An unusual sort of offering, perhaps — presented for your consideration in observance of Inauguration 2009:

This is the first post in a series, in which I’m planning to lyricblog the six tracks of the extraordinary 1976 Rush album 2112, one post per song. Writing about some of the music and song lyrics that have greatly affected my life and thinking is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while (I also have Rush’s excellent “A Farewell to Kings” and “Hemispheres” in my sights as future projects), and with the Changes that are imminent here in the U.S. I find the themes embodied in 2112 are especially on my mind. Rockstars who lay claim to defiant rebellion are legion, but to me, there is nothing more authentically rock ‘n roll than rebelling against statism in the way that this album succeeds in doing.

I’m hoping the results may be as interesting to others as the idea of the project has felt to me. If the amateur commentary I’ve presented here looks insufferably long and boring, however, please feel free to skip this series and just take it as an enthusiastic recommendation to have a listen to 2112 yourself. Among other places (without endorsing any particular vendor; just providing the links as a convenience), the album can be purchased on iTunes, as well as on Amazon as either an MP3 download or a physical CD (remember those?).

The published lyrics for 2112 include some backstory narrative that isn’t spoken or sung in the recording. I’ve decided to omit that text here and focus on the album as you’ll actually hear it. A search for Rush+2112+lyrics will turn up numerous sites that have the full published lyrics with the narrative text included.

I’ve given the album a lot of thought since first discovering it sometime around 2003, but my interpretation is certainly not the only one, or even necessarily consistent with the band’s intent. (I’m a fan as a listener, but haven’t read up on what the band or others had to say about 2112’s theme and meaning.) Have a listen and see what you think. Rush are in general known for song themes inspired by Ayn Rand’s “Objectivist” philosophy, and 2112 is certainly a prime example of that.

OK, enough introductory rambling. With that, I invite you to brace for the ride and queue up the album’s title track: “2112”. At 20 minutes, this is a long one, but I promise it’s well worth the journey.

I. Overture

0:00 Ear-assailing yet delightfully campy electronic sounds (this is indeed the finest in 1970s progressive rock!) whirl in — oscillating, screeching, conjuring a sci-fi UFO landing. Perfectly synchronized drums, bass, and power chords pop in at 0:46, Rush’s trademark use of precise stops and starts, tempo changes, and free time already making their appearance. (By the way: Best. Drummer. Ever.)

Around 1:30 the band picks up into a galloping riff that brings to mind a charge of horses. Distant voices swirl in the background, then around 1:58 we get triumphant, anthemic guitar work over sustained chords. 2:30 brings the Temples of Syrinx theme, then at 3:04 a wailing, troubled guitar solo, chock full o’ feeling. At 3:33 a switch to yet another whole new riff. (Rush packs more good hooks into this one song than many bands do into an entire album.) Then at 4:07 a reference to the famous finale melody of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

At 4:16, crashes of synchronized drums, bass, and guitar over explosions, fading away as if we were at 2112’s own finale already … but then at 4:25 come the first of the lyrics (yes, believe it or not there really are lyrics to this song!) — a gentle, phased-guitar-accompanied:

And the meek shall inherit the earth…

II. Temples of Syrinx

4:34 The tempo picks up to a trot again, and we’re greeted by the shrill chorus of the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx: ostensibly benevolent engineers of the future utopia of 2112 — omnipotent keepers of the culture and its art — shrieking the justification for their all-encompassing rule:

We’ve taken care of everything
The words you hear, the songs you sing
The pictures that give pleasure to your eyes.
It’s one for all and all for one
We work together, common sons
Never need to wonder how or why.

We are the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx
Our great computers fill the hallowed halls.
We are the Priests, of the Temples of Syrinx
All the gifts of life are held within our walls.

Look around at this world we’ve made
Equality our stock in trade
Come and join the Brotherhood of Man
Oh, what a nice, contented world
Let the banners be unfurled
Hold the Red Star proudly high at hand.

We are the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx
Our great computers fill the hallowed halls.
We are the Priests, of the Temples of Syrinx
All the gifts of life are held within our walls.

6:35 Tight guitar+bass+drum strikes punctuate this declaration, then a bit of classical guitar fades the song out.

III. Discovery

6:46 The trickle of a waterfall fades in, mingling with the sound of a guitar being tuned. Not the usual polished stuff of a studio album, to be sure, but there’s a protagonist being introduced and a story being told here. A resident of the futureworld of Syrinx has found a dusty guitar behind a waterfall in a cave — an object that to him is completely foreign and mysterious in its purpose. As our hero handles the strange object, he discovers that it can be made to produce sounds, even music. (“How different it could be from the music of the Temples!” he proclaims in the liner notes. “I can’t wait to tell the priests about it!” — presaging a song passage soon to come.)

8:00 The tentative exploration gives way to melody, harmonics, chords as our friend learns to play (pretty quickly I might add, but we have to listen so who’s complaining). Then strumming and the beginnings of a contemplative song as our protagonist seems to start getting the hang of it:

What can this strange device be?
When I touch it, it gives forth a sound
It’s got wires that vibrate and give music
What can this thing be that I found?

8:49 The strumming picks up into a bright, upbeat riff that dances about with the joy of discovery, then slows reflectively again as he sings:

See how it sings like a sad heart
And joyously screams out its pain
Sounds that build high like a mountain
Or notes that fall gently like rain.

9:46 A hopeful new chord progression evolves, and with it a determination to tell others of his discovery:

I can’t wait to share this new wonder
The people will all see its light
Let them all make their own music!
The Priests praise my name on this night!

IV. Presentation

10:14 Heart wide open, expecting to be greeted by nothing but enthusiasm for his miraculous new find, the unsuspecting hero of our story makes his presentation before the Priests:

I know it’s most unusual
To come before you so
But I’ve found an ancient miracle
I thought that you should know
Listen to my music
And hear what it can do
There’s something here as strong as life
I know that it will reach you.

11:10 The Priests interrupt. Instead of showing interest, they dismiss his find outright in implacable unison:

Yes, we know, it’s nothing new
It’s just a waste of time
We have no need for ancient ways
Our world is doing fine
Another toy will help destroy
The elder race of Man
Forget about your silly whim
It doesn’t fit the plan.

11:47 Incredulous, our protagonist implores the Priests to reconsider:

I can’t believe you’re saying
These things just can’t be true
Our world could use this beauty
Just think what we might do.
Listen to my music
And hear what it can do
There’s something here as strong as life
I know that it will reach you.

12:23 His pleas are again rebuffed:

Don’t annoy us further!
We have our work to do.
Just think about the average
What use have they for you?
Another toy will help destroy
The elder race of Man
Forget about your silly whim
It doesn’t fit the Plan!

And with that, the Priests’ theme picks up into a wailing guitar solo over rapid bass and drum work. It’s clear that it’s pretty much Game Over for our friend’s helpful suggestion as far as the Priests are concerned.

V. Oracle: The Dream

13:57 Dreamy far-off phased guitar strums in, as our crestfallen young man reflects on this unexpected defeat:

I wandered home though the silent streets
And fell into a fitful sleep
Escape to realms beyond the night
Dream can’t you show me the light?

14:47 Cue more far out 70s prog.-rock synth work! Then triumphant chords as the wished-for dream arrives and changes everything, conjuring hope from despair:

I stand atop a spiral stair
An oracle confirms me there
He leads me on, light years away
Through astral nights, galactic days
I see the works of gifted hands
That grace this strange and wondrous land
I see the hand of man arise
With hungry mind and open eyes

They left our planets long ago
The elder race still learn and grow
Their power grows with purpose strong
To claim the home where they belong
Home to tear the Temples down…
Home to change!

VI. Soliloquy

16:00 This has got to be one of my favorite moments on the album. Our protagonist awakens from his dream, and seems to realize with both faint hope and resigned despair that the world he lives in is not the world he was meant for, the world that could be. The “sleep is still in my eyes” meme also lays the groundwork for the album’s finale and possible moral, in the final track “Something For Nothing” (which I’ll get to in a future post).

The sleep is still in my eyes
The dream is still in my head
I heave a sigh and sadly smile
And lie a while in bed
I wish that it might come to pass
Not fade like all my dreams…

Just think of what my life might be
In a world like I have seen!
I don’t think I can carry on
Carry on this cold and empty life

My spirits are low in the depths of despair
My lifeblood…
…spills over…

VII. The Grand Finale

18:19 Even in this moment of narrative despair, the band can’t seem to resist picking it up with more rockin’ riffs. Transitioning into the a struggling, neurotic, ultimately spiraling all-out cavalry charge, they end with a climax of climbing anthemic chords, feedback-charged soloing, and explosive noise as a malevolent-sounding voice rings out as if from the sky:

Attention all Planets of the Solar Federation
Attention all Planets of the Solar Federation
Attention all Planets of the Solar Federation
We have assumed control.
We have assumed control.
We have assumed control.


There is plenty that can be gleaned from or said about this unusual bit of epic rock-opera. Listening it today has left me with this thought:

The United States of America is Liberty’s natural and rightful home, friends. It’s time to make our own music, in preference to accepting the vision that is being handed to us in the name of our own good. We need to start planning and preparing for the day when we can leave our state of ideological exile, and return to claim the home where we belong.

Next: A Passage to Bangkok

2112The Complete Album

  1. 2112
  2. A Passage to Bangkok
  3. The Twilight Zone
  4. Lessons
  5. Tears
  6. Something for Nothing