A great songwriter and drummer passed away

The main songwriter for the rock band “Rush” and voted fourth best drummer in the world, Neil Peart, passed away Friday night from brain cancer.

One of the best examples of Peart’s clever wordsmithing is from the song “Freewill:”

“When you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

When my two sons and I saw Rush, Peart had two sets of drums surrounding him. In the middle of the show, the drums rotated, so he could play a different sounding set.

He was representative of the band, which included Alex Lifeson (superb lead guitarist) and Geddy Lee (lead singer, bassist and keyboardist), as people were amazed by how much sound came out of just three people.

People know their bigger hits like “Freewill,” “Tom Sawyer,” ” Spirit of Radio” and “Fly by Night,” but their body of work is pronounced due to great lyrics and musicality. Here are a couple of samples:

From the song “Subdivisions” about cookie cutter housing and thinking is the classic line about having to fit in:

“Conform or be cast out.”

Another clever set of lyrics comes from “Limelight” as he writes:

“All the world’s indeed a stage,
And we performers are merely players,
Performers and portrayers,
Each another’s audience,
Outside the gilded cage.”

Finally, from the metaphor “The Trees,” Peart and his mates write:

“There is trouble in the forest,
There is trouble in the trees,
For the maples want more sunlight,
And the oaks ignore their pleas.”

In the end, the forest is destroyed. The metaphor is plain – the haves must not ignore the plight of the have-nots, but destroying the haves is not the answer either.

Peart will be missed. His drumming, songwriting and his ability to make us think.

Please Remember Rush and Vote

One of my favorite songs by the group Rush is “Free Will.” Within the wonderfully crafted lyrics is the following phrase;

“If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

This lyric resonates especially in this election season. In an election where our president may be selected from the lesser of two choices, opting not to vote may cause us to end up with the worst choice.

The Republican Party started out with seventeen candidates, but has managed to whittle it down to the two most horrible choices of the lot. It amazes me that Donald Trump can get people to overlook his past and his present and think he can change all of that nature in the future.

Senator Ted Cruz may be the most detested legislator in Congress. He has grandstanded, ridiculed and demeaned others. He almost caused us to default on our debt. One GOP Senator was caught in an unguarded moment and said he would vote for Hillary Clinton before he would vote for Cruz. He later revised that statement saying he never said it.

As for Clinton, she is by far the most qualified candidate in terms of her service as First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State. But, she has had years of fair and unfair scrutiny by the conservative and mainstream media. The dilemma is the fair and unfair parts are clouded together.

So, she carries this extra baggage into the mix. But, she has been vetted more than any other candidate. And, she and Bernie Sanders answer questions better than the other candidates and understands that climate change and water are concerns, economic inequity is an issue and social injustice exists.

Both Trump and Cruz do not speak of climate change as an issue and do not talk of our water problems at all. And, both run counter to their rhetoric with proposed tax plans that would hugely increase the US Debt problem.

So, not voting may leave us with a President who will take us backwards and pick the next few justices on the Supreme Court who could unwind social progress.

I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then

I have always been a big fan of interesting song lyrics. The coining of a phrase that says more than the few words used in the song make it memorable.The above title comes from a Bob Seger song “Against the Wind” as he laments it was more exciting not knowing some things when you were younger about love and life. The following sample lyrics are not necessarily my favorites, but they are a few that represent my fascination with good wordsmithing.

“See, the number on the matchbook is old and faded,” is a line from Jim Croce’s song “Operator.” He is struggling to find the number of an old girlfriend who ran off with his “best old ex-friend Ray.” Since it was written on a matchbook, it means it was probably written down in a bar, maybe when  she let him know she was leaving.

“Just like a paperback novel, the kind the drugstore sells,” comes from Gordon Lightfoot’s “If you could read my mind.” He has several like this in the song, but to me he describes the cheesy romance novels you can buy in a drugstore where the hero saves the day. This is a melancholy song about people who can’t reclaim the love they once had, so the hero references are fantasy and not reality.

“Clowns to the left of me, joker’s to the right, here I am stuck in the middle with you,” is a Stealers Wheel song whose title is the last phrase of the song lyric. The song can mean so many things, but it shows that we are in this together and we need to ignore the fools on either side telling us what to do. It is also a good metaphor for our political stalemate.

Bob Dylan wrote and sang “How many ears must one man have, before he can hear people cry.” The song made famous by Peter, Paul and Mary’s rendition sung on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial beside Martin Luther King is called “Blowing in the Wind.”  There are great references throughout this song, but I like this one the most as African-Americans have been maltreated for so long and it seemed to resonate more.

When people think of Rush, they do not first think of lyrics, but their many songs are replete with excellent wordsmithing. In the song “Free will” the words that resonate with me are “if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” I found this very poignant as many do not realize that by not doing something, they are making a choice. A good example is choosing not to vote believing it makes no difference. Yet, by not voting, the lesser of two candidates can be elected making a problem worse.

Of course, no list would be complete without some reference to a Beatles song. In “Lady Madonna,” Paul McCartney sings “Lady Madonna, children at your breast, it’s a wonder how you manage to feed the rest.”  This line speaks volumes of the difficulties in raising children, but especially in poverty or near poverty when you are a single parent.

Let me close with romantic song from David Gates of “Bread.” The lyric goes “When my love for life has all run dry, you’ll come and pour yourself on me.”  This lyric from the song “If” resonates with me as we pick each other up. He has done all he can and needs help, so his lover comes and pour herself on him to bring his spirits back to life.

I would love to hear your reaction to these and for you to share some of your favorites. These were top of mind, so I have overlooked many great lyrics.


Let’s go to a concert

Whether it is a local band or one who has sold millions of songs, attending a venue to hear live music is thrilling and makes you feel alive. My wife and I have stumbled into live music on vacation which was a treat and we have made special plans to attend artists of renown. We have even gone to see our friend play piano in one of his bands  on very short notice. This post is dedicated to him as he suffered a stoke yesterday and may not make it. We are thinking good thoughts for him and his family.

Let’s honor him together and take a trip down memory lane. Please feel free to offer some of your thoughts and experiences.Together, my wife and I have seen some fairly big name performers and with very few exceptions were worth trip. I have even taken my boys to see some artists that my wife has not cared for, but were excellent to us – I could not drag her to see ACDC, Styx or Rush, for example, but we enjoyed the heck out of them. Yet, I was able to get her to see the Allman Brothers, which was well worth the effort.

Some of the well-known artists we have been fortunate enough to see include: Bruce Springsteen, who will leave you worn out, but you could hear just one more; Paul McCartney, from which I had to text my Beatles fanatical brother to guess where we were, Elton John, where we saw three generations of fans singing word for word with Elton; Eric Clapton, who brought along Buddy Guy and Derek Trucks for kicks; Tina Turner, the best performer around; Heart, led by Ann Wilson, one of the greatest Rock and Roll singers around; Tom Petty, who is so very underrated even with his tremendous body of work; Steve Winwood, what a thrill; Rod Stewart, who my wife had to see, but I enjoyed as well; Bob Seger, one of my all time favorites where we got tickets in the nose bleed section; KD Lang (once with Tony Bennett),  who can sing almost anything and does the best version of “Hallelujah” you will ever hear; Bonnie Raitt, God she is great; Peter, Paul and Mary, a wonderful treat, Chicago, where it rained half the concert, and George Benson, a great guitarist and performer.

In some smaller venues, we saw Mary Chapin Carpenter, who is genuine, talented and funny; Elvis Costello, who my wife did not want to see, but enjoyed immensely; James Taylor, several times and always a treat; Jimmy Buffett, who is especially entertaining when seen with your drunk brother-in-law; Jackson Browne, who actually disappointed (avoid the first concert tour date), but whose music I love nonetheless and Flogging Molly, which was a wonderfully unique experience. We also saw: Arlo Guthrie (twice), Marcia Ball (go see her if you can), Marshall Tucker (a band with a tragic history), Altan, a neat Irish band, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Foreplay, Harry Connick, Jr. and I am sure I am leaving off several others. My wife has gone to several with my daughter that were interesting from Owl City to Emilie Autumn, who apparently throws muffins at her audience.

Yet, we have seen some nice local bands that were a thrill, from Jazz to Blues to Swing to Pop. We have bought their CDs to honor their performance and help them out. But, the CDs also provide some memories taking us back to Montreal, New Orleans, Killarney, San Francisco, Blowing Rock or even home in Charlotte or Winston-Salem when we lived there. There is a Cajun restaurant in my home city that has live music every day. A neat memory of ours is my oldest son being asked to sing along with an Irish family in a pub near Watertown, Ireland as he was the lone American who knew the words to a song.

Music heard at home or in your car is a wonderful experience, but hearing live music makes it memorable. My wife won’t listen to Elvis Costello at home, but she enjoyed his concert, e.g. Yet, let me close with a tribute and memory of our friend Eddie, who had the stroke. Eddie plays in several groups, but the last time we heard him play was at his oldest daughter’s wedding a few months ago. It was also memorable as my wife played social director and got everyone up to dance, including Eddie’s mother. God be with you Eddie. You make us feel better about our lives with your music.

So, let me hear from all of you. What are some of your memorable experiences? Have you seen some of same folks? Do you have friends that play?

This Rush is worth listening to

One of the unfortunate Google search results occurs when you want to do a search to find out information on a legendary Canadian rock band that has a lasting appeal called Rush. The unfortunate part is the name is associated with a bombastic provocateur in the US who stirs up radio ratings by stirring up his loyal fan base. I have listened to the latter on enough occasions to know his opinions do not often coincide with the facts, but that is not his intent. The former is someone worth listening to as the music and lyrics have a wonderful nexus with Rush’s three outstanding performers – Neil Peart (the drummer and significant songwriter), Alex Lifeson (the terrific lead guitarist) and Geddy Lee (the lead singer, bassist and keyboardist).

This Rush had a hard time gaining popularity which is part of their lasting appeal. Neil Peart, who may be the finest living drummer, was not even the band’s original drummer, who was John Rutsey through the first album. Two things stood out at first. Geddy Lee’s unusually high voice caught many off guard and he was subject to some very unfair criticism early on. The other is how three people can make so much powerful music by themselves. When I see them in concert, I have to step back and say this is coming from only three people. They have to be wearing themselves out. Especially, when they play a large part of their body of work in concert. It wears everyone out and you leave the concert totally spent, not unlike you do at a Bruce Springsteen concert.

Those who have read my earlier posts on music know I have affinity for meaningful lyrics. The music has to be good as well, but I truly appreciate words that live when the music is not being played. Rush does not disappoint you when you read their words. As before, I won’t necessarily highlight the songs that get the most airplay, although some of the ones I note below were hits. My thrust is to give you a taste of a few lyrics that resonate with me and set you on a journey of your own reflections or fact-finding.

Just today I was thinking of a Rush song when my Aussie friend Judy wrote on her blog http://www.raisingthecurtain.net about not conforming and appreciating the ability to accessorize life. “Subdivisions” speaks to this, especially to teens in high school who have not learned to deal as well with the eclectic. My favorite lyric from the song is, as follows, as Lee sings of the pressure to conform.

“In the high school halls. In the shopping malls. Conform or be cast out.”

In the song “Closer to the Heart,” the words do not reflect your initial thoughts about what the song is all about. The song is chastising governments for not being better examples of promoting harmony as do countless numbers of workers who find ways to work together. This seems to hold true still today. A key lyric to me is:

“And men who hold high places must be the ones to start to mold a new reality.”

Saying it another way, we need our leaders to lead. Yet, the workers get it when Lee sings about dividing up roles:

“You can be the captain, I will draw the chart, sailing into destiny, closer to the heart.”

Another song my daughter and I like together is “The Trees.” This one did not get as much airplay, but its words are symbolic to us. To many, the song is a metaphor of how we/ they-ism can destroy the world, in this case the forest. A few lyrics might help:

“There is unrest in the forest. There is trouble with the trees. For the Maples want more sunlight. And the Oaks ignore their pleas.”

Let the conservative radio jockey chew on this one for a while as you think about our global and US poverty situation.

One of their lesser out front rock tunes is called “New World Man.” I like the lyrics of this song a great deal as the new world man cares more about money and self than doing the right thing. To me, this ties into the above lyrics about “The Trees.” Here are two examples:

“He’s noble enough to know what’s right. But weak enough not to choose it.”

“He’s noble enough to win the world. But weak enough to lose it.”

The next to last song I will highlight, my daughter did a project on in middle school. The teacher was very impressed with her work on “Limelight.” To me, this song starts out talking about the desire of being in the limelight, but it ends with lyrics that reference how each of us play a role to various people we encounter on a daily basis. To illustrate:

“All the world’s indeed a stage. And we are merely players. Performers and portrayer. Each another’s audience outside the gilded cage.”

Rush’s body of work is very impressive and if you ask Rush fans their favorite songs, you will get a wide list of responses. Most people would include “Freewill,” “Tom Sawyer,” “Working Man,” “Spirit of Radio,” “Fly by Night,” and “Time Stand Still” to name only a few. You will also find passion behind people’s choices which is great. And, on this issue of choice, I will close with one of their most famous lines from “Freewill.”

“If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

This lyric speaks volumes to me and many others. Sometimes we take what life hands us. We make a choice to not do something to alter that occurrence. To me, we should make more conscious choices and either succeed or fail trying. The old line is “It is better to have loved and lost, than not to have loved at all” seems to compare favorably with this line.

So, if you have never given this Rush a good listen, I would encourage you to choose to do so. If you have, please share your favorites and why. I am eager to hear your thoughts.