I read in an article this summer that the Canadian rock band Rush was filing a lawsuit against Kentucky senatorial candidate and Tea Party love-child Rand Paul. The power trio’s lawyers alleged that the Paul campaign’s use of their song “Spirit of the Radio” constituted copyright infringement.
“Oh, the irony,” I thought, for the band, who have openly promoted libertarian philosophy through their music, had credited Rand Paul’s namesake–polemical sci-fi writer Ayn Rand–for the inspiration of several of their records.
Ayn Rand’s name has been in the news a lot lately. The Russian-born novelist, founder of “Objectivism” and lover of laissez-faire capitalism is often mentioned as one of the spiritual fore-bearers of the Tea Party movement.
In his Oct. 27th, 2010 article in GQ entitled “The Bitch is Back,” Andrew Corsello lays out a blistering, hilarious and deadly accurate portrayal of the influence Rand has had on America’s “I got mine, so fuck you” class. He describes the heroes of Rand’s novels like Howard Roarke (The Fountainhead) and John Galt (Atlas Shrugged) as “square of jaw and Asperger-ish of mien,” and the effect that Rand has on a young reader thus:
“During my own college days, I did observe that a number of the fresh-minted Randroids in my midst became intellectually disciplined to a degree I wouldn’t previously have thought possible. I also admit that a few of them became better questioners of ideas and of themselves–which in turn made them more honest people. But most fell into that hapless group of Rand readers–the ones whose postadolescent insecurity was alchemized upon contact with The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged into a bizarre unlaughing superiority.”
So where does the ageless trio of Torontonian rockers come into play? Corsello only mentions Rush in passing:
“I cite my junior year of college, during which I frequently experienced precipitations of plaster dust onto my face while lying in bed, thanks to the ARA (Ayn Rand Asshole) who lived above me, and his girlfriend. I could never determine whether it was their Richter-scale copulations that shook the dust loose or the 120 decibel stereo blastings of the Ayn Rand-inspired band Rush that they used to soundtrack and enhance them. ”
But Rush was and is more than a soundtrack for quasi-libertarian humping. It has been the soundtrack for quasi-libertarian quasi-intellectual circle-jerks for more than a quarter of a century.
“Anthem,” the opening track on Rush’s 1975 hard-rock masterpiece Fly by Night, is an obvious reference to Rand’s 1937 dystopian sci-fi novel of the same name. The band’s next outing, the 1976 concept album 2112 credits “the genius of Ayn Rand” in the liner notes. In an era of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin pounding out post-hippie amphetamine crazed blues-inspired fuck-rock, how did Rush settle on libertarianism as their message?
While other rock drummers like Keith Moon or John Bonham have been famous for their bacchanalian lifestyles, Neil Peart, Rush’s square-jawed and Asperger-ish drummer, has long been described by his bandmates as quiet, solitary and a voracious reader–AND a major fan of Rand’s writing. In his utterly un-ironic essay “Rand, Rush and Rock” (Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, 2002) Chris Matthew Sciabarra points out:
“In compositions such as ‘Red Alert,’ ‘The Big Money,’ ‘The Weapon,’ and ‘Red Barchetta,’ Peart engages in a Randian repudiation of the herd mentality and social conformity and an ‘exaltation of the individual’–which the authors identify as ‘the fundamental assumption of political conservatism’ and its ‘distaste for Big Government.’”
In the late ‘70s, I was a square-jawed and Asperger-ish misfit 17-year-old, lying on my bed listening to Rush at top volume (through giant, avocado green headphones, as to not wake up the folks), reading those liner notes. I picked up Anthem and read it. All across the country, square-jawed and Asperger-ish misfits were doing the same thing. At night, on a country road in Iowa, we got together, sitting on the hood of a Chevy Nova, listening to 2112 on the 8-track car stereo. Under the stars, we smoked weed and pontificated endlessly about personal freedom. Somewhere, under the same stars on a dirt road in South Texas, I’m guessing that a 17-year-old Rand was probably doing the same thing, with his own square-jawed and Asperger-ish friends.
We were growing up in the ‘70s. We were a little too young to have been hippies and felt cheated out of our share of free love and good acid. The economy sucked, the Middle-eastern oil-producing nations had us over a barrel and we were at the end of a long and pointless war. We read 1984, Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451 and Atlas Shrugged. And we listened to a lot of Rush.
Many of us woke up from our idealistic slumber, moderated our views and joined the mainstream. Some of us turned our backs on Rush and joined the nihilistic ranks of punk-rockerdom. But some, their “…post adolescent insecurity…alchemized upon contact with The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged into a bizarre unlaughing superiority,” became the Reagan revolution.
Fast forward to 2010. The economy sucks, the Middle Eastern oil-producing nations have us over a barrel and we are at the end of a long and pointless war. Like a million Manchurian Candidates, the Randoids have been activated, this time dragging behind them a load of middle-aged fear, prudishness and religious zealotry forged by 35 years of dead-end jobs, shriveled retirement accounts and televangelism. It’s a toxic mix. The hypocrisy is barely beneath the surface as stories of youthful indiscretion bubble up for Tea Party darlings like Rand Paul and Christine O’Donnell. I’ll bet that Rand Paul was listening to Tom Sawyer during the “Aqua Buddha” incident.
Like a nation with a collective case of Stockholm Syndrome, these government-haters have cast their lot again with Republicans and their empty promises of a smaller federal government. But, their dark secret is this: they still feel cheated out of their share of free love and good acid…and they still listen to Rush.
Rich Dana is the editor of OBSOLETE! Magazine, a quarterly underground paper that he describes as “a cross between PUNK Magazine and the Whole Earth Catalog.” He loves feral cats, feral people and feral technology. Read more about OBSOLETE! Magazine at http://obsoletemag.blogspot.com/