Tai’ Shan: Background
“The song is about Neil’s climb to the top of the Chinese mountain [Mount Tai] where the natives believe that if you reach the top, you’ll live a whole century. Chinese cymbals and Oriental textures set the atmosphere.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players
Alex in 2013 listed the song as among Rush’s worst, saying they were trying to do something with it but it just didn’t work out. “It was . . . innocent.”
“In 1985, I took my first extended bicycle journey, to China, just after its doors, closed since the revolution in 1948, reopened to Westerners. I signed up for a two-week tour with a company called China Passage, joining about 20 cyclists from Canada, the U.S., and Australia. That [was a] difficult, but fascinating, adventure.”—Neil in Traveling Music
The piece explores “the idea of a mysticism of place and past. One reaches the crest of Tai’ Shan, the sacred mountain, where a revelation will be vouchsafed, by climbing seven thousand steps. Once there, the pilgrim senses something will happen: a kind of psychic ozone smell presages it, a sense of magic in the air. Peart’s visionary sees a presence spanning forty centuries. The wording implies that what he sees not only subsists through the duration of four thousand years, but stands changelessly above. He sees in a timeless moment eternity itself, clothed in China silks. Trapped in a ceaseless flow of change, we may become like Tom Sawyer and freeze this moment so that certain places and remembered times become for us momentary catalysts for a glimpse beyond the rushing clouds of change.”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms
Nicole Biamonte in her essay “Contre Nous” in Rush and Philosophy calls “Tai’ Shan” an obvious example of the band using exotic musical elements to evoke a sense of otherness, as if the piece is channeling meaning from a different culture. “This setting [Mount Tai] is evoked by a sampled Shakuhachi flute (actually a Japanese instrument) in the introduction and verses. The flute plays a gapped melody based on a distinctively Asian form of pentatonic scale. The plucked guitar sound in the second verse and the ending is reminiscent of a pipa, a Chinese four-stringed lute.”
“It’s a sampled Shakuhachi flute. I built the drum patterns around the woodblock rhythm that the Buddhist monks use for their chants. Subtle, but a nice touch of authenticity, I think. It is indeed Aimee Mann in there [near the end], only she’s not exactly singing anything. We took her voice from one of the other songs [‘Time Stand Still’] and played it backwards, just as a nice texture which gave an eerie, pseudo-Chinese sound.” (Backstage Club, 1991)—Neil in Merely Players
~ by rvkeeper on January 11, 2011.