I was introduced to Rush in 1994 by my older drum brother Josh. I was a Freshman in high school. Josh was a Senior. As a drummer, he was everything I wanted to be. He appeared to be in command of his craft. He told me he liked listening to progressive rock bands like Rush and Yes. I had no idea what progressive rock was, and when he said Yes, I momentarily confused them with Wham!, George Michael’s group. All I knew of Yes was “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” (I would learn many years later that that hit was a one-off that barely scratches the surface of the beautiful soundscapes that band has produced.) In my ignorance, I at first disparaged Josh’s tastes. And then he had me listen to the first side of Rush’s latest album, Counterparts. The energy and tones of the band captured me instantly, and I went on a buying spree, spending my allowance each week on acquiring yet another Rush album. The first one I bought was 2112. The difference between the sounds of that album and Counterparts was so vast I thought, Surely this can’t be the same band. But Josh confirmed that, indeed, they were. I had come to know Rush a full two decades after the release of their first album, and they weren’t even close to the twilight of their career. Josh listened to Rush because Neil Peart was the greatest technical drummer on the planet. I began listening to them for the same reasons, but after a while the other nuances of the band began to captivate me, even Geddy Lee’s unfortunately maligned singing voice, which even the biggest detractors have to admit suit the band’s sound better than any other voice could. I began to notice Geddy’s sensationally funky and dexterous bass playing and Alex Lifeson’s guitar stylings. Beyond this were the lyrics–smart, perceptive, deep, and challenging, and all written almost entirely by Neil Peart. Much of his lyrics were inspired by the writings of Ayn Rand, and in that way they occasionally reflect some of the off-putting aspects of her objectivist philosophy. Nevertheless, when paired with the band’s inventive instrumentation and their ever-evolving styles over the years, you overlook the disagreeable aspects of the philosophy at work and get caught up in the music.
Clockwork Angels is a novel written by the prolific sci-fi author Kevin J. Anderson, in partnership with Peart, that expands on the themes presented in the band’s album of the same name. The album itself ranks high among their greatest works. It has something for everyone, and the finale, “The Garden,” contains arguably the most beautiful melodies and orchestration the band has ever produced, presenting a heartfelt vocal and keyboard performance from Geddy that touches the spirit. The book, however, just failed to stir my spirit. Perhaps if I had been listening to the album as I read, it would have resonated more.
It tells the story of a young man named Owen Hardy who lives in a world controlled down to the minutest details by the “Watchmaker.” Hardy is optimistic and believes the Watchmaker always knows best as he precisely governs the events and the destinies of the lives of everyone, but Hardy becomes curious and becomes increasingly compelled to follow his dreams. He sets out to explore the world and to learn, meeting an array of characters along the way, making new friends, and learning that the world is not as precisely ordered, nor as naively optimistic, as he is.
Ultimately, the novel is a thinly-veiled homage to Voltaire. A very creative homage, at that, with steampunk trappings captured not only in Anderson’s story-telling but also the wonderful illustrations by long-time album designer Hugh Syme. The book’s presentation and design are exquisite. It’s never a boring read. Just familiar. Rush fans will get a wicked kick out of the countless and varied allusions to Rush lyrics and song and album titles interspersed in the story, and Anderson is to be applauded in that it doesn’t feel artificial. The non-initiated would find the references perfectly natural. But I’d rather listen to the music than read a novel about it. In a novel, you have only the words, and they feel preachy and haughty after a while, whereas with a Rush album, you have the added textures of musical tone and harmony.
I’m always challenged by Peart’s words and worldview. He’s deeply humanistic, whereas I’m a Christian. Sorry if that offends anyone, but it’s as deeply embedded in my identity as his humanism is in his own. Get over it. The fact remains, I have an open mind and can listen and reflect on challenges to and criticisms of my perspective of the Creator and my relationship to Him. But I’ve already read Voltaire, and I feel with this novel that I was reading him again. I do plan on reading the sequel and seeing if it has anything new to say. I’m hoping for something rather more escapist and inspiring. This one fell a bit flat, but I applaud the effort.