(I was going to spend this afternoon working hard, but my puppy hurt herself and it kinda shook me up! I hope writing this will settle me and help me concentrate again. At least I had a good early morning session, before Ms. Pup decided to get too rambunctious!)
“Closer to the Heart” is arguably Rush’s most famous song. It’s short, it’s melodic, it doesn’t feature an excess of shrieking or synthesizer or time signature changes or science fiction references. I think it’s the first song of theirs I actually liked, that I didn’t find incomprehensible or grating. It has a highly recognizable guitar riff, which gives me light chills. I think I could sing it, which I can’t say for all Rush. Geddy Lee can sing higher than me, or he could in the good old days.
The song epitomizes the thing I like best about Rush, and the thing I find most irritating, which are – astonishingly – two very closely related things. I first understood what this quality was when I did one of those silly Facebook memes, the one where you’re supposed to answer questions about yourself using song titles: “My Life According to [Name of Band].” I chose Rush, anticipating a hilarious time indeed.
I got stuck on the very first question: Are you male or female?
Unless your answer is “male”, that’s a hard question to answer with a Rush song. I considered putting “New World Man” as my answer, but surely, SURELY Rush had written a song about a woman? Somewhere, sometime? I don’t know all their works; they’ve put out a lot of albums. I started perusing song titles online, and I never did come up with one. I ended up using “Where’s My Thing?” as my (slightly rude) answer to the meme question.
But the experience made me think. Songs with the word “woman” or “girl” or a female name in the title are usually love songs (or, y’know, lust songs). Rush doesn’t do love songs, almost without exception. The closest I can think of is “Entre Nous”, which is a song about love in the abstract, about the way two people relate to each other and never know each other completely. It’s one of my favourite Rush songs, in fact. I put it as the answer to “Your current relationship?” later in that Facebook meme.
I love that Rush doesn’t sing love songs. I love songs about philosphy, SF/F themes, atheism, art, history, natural science. Hard-edged, lyric-centric songs that make you think. They’re wonderful.
But they’re also problematic, because there seem to be no women in Rush’s intellectual/emotional universe (because let’s not pretend they never sing about emotions; I hold up “Snakes and Arrows” as Exhibit A). I’m not sure they’re intentionally leaving women out; I imagine they’re singing about themselves and their own feelings and experiences and they’re guys so that’s what you get. Maybe they can’t figure out how to incorporate women into a song without it turning into a love song (and that’s pretty rare anywhere, right?). Whatever the case may be, I think this is one reason this band isn’t very popular among women: we feel alienated when don’t find ourselves included in the music.
It happens that I DO find myself in this music, but I can see why one wouldn’t.
“Closer to the Heart” epitomizes the problem. Because here we have a thoughtful, passionate call to a new kind of life:
And the men who hold high places
Must be the ones who start
To mold a new reality
Closer to the heart.
Ah yes, those men and their crazy high places! Later on, you get philosophers and ploughmen, and “each must know his part”. I know the song is from the 70s, but the language is embarrassingly dated — which is too bad, because I love the message.
For me, the message outweighs the language: it’s a call for truth, art, and integrity. I love that stuff. Even as-is, I guess I don’t feel completely excluded because the song ends with:
You can be the captain
And I will draw the chart…
Geddy Lee is talking to me, there, friends. ME. I guess I’m willing to believe that any song about art, authority, and intellect must be about me – or about any of us – whether it calls us by name or not.