Castles in the Distance

Rock lyrics are generally dumb, though fun, and analyzing them is usually a fool’s errand of sifting through absolute sub-grade-school-level drivel for some semblance of a hint of an angstrom of wisdom.

And then there’s Rush.

I was listening to an old favorite album, A Farewell to Kings, when a few lines from the title track struck me hard:

When they turn the pages of history
When these days have passed long ago
Will they read of us with sadness
For the seeds that we let grow?
We turned our gaze
From the castles in the distance
Eyes cast down
On the path of least resistance

Cities full of hatred
Fear and lies
Withered hearts
And cruel, tormented eyes
Scheming demons
Dressed in kingly guise
Beating down the multitude
And scoffing at the wise

That first verse is really the killer, and for a song written in 1977 really taps into the current zeitgeist 42 years later.

Will they read of us with sadness for the seeds that we let grow?

We are already paying for the poor, short-sighted decisions made a century ago. Look at Social Security and other unfunded liabilities for a merely economic decision. How about the 1965 Hart-Cellar Act which has had long-standing impacts not only on culture and demographics, but also economics–what do you think a flood of cheap labor would do? How about Reagan’s 1986 amnesty? What about the liberalization of trade relations in China in 1972 and that nation’s further embrace into the global economy, helping lead to the free trade that’s driven the US’s trade deficit and, coupled with the enactment of NAFTA in 1994, utterly destroyed America’s manufacturing sector while making other nations rich?

Even deeper, what about America’s continued spiritual decline as free speech was pushed as a way to replace traditional religious blasphemy laws with new ones, protecting the pieties of the day from any and all hurt feelings? Continued secularization? No-fault divorce?

The question nobody asks when enacting any of these things is: are we better off?

The seeds we let grow indeed. I bet they will look at us with more anger than sadness.

We turned our gaze
From the castles in the distance
Eyes cast down
On the path of least resistance

Talk about a damning indictment of where we are now. Rush lyricist and drummer Neil Peart may be an atheist, but this is a deeply spiritual stanza. Those “castles in the distance” can’t be anything other than the supernatural, the mataphysical, the ineffable, the idea that there is something better and something greater than this prison of physical matter we find ourselves in. Our souls yearn to breathe free, to touch this untouchable thing we only catch quick glimpses of through things like the laughter of our children, the love we have for each other and, yes, from art.

Or maybe the band was just smoking some really good dope during the writing session.

L-R: Geddy Lee, Neil Peart, and Alex Lifeson in full 70s mode

Nah, just kidding with you. Those castles in the distance are the likely non-existent golden ages many of us living in the 21st century see as a source of strength and inspiration. They could even include things like the Gospels, Aristotelian philosophy, and myth and legend.

But most of us call it Truth.

Whatever the castles are, they represent something glorious and vital that should not be forgotten.

Eyes cast down
On the path of least resistance

“This simple life hack will make every single thing you do easier! Why work harder when you can just work smarter? Efficiency!”

The path of least resistance may be the epithet of the past 40 years. Western Civilization tries to do little more than make life as easy as possible and, in doing so, not only demystifies everything and squanders its rich cultural legacy, but also helps create a life devoid of meaning. Why work hard when anything you want, including food, drugs, and porn, is simply a click away? No wonder you can’t see those “castles in the distance.”

The chorus of “A Farewell to Kings” needs little explication:

Cities full of hatred
Fear and lies
Withered hearts
And cruel, tormented eyes
Scheming demons
Dressed in kingly guise
Beating down the multitude
And scoffing at the wise

We all know cities full of hatred, fear and lies, withered hearts and cruel, tormented eyes. Where does most of the cultural rot come from? Yes, there are good people in these cities, but city life will drive you mad.

“Scheming demons” is all to prescient. The forces keeping us from searching after those castles in the distance are certainly demonic. It’s not left/right, liberal/conservative. It’s good/evil. Many of these demons are indeed “dressed in kingly guise.” And kindly guise. And priestly guise. And respectable guise. All the best to beat down the multitude and scoff at the wise.

Submission. It’s all about submission. It’s anti-humanism designed to make you despair and feel you have no chance without giving your power to an ultra-powerful body. Forget God or Christ the redeemer, or whomever you believe in. You must be ground down until you’re nothing but human cattle, eating the slop that’s thrown before you.

Moo.

I know this song is mostly anti-royalty sentiment, as you’ll see in the second verse:

The hypocrites are slandering
The sacred halls of truth
Ancient nobles showering
Their bitterness on youth
Can’t we find
The minds that made us strong?
Oh can’t we learn
To feel what’s right and what’s wrong? What’s wrong

I’m not a huge proponent of feeling what’s right and what’s wrong. Emotion is a part of it. But you have to think and feel and also be told. Right and wrong aren’t matters of personal preference; the belief that they are is a big part of what’s gotten us into this sad, sorry state to begin with.

But that first verse though . . . 

So there you have it. Give the song a listen while you’re at it. I might be reading too much into this, but I doubt it. I also don’t believe in coincidences: I selected that particular album with that particular opening track out of the other tens of thousands of songs on my iPod for a reason.

Yeah, I still have an iPod. What of it?


Elpida definitely has her eyes on the castles in the distance, since she finds herself stuck in a world made from her own dreams. Check it out in A Traitor to Dreams and thrill to her battles against the scheming demons!

9 comments

  1. What I love about songs – pop rock, soft rock, metal, and Christian-themed – is that even when the lyrics don’t make sense, they give writers some great ideas. (Case in point would be your post. 😉) Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you liked the post Caroline! I agree, most pop and rock lyrics are kind of meaningless or just poorly written. One example of well-written but meaningless lyrics is a personal favorite, Faith No More. The words are impressionistic and they evoke feelings—VERY effectively—more than saying anything concrete. So it’s a bit more post-modern than I usually get—the singer specifically says he wants listeners to make their own meaning—but damned if they’re not effective.

      Conversely, I find Rush’s lyrics very meaningful and purposeful. Neil Peart absolutely tries to convey something in each song, and I’d say he’s arguably a poet and an author who just so happens to play drums in an awesome prog band.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alexander
        One of the most striking differences between Anglophone and European pop music is the utter absence of musicalized poetry.
        By contrast Europeans have no hesitation to take well known poems and mysicalize them.
        Perhaps future English language bands can look at well known poems and musicalize them.

        xavier

        Liked by 1 person

      • That would be cool. A rich vein for lyrical subject matter!

        Back in the day, English rock bands DID do stuff like that—prog was all about combining classical music and myth with rock. It was mainstream for a brief moment.

        In America, it was more about psychedelia and then punk/metal, and later alternative.

        Canada was . . . I don’t know much about Canadian music. I just know that I love Rush.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Alexander

    English Canadian music in the 60 and 70s iwas basically Celtic balladeer/ storyteller Burton Cummings. I’m not sure about now.

    French Canadian music still has a strong folk/poetry tradition.
    My brother loved the Belgian performer Jean Cabrel who remains popular.
    My sister back in the 90s liked Jean Leloup. I always found him a tad loppy but very talented and disciplined *he just put out one last month or so)
    There’s another one I liked. His is the hard rock sad sack schtick but I just can’t remember his name.

    xavier

    Liked by 1 person

      • Alexander

        Note that i’m more familiar with the Quebec artists.

        To start go with Felix Leclerc and Gilles Vigneault. Both were unapologetic separatists very nationalistic so their ir music reflects that but it’s not the heavy handed. Their songs are classics for good reason. They”re poets

        Gerry Boulet the Quebec hard rocker who shaped and influenced so many musicians of today
        Diane Dufrense and Nanette Workman (the female hard rockers counterparts to Gerry)
        Mario Pelchat
        Voivoid (the Metallica tribute band if I remember right)https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voivod_(band)

        Michel Rivard
        Patrick Ruel
        Jean Pierre Ferland

        Here’s the Web page from Archambault
        https://archambault.ca/Musique/Genres/Francophone?page=7&sort=popularity

        Mind you you’ll also see a lot of European French artists too. There’s no difference. If they’re really good the Québécois will embrace them. Belgs are the same French take a lot longer to accept Quebec singers/bands

        xavier

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Alexander

    You’re welcome. YouTube is a good place to start. Then if anyone interests you more you can go to their official websites.
    xavier

    Liked by 1 person

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