Earlier this year it was brought to my attention that it was the fortieth anniversary of the release of the album A Farewell to Kings, from the Canadian power trio Rush. My initial reaction to this news was something like “holy shit! where did that go?” Upon further reflection this triggered a memory of a certain English teacher, who in the intervening years I have recognized as having had considerable impact upon me. That is a different story, one which I have already shared as a guest in another forum. After going to that well I have since been inspired to drink deeper from those waters.
First of all I must make a confession. Prior to being informed of the anniversary I don’t think I had listened to the album at all for at least 18 years. It’s been in my collection, like so many other gems of the era, collecting dust and neglect. When reminded of the occasion I gave it a thorough re-examination, both musically and lyrically. That was months ago already, yet I have continued to revisit this work with some regularity since. Though I’ve experienced no startling revelations from the music, it still sounds the same; I have found that lyrically the title track resonates still and perhaps even more so.
we turned our gaze from the castles in the distance
eyes cast down on the path of least resistance
The first half of this phrase I think embodies the ideal of the American revolution: that kings do not derive their authority by any divine right. We rejected rule as dictated from some distant castle, but the second half of the phrase describes our failing. Franklin is purported to have said after the constitutional convention that ours was ” a republic, if you can keep it”. The historical accuracy of this may be disputed, yet this would in no way diminish the truth of the statement. Once having turned our heads from those castles our vision grew short-sighted, cast down, to accept that which was easy rather than always considering the repercussions. We have taken the path of least resistance. It would be the dining equivalent of going to a Ruth Chris Steakhouse and ordering a juicy filet and instead they deliver a steaming pile of dung to your table; without your objection. To make matters worse, once accepting this, that you should go back for more of the same. And we have.
Cities full of hatred, fear and lies
Withered hearts and cruel, tormented eyes
Scheming demons dressed in kingly guise
Beating down the multitudes and scoffing at the wise
Ferguson. Baltimore. Charlottesville. Hate and fear and all of the lies that follow each. We rejected the kingly rule by fiat as the discarded marionette ensconced on a broken throne amid the ruins, as depicted on the album cover. In it’s place we have accepted the rule of new kings who present us with all the trappings of legitimacy, their authority not from divine right but from their divine law. This is the demon in kingly guise. They beat down their multitudes with taxation and debt, regulations and rules, all while displaying the most flagrant hypocrisy. Those who call them out are to be vilified and marginalized. Where censorship is not permitted to be administered by law it can easily be achieved from corporate partners who, willingly or no, collude to effect the desired outcome. And we have sadly embraced this, adopting the Dead Kennedys creed of give me convenience or give me death.
Can’t we raise our eyes to make a start?
Can’t we find the minds to lead us closer to the heart?
This is our challenge. Our eyes have been cast down on the path of least resistance. We need to raise our eyes and start this journey anew. We do not need the self proclaimed great minds to lead us. This is not a call for the benign hand of an enlightened elite. It is a call to find your own mind. Think, damn you! Open your eyes, use the grey matter you’ve been given. Don’t accept the steaming plate of dung any longer.