Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Rush - 2112

“He had always wanted to write music, and he could give no other identity to the thing he sought. If you want to know what it is, he told himself, listen to the first phrases of Tchaikovsky’s First Concerto--or the last movement of Rachmaninoff’s Second. Men have not found the words for it, nor the deed nor the thought, but they have found the music. Let me see that in one single act of man on earth. Let me see it made real. Let me see the answer to the promise of that music. Not servants nor those served; not altars and immolations; but the final, the fulfilled, innocent of pain. Don’t help me or serve me, but let me see it once, because I need it. Don’t work for my happiness, my brothers--show me yours--show me that it is possible--show me your achievement--and the knowledge will give me courage for mine.”

- Ayn Rand; The Fountainhead

I could not find any other quote by Ayn Rand mentioning Tchaikovsky, but I could have sworn she mentioned him more than once. She wrote so much about the best and Ayn Rand lived in the times when Tchaikovsky was considered the epoch of music. Both Rand and Tchaikovsky are Russian; maybe that meant something to her, or perhaps that was a reason for her exposure to his music, or maybe I’m just drawing irrelevant lines. Still I feel pretty confident fictional musician Richard Halley in “Atlas Shrugged,” was meant to represent a second coming of Tchaikovsky and also there is another connection, no matter how strange, the “2112 Overture.”

Rush’s first album was good, but their second album “Fly at Night,” was great, and also a huge commercial success. Once the money started flowing the producers were ecstatic, their feelings were that whatever Rush did on “Fly at Night,” they needed to do it again. Rush did not do it again. Rush’s third album “2112” is a concept album, a concept album about objectivism, which means an entire album with lyrics inspired by Ayn Rand’s writings.

The idea of “2112” in theory should not have sold well. It was a weird idea which most people probably would fail to appreciate. Also it was a highly progressive and intelligent idea further narrowing the potential audience. Also objectivism is a very polarizing political view that has never caught on to the mainstream. The critics loved “2112,” but of course they did, no one had ever heard of anything like “2112” before, not in sound, nor in concept, but the consumers loved it too. It was kind of like the ultimate “fuck you.” Rush did everything they were told not to. They did everything theoretically wrong in regards to selling records. They had blatantly disobeyed orders and refused to sell out, and it worked. “2112” sold very well, and is one of the major factors that made Rush the fifth best selling rock band of all time. “2112” is regarded by many as Rush’s best album.

To break down “2112” lyrically would be a lengthy dialogue, but I will try to be brief. I always think of Ayn Rand’s “Anthem” at the beginning of this song, but then the “discovery,” happens. Instead of the character discovering the light bulb, like he did in “Anthem,” Geddy Lee sings about discovering music. It’s so perfect. The analogue of creating something from nothing, it’s so simple, yet so majestic. It is not random, writing a song, no, it’s brilliance. The touch of the strings and the bringing forth of sound is not some accident, just like the light bulb is no accident, both are products of the mind. For so long we have alienated art and science but it is the same kind of mind that discovers both, the human mind. The “presentation” in “2112” is similar to the presentation of the light bulb in “Anthem,” the fear of change and worship of mediocrity plagues the leaders of men. In “Anthem,” the man’s passion for progress drives him, in “2112” our protagonist’s passion for progressive rock drives him, and that just rocks.

And of course;

"I stand atop a spiral stair
An oracle confronts me there
He leads me on light years away
Through astral nights, galactic days
I see the works of gifted hands
That grace this strange and wondrous land
I see the hand of man arise
With hungry mind and open eyes

They left the planet long ago
The elder race still learn and grow
Their power grows with purpose strong
To claim the home where they belong
Home to tear the Temples down...
Home to change!"

I always think of the oracle as the statue of Dominique, the one molded by artist Steve Mallory who was commission by Howard Roark when he was designing the temple to the human spirit in “The Fountainhead.” The elders leaving home but only growing stronger and wiser, this must be the many heroes of “Atlas Shrugged,” leaving their home to return one day.

It is very inspiring and encouraging reflecting on the might of the human mind. A lot of people like to trash on Ayn Rand for a variety reason, usually in the form of ad hominem, but it always feels to me that everyone misses the point of objectivism. It is not an excuse for selfish behavior, but rather a demand for intelligent behavior, self preservation demands cooperation and self advancement is best achieved with tactical alliances and friendships which are always best forged with mutual respect. Objectivism is a call to arms, a reminder of the power of our intellect and a philosophy that suggests we embrace it. “Howard Roark was a man complete within himself,” there is so much strength in a line like that, a complete refusal to live by anyone else’s expectation, a healthy self respect and love. Rush captured the best of this, they have their own touch of weirdness with their psychedelic sounds, yet nothing feels clouded in “2112” the message in clear, creation and power is in your hands, embrace it for yourself. I think Ayn Rand would be proud, hell I suspect so would Tchaikovsky.

Until next month, keep on rocking in the free world.

- Colin Kelly

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky - 1812 Overture

I am a big fan of reading classical literature if no other reason than it assists in understanding references and small nuances in modern literature. For example I am reading Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe” right now, and I am learning of many tie ins from British history and folklore to George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. The winner of the joust and melee at the tournament has the right to name the queen of love and beauty, before the Norman invasion England referred to itself as the seven kingdoms, servants to the lords wear chains around their neck, proving one’s innocence with trials by combat, the laws of hospitality, and lots of knights doing good deeds while incognito, also Robin Hood and Friar Tuck show up but are never named (well they are eventually). The last bit about Robin Hood has nothing to do with “A Game of Thrones,” I just thought it was neat, then again Robin Hood and his outlaws and their loyalty to King Richard Coeur D'Lion is similar to Lord Berric and his band of not so merry men and their loyalty to King Robert Baratheon.

The tie in here is that I can discover the same kind of references and nuances in classical music. If you remember way back to November 2010 when I talked about Johan Sebastian Bach I made a big deal about how his works would later inspire a seeming majority of European conductors and song writers, but perhaps a more modern example, and perhaps a more relevant example of profound influence on others can be see within the works of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Paul Duncan is based off Tchaikovsky.
When I began to read about Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s life one detail strongly stood out to me, and that was his lifelong depression stemming from being separated from his mother. Tchaikovsky was forced to leave   home in order to study music and evidently he missed his mother badly, and anxiety led to depression when   his mother passed away not long after his leaving, consequentially this haunted him for the rest of his life. This   detail of Tchaikovsky’s life reminded me a lot of fictional character Paul Duncan. Naoki Urasawa’s “Pluto” is a manga that completely retells the Astro Boy story arc “The Strongest Robot in the World,” as a murder mystery where the laws of Isaac Asimov robotics apply. “Pluto” is awesome, but it would take an entire essay just to explain how so and just how much. What is relevant here is that I now know that chapters 4-6 “North #2” parts 1-3 which involve the character Paul Duncan who is a depressed, brilliant, eastern European, musician whose agony revolves around the abandonment of his mother at an early age is likely inspired by the life of Tchaikovsky. Fortunately the powerful robot North #2 is there to help him out. 

Famous, rather infamous, works of Tchaikovsky include “The Nutcracker,” “Swan Lake,” and many people’s favorite the “1812 Overture.” A great many Christmas songs were inspired by and reworked from, “The Nutcracker,” and this includes multiple tracks from nearly every Trans Siberian Orchestra album. I hardly know anything about ballet, but I do know that “Swan Lake,” is considered one of the most important/best/something, and who could forget Darren Aronofsky’s film “Black Swan?” a film that basically gave someone an excuse to tamper with and perform Tchaikovsky’s work. Lastly the “1812 Overture;” so many songs are inspired by the “1812 Overture;” in fact any song with the word “Overture” in the title that is not actually the overture to a larger piece of music, you can pretty much guarantee is in some way, shape, or form, a tribute to Tchaikovsky.

Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” has been used in many movies and television shows (45 times according to IMDB, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0006318/), but perhaps most memorably in the opening and closing scenes for “V for Vendetta” were explosions of government buildings are accompanied by the “1812 Overture,” which I think was outlawed in that movie for literally no reason.

The “1812 Overture” has something of an interesting lore surrounding it. Americans in their American ways began to believe that the Overture was written about their victory over the British in 1812, which all of us Canadians know is bullshit since we (British subjects that would eventually became Canadians) drove them back and burned down their white house in that war, quite the opposite of a victory if you ask me. Oh America, why so America? Meanwhile the “1812 Overture” in actuality is about the Russian victory over Napoleon in the same year. If you listen closely you can actually hear references to the French and Russian national anthems within the “1812 Overture;” “La Marsillaise,” and “God Save the Czar,” which is fascinating. What makes this even funnier is that the American national anthem is about their defeat by the British in 1812; their flag still being there after their capital building is destroyed is meant to be a declaration of American resolve and is admittedly bad ass.

There was a long period of time where people often said that the epoch of music had been obtained. More than one generation thoroughly believed that Tchaikovsky was the climax to all music, and that nothing would ever rival it. I suspect people said the same thing about Beethoven for a long period of time after his death, but Tchaikovsky passed away in 1893 and people are still referencing him as the last and greatest of the greats in my lifetime and that says a lot about the strength of his lasting power. They call is classic music for a reason, this kind of music has already stood the test of time and “1812 Overture” is a true masterpiece. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is immortal, his music will live forever, it changed us; it probably changed everything.

Until later this month keep on rocking in the free world.

- Colin Kelly