The Stars Look Down: Background
The piece is about the illusions we’re under that we control our own destiny. In “Free Wills and Sweet Miracles,” one of the essays in Rush and Philosophy, Purdue University philosophy professor Neil Florek says the piece is among the bleakest Neil has ever written and is emblematic of what Florek calls Neil’s “post-tragic” ethics. “The song hammers away at our pretensions of cosmic, over-arching meaning by asking, ‘Are you under the illusion/That you’re part of the scheme?’ It also presents some deflating, unflattering analogies as humans are compared to flies and rats, being turned by unknown wheels and trapped in mazes.”
Florek goes on: “The indifferent, absurd universe will be of no help in overcoming our ignorance of the reasons why things happen, nor will it give us any solace as we struggle through life. As many of us have asked, semi-seriously, in moments of distress, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ Peart’s post-tragic answer . . . is that there is no answer. And the stars look down.”
Florek calls this part of Neil’s “post-tragic” ethics because it represents his writing after the deaths of his daughter and first wife. Prior to these untimely events, Neil’s ethics were fairly consistent with the classical virtues, with Rush songs celebrating aristotelean ethical ideals such as courage, justice, and moderation, among others. In his post-tragic phase, he supplements this virtue ethics with the ideals of love and hope, as expressed in other songs on Vapor Trails, like “Sweet Miracle.”–-Rob Freedman, Rush Vault
Neil in the liner notes to Snakes and Arrows says the song was one of the first to come out of a new writing process for the band, in which they would work without time constraints.
The song title, “The Stars Look Down,” comes from the title of a novel by A. J. Cronin, but Neil said at the time of the album’s release that he had yet to read the book. Rather, he was simply attracted to the title, which, he said in the Vapor Trails tour book, “seemed to express a fitting view of an uncaring universe.”
~ by rvkeeper on January 12, 2011.