So Rush is pretty much the best band ever. They combine outstanding musicianship with excellent song structures and original, thought provoking themes. These are all influenced by their drummer and lyricist, Neil Peart. He is regarded by many as the greatest drummer of all time, but I believe his lyrics are what made Rush a truly great band.
The Analog Kid is a song that many casual Rush fans may not be familiar with, so if you aren't, go ahead and give it a listen.
Released off the Signals album in 1982, the song is one of the last of the '80s era Rush songs to feature Alex Lifeson's lightening fast guitar heroics, which is why it is one of my favorites (as a guitarist). The lyrics, though, are strangely upbeat when combined with the fast paced and upbeat melody, but also have an air of sadness to them. The reason for this will become more clear.
Let's get into the song. It starts out with a quick guitar lick and driving bass line that sets the tone for the first verse:
A hot and windy August afternoon
Has the trees in constant motion
With a flash of silver leaves
As they're rocking in the breeze
The boy lies in the grass with one blade
Stuck between his teeth
A vague sensation quickens
In his young and restless heart
And a bright and nameless vision
Has him longing to depart
The scenery this describes is just beautiful to me. It sets the tone of pure childhood bliss, featuring a boy lying in the grass on an August afternoon, watching the leaves and the trees blow in the wind...not a care in the world. At the end though, it mentions a "longing to depart" that to me can have one of two meanings. On one hand, it could simply be due to childhood angst and boredom: a young boy who is discontent with lying in the grass, so he wants to get up and do something else. On the other hand, it could be a more metaphorical longing to depart from childhood into adulthood, or perhaps depart from his home and go see what the rest of the world is like. It makes me wonder if this song was part of the inspiration for the Kevin Anderson and Neil Peart collaboration for the book Clockwork Angels, as the story starts off in a similar manner.
Let's get to the chorus:
You move me
You move me
With your buildings and your eyes
Autumn woods and winter skies
You move me
You move me
Open sea and city lights
Busy streets and dizzy heights
You call me
You call me
Musically, the chorus changes to a half-time feel with much more synth, which is a "departure" from the fast-paced guitar/bass-driven verses. The lyrics imply that the open sea and city lights are calling for the boy, and that the boy's longing is indeed to leave his familiar home in favor of the magic and wonder of the big city or open sea (both of which happen in the book, Clockwork Angels). He seems to have a need for adventure, not uncommon in young boys, that is full of optimism for the future.
The fawn-eyed girl with sun-browned legs
Dances on the edge of his dream
And her voice rings in his ears
Like the music of the spheres
The boy lies in the grass, unmoving
Staring at the sky
His mother starts to call him
As a hawk goes soaring by
The boy pulls down his baseball cap
And covers up his eyes
Ah, a girl, of course there is a girl that the young boy is eyeing. It is uncertain if this girl is currently in his life (i.e. a girl he cares a lot about that lives in his hometown) or if the girl perhaps lives somewhere else, and she is the reason for his longing to depart. The latter part of this verse I have always been amused by, as it features the boy's mother calling for him, to which he responds by pulling down his baseball cap and covering up his eyes...presumably signifying that he does not heed his mothers bidding and wants to stay put. This could perhaps signify the indecision currently present in the boy's thoughts, he does not want to take action but wants to simply stay in the present, in a state of prolonged childhood... he doesn't want to grow up. I think we have all felt like this boy at some point, content to gaze as life passes us by, not wanting to do anything about it.
Now to the point where the song comes to its climax (and a sick guitar solo):
Too many hands on my time
Too many feelings
Too many things on my mind
When I leave I don't know
What I'm hoping to find
When I leave I don't know
What I'm leaving behind...
This pre-solo bridge just hits me so hard every time I listen to it. Too many hands on my time, too many feelings, too many things on my mind. It brings back memories to times in my life where I've had to make crucial decisions: where to go to college, which job to take, which city to move to (or stay in my current place). The boy in the song has departed from the lackadaisical state of sitting in the grass with a blade stuck between his teeth to a time when he has responsibilities, where people are calling for his time, and where he has to make decisions. He has grown up.
The second part of the verse brings home the theme of the song: When I leave I don't know what I'm hoping to find. When I leave I don't know what I'm leaving behind. The boy has now made a decision, he is going to leave. But he has doubts. He has the thoughts that everyone has when they make a dramatic change in their life. He is worried that leaving his hometown will be a poor choice, that he will just miss his family, his potential girlfriend, and everything else that is familiar to him. He realizes that the grass may seem greener on the other side now, but what if he gets there are finds that it is worse? This is a question with no easy answer. Do you live your life the same way and always wonder what it would be like if you took a chance, or do you take a chance and realize that you had it better all along? The first choice is very typical of inspirational stories, but perhaps Neil Peart is trying to imply that it might not always turn out for the better; that it really is a chance you are taking.
As an aside, this song goes with another song on the album, called "Digital Man," that is very different in song structure and melody. The lyrics depict a cold, calculating man who perhaps has no choices to make, and lives in a purely planned existence free of any risk or adventure. The words analog and digital presumably refer to different signal processing techniques (the album is called Signals, after all), and more than likely seeks to contrast the older analog method of recording music with the newer digital method. The digital method makes musical processing easier and makes the sound cleaner, but in the process it removes a little bit of the signal. Audiophiles will probably tell you that they prefer analog because it preserves all of the sound.
This gives a certain takeaway of the two songs: the digital man is, by all accounts, an adult. He does things logically and with minimal risk because he seeks to preserve the status quo. The analog kid is immature, adventurous, and pure. Just like digital recording, the digital man has grown up to become smarter, but he has lost a part of himself. The days of innocent youth are gone, and have been replaced by the cold reality of everyday life. It is an image, or a "signal", that hits me every time. I stop to think if I am still the optimistic and adventurous analog kid, or if I am the boring and calculating digital man.
Then I think, which one do I want to be? Many people of my generation (the millennials) have been said to have "Peter Pan Syndrome," which is a state of prolonged adolescence and refusal to "grow up." This would seem to imply that it is fun to be the analog kid while we are young, but one day we must eventually grow up and become a digital man (or woman). Is this right? Should we abandon our adventurous youth in favor of a more "society friendly" approach?
My answer is that I still want to grow up, be an adult, etc., but I want to remember how to be a kid. So, I think that every once in a while, it's not a bad idea to do something bold, irresponsible, adventurous, or otherwise misguided. It reminds you that you aren't a robot, and that deep down, you are an analog kid.
So what do you think? Did I interpret this completely wrong?
Are you an analog kid or a digital man?
Photo (c) 2011 Vesa Härkönen and made available under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivatives License 4.0