”Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’‘, be it a landscape, a person, flora/ fauna or indeed art including music. I’m not that much bothered by the ”motivation” of writers and artists including musicians. It’s the finished product that counts for me. Just as sound doesn’t exist until it enters the human ear (a tree falling in a forest doesn’t make a sound, it’s only a noise when the ear and brain process it) so a piece of art, writing or music doesn’t hold any meaning until a fellow human being gives it due consideration. So it is with Rush’s 11th studio album, Power Windows, released 30 years ago this month.
As a result I am left unmoved by those who tell me any self respecting Lefty should be ashamed of listening to, and being a fan of Canadian rockers Rush. This froth and nonsense emanates from a 1978 NME headline, ”Rush are Proto Fascists” .
This was based on the fact that lead singer and bassist Geddy Lee had read Ayn Rand’s seminal 1943 novel on architecture (no, really), ‘‘The Fountainhead’‘ and liked it. I read this book and found it mildly interesting to start with, but ultimately it proved to be preachy and I didn’t like her arguments in favour of objectivism, a right wing philosophy which lauds so called ”rational self interest”. Alan Greenspan, a former head of the US Federal Reserve opinionated that the concept was proved false by the 2008 Banking Disaster. So called ‘‘Laissez Faire” capitalism was a cornerstone of the objectivists view that markets will act in self interest and not go around wreaking havoc as compulsive greed is not in the long term interest of the capitalist class. That went so well as we all know.
It’s quite toe curling to read the interview from 1978 online as the band display an unbelievable lack of self awareness. Or maybe they were just stitched up pure and simple. They won’t be the last band to be turned over by the NME, let’s face it. Just ask Morrissey. But once again it’s all about context. Growing up in Canada the trio were, quite literally in the middle of the Cold War which, on one or two occasions threatened to go hot. To the south was the naked capitalism of the US which had only just come out of large areas of the Deep South being segregated, and with Lyndon Johnson’s Big Society being derailed by Vietnam. And to the west lay the Soviet Union where communism had morphed into a grotesque system of mass oppression and lack of free speech and above all individual opportunity. No wonder these obviously idealistic young men were attracted by such an obviously radical position.
Seven years on. 1985, was one of the most pivotal years of recent times. It saw Mikhail Gorbachev ascend to the position of Soviet leader, UK premier Margaret Thatcher starve the miners in the UK back to work and 55 people die in a fire at Bradford City FC which, it now turns out was a criminal act which went uninvestigated by the Police. Thatcher’s crushing of the pit workers, aided and abetted by the Labour Party emboldened her attacks on the working class and helped deliver another 12 years of Tory mayhem.
The Power Windows record bookends a golden era for Rush. Their first few albums put them firmly in the prog rock camp with all the pretentious nonsense involving sorcery and wizards that goes with this genre. Whilst 1980’s Permanent Waves still displayed some of these tendencies, it also contained the US/UK Top Ten single The Spirit of Radio and led to a much more commercial sound on Moving Pictures (Tom Sawyer, Red Barchetta, Vital signs) and a move to the mainstream.
Signals (1982) saw the introduction of keyboards and in so doing alienated much of their fan base whilst being my way in to the band. Signals contains a classic Marxist idea of alienation through the brilliant and thought provoking Sub Divisions track
In the high school halls
In the shopping malls
Conform or be cast out
In the basement bars
In the backs of cars
Be cool or be cast out
Any escape might help to smooth
The unattractive truth
But the suburbs have no charms to soothe
The restless dreams of youth
which is echoed on the Power Windows record in ”Middletown Dreams’
The Power Windows record starts with ”The Big Money” which could have served well as the soundtrack to the Banking Disaster which ushered in the current and painfully terminal debt crisis which ails everyone bar the top 1%.
Big money make mistakes
Big money got a heavy hand
Big money take control
Big money got a mean streak
Big money got no soul…
But perhaps the killer line is; ”It’s a Cinderella story on a tumble of the dice”
We are constantly sold this absolute horse shit that under Capitalism anyone can, ”Make Good”. Total, offensive and unadulterated lies. For everyone that makes good there are millions upon millions across the globe for whom such an idea is total fantasy. As a Marxist I celebrate hard work and success, but not at the expense of others.
The odds are so utterly weighed against workers and it is not enough to argue for so called, ”Equality of Opportunity”. This is a bourgeois concept which sort of suggests that the rich should chuck a few crumbs the way of the rest of us, just to even things up a bit, as if all this inequality just isn’t cricket old chap. Abolition of class is the only logical solution to the inequality which rampages across the world. According to OXFAM the top 1% globally own more than the rest of us put together. Astonishing.
Drummer Neal Peart is the lyrist and philosopher in Rush and is particularly scathing of Globalisation and Nationalism on the this album record.
Territories rails against petty patriotism and nationalism, something that has blighted Ireland over the last century.
Don’t feed the people
But we feed the machines
Can’t really feel
What international means
They shoot without shame
In the name of a piece of dirt
For a change of accent
Or the color of your shirt
Better the pride that resides
In a citizen of the world
Than the pride that divides
When a colorful rag is unfurled
Grand Designs sees Peart ruminating on the nature of power, and what it can mean for the individual and its effect on the rest of us.
So much style without substance
So much stuff without style
So much poison in power, the principles get left out
So much mind on the matter, the spirit gets forgotten about
Bearing in mind New Labour was still fully ten years away, the line about style over substance goes straight to the heart of why Tony Blair was never going to fulfill the hopes and dreams of the millions who voted for him in good faith when Labour swept to power in 1997.
Overall this is a much underrated Rush record, and when listening to it now the 1980’s influence doesn’t date it at all, in fact it sounds fresh. Power Windows fits surprisingly well into the genre that includes U2 and the Police leading Rolling Stone to assert that, ‘‘Rush are the missing link between Yes and the Sex Pistols”.