It’s a Fact That Rush’s Lyricist Loved Fiction

Neil Peart

Back in 2014, I wrote a blog post about songs with literary references — mentioning tunes such as Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On” (which contained lines about The Lord of the Rings), Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad” (The Grapes of Wrath), Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), 10,000 Maniacs’ “Hey Jack Kerouac,” Rosanne Cash’s “The Summer I Read Colette,” etc.

Today, after the death last month of Rush’s great drummer/lyricist Neil Peart, I’d like to focus on some of the lit-influenced songs he wrote for that renowned Canadian band. Few rock groups referenced fictional works more than Rush did, and the main reason is that Peart was a voracious reader — as well as an author of seven books himself. “The Professor,” as he was called, even worked with science-fiction author Kevin J. Anderson on a novelization of Rush’s last album, Clockwork Angels (2012), a “concept” record that was astoundingly good for a rock band that had been together 38 years at that point. For many bands, the creative well has long run dry after several decades (“ahem,” I’m talking about you, The Rolling Stones…).

Clockwork Angels‘ final track — the gorgeous, heartbreaking “The Garden” — includes the phrase “infinite jest” from the title of the David Foster Wallace novel, from the phrase in Hamlet, or both.

Hamlet is also represented with “to sleep, perchance to dream” being among the subtitles of Rush’s colossal instrumental “La Villa Strangiato.”

And Peart references Shakespeare’s iconic “all the world’s a stage” line from As You Like It in one of Rush’s most famous songs: “Limelight,” about how an introvert (Peart) reacts to being a celebrity.

Just as famous, if not more so, is Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” — about a modern version of Mark Twain’s renowned character.

Sharing Side One with “Tom Sawyer” and “Limelight” on Rush’s classic 1981 Moving Pictures album is “Red Barchetta,” a car-related song inspired by Richard S. Foster’s short story “A Nice Morning Drive.”

With “the bell tolls for thee” line in “Losing It,” Peart referenced Ernest Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls — whose title came from a John Donne poem. And the title of Rush’s Grace Under Pressure album pays homage to the famous Hemingway quote.

Peart was influenced for a time in his younger years by Ayn Rand, which led to a Rush song (“Anthem”) named after a Rand novella. “The Professor” eventually left that philosophy behind; Peart and his two bandmates (vocalist/bassist/keyboardist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson, both of whom co-wrote the music that accompanied Peart’s lyrics) all turned out to be rather liberal, compassionate people — whereas the “selfishness is good” Rand is lionized by some nasty figures on America’s far right.

Though there are various other lit-influenced Rush songs, I’ll conclude with just one more: “Xanadu,” which I also mentioned in a post last month. That epic tune was inspired by the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem “Kubla Khan.”

Your favorite songs with literary references, whether by Rush or anyone else?

I realize I’m posting this piece during the Super Bowl, but…I…don’t…care. ๐Ÿ™‚ (I hate the violence of football, the NFL’s ultra-conservative owners, etc.) Also, my next blog post will appear on a Monday (February 10) rather than the usual Sunday (February 9).

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning โ€œMontclairvoyantโ€ topical-humor column for The latest piece — about an interim schools superintendent’s controversial remark on race — is here.

46 thoughts on “It’s a Fact That Rush’s Lyricist Loved Fiction

  1. I grew up listening to Rush, my father is a very talented drummer himself, so naturally he introduced me to “The Professor” at a very young age. In 2012, I finally was blessed to see them live and in the flesh! The moment they came on stage, I teared up and it transferred me back to my childhood, which is exactly what this post does for me. Thank you so much for taking me back Dave! I can’t help but to now play my favorite drum solo’s by the man himself!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, stacylynnp2008! GREAT that you and your father are avid Rush fans — and that your father is a talented drummer! So wonderful that you saw them live on their next-to-last (?) tour. I can definitely understand the emotion. (And 2012’s “Clockwork Angels” was an amazing final album.)

      I unfortunately never saw Rush live, partly because I didn’t become a fan until later in the band’s career — after which I backtracked to their earlier music. What an amazing trio of musicians and songwriters.

      RIP Neil Peart. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Dave, for this post. How the heck did I not know about Rush…my mom was born in Canada. The Garden is achingly beautiful and the frantic power of Xanadu shattering. Isn’t it amazing the experience just 3 musicians can unleash? I guess it doesn’t hurt when they possess mega, off-the-chart talent. Stunning!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the comment, Ceil! Great that your mother was born in Canada! (One of my wife’s sisters lives there.)

      “Achingly beautiful” is a perfect description for “The Garden,” and “Xanadu” is indeed VERY powerful. (The 1981 “Exit Stage Left” version of the latter song is the best, played by Rush when its members were much younger, but that version wouldn’t “take” because of copyright issues when I tried to attach it to this post; it can be watched directly on YouTube, though.)

      I agree — all three band members are exceptional on their respective instruments, and the sound just those three people made is awe-inspiring.

      Congratulations on your “Turning Toward the Sun” novel!


  3. Al Stewart, a folk/rock musician popular in the 70’s (“Time Passages” was his most famous song), recorded a song called “Sirens of Titan”, based on the Vonnegut story. It prodded me to read that book, and I’ve since read everything Vonnegut has ever written.

    I am certain that “Alice in Wonderland” has been referenced in many popular songs, but I specifically point out Jefferson Airplane’s :White Rabbit”.
    (this post is from drb19810 – it’s been so long since I’ve posted, I think my i.d. has expired).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great to hear from you, drb19810! Hope you’ve been doing well!

      I was a big fan of Al Stewart’s “Past, Present and Future” and “Year of the Cat” albums back in the ’70s, and also loved the “Time Passages” song. He’s a terrific singer/songwriter. But I wasn’t familiar with “Sirens of Titan.” Excellent mention, and impressive the way it got you into Vonnegut!


  4. Great post Dave! Every song I thought of has already been mentioned but I’ll add one to the list. Perhaps it has been mentioned as well since I’ve yet to read all the wonderful comments. It is a song my sister and I would sing to one another when one of us was acting a little Psycho which was also the book inspiration for it and/or Psycho by Robert Bloch. “Norman Bates” by Landscape. Geezaloo, now I’ve got it in my head, ha! It can be a real earworm so warning: I would avoid listening to it. Susi

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Susi! The “Norman Bates” song was not mentioned. I just watched the video — catchy and very scary/spooky. Yikes! Perhaps, as you noted, I should have avoided listening to it. ๐Ÿ™‚


  5. Dave, I don’t know if this completely fits, but there’s a musical version of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds which has some beautiful songs in it. And some of the narration comes directly from the book, so it’s a really nice meld of the two different versions. I highly recommend it.

    And thanks for that Rush info. I’ll get around to listening to it as soon as I remember to look for it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Susan! Sounds relevant to me. ๐Ÿ™‚ I wasn’t aware of that musical version of H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds.” My first thought was that it was a stretch to make a musical out of that novel, but it seems to have worked! Perhaps Orson Welles’ famous radio version of the book factored into the musical?


  6. Cream’s “Tales of Brave Ulysses”, lyrics by Martin Sharp (who also created the iconic ‘Disraeli Gears’ lp cover, on which the song appears), refers to the sirens who sang to lure Ulysses’ sailors to wreck on the shoals, and also to Aphrodite on the half-shell, that particular image not a part of Homer’s epics, but probably inspired by Botticelli, as Kilgore Trout had yet to write his book.

    Out of Cream came Jack Bruce and his lyricist Pete Brown, who wrote “The Consul at Sunset”, for Bruce’s second solo lp, ‘Harmony Row’– a tropical, lazy song about a man in soul trouble and living on very little that could sustain him, which is unsurprising, inspired as it was by Malcolm Lowry’s novel ‘Under the Volcano’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, jhNY, for those mentions of two literature-influenced Cream or Cream member songs! Well described! I was not aware of those two tunes — I guess I’ve never listened to that band or Jack Bruce as a solo artist that much, other than hearing songs such as “White Room” and “Sunshine of Your Love” on the radio. Of course, Cream was a “power trio” before Rush was a “power trio.” ๐Ÿ™‚


    • Thank you, Elisabeth! I definitely see the strong connection between that great Rolling Stones song and that amazing novel, but didn’t realize the song was inspired by it. Interesting! And an appropriate emoji you included. ๐Ÿ™‚

      (I’m very glad you and Elena recommended “The Master and the Margarita”!)

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I will be the first to admit that I don’t listen to very much Rush, but I was still very sad to hear of Neil Peart’s passing. I know he had a very inspirational impact on many people I know. I love the tie-in this week of literature and music. I’m afraid I can’t think of any examples outside the ones you mentioned! ๐Ÿ™‚ Especially since most of my music taste revolves around classical and film scores – but that does make me want to mention something slightly off topic. To me, when I watch a film, the score is always one of the biggest characters in the story. The emotion invoked by some of the beautiful music put out there by very talented composers is always an incredible experience for me. And I often listen to those scores while I pen my own stuff! I think music and words go so well together, they often fuel each other as do all the arts ๐Ÿ™‚ โค

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, M.B.! I agree that film scores are SO important, whether we hear them consciously or subconsciously as we watch the movie. I really liked your line “…the score is always one of the biggest characters in the story.”

      I unfortunately know very little about classical music; it’s not something I grew up with. But my wife is a classical music fan. ๐Ÿ™‚

      And I agree that listening to music while writing is a very good thing!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. What a wonderful discussion. Rush has not been on my radar, but I know that many of my friends are grieving over the loss of a remarkable man. Music, poetry, songs, stories – they are a kaleidoscope of humanity that confirm that we are part of a wider story that transcends time and space. There are universal themes that link us all….

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Clanmother! Neil Peart was — and his Rush bandmates are — definitely among Canada’s most famous, most admirable people. And I appreciate your VERY eloquent words about the significance and importance of stories, music, and other creations.

      Liked by 3 people

        • Well, it’s a big country, with MUCH music. ๐Ÿ™‚ The three Rush members were originally from Toronto or the Toronto area, and I think Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson are still thereabouts. Neil Peart moved to California after he got remarried to an American about 20 years ago (his first wife had died).

          Liked by 1 person

          • Temporary Canadian Rick James and recent US citizen Canadian native Neal Young were in a band together, the Mynah Birds, in Toronto, around 1964, before James was found out by the US Navy from which he had deserted, and sent to the brig for a year.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Didn’t know that!

              I guess Buffalo Springfield was Neil Young’s second band? Or third or fourth for all I know.

              Impressive amount of Canadian talent in rock and pop music: Rush, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Sarah McLachlan, Gordon Lightfoot, The Guess Who, Arcade Fire, Metric, part of The Band, etc.


              • And let’s not forget The Band, one of my all-time faves, and all Canadians save Levon Helm. “Old Jawbone” may even count as relevant to the week’s topic, referring, tangentially, ironically, I have always assumed, to Samson, a powerful Biblical figure with a smitey mighty backhand. Or at least to his weapon of choice.

                Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you, Mary Jo! I wasn’t a big fan of “Tom Sawyer” at first, but it grew on me. Interesting/complex melody, and memorable lyrics.

          Didn’t know that Sting had been (briefly) an English teacher! Yes, one can believe he held a job like that. ๐Ÿ™‚

          Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Dave, I must admit that I’m not familiar with Rush, although I’m sure I’ve heard some of their songs. I’ll watch the clips you provided in your column when I’ve got more time; you are after all the one who got me into Renaissance. Speaking of that great group, I love their version of “Song of Scheherazade,” based on “The Arabian Nights.” Some of my other favorite songs are “Tales of Brave Ulysses” by Cream (Homer); “The Highwayman” by Loreena McKennitt, originally rewritten by Phil Ochs (Alfred Noyes); “Annabel Lee” as performed by Joan Baez (Poe); “The Bells” by Phil Ochs (Poe); and “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” written and performed by Springsteen and Tom Morello (Steinbeck). Songs inspired by the Bible are “Turn, Turn, Turn” by Pete Seeger as performed by The Byrds, “Halleluiah” by Leonard Cohen as performed by Jeff Buckley, and “Dante’s Prayer” by Loreena McKennitt. The song that is probably my very favorite is “”A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procul Harum, though I believe there is some dispute as to whether it references Chaucer’s “The Miller’s Tale” or any other literary work. I also have to comment on David Bowie’s failed attempt to make a stage musical of Orwell’s “1984” though songs he wrote for that appear on his “Diamond Dogs” album (“1984,” “Big Brother” and “We Are the Dead”). Nanci Griffith didn’t write a song about this, but she did entitle an album of covers with guests “Other Voices, “Other Rooms” after Truman Capote’s first novel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Kat Lit, for that GREAT and extensive list of songs with literary references! (Or in the case of “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” with a possible literary reference — that terrific song’s “as the miller told his tale” line evokes Chaucer but doesn’t seem to be about that part of “The Canterbury Tales.”) And, yes, Renaissance — a prog-rock contemporary of Rush in the ’70s — is so good! Including that band’s “Song of Scheherazade” song and its “Scheherazade and Other Stories” album. As you know, Annie Haslam’s voice back then was magical.


    • Pretty sure the Keith Reid lyric for “A Whiter Shad of Pale” (in one poll several years ago, it won as GB’s all-time favorite rock song) did refer to the Chaucer tale, since some sort of sexual loathing/apprehension seems to underlie, and “The Miller’s Tale” is a bawdy one; glad to know the 1984 project of Bowie’s, produced these memorable songs, and lastly, here’s a story you might enjoy:

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, jhNY! Yes, I guess it’s possible that “A Whiter Shade of Pale” referenced Chaucer’s tale in an indirect, subtle way beyond the “as the miller told his tale” line.

        I have a vague memory that a poll (not sure if it’s the one you mentioned) had “A Whiter Shade of Pale” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” as the two best British rock songs.

        And what an interesting link!


  10. Hi Dave,

    I’ve never listened to Rush. Of course, I’ve seen the conversations that you and Ana have had, and I’ve thought about checking them out, but never quite got to it. I guess, unlike literature, I have a handful of favourite albums that I can listen to over and over, and never feel the need to seek out something new.

    But I’m intrigued by your blog this week, and I generally like concept albums, so I might check out Clockwork Angels, unless there’s another album that you’d recommend more?


    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sue! Yes, Ana — now long gone as a commenter here — got me very interested in Rush. It took her a while to convince me, but she persisted. ๐Ÿ™‚

      To me, “Clockwork Angels” is Rush’s most consistent album — not one bad song, and “The Garden” is probably the band’s most poignant creation. Plus that concept story line, even as each song can also stand alone.

      Rush’s best-selling album was “Moving Pictures.” And their breakthrough album was 1976’s “2112,” with its impressive 20-minute-or-so title song. Each of those two albums has a fantastic first half and an okay second half.


  11. Thanks for that interesting deep dive into Rushโ€™s music! I had no idea they were so literary.

    In a similar vein, the Northern Irish band Snow Patrol are fans of Seamus Heaney and have a song called โ€œReading Heaney to me.โ€

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome, Elena! I arrived kind of late to Rush fandom, and also didn’t realize for many years that the band was so literary. Neil Peart, who never attended college, was a self-taught intellectual.

      And thank you for that mention of Snow Patrol and Seamus Heaney! I like that song title — and the song! (Just listened to it.)

      Liked by 1 person

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