Cygnus X-1: Hemispheres: Background

The piece is about the same space traveler that appears in “Cygnus X-1” on Farewell to Kings. After arriving through a black hole, he helps bring people into balance after their unsuccessful experiments living first under the guidance of Apollo, god of reason, and then of Dionysus, god of love.

“The basic idea for the piece came from a book I was reading, Powers of Mind. It was just an incidental thing, but it was something I had read before, so I tied it into a whole lot of things and it’s the basic constant conflict between thoughts and emotions, between your feelings and your rational ideas. Apollo and Dionysus have been used in a lot of books to characterize these two elements, the rational side and the instinctive side. I’ve always been interested in the ways these two themes transmit themselves into people in political life or in social life. All these conflicts—whether the instinctive way is right or the rational way is right—are always going on between people. The basic theme of ‘Hemispheres’ is that conflict.

“‘Armageddon’ [the fourth section of the piece] is really the focus of that. It’s the climax of that conflict and our hero Cygnus comes in and breaks up the conflict. One of the main points that I wanted to make is that the battle is inside each of us. It’s not some abstract, cosmic battle.”—Neil in Rush Visions

For more on Neil discussing the story line of the piece, go here.

Liz Stillwaggon Swan, a post-doctoral fellow in history at Oregon State University, in the book Rush and Philosophy calls the piece a good vehicle for thinking about the “hard problem” in the philosophy of mind. This is the problem of trying to reduce our conscious feelings to physical states that we can analyze and measure. Physicalists say we should be able to measure all states, even mental states like feelings, because everything ultimately should be reducible to physical things, but others say not everything in the natural world reduces to a physical state that’s measurable. Read more on this in a Rush Vault essay.

U.K. rock critic Geoff Barton, an early champion of the band, was ambivalent about “Hemispheres,” saying he wasn’t sure if it was a “masterpiece or a terrible mistake.” In his Sounds piece, he leans toward it being a mistake.

The idea of the two sides coming together “comes through loud and clear on the side-long epic. It achieves a unity that the longer pieces on Caress of Steel and 2112 were unable to attain. While the other long compositions seemed like stitched-together song cycles, ‘Hemispheres’ is a complete piece of music. Evidence of the thematic and musical unity can even be found in the special effects: during ‘Armageddon,’ as Geddy sings the word ‘hemispheres,’ the left and right channels of the recording phase back and forth, emphasizing the conflict between the two hemispheres of the brain.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

The website PopMatters selected the piece as the 22nd most important prog rock piece of all time (“In the Court of the Crimson King” by King Crimson is the first):

“This was the last side-long ‘suite’ Rush attempted, and it remains the last necessary one any prog-rock group ever did. Not as incendiary or influential as 1976’s ‘2112,’ it will have to settle for merely being flawless, and the pinnacle of the band’s output to this point. By 1978 the trio was truly hitting on all cylinders, musically: arguably the most ambitious of all the progressive bands (which is really saying something), Rush had spent the better part of the decade trying to make a cohesive statement where all elements came together. Interestingly, if not ironically (since irony is anathema to prog-rock) this album/song that studies, and then celebrates the separate hemispheres (of our left/right brains, of our organized/emancipated natures) matches the smarts and technical proficiency with the ingredient that would play an increasingly obvious and vital role in the band’s subsequent work: soul.”—Sean Murphy, PopMatters, May 2011

More about “Hemispheres”

Back to Rush Vault

~ by rvkeeper on January 11, 2011.

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