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Thread: Neil Peart's lyrics

  1. #1
    Progdog ThomasKDye's Avatar
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    Neil Peart's lyrics

    So I had this funny experience just now. A friend of mine was discussing an article about science overreaching its bounds and some people's need to contain nature as part of environmentalism. The article itself was rather dry, so, as is my wont, my mind drifted to Rush, and in this case, obviously, their song "Natural Science." So I quoted "Like the Rush lyric, 'Science, like nature, must also be tamed, with a view towards its preservation.'"

    He said: "Can I quote 'Stonehenge' from Spinal Tap now?"

    I laughed and said, "Yes, I know. Some people make fun of Neil Peart's lyrics, think they're a bit overintellectual.."

    He then interrupted: "Wait... you were serious? That's a real lyric?"

    I played him 5:28 to 5:40 of the song, and he said "I hear it."

    "So... do they have footnotes in the coda?"

    I know a lot of people have problems with Peart's lyrics, but I don't understand why, really. Is it just because he tries to be thoughtful? I mean, it's got to be better than Hagar-ish "Baby, baby, baby..." There was a recent discussion about how "SALESMEN!" was some kind of indicator of how lame Rush was. But you take one clever lyric out of context and you condemn a band that at least tried to examine the human condition and the world, with songs like "Territories" or "Witch Hunt."

    What do people here think? I admit, I get defensive about Rush's lyrics a little (especially when confronted by people who think he's still parroting Ayn Rand) but I'll try to step back and be even-handed. Honest.

  2. #2
    I used to have a friend that would scream "Everybody got reverse polarity!!" at the top of his lungs at people in a very earnest homage to Rush, totally unaware that he was coming off like am idiot. Neil's lyrics don't always come off well but overall I think he has some very good ones. Even in the early days when he wrote the stuff that hasn't dated so well I give him points for attempting to be intellectual.

  3. #3
    I think it's good to have intellectual lyrics, but that's coming from a prog fan. Your average rock fan, and not without reason, just wants to hear the good-time lyrics or whatever. So it's definitely not everyone's cuppa, but nor should it be. He's filling a niche, and it's obviously how he writes. It wouldn't sound right for Rush to be like Sammy Hagar.

    I can usually get behind the melding of Peart's lyrics with the music, but one song that I feel like they shoehorned too much in is "Hemispheres." The line with "Bringing wolves and cold starvation" always makes me smirk. It just sounds clunky in its delivery, as do other sections of the song. Plus the standard pronounciation that I've always heard of Dionysus is die - oh - NIGH - sus, not die - oh - NEE - sus. But I'm a pedant that way.
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    Estimated Prophet notallwhowander's Avatar
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    It's a matter of taste. A lot of people have an idea of what rock music should be, and they disparage any band that breaks their personal orthodoxy. But really it is a matter of taste. I like that some rock music has turned my mind on, rather than rock music being solely being a tool to help turn my mind off. A lot of the rock music I like is really all about feeling, including the lyrics. However, there is no reason it can't be about thought. Some folks claim that as pretentious. So what? There's a lot of people who like Rush too.
    Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world.

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    Note: my knowledge of Rush's music pretty much ends with Signals, I got off the boat after that, I only have a few post-Signals songs on my iPod.

    The problem I have with his lyrics is not that they're "intellectual" but that they're not very musical. I'm a huge opera fan (go Schreker!) and text setting is one of the things that is considered when evaluating a piece, how well did the composer integrate the words with the music? With Rush, for me, there's all sorts of awkward vocal melodies, word stresses in the wrong spot etc. Plus, I always feel like I'm being lectured when I listen to his lyrics, like he has something Deep And Profound To Tell Me. OMG! Who knew that Big Money doesn't care about the working stiff? Who knew that high schools are pits of conformity, not friendly to people who are different? etc.

    Plus, Ayn Rand.
    ...or you could love

  6. #6
    I always wondered how the heck Geddy come up with such good/great melodies for lyrics like a Vital Signs. I like the lyrics, but they certainly don't lend themselves to be sung easily. In any case, FREEWILL and ENTRE NOUS are some of the best lyrics I've even read.

    It's easy to take cheap shots at Neal's lyrics or Jon Anderson's, but after 40 years, I think it's time to bury that dead horse.

  7. #7
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    It's easy to take cheap shots at Neal's lyrics or Jon Anderson's, but after 40 years, I think it's time to bury that dead horse.
    Nah, not when people will still get mileage out of

    Every day a little sadder
    A little madder
    Someone get me a ladder


    ...or you could love

  8. #8
    One of the finest lyricists in all music, not just prog. Take something like "A Farewell to Kings," and how can you not admit that he can certainly write?

  9. #9
    I tend to get defensive about Rush as well. It bugs me when people chose to knock Neil's writing, they *always* take aim at what he did in his *20s*. I doubt any of his harsher critics have listened to anything he wrote after around 1981.
    Last edited by Rickenbacker; 05-26-2013 at 06:39 PM.

  10. #10
    I find it ironic that someone would single out the shouting "Salesmen" when that song, The Spirit Of Radio, is perhaps my favorite example of how brilliant he can be.

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  12. #12
    Occipital Provocatee Plasmatopia's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeremy Bender View Post
    Plus, I always feel like I'm being lectured when I listen to his lyrics, like he has something Deep And Profound To Tell Me. OMG! Who knew that Big Money doesn't care about the working stiff? Who knew that high schools are pits of conformity, not friendly to people who are different? etc.
    I guess that's the danger of trying to say something meaningful. At one extreme there is the risk of the artist coming off as condescending or pretentious or just not being meaningful or profound enough (and after you've heard the song 50 times you might start to think "well, yeah, no shit Einstein") and at the other extreme (the extreme of not taking any chances with trying to be intellectual or whatever) you are stuck with being treated like a mindless idiot ("oh yeah, baby, baby, baby, oh yeah").

    Even trying to strike a balance is risking alienating both preference groups. But it's all in what resonates with individuals.

    And to that end Big Money and Subdivisions both put forth common views that fans may feel are elegant expressions of what they are going through. They can empathize and for them the song has meaning as a result.

    I guess it all depends on what yardstick one uses for "great lyrics".

    For the record I think NP has done some great stuff and also some rather trite stuff.
    Last edited by Plasmatopia; 05-26-2013 at 08:08 PM.

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Plasmatopia View Post
    I guess that's the danger of trying to say something meaningful. At one extreme there is the risk of the artist coming off as condescending or pretentious or just not being meaningful or profound enough (and after you've heard the song 50 times you might start to think "well, yeah, no shit Einstein") and at the other extreme (the extreme of not taking any chances with trying to be intellectual or whatever) you are stuck with being treated like a mindless idiot ("oh yeah, baby, baby, baby, oh yeah").
    Exactly... I'm certainly of the ilk that prefers to go for it and write lyrics that may or may not get derisive snorts from some quarters. No matter what you do someone somewhere is going to say that you suck so why not go down for attempting to say something profound, even if you don't succeed all the time.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by arabicadabra View Post
    I find it ironic that someone would single out the shouting "Salesmen" when that song, The Spirit Of Radio, is perhaps my favorite example of how brilliant he can be.

    Especially in that line Rush are obviously putting a twist on the lyrics from Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkle:

    "The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
    And tenement halls
    And whispered in the sound of silence"

  15. #15
    Studmuffin Scott Bails's Avatar
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    What I love about Peart is that you know that he cares about what he writes. He spends time to make sure he's communicating exactly what he wants to say. Generally speaking, he doesn't go for the lazy rhyme. It's not good enough to just write "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, etc." stuff that appeals to everyone.

    I get that he doesn't always hit the mark with every lyric, but the fact that he tries is what's important, IMO.
    Music isn't about chops, or even about talent - it's about sound and the way that sound communicates to people. Mike Keneally

  16. #16
    I like Peart's "Tryism" lyrics the most, my favorite being, "Got my sights on the stars, won't get that far, but i'll try anyway"-to me, that is profound.
    "and what music unites, man should not take apart"-Helmut Koellen

  17. #17
    Mod or rocker? Mocker. Frumious B's Avatar
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    The early more sci-fi/fantasy/Ayn Rand stuff is kinda goofy, but I think Neil really hit his stride from roughly Permanent Waves through Presto. Then he slacks off a little for the next three albums which all have some major lyric groaners on them. Vapor Trails was incredibly touching and personal for obvious reasons, but then I think the relentless gloom and cynicism kinda takes over on Snakes & Arrows. That one is kind of a downer. Finally, on Clockwork Angels he seems to have regained some of his sense of wonder, exploration and optimism and he even dips back into the sci-fi a little without the awkward naïveté of the early lyrics.
    "It was a cruel song, but fair."-Roger Waters

  18. #18
    Progdog ThomasKDye's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by presdoug View Post
    I like Peart's "Tryism" lyrics the most, my favorite being, "Got my sights on the stars, won't get that far, but i'll try anyway"-to me, that is profound.
    That one's actually from Geddy Lee, but your point still stands. I love "Even though I feel so small, I can't stop thinking big" from the recent album.

  19. #19
    Studmuffin Scott Bails's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Frumious B View Post
    The early more sci-fi/fantasy/Ayn Rand stuff is kinda goofy, but I think Neil really hit his stride from roughly Permanent Waves through Presto. Then he slacks off a little for the next three albums which all have some major lyric groaners on them. Vapor Trails was incredibly touching and personal for obvious reasons, but then I think the relentless gloom and cynicism kinda takes over on Snakes & Arrows. That one is kind of a downer. Finally, on Clockwork Angels he seems to have regained some of his sense of wonder, exploration and optimism and he even dips back into the sci-fi a little without the awkward naïveté of the early lyrics.
    Very well said, Frumious - very much agree.

    Quote Originally Posted by ThomasKDye View Post
    I love "Even though I feel so small, I can't stop thinking big" from the recent album.
    Yes! One of my faves.
    Music isn't about chops, or even about talent - it's about sound and the way that sound communicates to people. Mike Keneally

  20. #20
    I remember telling someone that Neil's lyrics are like the poetic or literary equivalent of his drumming, ie overly thought out and intellectualized. I mean, we're talking about a guy who writes lyrics based on articles in Time magazine, and not even the kind of articles you'd expect would inspire a song lyric (ya know, like say a piece on a peasant uprising in some third world country or whatever). And I never find out what the deal with Geddy shrieking Absalom at the end of Distant Early Warning (yes, I know what the nword means, it comes from the Bible, I just don't understand what bearing it has on the rest of the lyrics).

    Having said that, Neil does occasionally come through with some winners, like Limelight, Vital Signs, and most especially Subdivisions.

    But my favorite Rush lyrics are still the ones Geddy wrote, specifically Tears and Different Strings.

  21. #21
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    I don't consider myself smart, but listening to Rush makes me smart. I love Neil's lyrics.

  22. #22
    All I have to say is that Neil's lyrics have helped two women whom I've been close to to become big Rush fans. (One of those is now my wife.)

  23. #23
    Geriatric Anomaly progeezer's Avatar
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    FWIW, I loathe the philosophy of Ayn Rand and existentialism in general.

    I also admire and enjoy Peart's lyric writing a great deal.
    "My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician, and to tell the truth, there's hardly any difference"

    President Harry S. Truman

  24. #24
    Highly Evolved Orangutan JKL2000's Avatar
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    I never really meet people who are aware of Rush yet criticize them. Not anymore, anyway.

    If someone DID try to shoot down Peart's lyrics by saying they were too "science fictiony," or "twee" or whatever, I'd probably somehow retaliate by mentioning his lyrics which drew from John Dos Passos, Walt Whitman, and Oscar Wilde. That might not shut some people up, but it should.

  25. #25
    Quote Originally Posted by GuitarGeek View Post
    And I never find out what the deal with Geddy shrieking Absalom at the end of Distant Early Warning (yes, I know what the nword means, it comes from the Bible, I just don't understand what bearing it has on the rest of the lyrics).
    Could have something to do with William Faulkner's novel Absalom, Absalom!, although never having read it, I don't know what that connection would be.
    Progtopia is a podcast devoted to interviewing progressive rock, metal, and electronic artists from the past and present, featuring their songs and exclusive interviews. Artists interviewed on the show have included Steve Hackett, Sound of Contact, Larry Fast, Circus Maximus, Anubis Gate, Spock's Beard, and many more. http://progtopia.podomatic.com See you in a land called Progtopia!

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