Background and Commentary

Neil wrote the lyrics in response to the fall of communism, signified by the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

“The deconstruction of the Eastern Bloc made some people happy. It made me mad. It was all a mistake? A heavy price to pay for someone’s misguided ideology, it seems to me. And that waste of life must be the ultimate heresy.” (Row the Boats)—Neil in Merely Players

Neil in a June 26, 2013, update to his blog said he expects people will say the same thing about religion someday that they say today about the Cold War—that after the pointless discrimination, death, and terror that’s caused in the name of one religion or another, people will look back and lament how it was all for some people’s religious views. “It seemed—and seems—outrageous that the entire planet endured decades of anxiety, not to mention all the stunted lives in these Shadowlands, under the totalitarian boot-heel, for the sake of some misguided ideology. (Someday, I trust, the same will be said about religion.).”—Neil in “Shunpikers in the Shadowlands.”

“The song’s tone shifts from a lament for all the lives lost, stunted, and wasted (‘Who can give them back their lives, and all those wasted years?’), to outrage at the ideologues and thugs who had perpetuated such brutality, such stupidity (‘All those precious years wasted—who will pay?’). Finally the song expressed my angry disbelief over the effect on my own life: ten years old and hearing about atomic bombs that the Russians might drop on nearby Niagara Falls (‘All that crap we had to take / Bombs and basement fallout shelters / All our lives at stake’), and how for most of my life, the world had lived under the shadow of nuclear war. Now we were simply to accept that the twentieth century’s ‘noble experiment’ had been reduced to failed ideology. ‘All the fear and suffering—all a big mistake.'”—Neil in Roadshow

“It’s that horrible and wonderful moment all mixed into one when somebody realizes that they’ve, you know, had their freedom removed for so many years, and they finally get it back. It must be such a bittersweet moment. All those years, all those lives that were lost, all the struggle, all the people that were fighting, and suddenly it’s all over. And what do they do about all the people that did not survive, who were not lucky enough to be around when the wall fell down? It’s an unanswerable question, but it’s certainly one to think about.” (Radio Special)—Geddy in Songfacts

The drum rhythm in the piece comes from drumming Neil heard in Africa. “One hot night I lay under the stars on a rooftop in Togo and I heard the sound of drums from across the valley. Even on the edge of sleep the drumming moved me, the rhythm stayed in my head.” (Row the Boats)—Neil in Merely Players

The Togo village was called Assohoum, and it was in November 1989. The drum rhythm also appeared in the early 1990s as the foundation for a solo piece Neil created while practicing his marimba playing. He titled it “Momo’s Dance Party” and a version of it appears in his video A Work in Progress.

“Occasionally we do things that are slightly out just to give a particular character to the music. On ‘Heresy’ I’m playing my acoustics in the chorus—especially the second chorus—to get a 12-string, Byrds kind of sound. We wanted to create the effect of a bunch of guys sitting around playing who aren’t quite in tune. You can hear it in the acoustic, particularly the [Gibson] J-55, which has a Nashville tuning. Of course, you’re gonna get that kind of fluctuation anyway when you’re playing high up the neck, because the strings are so light.” (Guitar Player, 1991)—Alex in Merely Players


All around that dull grey world
From Moscow to Berlin
People storm the barricades
Walls go tumbling in

The counter-revolution
People smiling through their tears
Who can give them back their lives
And all those wasted years?
All those precious wasted years
Who will pay?

All around that dull grey world
Of ideology
People storm the marketplace
And buy up fantasy

The counter-revolution
At the counter of a store
People buy the things they want
And borrow for a little more
All those wasted years
All those precious wasted years
Who will pay?

Do we have to be forgiving at last?
What else can we do?
Do we have to say goodbye to the past?
Yes I guess we do

All around this great big world
All the crap we had to take
Bombs and basement fallout shelters
All our lives at stake

The bloody revolution
All the warheads in its wake
All the fear and suffering
All a big mistake
All those wasted years
All those precious wasted years
Who will pay?


By City Machine (

Excerpted from Ultimate Guitar.

Tuning: Standard

e |—-0——–0–0—–0————————————-|
B |—10——-10–7—–9————————————-|
G |—-9——–9–9—–9————————————-|
D |—-9——–9–9—–9————————————-|
A |————————————————————|
E |———————————-0–0–0–0–0–0–0–0—-|

e |—-0——-0—-0——7–0–0—————————–|
B |—10——-10—7—–10–7–9—————————–|
G |—-9——–9—9——9–9–9—————————–|
D |—-9——–9—9——9–9–9—————————–|
A |————————————————————|
E |———————————-0–0–0–0–0–0–0–0—-|

e |—16——16–12——14——————-|
G |—————————-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-|
B |——————————————–|
D |——————————————–|
A |——————————————–|
E |——————————————–| x2


e |–0————————0———–0————-|
B |–0————————0———–0————-|
G |–9————————8———–6————-|
D |–9————————9———–7————-|
A |–7————————9———–7————-|
E |–0————————7———–5————-|

e |—————————0———–0————|
B |—————————0———–0————|
G |—————————8———–6————|
D |–9————————9———–7————|
A |–7————————9———–7————|
E |–0————————7———–5————|

e |————–0——0—–0——-0———0——|
B |————–10—–7—–9——-0———0——|
G |————–9——9—–9——-8———6——|
D |–2———–9——9—–9——-9———7——|
A |–2——————————–9———7——|
E |–0——————————–7———5——|

Verse 2:

e |————————————|
B |————————————|
G |–9–9—-9–9—-8–8—-6–6——|
D |–9–9—-9–9—-9–9—-7–7——|
A |–7–7—-7–7—-9–9—-7–7——|
E |–0–0—-0–0—-7–7—-5–5——| x 2

e |————–0——0—–0——-0———0——|
B |————–10—–7—–9——-0———0——|
G |————–9——9—–9——-8———6——|
D |–2———–9——9—–9——-9———7——|
A |–2——————————–9———7——|
E |–0——————————–7———5——|

For complete tab, go to Ultimate Guitar.

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~ by rvkeeper on February 12, 2011.

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