The Cask of ’43 Revisited: Is It ‘the Collective?’
About two years ago I wrote a meandering post about what the “the cask of ’43” refers to in “The Fountain of Lamneth.” Is it a dodgy drug reference? After all, that was the year Albert Hoffmann took his famous “bicycle trip” through the streets of Basel, Switzerland, after synthesizing LSD. Does it have something to do with an amber-colored Spanish liquor called Mirablis, which consists of 43 ingredients? Or is it a symbol of the futility of exitence, as Robert Telleria thinks in his book Merely Players?
To add to the mystery, there’s a great image on Rush’s 1981 live album, Exit Stage Left, in which the “A Farewell to Kings” marionette is sitting on a travel case with “Rush” and “43” stenciled on it.
These days, I’m wondering if it has to do with “the class of ’43,” which is the intentionally ironic term people had for “the collective,” which is the itself intentionally ironic term people had for the group of young acolytes who used to hang out with Ayn Rand every weekend at her New York apartment while she was writing Atlas Shrugged.
“The class of ’43 included Nathan Branden, who later became a co-author with Rand and headed up the Ayn Rand Institute, his wife Barbara, and even Alan Greenspan for a while.
By his own admission, Neil was interested in Rand’s work at the time he wrote “The Fountain of Lamneth,” which came out in 1975. The song is a rough channeling of The Odyssey, in the same way that Clockwork Angels is a rough channeling of Candide. In “The Fountain of Lamneth,” when it mentions the cask of ’43 (in the section called Bacchus Plateau), the hero had just left the comfort of the enchantress Panacea and was faced with the bleak prospect of having to continue his journey through life alone, amidst silhouettes of grey.
Draw another goblet
From the cask of ’43
Crimson misty memory
Hazy glimpse of me
Of course, “Bacchus Plateau” suggests the idea that the hero has reached his drink limit and it’s time for the bartender to call him a cab. “Bacchus” is the Roman god of wine, and “plateau” suggests he’s reached his, well, plateau, and to drink any more would simply send him down the rathole of a wasted life. That makes the Mirablis explanation sound good. But the LSD reference would work as well.
But the “class of ’43” reference is fun to think about, too, when you consider that Neil seemed to be most interested in Rand’s ideas in the mid-1970, when he wrote “Anthem,” “The Fountain of Lamneth,” “2112,” and other pieces that libertarians and others have glommed on to as the most Randian of Rush’s songs.
I’m thinking Neil might have had multiple meanings in mind, since in some ways the wine, LSD, and the Randian gatherings all relate to the same thing: relying on something outside yourself to do your thinking for you rather than thinking for yourself. So, whether you’re talking about LSD, Spanish wine, or being part of Ayn Rand’s circle of young acolytes, you’re talking about abdicating responsibility for yourself. Once you realize what you’ve done, it’s time to call yourself a cab and get the hell out, even if it means saying goodbye to Panacea—which, of course, is what LSD, wine, and Rand’s circle of admirers all were: panaceas.
Well, the mystery remains unsolved, and that’s the best way to leave it.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault
Here’s a fun piece of satire on how Rush and other Canadians unleashed Ayn Rand on the United States in an effort to destabilize the country.