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How an iconic Canadian rock band lured angry teens to the dark arts of Ayn Rand.

Jonny Diamond

October 6, 2021, 10:21am

If there was one band that dominated the soundtrack of a 1980s childhood on the wrong side of outer-suburban Toronto, it was Rush. Particularly if you had older brothers who smoked a lot of pot. To be honest, though, we never really paid much attention to drummer Neil Peart’s occasionally ornate and often opaque lyrics (see pot, above), which seemed to land somewhere between Tolkien plot summary (“We are the priests of the temples of Syrinx / Our great computers fill the hollowed halls”) and inspirational guidance counselor poster (“For those who wish to see / Those who wish to be / Must put aside the alienation / Get on with the fascination”).

It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I learned that Peart had been heavily influenced by Ayn Rand, whose writing he’d discovered at exactly the wrong time, as an easily disillusioned teenager recently moved to early 1970s London to make it big as a musician.

Peart, who died in 2020, basically disavowed his early career fascination with Rand’s objectivist fantasies of self-reliance, calling himself a “bleeding heart libertarian” in this 2012 Rolling Stone interview. But that doesn’t mean his lyrics—which achieve their Randiest modalities on Rush’s 1976 mega-hit record, 2112—haven’t had a lasting effect on the brain’s of embittered, impressionable young men! To wit: in this recent post at the Objective Standard Institute, writer (and “TEDx speech coach”) Robert Begley describes his first encounter with the dark priestess of enlightened selfishness:

I first heard [Rush] in the 1970s, shortly after their album 2112 came out. I loved their music and lyrics, and in the liner notes of that album, I saw a reference to “the genius of Ayn Rand.” Who is that? I went to the library and found Anthem.

Most of us, even if we do briefly fall under the spell of Rand’s siren invitation to fight the man by indulging our “winner takes all” lizard brain impulses, eventually grow up and leave behind the blinkered and ungenerous world view at the heart of objectivism.*

But clearly some people don’t! Begley is not alone in recognizing Rush as a gateway to Rand, and if you can’t see the connection yourself, AynRand.org has this handy study guide to the lyrics of 2112, which asks such leading questions as, “Is a world in which everyone is equal a good place?” and “Do you think most people have ‘Hungry mind and open eyes’”?

This all seems like perfect fodder for a hilarious Christopher Guest ensemble piece, until you remember that actual members of congress cite Atlas Shrugged as their favorite book, and would rather leave billionaires untaxed than take care of America’s children!

So, in closing, fuck you, Rush.**

(*I confess I also read Anthem in my teens and—label me a self-aggrandizing revisionist snob if you must—even then found it flat and hollow and meanspirited.)

(**But not you, Geddy Lee; I’ve heard you are a genuinely nice dude.)

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