Middletown Dreams: Background

“‘Middletown Dreams’ traces the routine lifestyle of a businessman, a housewife, and a teenager, contrasting their daily habits with the more exciting, fulfilling lives they fantasize about. [This song] may lack the fantasy or science-fiction overlay of Rush’s music from the 1970s, but the Romanticism remains, especially in the way Rush contrasts untethered individualism with conformist myths about the suburbs.”—Christopher McDonald, Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class

“Modest people like us are central to history and to true heroism. We may seem anything but heroic, but if we seem minor and mundane to ourselves, it is only because we do not see that the myths of great figures are really the long shadows cast by us and our modest efforts. We fall to see that [great tales of fantasy] are stories about us after all.”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

Neil argues that ‘Middletown Dreams’ is a very positive song. “The middle-aged man sticks to his dreams,” says Neil, “and they eventually become reality.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“I chose ‘Middletown’ because there is a Middletown in almost every state in the U.S. It comes from people identifying with a strong sense of neighborhood. It’s a way of looking at the world with the eyeglass in reverse. The first character [in the song] is based on a writer called Sherwood Anderson. Late in his life, Anderson literally walked down the railroad tracks out of a small town and went to Chicago in the early 1900s to become a very important writer of his generation. That’s an example of a middle-aged man who may have been perceived by his neighbors, and by an objective onlooker, to have sort of finished his life and he could have stagnated in his little town. But he wasn’t finished in his own mind. He had this big dream, and it was never too late for him. The painter Paul Gaugin is another example of a person who, late in life, just walked out of his environment and went away. He, too, became important and influential. He is the influence for the woman character of the song. The second verse about the young boy wanting to run away and become a musician is a bit autobiographical. But it also reflects the backgrounds of most of the successful musicians I know, many of whom came from very unlikely backgrounds. Most of them had this dream that other people secretly smiled at, or openly laughed at, and they just went out and made it happen.” (Canadian Composer)—Neil in Merely Players

Neil in Traveling Music says the third verse of the song comes from Frank Sinatra’s concept album, Watertown, which depicts an Everyman whose wife leaves him.

Neil says some people take the song as a portrait of people who failed to realize their dreams, but that interpretation misses his intention. “Unexpectedly, the song became a kind of litmus test for listeners,” he says in Traveling Music. “Although I had obviously modeled it after characters who did realize their dreams, or at least continued to be nourished by them, some listeners heard it as a cynical portrait of the defeated, of losers who were trapped in a dull existence and would never dare to escape, or pursue their dreams.”

More about “Middletown Dreams”

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~ by rvkeeper on January 11, 2011.

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