The Anti-Conformist, Libertarian Philosophy That Shaped Rush’s Classic Albums

“Through­out their career, Rush have been proud­ly anti-con­formist and anti-author­i­tar­i­an,” notes the Poly­phon­ic video on recent­ly depart­ed drum­mer and lyri­cist Neil Peart, above. “This phi­los­o­phy is clear­ly reflect­ed in many of their finest works.” Since the addi­tion of Peart in 1974 after their first, self-titled album, Rush’s phi­los­o­phy has also been unam­bigu­ous­ly Lib­er­tar­i­an.

Of course, Peart also turned Rush into the most lit­er­ary of pro­gres­sive rock bands. Steeped in fan­ta­sy, sci­ence fic­tion, and moral phi­los­o­phy, he trans­lat­ed his influ­ences into a sprawl­ing sci-fi vision all his own, and one that con­sis­tent­ly exceed­ed the sum of its parts. Yet ear­ly Rush was also very much a band that wrote earnest, epic songs about Ayn Rand’s Objec­tivism.

Peart drew heav­i­ly on her work in the first three albums he record­ed with the band, includ­ing 1975’s Fly by Night, which includ­ed the song “Anthem,” an ode to tow­er­ing cre­ative genius­es that cribs from Rand’s dystopi­an nov­el of the same name. Rush’s break­out mas­ter­work, 2112, released the fol­low­ing year, expand­ed dra­mat­i­cal­ly on the theme, as you’ll see in the Poly­phon­ic break­down of its lyrics.

The 20-minute open­ing title track tells the sto­ry of a futur­is­tic, fic­tion­al city of Megadon, a place, writes Rob Bow­man in the 40th anniver­sary edi­tion lin­er notes, “where indi­vid­u­al­ism and cre­ativ­i­ty are out­lawed with the pop­u­la­tion con­trolled by a cabal of malev­o­lent Priests who reside in the Tem­ples of Syrinx.” Based on a short sto­ry by Peart, he him­self cred­it­ed its inspi­ra­tion in the orig­i­nal lin­er notes to “the genius of Ayn Rand.”

These ref­er­ences don’t seem to make Rush fans love their career-defin­ing mid-sev­en­ties con­cept albums any less. But it has meant that a great deal of talk about Rush has for­ev­er linked Peart with this phase in his life. Asked about it in Rolling Stone almost four decades after 2112’s release, he dis­avowed a last­ing influ­ence.

Oh, no. That was 40 years ago. But it was impor­tant to me at the time in a tran­si­tion of find­ing myself and hav­ing faith that what I believed was worth­while…. On that 2112 album, again, I was in my ear­ly twen­ties. I was a kid. Now I call myself a bleed­ing heart lib­er­tar­i­an.

The change came about, he says, after he saw how lib­er­tar­i­an ideals get “twist­ed by the flaws of human­i­ty.” Peart, and Rush, how­ev­er nev­er wavered from their anti-author­i­tar­i­an cham­pi­oning of indi­vid­ual rights. And denials aside, the Ran­di­an influ­ence lin­gered, espe­cial­ly in songs like “Freewill” from 1980’s Per­ma­nent Waves:

You can choose from phan­tom fears  
And kind­ness that can kill  
I will choose a path that’s clear  
I will choose free will 

Rush’s lib­er­tar­i­an streak—both the ear­ly Objec­tivist and lat­er “bleed­ing heart” varieties—can broad­ly be called their guid­ing polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy. But it should not be mis­tak­en for Peart’s sole obses­sion. His songs are full of huge themes, as well as the “thorny ques­tions” of every­day life, writes Annie Zales­ki at NPR. “Like the best song­writ­ing, Peart’s body of work was also mal­leable enough to grow with its listeners—his songs often mused about aging and the impor­tance of dream­ing.”

Some­times Rush spoke even more direct­ly to their aging fans. “The omi­nous ‘Sub­di­vi­sions’ railed against the con­formist sub­urbs that ‘have no charms to soothe the rest­less dreams of youth.’” Whether or not Rush fans them­selves have had an ear­ly Ayn Rand phase, all of them iden­ti­fy with Peart’s life­long desire to seize his own des­tiny and escape the mun­dane.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Wit­ness Rush Drum­mer Neil Peart’s (RIP) Finest Moments On Stage and Screen

Who Are the Best Drum Soloists in Rock? See Leg­endary Per­for­mances by Neil Peart (RIP), John Bon­ham, Kei­th Moon, Ter­ry Bozzio & More

Free Audio: Ayn Rand’s 1938 Dystopi­an Novel­la Anthem 

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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  • William Le says:

    I under­stand Neil here per­fect­ly for I too was an Ayn Rand fan around the age of 20. Basi­cal­ly shy and inse­cure through­out high school, her books helped me (at the time) to devel­op a bit of inner strength and have a lit­tle faith in myself by con­vinc­ing me of my “specialness/uniqueness”, regard­less of whether it was true or not. For­tu­nate­ly I’ve moved away from the Ran­di­an mod­el over time.

  • Annoymous says:

    As an anti-con­formist and an anti-author­i­tar­i­an, and a rock musi­cian, it is nice to know there is at least one band/artists at an ear­li­er era with some sim­i­lar view­points and out­looks.

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