Red Sector A

Background and Commentary

“‘Red Sector A’ is a hopeful song amid darkness. A man in a futuristic death camp, his fate unknown. Geddy sings as if he understands at least partly what such an experience would be like. [Geddy’s father was interred in Dachau and his mother in Bergen-Belsen during World War II and they migrated to Canada after the camp was liberated by Allied forces at the end of the war.] His voice carries the tone of hope through fear and horror. Even though the outcome is unknown, a vivid picture comes to mind of the man carrying his mother to freedom. Musically, it is a quintessential latter-day Rush song, with complexity, dexterity, sharpness, and provocative passion.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“I read a first-person account of someone who had survived the whole system of trains and work camps and Dachau and all of that. She was a young girl, like 13 years old. [Her account and others like hers show] an essence of grace, grace under pressure, in that through all of it, they never gave up the strong will to survive. I wanted to give it more of a timeless atmosphere, because [acts of genocide like the Holocaust have] happened in more than one time and by more than one race of people. Another moving image is that, these people had been isolated from the rest of the world, and in the cases I read, they believed that they were the last people surviving.” (Jim Ladd Innerview)—Neil in Merely Players

The topic of victims of concentration camps believing they’re the last ones left alive is further explored in an interview Neil gave in 2011 on the radio show In the Studio with Redbeard. In his remarks, Neil says that victims can’t believe that anyone would allow such inhumanity against them, so they come to believe that no one else is alive. Otherwise, someone would have tried to liberate them:

“I’ve done a certain amount of reading, both fictional and biographical, of living through concentration camps of all kinds, but I wanted to make [the song] timeless in a sense. Because I’m not pointing a finger at anybody, because I know [such inhumane treatment] can happen anywhere. You can’t say, ‘Well, the Nazis did that, the Americans did it, the English did it.’ Everyone has done that at some time to someone. It’s strange the sources a [song] like that comes from. The germ of it was outrage at the way the Native Americans were handled, the way native Canadians were handled. Again, not to point a finger, because this happens so many times—in Canada, the inland Eskimos were treated just as rudely as the American Indians, and first-person accounts that I had heard of, or read, of World War II, of course. All these things just kind of came together. And it was an expression of the incredible inhumanity that people can demonstrate. That’s one thing. But that’s almost a cliché. But the other [issue] that was important was how these people reacted to it. And reading all of the accounts I could find, under the most horrible of circumstances, no one ever wanted to die. That was an important issue that I dealt with in that song and an important issue in the other songs in Grace Under Pressure that reflect that situation. But the important thing I discovered through all of [that research] is when people were released from that kind of incredible confinement, and incredible inhumanity, they believed that no one else in the world existed, because they couldn’t believe that anyone else would let that go on. When people were freed out of concentration camps after World War II, when Indian people were confined in the same way, never allowed to communicate with anyone, their relatives, they had no idea if anyone in their tribes lived anymore. And with the Eskimos in Canada, it was the same story. That they were just treated so inhumanely that when any of them did survive they couldn’t believe that there was anyone left that could let them be treated that way. So, that’s a heavy thing, but it’s a common denominator I found in all of those things. There’s no despair there. It’s just wonderment: ‘Are we the last ones left alive?’”

More on the belief of being the last one left alive. 

The line “For my father and my brother, it’s too late / But I must help my mother stand up straight” refers to the practice of those living in the World War II death camps to hold up the sick and the feeble when the guards came around, to prevent them from being taken away and gassed, because it was the practice in the camps to immediately gas those who couldn’t work. Neil talks about this in his June 26, 2013, blog post about his ride through Eastern Europe during the cLockwiok Angels tour:

“A memoir by another female survivor of Auschwitz filled in more details, like how if anyone appeared too ill or feeble to work, they would be sent straight to the gas chambers. So even in that dehumanized nightmare, people showed ‘grace under pressure,’ and tried to help each other appear ‘healthy. (‘For my father and my brother, it’s too late/ But I must help my mother stand up straight.)”

“The title is the name of the VIP section at Cape Canaveral’s launching site [to which the band had access in 1982 to watch the Columbia liftoff], but here it is the name for a concentration camp in a futuristic Holocaust. Neil’s electronic drums were meant to literally sound like ‘smoking guns.'”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players


All that we can do is just survive
All that we can do to help ourselves is stay alive

Ragged lines of ragged grey
Skeletons, they shuffle away
Shouting guards and smoking guns
Will cut down the unlucky ones

I clutch the wire fence until my fingers bleed
A wound that will not heal
A heart that cannot feel
Hoping that the horror will recede
Hoping that tomorrow we’ll all be freed

Sickness to insanity
Prayer to profanity
Days and weeks and months go by
Don’t feel the hunger
Too weak to cry

I hear the sound of gunfire at the prison gate
Are the liberators here?
Do I hope or do I fear?
For my father and my brother, it’s too late
But I must help my mother stand up straight

Are we the last ones left alive?
Are we the only human beings to survive?


By Jimmy Pena (

Excerpted from Fretplay.

| – not a standard bar line; just used to separate music
~ – vibrato or held note
x – percussive note with no pitch; muted note
. – staccato; mute the note immediately after striking it
h – hammer on
p – pull off
s – slide
t – trill; play the note(s) indicated rapidly and repeatedly
/ – slide up from infinity
\ – slide down into infinity
– natural harmonic (or pinch harmonic)
3(b5) – bend note up from 3rd to 5th fret pitch
3(b5r3) – bend note from 3rd to 5th fret pitch, then return to 3rd fret
o \_
o / repeat sign (always look for these!)

[x35553] – fret box; this is a C chord – this is the same as standard
tablature, only turned on its side. Tilt your head clockwise to read.


Dm7sus4 Dm9 Dm9
Dm7 Dm9 Dm7 Dm7sus4 Dm7
F5 Am
Dsus2 Dm9

[Riff 1]


[Riff 2]
F5 A5

For complete tab, go to Fretplay.


“Red Sector A” guitar cover

“Red Sector A” drum cover

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~ by rvkeeper on February 6, 2011.

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