Sunday, April 20, 2008

Neil Peart and Angels

Heaven of Angels
Catherine Andrews

Neil Peart is the drummer and lyricist for Canadian band Rush. Lyrically he can be a bit preachy, and a bit too well meaning for my liking. However, he sometimes gets it spot on.
I recently got Rush's lastest album
Snakes and Arrows (2007).
For me the highlight is "Workin' them Angels". The song soars with a deep sense of freedom and danger. The guitars sound barely able to contain the momentum, the drums working hard to keep the song grounded. The vocals convey a sense of of sorrow and nostalgia, combined with an ecstatic sense of luckiness. Fantastic stuff, and an example of Rush really getting it right, like no other band can.
All my life I've been workin' them angels overtime
Riding and driving and living

So close to the edge
Lyrically, the song is about the way Peart has lived his life: "living so close to the edge." He is aware that he must have had some divine assistance, if anything, the way he has been living has needed extra help. It is an interesting way to think: without asking (or necessarily believing in*) them, he regards that he must have received help from above. Intriguingly, he changes "close to" to "just over" the edge. The angels help remained even when he pushed things too far. The feel of the music suggests that he thinks he may need to amend his ways. He may have pushed his luck too far.

Peart references angels in another song: "The Big Wheel" (1991).
He gives us a bit more information on his beliefs; institutional religion has no place in his spirituality.
Well, I was only a kid, on a holy crusade I placed no trust in a faith that was ready-made
Take no chances on paradise delayed
He mixes his teenage pursuits into this song: music, women, spirituality. In particular he fuses women and spirit into one. It is difficult to know exactly what he is referring to:
Looking for love
For an angel to forgive my sins
I love this line. It perfectly encapsulates my teenage years: women and spirit. The two do become intermixed.
Hoping for heaven -- hoping for a fine romance
He accurately describes the teenage excitement of finding spirituality:
Playing for time
Don't want to wait for heaven

Playing with fire
Chasing something new to believe in
The song is a nostalgic look at youth. It could only be written by someone looking back. With "Workin' them Angels" we are in the present. Life is still on an edge. The searching of youth led to no real spirituality; the Angels have changed from something to find; he now realizes they were always present.

*In the song "Ghost of a Chance" from Roll the Bones, Peart states:
I don't believe in the stars or the planets
Or angels watching from above

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