Rush’s Rosier Shade of Reality
[Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series of essays that looks at selections from Rush and Philosophy (Open Court Press: 2011), edited by Jim Berti and Durrell Bowman. The book came out in March 2011 and looks at Rush’s music through different philosophical lenses.]
Certainly the ancient Greeks understood that: Epicetus said that if you walk around in a funk, then you would view everything around you in a negative light. Conversely, if you walk around in a good mood, you would view the world in a positive light.
And yet for generations it never occurred to therapists that they might suggest a dose of happiness to a client who’s feeling down. Rather than suggest to a person who’s clinically depressed that they go identify what they like to do and then go do it, therapists would sit the person down on the couch and say, “Let’s talk about your problems,” as if reliving everything that’s been bad in one’s life would make one feel better.
Drug therapy was another approach. It was accepted practice to prescribe amphetamine for depression. Probably not one of psychotherapy’s finer moments, considering the drug’s addictive qualities and its nasty side effect of causing users to commit suicide.
The idea that the way to feel better is simply to identify what activities make you happy and then go do them, and do them as much as you can, is called cognitive-behavioral therapy, and it’s largely accepted wisdom now in the therapist community.
You might wonder what took them so long to come to this view, because Rush has been dispensing cognitive-behavioral therapy since they cut their first record in 1974, says SUNY Albany clinical psychology professor Mitch Earleywine in his essay “Rush’s Revolutionary Psychology.”
“Just as a revolutionary new breed of psychotherapy was helping people think straight and feel better, Rush was doing the same,” he says.
Independence, rationality, personal responsibility—these are recurring ideas in the band’s music and they’re also the kind of ideas that are at the core of modern psychology’s cognitive-behavioral school, he says.
In a sense, listening to Rush is like spending time with someone who helps you see for yourself that you should strive for thoughtful open mindedness (“Witch Hunt”), clear-headedness (“Vital Signs”), balanced thinking (“Hemispheres”), independence of mind (“Subdivisions”), and perseverance (“Carve Away the Stone,” “We Hold On”) among a very large catalogue of virtues.
“Rush pairs music with words in a way that trains listeners in some of the key ideas in modern psychology,” he says, “leading us to think clearly, responsibly, and happily.”
Although he doesn’t frame it in this way, Earleywine’s analysis suggests Rush’s music works as cognitive-behavioral therapy on two levels. On one level, it gives us context or perspective for viewing the world (ignorance is bad; it leads to midnight vigilantism. Blind conformity is bad; it impoverishes the world by submerging unique ideas). On the other level, the act of listening to the music itself makes us feel better, which helps put us in a positive frame of mind, which in turn makes the world look better to us. It takes us off the Freudian couch, in other words, and gets us out in the world with rose-colored glasses on.
Earleywine could have pointed to another essay in Rush and Philosophy, “Ghost Riding on the Razor’s Edge” by the book’s coeditor Jim Berti, which describes the impact Rush’s music had on him.
“A few months back, I was experiencing my own personal Hell, a dark period that [brought me close to] physical and mental breakdown. As I have done so often during rough patches of my life, I turned to Rush to help me through. The album Vapor Trails, especially the song ‘How It Is,’ took on a greater significance . . . hearing Peart’s story [of facing a string of personal tragedy] told through music was the perfect combination of emotional and physical release for me.”
Yep, that sounds better than psychotherapy and an amphetamine prescription.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault
Read the first essay in this series: “Philosophy of Mind has a Headache; Cygnus has Aspirin.”
Read the second: “It’s Just Chemistry: Rush Try to Make Sense of Reality.”
Read the third: “Is Rush Helping Humanism Out-maneuver Religion?”
Read the fourth: “The ‘Rand’omness of Rush’s Libertarianism.”
Read the fifth: “Rush’s Table of Virtues.”
Read the seventh: “The Trees: More Than Meets the Eye?”
Read the ninth: ‘Rush Music: Spontaneous as a Baroque Jam Session