Middletown Dreams

Background and Commentary

“‘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.”


The office door closed early
The hidden bottle came out
The salesman turned to close the blinds
A little slow now, a little stout
But he’s still heading down those tracks
Any day now for sure
Another day as drab as today
Is more than a man can endure

Dreams flow across the heartland
Feeding on the fires
Dreams transport desires
Drive you when you’re down
Dreams transport the ones who need to get out of town

The boy walks with his best friend
Through the fields of early May
They walk awhile in silence
One close, one far away
But he’d be climbing on that bus
Just him and his guitar
To blaze across the heavens
Like a brilliant shooting star

The middle aged Madonna
Calls her neighbor on the phone
Day by day the seasons pass
And leave her life alone
But she’ll go walking out that door
On some bright afternoon
To go and paint big cities

From a lonely attic room

It’s understood
By every single person
Who’d be elsewhere if they could
So far so good
And life’s not unpleasant
In their little neighborhood


They dream in Middletown


By Tony Zimmermann

Excerpted from Fretplay.

Am : x02210
G : 320033
F : 133211
Dm : x57765
Bb : x13331
Csus2: x35533
G/B : x20033


Office door… rake

But he’s still…

Another day… Slapback delay

F Am G F

Dreams flow….
Am, G, F
Am, G, F
Am, G/B, F

….Boy walks….. 1,2 3 4

Synth (arr. for guitar)



For complete tab, go to Fretplay.


“Middletown Dreams” guitar cover

“Middletown Dreams” bass cover

“Middletown Dreams” drum cover

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~ by rvkeeper on February 7, 2011.

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