The Song That Didn’t Get Recorded

spirit_vision_questNeil has talked a few times about “Telescope Peak,” a set of lyrics he wrote while Rush was recording Vapor Trails after the band’s five–year hiatus. The lyrics are about a climb he took to a mountain peak of that name in Death Valley, Calif., during his Ghost Rider days but they didn’t work for Geddy and Alex and were never turned into a song, although lines from the lyrics were folded into two of the songs on the album. From the “lowest low to the highest high” made it into “Ghost Rider” and you “can’t tell yourself how to feel” made it into “How It is.”

“The words still ‘sing’ to me,” Neil says in his latest blog post, called “Telescope Peak Revisited.”

The lyrics are about that pivot point in 1999 when the trek up to Telescope Peak helps him to finally put the “bad old life” behind him.

Looking back to the lowest low from the highest high
Way down to the burning white desert from the clear blue sky
On Telescope Peak, salvation just a day away
On Telescope Peak, I could have said goodbye to yesterday
—On the last lonely day

So many dreams are buried there
In ghost towns and abandoned mines
So many dreams are carried there
In the sound of the wind in the pines
—On the last lonely day

It’s the end of something
It’s the start of something too
It’s the end of something
It’s the start of something new
The last lonely day

Well, I may not be too lucky, but I’m always on the move
Now I’ve got nothing to lose, I’ve got nothing to prove
One thing I have learned — you can’t tell yourself how to feel
Surrender to the notion the irrational is no less real
—On the last lonely day

So many things I’ve buried there
In ghost towns and abandoned mines
So many things I’ve carried there
That I will leave behind
— On the last lonely day


Neil says he always has a tempo and melody in mind when he writes lyrics, but he never shares those with Alex and Geddy because he wants to see what they come up with. “Good things happen that way,” he says.

For this song, he imagined it as “an uptempo rocker in the verses” that hangs on the line “‘On the last lonely day’ before dropping into a grinding groove for the bridges. The choruses, naturally, in gentler half-time.”

Telescope Peak is certainly a weighty enough monument to carry the theme of death and rebirth. You have the “burning” desert below, the lowest low, set against the blue sky above, the highest high, and you have the ghost towns and abandoned mines in which your dreams are buried, set against the wind and the pines through which your dreams are set free.CR_bristlecone

Setting the ghost towns and abandoned mines against the wind and the pines creates an interesting contrast, because the towns and mines, like so many of our problems, are man-made, transient and ephemeral, while the wind and the pines are permanent, the very stuff of the earth. Although you might not think of pines as permanent in the same way that wind is, the metaphor works because they’re remarkably durable. The bristlecone pine, which is one of the few things to grow on Telescope Peak, are among the oldest living plants on earth, with some of them more than 5,000 years old.

The lyrics in a sense call to mind a very different song in Rush’s catalog, “Tai’ Shan,” which Neil wrote in 1987 about a climb he took to the top of Mount Tai in China a few years before. Legend has it that a mystical experience awaits the climber who makes it up the 7,000 steps to the top.

I stood at the top of the mountain
And China sang to me
In the peaceful haze of harvest time
A song of eternity

Geddy says he never liked “Tai’ Shan” (an “error,” he called it once), and maybe he saw too much “Tai’ Shan” in “Telescope Peak” to want to do that song.

Be that as it may, the two songs couldn’t be more different. But they share the idea of the mountain top as inflection point. In “Tai’ Shan” it’s about learning a lesson in humility, and in “Telescope Peak” it’s about earning one’s way to redemption. From the peak on Mount Tai’, you come away smaller than you were (a very Chinese, very Platonic idea); from the top of Telescope Peak, you come away larger than you were (a very American, very Aristotelian idea), because you’ve finally put behind you the ghosts that were keeping you down. Now, unburdened, you can soar once again, and indeed in his blog post Neil includes a picture of him at the top of the mountain with a hawk superimposed above him, taking flight. A fitting metaphor for the song, and it would be terrific if it someday got recorded.

Read Neil’s post, “Telescope Peak Revisited.”

 More This and That.

~ by rvkeeper on May 3, 2014.

2 Responses to “The Song That Didn’t Get Recorded”

  1. Reblogged this on Progarchy: Pointing toward Proghalla.

  2. I hope I’m not one of the few who actually love Tai Chan. i didn’t care too much for it back then when I was still a teenager but now that I’m in my mid forty’s, I absolutely love and appreciate it!! I’m sure this song as all of their songs would have found it’s way .

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: