Headlong Flight: Background and Commentary

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The piece is a nostalgic look back on a fantastic journey by an adventurer who is now facing his twilight years. It’s the third single from Rush’s 2012 Clockwork Angels album and, along wirh the other two singles, “Caravan” and “Brought Up to Believe,” is part of a multi-part concept about a young man’s quest to follow his dreams.

The young man is “caught between the grandiose forces of order and chaos. He travels across a lavish and colorful world of steampunk and alchemy, with lost cities, pirates, anarchists, exotic carnivals, and a rigid Watchmaker who imposes precision on every aspect of daily life.” The quote is from Kevin J. Anderson, a science fiction writer and friend of Neil’s who is writing a novel based on the story.

“Headlong Flight” is told from the perspective of the boy, now older and looking back at his journey. Although some days were dark and the journey didn’t always feel like an adventure, he longs to relive that past excitement. “To what I felt back then / I wish that I could live it all again.”

Neil said in material accompanying the release of the Clockwork Angels tour dates that the boy’s nostalgia for the past is based on his friend and drum-tutor the late Freddie Gruber:

“Towards the end of his long and adventurous 84 years, [Freddie Gruber] was reminiscing among friends and former students. Often he would shake his head and say, ‘I had quite a ride. I wish I could do it all again.’ That is not a feeling I have ever shared about the past. I remain glad that I don’t have to do it all again. While working on the lyrics for ‘Headlong Flight,’ the last song written for Clockwork Angels, I tried to summarize my character’s life and adventures. My own ambivalence colored the verses, while Freddie’s words inspired the chorus ‘I wish that I could live it all again.'”—Neil in an April 19 press release announcing Clockwork Angels tour dates.

Musically, the piece channels “Bastille Day,” and that was deliberate, says Neil. He told Classic Rock magazine in a 2012 interview, “What was it that Oscar Wilde said: self-plagiarism is style? We certainly do a few tongue-in-cheek nods to ‘Bastille Day’ in ‘Headlong Flight.’ That’s deliberate.”

“We started riffing and got into a really great, long jam,” Alex says in a MusicRadar interview. “It must have been hours. There were a million little parts flying around, all in the same key: E, standard tuning. Afterward, we cut it up into pieces, took out the things we liked and moved them over to someplace else, and when we listened to it we were like, ‘Oh my God, we’ve got something really cool happening here! Should we make it an instrumental?’ But we decided that on this record, for the first time in a very, very long time, we weren’t going to have an instrumental. I think the music marries extremely well with the lyrics. There’s so many parts that are extremely dynamic. Most of all, we got to play like crazy. We wanted a song where we could stretch out like we do live with ‘Working Man.’ We did shrink the middle section quite a bit. Originally, it had more of a jam thing going on, but we thought it was a little over the top, so we pulled it back. But there’s certainly more than enough there.”

‘Headlong Flight’ was the last piece recorded for the album and on this piece and others, Neil took a more spontaneous approach to his drumming. On previous albums, he says, he would spend days by himself memorizing the odd numbers of beats, bars, and measures in each song. This time around, rather than commit the arrangements to memory, he only played through the pieces a few times, then he brought in producer Nick Raskulinecz (Booujzhe) to act as his guide. More on this.

On this and other pieces on the album, the band used fewer overdubs than on Snakes and Arrows so that the “guitar, bass and drum sounds are big and loud and clear.”—Geddy in a Billboard interview.”Calling any one song a tour de force on an album this bountiful is difficult, but this seven-minute monster oozes with virtuosic zeal and stirring lyricism. Lee kicks it all off with a spacey bass figure, which morphs into a full-throttle, all-hands-on-deck assault that builds in intensity. ‘I learned to fight, I learned to love, I learned to feel/ oh! I wish that I could live it all again,’ Lee sings in the chorus, and it’s here that he becomes a bravura vocalist, no longer an acquired taste or an artful stylist, but a true conveyer of poetic heat. A roller-coaster ride of unison guitar and bass almost runs off the tracks, but Peart is guiding it, battering and rolling. He breaks free for a brief, razzmatazz solo, but the pleasure in the gesture is that it really matters. By now, one expects big climatic solos from Lifeson, and the kicker is how he taps the mother lode time after time. His wah set piece is all over the place, a huge and gleaming star turn, reckless and daring, as chaotic as surreal comedy and as outrageous as a man chasing a roomful of cats. Bask in the divine madness.”—Joe Bosso, MusicRadar

“‘Headlong Flight’ is the album’s true advance single, the way it was done in the old days, and it opens with a ‘Bastille Day’ drum quote and proceeds eventually to a White Album-style chorus, so passion-filled but still, in total, weirdly dark and detached, or perhaps bitter about how life all necessarily plays out at the second, minute, and hour hands of Chronos.”—Martin Popoff, BraveWords

The song received a rousing reception in early 2012 when it was previewed to music journalists and others prior to release. Some of the responses:

“Holy Fucking Shit!!!!! 7 and a half minutes of pure genius!!!!!!”

“I haven’t had goosebumps like this in years. This is Rush at their finest. Seriously. Fuck this is amazing.”

“New Rush song sounds like updated “By-Tor.” Epic, cool guitar break downs. “I stoke the fires of the big steel wheels. . . “—Dominic Nardella – Sirius XM

” . . . losing control of my bladder during the massive Alex Lifeson solo.”—Mike Hsu – WAAF in Boston

“Old school RUSH fans rejoice! It ROCKS 74-77 era! Just awesome!!”—Grover Collins – WUBE/WYGY in Cincinnati

“It’s awesome. #ByTorIsASnowDog.”—Lou Brutus, Sirius XM

More about “Headlong Flight”

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~ by rvkeeper on April 20, 2012.

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