Escaping the Caves of Ice

The following book chapter proposal was accepted for inclusion in an upcoming book addressing the intellectual, artistic, and cultural relationships between Romanticism and rock music.

Escaping the Caves of Ice: Rush and the Romantic Quest for Creative Independence and Visionary Progressive Music

My brother first introduced me to the mysterious music of Rush when I was in the eighth grade, and I have been a fan ever since. I credit Rush’s visionary epic songs for my academic interest in Romanticism, because during my high school senior English literature class I first made the connection between Rush and Romanticism. One morning, the English teacher issued each student a fat Norton Anthology of British Literature, and he told us to start reading a poem titled “Kubla Khan” by a poet named Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I rolled my eyes and started to read, and much to my surprise, I was enjoying the poem, largely because it seemed so familiar—a palace in a land called Xanadu, the Pleasure Dome, the sacred river Alph, caves of ice, a guy eating honeydew and drinking the milk of paradise. Where had I seen these images before?

Then it dawned on me: this was Rush’s song “Xanadu” from their album A Farewell to Kings. I approached my teacher’s desk and told him this poem is like Rush’s song, to which he smiled and rephrased my statement: “Well, Rush’s ‘Xanadu’ is like Coleridge’s ‘Kubla Khan.’” Rush ignited my interest in Romantic poetry, such that I would later go on to complete a Ph.D. in literature, writing my dissertation on the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century reception of Coleridge’s work.

In my paper for the Rock and Romanticism Anthology, I propose to analyze the ways in which Rush as a progressive rock band exhibit various Romantic qualities as they have striven for creative independence and have created visionary music that has spoken to key issues of the times over the past four decades. In other words, Rush has been in tune with “the spirit of the age.” I plan to approach the topic thematically, addressing the following key critical areas:

  • The Romantic poet/artist figure:
    • Poet as prophet and sage.
    • The sublime imagination and visionary transcendence.
    • Rush as sages of progressive rock and appealing to middle-class angst.
    • Examples drawn from the early fantasy epics from the albums Fly by Night, Caress of Steel, and A Farewell to Kings.
  • Romantic individualism:
    • Rise of subjectivity and the importance of individuality in the Romantic era.
    • Rush’s emphasis on individual liberties and libertarian views similar to Romantic era political perspectives.
    • Examples drawn from such Rush songs as the following:
      • “Anthem”
      • “The Trees”
      • “2112”
      • “Tom Sawyer”
      • “New World Man”
  • Romantic creative vision and striving for idiosyncratic originality:
    • Romantic rebellion and revolutionary spirit.
    • Rush’s striving for authenticity, originality, and creative freedom as expressed in the classic song “The Spirit of Radio.”
    • Rush not bowing to demands of the music industry.
    • Brief history of early Rush and their 2112 album as rebellious refusal to cave to industry pressure.
  • Romantic irony translated into dark ironies of immortality in the song “Xanadu”:
    • Discuss Rush’s adaptation of Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan.”
    • Romantic irony in “Kubla Khan.”
    • Ironies of immortality in “Xanadu.”
    • Transgressive poet in “Kubla Khan” and transgressive adventurer in “Xanadu.”
    • Discuss how the musical intro to the song mirrors the tonal changes in the poem and possibly serves as a performative musical preface, just as Coleridge’s preface is a performative element to the poem proper.