2112: Background

“2112,” released in 1976, is the band’s breakthrough piece. Although it’s based in part on Ayn Rand’s anti-collectivist novella Anthem, and contains echoes of George Orwell’s 1984 and Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001, Neil credits the genesis of his interest in science fiction to a less widely known author, Samuel R. Delany.

Fallen Syrinx. Graham Whieldon

Delany is the author of The Fall of the Towers, a science fiction epic, which Neil stumbled upon while in London and which influenced the writing of “2112” and “Cygnus X-1.” “In retrospect, how amazing I should come across that particular book, so poetic, richly imagined, and original, by that particular writer, who still ranks among the best in the genre, I think. . . . Similar to the way a few novels and plays were drilled into my head at the time without much seeming effect, or affect, later they would resonate in ways I could never have suspected.”—Neil in Traveling Music

“2112,” the 20-minute, side-long, 7-suite piece, follows an anonymous member of Megadon, who awakens to what’s missing in his world after discovering a guitar and teaching himself to make music. In his world, autonomous people whose creativity propel a society forward have been gone for a generation, replaced by a cadre of priests who maintain order and stability with the help of computers. The protagonist feels hopeless after he’s rebuffed in his effort to get the priests’ approval to make music a part of their world. He falls into a trancelike sleep, dreams of the society that used to be, only to awaken to stark hopelessness. He’s not the one to lead a revolution, and indeed he commits suicide. But the dream of restoring the world to one in which people thrive and grow isn’t extinguished. The elder generation is returning. The story has the character of a parable, and it is: of a music industry that sacrifices creativity to profit.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

“You know, that came from a different place, more from a place of defiance and anger that things were sort of going the way they were around us. So we were fighting back. There was a lot of pressure on us, from the record company and, to some degree, from management, to go back to our rock roots, make another Rush album. And we basically said, ‘You know what? That’s not what we’re about. . . . If we go down, we’re going to go down in flames.”‘—Alex in Contents Under Pressure

“‘2112’ is probably the most important thing we’ve ever written, because without that song, we probably would not have continued as a band.”—Geddy in Contents Under Pressure

“We started writing the song while on the road. We wrote on the road quite often in those days. ‘The Fountain of Lamneth,’ on Caress of Steel, was really our first full concept song, and ‘2112’ was an extension of it. That was a tough period for Rush, because Caress of Steel didn’t do that well commercially, but we were really happy with it and wanted to develop that style. Because there was so much negative feeling from the record company and our management was worried, we came back full force with ‘2112.’ There was a lot of passion and anger on that record. It was about one person standing up against everybody else. . . . I used the [Gibson] ES-335 and a Strat, which I borrowed for the session; I couldn’t afford one at the time. I used a Marshall 50-watt and the Fender Twin as well. I may have had a Hiwatt in the studio at that time, too, but I think it came a little later. My effects were a Maestro phase shifter and a good old Echoplex. There were a limited number of effects available back then. The Echoplex and wah-wah were staples in those days.”—Alex in a 1996 Guitar World interview

“By naming the [overseers] ‘priests,’ Peart captures the cult-like aspect of mass culture, since rock bands, movies, and television shows spawn cult followings, and by producing celebrities the industry tries to create ‘false gods.’ The priests’ culture factory is thus a temple, and the mass audience congregates (at their computer terminals and televisions) to worship their creations; they surrender their will to religosity and cede their creativity by proxy to the producers of mass culture. In 1976, Peart himsef made this connection to the culture industry: ‘I just re-read Ayn Rand’s [novels] for the first time in years, and I’m relating it to the music business. It deals with corruption of the spirit. . . . I like to feel that we’re doing out part to change that through our music.'”—Christopher McDonald, Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class

The iconography of the Red Star of the Solar Federation suggests the priests oversaw a totalitarian regime. When Geddy expresses the point of view of the priests, he sings “at a high pitch and at a fast-paced, heavy metal-style. The collectivist philosophy of the morally untouchable priests leaves no room for resistance. . . . The listener’s sympathy remains strongly with the young protagonist, who has no way to challenge the priests, and the song suite critiques their demotic rule through the amplified distortion of the lyric in the seventh track, ‘Grand Finale,’ in which the priestly order is reestablished. . . . Read through the filter of Rand’s philosophy, this story is a critique of a totalitarian, left-wing government in which noble Republican ideals are favourably contrasted, but where the music incorporates a paradox as its centerpiece: a tightly knit song played collectively by a three-piece band on electric guitar, bass and drums has as its symbol of freedom and creativity an acoustic guitar plucked gently by Alex Lifeson. . . . The ‘tentative and gentle’ strumming is distinct from the ‘forceful and determined’ individualism that Ayn Rand would promote as an embodiment of her philosophy of libertarian rationalism.”—Paul Hegarty and Martin Halliwell, Beyond and Before

“The number 12 is classically indicative of a cosmic order or salvation, the reason that it is the standard for the clock or the calendar.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“21/12, or December 21, is the date of the winter solstice, the beginning of the lunar calendar.”—Songfacts

The day is also now informally known as International Rush Day.

TechRepublic in October 2012 voted it the top science fiction album of all time.

Before it closed in 2009, the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada in 2006 chose 2112 as one of three audio recordings to be preserved as part of Canada’s artistic cultural heritage.

The website PopMatters selected the piece as the 6th most important prog rock piece of all time (“In the Court of the Crimson King” by King Crimson is the first):

“Just over halfway into the decade, when many of the old guard progressive rock bands were out of ideas or on hiatus, Rush delivered one of the genre’s definitive anthems. ‘2112’ is a harder edged music combining the proficiency of their influences with an aggression that captured the actual urgency attending the sessions. This album sounded—and still sounds—at once familiar and forward-looking, putting Rush somewhere on the sonic spectrum in between Led Zeppelin’s adventurous, riff-laden workouts and Pink Floyd’s deliberate, almost chilly precision.

“The rock media, which had not paid Rush much attention, now took notice and generally found the Ayn Rand-inspired story line (the multi-track suite, filling up all of side one, updates Rand’s early novel Anthem and places the narrative in a dystopian future where music has been outlawed and long forgotten) unfashionably right-wing—an indictment the band found perplexing, and continues to be amused about. In these interviews, each member (particularly Peart, who wrote the lyrics and undoubtedly regrets his youthful shout-out, in the liner notes, to Rand’s ‘genius’) makes a convincing case that the inspiration had everything to do with artistic freedom and avoiding compromise, and less than a little to do with politics or social statements. Of course, plenty of pundits (then, now) find Rush—in general and prog rock in particular—pretentious, but the sentiment informing this particular album has more in common with the much celebrated punk rock ethos, with the added bonus that the band are actually quite capable musicians. 2112 remains the album that made possible what Rush would become, and it inspired both peers and pretenders to emulate their purpose and passion, if not their scarves and kimonos.”—Sean Murphy, PopMatters, May 2011

A 1976 issue of “The Defenders” comic book is based loosely on “2112,” with the Red Rajah seeking to turn New York City into a collectivist society ruled by him. The Red Rajah turns out to be Dr. Strange, who had been missing. The issue is dedicated to Neil, Geddy, and Alex.

More about “2112”

Three “Overture” and “Temples of Syrinx” tribute versions.

Back to Rush Vault

~ by rvkeeper on January 11, 2011.

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