(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.
7 thoughts on “Closer to the Heart”
The blacksmith and the artist /
Reflect it in their art /
They forge their creativity /
Closer to the heart.
Slightly twee about creativity, but inclusive and gender-neutral.
Whenever I try to remember this song — and I’m good at remembering lyrics — I always seem to think that there’s a verse about “the priest and the pornographer”.
Neither of which, to be clear, calls me by name either.
Heh. One could almost keep on writing verses ad infinitum.
And you’re right that technically blacksmith is gender-neutral, but I don’t think it feels gender-neutral in context. When we read words, we have space to think about them more; in song, an image pops into your head, followed almost immediately by the next image. Primed by “men who hold high places”, it’s hard to hear a gender-neutral blacksmith next. At least, it’s hard for ME.
I have stuff to say about “twee” as well, but that almost needs its own post. I used to refer to early Rush as “puerile dime-store philosophy”, back before the Great Rush Re-evaluation of ’04. But see? That’s a story unto itself.
I suppose that as a member of the gender explicitly included in the song, it’s easy for me to think, “Whaddaya mean? The song doesn’t go ‘The blacksmithman and artistboy’, so obviously you’re in.”
Context does matter. I may have gotten a little privilege in my eye, there.
I have been following you for a little while now, and I must say, when I saw this post, I got SUPER excited! I saw the title, and was like “No way!”. I have been a diehard Rush fan my whole life, and I know exactly what you are talking about.
But, to clarify a point about the absence of women… in general, Neil (the drummer) is the writer of the lyrics, and if you have read any of his books (he is also a nonfiction writer) you will notice he looks at the world a way not all of us see it. You already mentioned the lack of “love” in their themes, but you should also note the perspective the songs are written in.
No, they aren’t all peace and love hippies, but they do talk about bettering society, OR point out the flaws in society. It is not that they don’t have women in their song, but their songs are less about specific people (men or women), but humankind, in general.
Keep up the great work, and maybe check out my blog, or some of Neil Pear’s other writing. I really think you’d enjoy it! Keep writing and rocking! 🙂
Y’know, I haven’t read any of Peart’s writing. I should. I bet it’s interesting.
Here, I was mostly trying to work out why they don’t have many female fans (because I’m female, and I totally love them). Even I find, however, that there are times when all I want is a stupid love song, and I have to go elsewhere. But I guess you can’t expect one band to be all things all the time!
Thanks for speaking up!
I really like your post. I too have thought about this song a lot over the years. I agree with you that it would be good if more rock lyrics tried to tackle truth and art, and therein lies their danger. Each trades-man mentioned is involved in molding a new reality, sowing a new mentality. The question for me is, will this new reality confine the ploughman to his plough, the blacksmith to his smithy? Will it leave open the creation of new modes of being (especially gender-being), new categories of work, new configurations of governance? I don’t get that from the song, especially in the lines “each must know his part.” In other words, do your duty, let the men in high places mold the reality, and be content that your art may merely REFLECT this new reality. You can steer the ship as captain, but Geddy (or Neil) are the real masters drawing the charts. I love this song, I really, really, do, but it’s scary politics. This is exactly the kind of poetry Plato would have banned from the Republic (even though it sort of agrees with him!).
Rush song about women: check out Counterparts. Numerous songs are about the male/female relationship: Alien Shore, Cold Fire, etc
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