Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Poor Neil Peart

The Way the Wind Blows is a phenomenally moving song. The music is inspired and pathetic (in the good sense of pathos). But, here again, we have Peart displaying an irrational side. The chorus to the song is vintage Peart - imagery tied to the struggle of man, revelation of deep inner feelings. But the verses could have been lifted straight out of a Nancy Pelosi speech. It is as if Peart has become a mouthpiece for the American Democratic Party.

I'll get back to this in a moment.

Beginning from the beginning:

"Now it's come to this
It's like we're back in the Dark Ages
From the Middle East to the Middle West
It's a world of superstition"

[The Way the Wind Blows, Snakes & Arrows, 2007]

There are several interesting things about this verse. First, there is the negative connotation to Dark Ages, a repetition of that old Renaissance fable about the preceding era being ignorant and uncultured. That the common man thinks the Dark Ages something execrable is no surprise. For Neil Peart to think this is disappointing. Peart breathes the air of the Dark Ages daily, apparently unaware of the great and lasting achievements in a thousand years that he can flippantly dismiss without further thought.

Further, I have to again point out the silliness of a New Age, Tarot-Card reading animist using the term superstition in a derogatory way. Peart simply has no high ground at all. He accepts that someone flipping over pieces of paper can foretell the future or read into a man's soul, but he rejects as "superstitious" the sublime rationality of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Finally, there is the comparison of "Middle East" to "Middle West". This is inevitable in Peart's view of tolerance as the ultimate good. You can see foreshadowings of this in Peart's "Territories" from the Power Windows album (1985). Peart cannot mention a bad thing about some other people or culture without accusing his own people or culture of the same thing. It is impossible for Peart to look at Islamic Jihadists in the Middle East without inventing Crusaders in the Middle West. This is a common disease that affects all liberals. In order to balance their tolerant view of reality, they cannot put any culture in a position to judge any other. They themselves, of course, are fit judges, but that is because they see themselves as sitting above culture, in an intellectual elite fit to rule.

Pressing on...

"Now it's come to this
Wide eyed armies of the faithful
From the Middle East to the Middle West
Pray, and pass the ammunition"

"So many people think that way
You gotta watch what you say
To them and them, and others too
Who don't seem to see things the way you do"


Now where did this come from? Poor Neil Peart! He has to watch what he says, or some horrible fanatic Christian will do violence upon him! This is simply absurd. Peart certainly only has to watch what he says if he's afraid of offending someone, which he clearly isn't, or he wouldn't have written this song. Peart is inventing a persecution where none exists. Certainly if he were to say "Mohammed ate pork and was really a Jew", he might have to worry about a Fatwa being issued for his beheading, but it strains all credulity to him to equate a Judeo-Christian response to that of the violent jihadists. Peart is living in a bubble of rich liberal secularism. If he, for example, had to suffer under the restrictive policies of a modern corporation, he would know quite well that if anyone has to watch what they say, it is the "true believer." Peart and his secular humanist buddies have codified an anemic version of reality in which no-one is allowed to say anything offensive (except to Christians). Every day governments pass more laws censoring the free speech of individuals in the name of tolerance and diversity. If Peart was writing Witch Hunt today (Moving Pictures, 1981), he would find the witch hunters in the ranks of his compatriots. That is, he would, if he were honest.

Now, after this last verse, there is a sudden and shocking change, both musically and lyrically:

"We can only grow the way the wind blows
On a bare and weathered shore
We can only bow to the here and now
In our elemental war

"We can only grow the way the wind blows
We can only bow to the here and now
Or be broken down blow by blow"


Jumping from verse to refrain, Peart lapses back into beautiful imagery and heartfelt pathos. But he also jumps from petulant ranting to resignation. A generous intepretation would say that Peart has devised this dichotomy so that the verse and chorus speak to each other - that the chorus is an answer to the verse. The verse accuses and demands action. The chorus replies and begs understanding: "it's not my fault!"

Another interpretation would be that Peart is using the chorus to explain why all the horrible middle easterners and middle westerners are the way they are. It's not their fault - they were conditioned.

Of these two interpretations, I think the former is most likely. But is it reasonable? While the imagery is beautiful, the fact of the song's existance seems to belie the point he is trying to make. If we can only grow the way the wind blows, why isn't Peart growing along in the direction of Dark Ages and Superstition? Why isn't Peart one of the horrible wide-eyed faithful?

In the end, I think Peart just forced a nice image onto a political tirade. Musically and emotionally, it works. But there's no rational connection.

More later.


Jeff Miller said...

This song on the album annoys me the most. The music of the song is really good. I love the guitar intro and the ambiance of the whole song.

The lyrics though mar it like drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa. The equivalence between the mid-West and mid-East is pathetic - a Rosie O'Donnell type view that Christians are just as dangerous as Muslim fanatics.

Plus the whole thing about having to watch what you say is silly. There albums won't get warning stickers about the lyrics no matter where they are in the states. He can rail all day long and no one will arrest him or beat him up for it.

In Canada you are more likely to run into laws restricting you if you believe that homosexual acts are wrong then if you cry out again religion.

The whole Dark Ages bias is quite common though. I recently read a book by a SF author where events took place in this period. In an interview the author talks about after doing research he was surprised to find how wrong he was and that this period was actually an age of reason with very strong intellectual discourse of varying opinions. But this is common ageism the belief that everybody was stupid and superstitious in times past.

Miguel Cuthbert said...

I liked your observations about liberals having to keep the score even between the cultures they judge. Its one of their most repugnant characteristics.

Furthermore they always distance themselves from the horrors they create. They forget that the Nazis and the Stalinists, Mao Tse-Tung, and the rest of the tyrants and dictators of the last century were all progressives. It is a funny idea that the "religious right" will impose censorship when they invented the hate crime which says "murder is bad" but its even worse when you do it for the wrong reason.

It seems to me, as a devotee of Walker Percy,that Peart has achieved transendence through art/science which is why he probably doesn't have to just grow with the wind...

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Anonymous said...

I was going to make a point, but there is none to be made. I can't wait to go to the Rush concert in Oct 2010. Choose to like Peart's stuff or not.

EdMcStinko said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Thank-You about time ! You nailed it ! I'm sick of all the pompous arses bashing Christians,but being as quiet as a mouse when it comes to Muslims. If Peart was to live in Sharia law under the Taliban he wouldn't even be allowed a cymbal.

Anonymous said...

Neil is no more a Muslim apologist than he is a Christian apologist. Thanks for the wordy analysis though.