Rush’s Romantic Critique of Their Modern Age

“‘Swimming Against the Stream’: Rush’s Romantic Critique of Their Modern Age”

in Rock and Romanticism: Blake, Wordsworth, and Rock from Dylan to U2, edited by Dr. James Rovira, Lexington Books, 2018, pp. 111-25.

Introduction: “What Can this Thing Be that I Found?”

Rock and RomanticismIf we deny the artificial (and false) dichotomy between so-called literary high art and consumerist popular culture and then attempt to analyze the one in terms of the other, areas of signification, inquiry, and cultural criticism open up such that we can come to richer understandings of both and even begin to revise our critical assumptions. Specifically, by examining Rush in terms of Romanticism and, conversely, reviewing Romanticism in terms of Rush, we can appreciate Rush as contemporary Romantics, and we can revise our understanding of Romanticism as a visionary worldview that indeed began in the mid-to-late eighteenth century but did not end with the emergence of the Victorian era. What literary historians call the Romantic era may have ended in the early nineteenth century, but Romanticism lives on today through such progressive hard rock bands as Rush. What began in the mid-eighteenth century as diverse reactions to the dehumanizing consequences of industrialization, commercial capitalism, and political revolution manifests itself today through Rush as a sincere and at times earnest critique of modern society’s tendency to stifle creativity, dehumanize the individual, and isolate the self from community. Much like the protagonist in Rush’s song “2112” who uncovers the transformative potential of music in an ancient guitar, I discovered an instrument of beauty, truth, and power when I began listening to Rush as a teenager. By analyzing their music in relationship to Romanticism, we can better understand the Romantic worldview’s enduring power to critique modernity and to offer hope for the potential of individual change that may lead to eventual societal transformation.