Prime Mover: Background

“‘Prime mover’ is Aristotle’s term for the moving force in everything. Also referred to in Midcentury by John Dos Passos.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

Both Aristotle and Plato refer to a prime mover, who sets the world in motion. Plato’s prime mover is the demiurge. He’s the god-like creator of the physical universe, although he isn’t the all-powerful Judeo-Christian god; rather, he’s a god-like craftsman, sometimes described as a clockmaker, who stands between the abstract world of god and our concrete reality. Once he’s set the world in motion, the world unwinds however it will, and we who live in it just have to deal with it. Aristotle’s prime mover is similar, although the way he triggers movement in the world is different. Plato’s causes movement while Aristotle’sattracts movement. In any case, in the first two verses of the song, the point of view is ours, as people who are trying to make our way in the world while our rational side wrestles with our passionate urges. Our instincts want to embrace the world as it is, while our rational side tries to keep us out of trouble (“rational resistance to an unwise urge” and “rational responses for a change of plans”). Then, with the third verse, the point of view changes to that of the demiurge: ” I set the wheels in motion / Turn up all the machines / Activate the programs / And run behind the scene / I set the clouds in motion / Turn up light and sound / Activate the window / And watch the world go ’round.”

And that’s all there is to life. We’re caught in this moving mechanism that’s our world, and the point of our life is just to hang on and ride it out (“The point of the journey / Is not to arrive”). When looked at in that way, life takes on the character of existential absurdity, but there is a goal in life, and that’s to have the best ride we can during our time riding the wheel. The way to do that is to have fun (passions) but in a controlled way (rationality).

It’ll be interesting to see how Rush’s upcoming album, Clockwork Angels, is eventually fleshed out, because based on the album’s first two songs, “Caravan” and “BU2B,” it appears to be exploring this theme of living in a world set in motion by our benevolent clockmaker.–-Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

More on the connection between “Prime Mover” and Clockwork Angels.

“This piece shares its title with a well-known episode of The Twilight Zone (#57, March 24, 1961). Buddy Ebsen plays Jimbo Cobb, a cafe owner who has psycho-kinetic powers. When his partner Ace Larsen (Dane Clark) discovers Jimbo’s power would allow him to manipulate dice, they head for Las Vegas. The pair win big, but Ace cannot stop gambling, despite the pleas of his girlfriend Kitty (Christine White) and Jimbo, who cares more about his friend than all the money in the world.—Songfacts

“We obviously have a chordal structure, and a melodic fix or picture of what the part’s going to be. Usually I put it down, and between Neil and myself, we get little rhythm patterns going. I play around with the melody, and depending on what the tone center is and what the chord structures are in that area, I just write my part. Then Alex plays different solos around what Neil and I have already put down. He’s quite content to work with what we’ve put down, and in most parts he’s around through every stage anyway, so he’s quite aware of the direction it’s going in. He’ll go down and wail, and a lot of times he will surprise us. It’s a totally different direction than we had expected it, but it’s always within the melodic structure that exists.” (Bass Player, 1988)—Geddy in Songfacts

More about “Prime Mover”

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~ by rvkeeper on January 11, 2011.

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