most underrated rock guitarists for years, and this guitar solo is a perfect example of how right they are. This solo is just out of this world, just listen to the passion in every note!

After the guitar solo, the song repeats the chorus once again and the song comes to an end with Geddy screaming once more:

“the real relation,
the underlying theme!”

 

This is the end of part one of my musings on Rush. In my next article, I will talk about another Rush song called Subdivisions.

Listen to Limelight by watching the video below and leave a comment in the comment section below this article if you want. Tell me what you think about Rush. What are your favorite Rush songs and lyrics? What do you think about the song Limelight?

Wesley Stuer
october 6, 2018