Apple Integrations, woo!

I made the switch to the Apple ecosystem a few years ago. It started with a MacBook – a switch I’d been publicly wanting to make for years and years, as an in-joke among my friends and a public joke on, and then I got a job where the MacBook was standard gear.

I was thrilled, and while I’ve switched back and forth since then (I used Fedora as my daily driver for a while in the middle there, and even used … Windows for a bit), my path has been clear: OSX is the most comfortable desktop environment for me!

I then got an iPad; it replaced my beloved Surface (which had replaced a Kindle) as a working tablet. Then came the iPhone, and the Apple Watch. I don’t have Airpods, but I would rather have traditional headphones anyway – and there’s no way I’m going to even think about spending the money on the Apple headphones.

(Wireless headphones… nah. I use wired headphones, because when I’m wearing headphones, I’m doing music, and wireless headphones add latency.)

This morning, I needed to figure out a route to an appointment, and so I cranked up the OSX Maps app… found my route (using the same basic interface as I have on my iOS device), and bingo, everything had it.

I feel vaguely like a cyborg, with my devices working with and for me, as opposed to just being passive tools.

And yes, I know, it’s no big deal, really: it’s just effective user experience, something the industry should be good at creating already (and it’s getting better all the time). In the end, it’s just programs working together, with Apple making a specific point out of doing it well because they have a singular ecosystem.

Google does it too, after all, and so does Microsoft; they just have a much wider hardware and software ecosystem to deal with, so it’s a lot harder to make it happen as seamlessly as Apple does.

I just experienced the seamless interaction between my devices this morning, in a positive way, and for some reason it stuck out to me how convenient and awesome it all is, when it’s not thrown in your face all the time.

We live in a wonderful world. Now we just need to figure out how to act wonderfully to each other.

On Acting Wrongly

George Bernard Shaw, a playwright from around the time of World War I, is given credit for saying, “Better keep yourself clean and bright; you are the window through which you must see the world.”

It’s good advice that few seem to consider.

A few years back, when the news was full of such “happy” events as suicide bombings and such, someone asked me casually what I’d do if God were to ask me to go kill someone. Like, if I heard what I knew was the voice of God saying, “Those people there: kill them.”

Note that “happy events” referred to in the previous block are… actually not happy events at all. I find them tragic. The use of “happy events” is sarcasm, and I find it appalling that I feel like I need to explain that because of the Inquisition.

My response was that I’d say, “No, you do it. You’ve got a lot more experience than I do, you’d do a better job. You want it done, you get right on it.”

It’s not that I’m afraid to act. I do things that I believe are “commanded by God” all the time: I am kind to people to the best of my ability, I try to help where I am able and in whatever way I can. I don’t consider myself a righteous man, a tzaddik, but I try to act in such a way that others might be inspired to act the same.

It doesn’t work.

It’s too easy to aspire to low behavior; being kind is so much work, and involves so much forgiveness, and it’s easier to just be angry when people think and do harmful things.

It’s much more fun to denigrate someone who thinks differently or acts differently than it is to actually reach out to that person and try to understand why or maybe even help them do better than they have done.

Yet I try to be hard-headed about it. I want my windows to be clean, as Shaw says, because I want to see a clean, bright world. Leave grit and dirt and awfulness for the movies. If I want noir it’s out there; I don’t want to be able to get it by watching the evening news.

It’s not a perfect world, nor can it be, I think… but if we try, if we attempt by ourselves to be a small touch of the light we want to see in the world, we can make it better, bit by bit.

It only takes restraint at first. If someone says something awful, or stupid… imagine walking along with them, understanding why they might say something awful or stupid. That allows you to forgive them.

Then imagine being where they are and being able to say, “There’s a better way.” Imagine inspiring someone to do better, into trying. That’s helping them “clean their windows,” and it cleans yours.

The world is a harsh place; your desire won’t put food on your table, won’t find you love, won’t help you become what you desire to be. You have to desire, but you have to act.

Observing all of the evil in the world isn’t enough. You have to be good. It doesn’t require that you become perfect; goodness knows I’m not perfect. I fail to help everyone around me, because I can’t – I’m tired, I need help myself.

But I can say that I try, with a clean conscience. I can say that I actively try to harm none, even those people whose views I disagree with on a core level. There are certainly some I would struggle with, but most of the people with whom I disagree would be people I’d be able to break bread with, and have a cordial conversation; heck, I’d love that. It’d be worlds better than arguing over minutiae on Facebook.

I know, I know, I’m rambling. I’m just trying to process recent events, which are distressing and feel faintly final, mostly because I’m struggling to see how people are trying to actually make things better, instead of just trying to win.

Karmic Inertia

I find that I really wish that there was a sort of Law of Karma like there is for Thermodynamics. Just imagine what the world would be like if the harm you wished upon others was visited on you at the same time.

You want someone else to suffer? Easy! The only cost is that you get to suffer in the same way, proportionately.

(The proportionate bit is important: otherwise you might wish that someone else would lose a thousand dollars, which might mean them losing their house, while you have a cool $5k in the bank; you can tolerate the loss but they can’t! But if it’s proportionate, that means you’d suffer in equal measure to them: if they had $800 and you caused them to lose $1k, well, you’d be losing more than your $5k as well.)

Want someone else to get cancer and die? Well, you’re a LITTLE better off than them, now, because at least you have foreknowledge and can line up your burial ahead of time.

OR….. maybe you’d sit back and think “Do I really want someone else to suffer? Is it worth it, for real?” — my guess is that the answer would usually be a resounding “no.” At the very least, the ill-wishes you had for others would be more “annoying” than severe – you’d say things like “I hope their coffee’s too cold” instead of “I wish they were dead.”

It’s a pity this karmic dynamic isn’t a real thing. Instead, when you wish ill on someone else, well, you become an ickier, gross person… and that’s it, and the scum that lines your soul is easy to hide.

Bye, Trump!

(This is a repost from Facebook – why did I post it there instead of here? I do not know. But it belongs here, so here it is. It’s also a faintly ironic read, considering that after I posted it, Trump has continued to protest his electoral loss.)

Bye, Trump!

It is with an almost palpable joy that I read that President Trump started the transition to Joe Biden.

I think in many ways my fear was that he’d declare himself the winner by fiat, even now, despite not really thinking he’d go that far.

I guess that’s why I’m glad to see him gone, even though I cannot really admire his replacement or Joe Biden: I don’t trust Donald Trump. He’s not been as tragic a President as many have painted him – there’ve been good things for many people, and that’s how it usually goes for every President – but with Trump there’s always been a lurking fear that the lizard-person hiding within the bloated shell would emerge and show us the values he’s always told us he had.

A transition means the Trump term in office is finally at a close. Finally.

Now the hope is that his age and experience in office overwhelm his pride somehow – and he goes away, politically, to fade into memory. My greatest fear is that Trump will return in 2024, or inspire politicians of any persuasion by his methods.

That last isn’t really a fear; it’s an existential dread. And worse than that: it’s not just politicians. You see evidence of Trump’s mindset in the rank and file of every party; read Facebook and you’ll see it on any post dealing with politics. What’s terrible and tragic is that the evidence of Trump’s mindset isn’t an indicator of political party; you see it just as much in “blue” as you do in “red.”

Hint, people: we’re not “blue” or “red.” We’re human. As soon as you decide you cannot associate with someone else because of their politics or skin color or what invisible being they believe in – or don’t – you’re saying “blue” or “red” is more important. It’s not. Maybe you just decided you can’t associate with me. C’est la vie. Good luck out there!

I imagine Biden will surprise me much as Trump has; I can imagine so many realistic scenarios for his term that most results would fall under the “I thought that might happen” heading, starting with “The House begins efforts to remove him from office in February 2021” to “He turns out to be the first successful isolationist President of the century.” (Let it be the last, please!)

I mostly hope that Biden is a weak President. Let Congress resume its actual power and responsibility, not as opposition to the Executive branch but as the representatives of the people; let Congress govern instead of restrain.

That’s been Congress’ great failure under Trump, actually, and where Trump was strongest. Trump drew clear lines. They were not good lines, but clear ones.

He even asked Congress straight up to fix those lines: when he said he’d refuse to extend DACA, he said rather clearly that he wanted Congress to make DACA into law. He said he’d sign it as soon as it hit his desk… and Congress punted, being consumed with its own version of “Orange Man Bad” and trying to get rid of someone whose primary function in office seemed to be to beg for Congress to limit that office and the damage it could do.

Way to go, Congress.

I will not miss Trump, I hope. I really hope we don’t look at a President Harris in early 2022 and think “hey, Trump’s version of zero tolerance was better.” (Trump’s “zero tolerance” crap … I … no.) I really hope we don’t see Trump mess with political weathervanes in the future; my desperate hope is that he retreats to his golf courses and limits his influence to mulligans on every rough. Let him start his own cable news network, if he likes, and let all four thousand viewers stew in his particular miasma if they like.

I am willing to let him have his own private island, just like I am willing to accept a Biden/Harris ticket to make him go away.

But please, let it end there: let Trump and the division he inspired and could not heal pass away. Let us unite behind an American President and stop yowling at each other over who we did, or didn’t, vote for. Let us see each other as members of the human tribe, despite our failures and flaws, and together we can actually grow.

Let us grow.

Ayn Rand and Rush

There’s been some discussion recently on Rush Fanatics – a Facebook group – about Ayn Rand, in part because of a reference to the “meek inheriting the earth.” The phrase comes from “The Fountainhead,” and is in the context of the book’s overarching villain – a man named Ellsworth Toohey – who uses the phrase as a populist lever.

Bear with me: I’m going to talk about Rand for a bit, then diverge into Rush, I promise.

Ayn Rand is a bit of a lightning rod for people, and it’s not difficult to understand why. She was an author trying to force her way into an elitist siloed industry (philosophy), whose very nature made it difficult to gain entry without conforming to a certain mode of thought.

The thing about philosophy, in a very poor summary, is that it often finds itself debating the nature of what is knowable. It can assert “A is A” – to quote Aristotle, in a phrase that will surely come up later in this very essay, but at the same time, it questions what the nature of “being A” is, and what the meaning of “is” might be.

Meanwhile, Rand – taking inspiration from Aristotle herself – suggested that not only was A the same as A (objects have identity, which she felt should be self-evident), but that things were definitely knowable.

To the community of philosophers, whose living was based on debating the nature of knowledge, an outsider – a screenwriter! – having the audacity to declare that things were definitely knowable and had identity was a bit of a threat. To say they rejected her would be to explore the meaning of understatement.

They were not necessarily wrong to do so, although it was counterproductive. They were correct to reject her as an ivory-tower philosopher because despite her use of the terminology of philosophy, she didn’t use the mechanics of philosophy; it’s as if she built a house using nuts and bolts, but didn’t use socket wrenches somehow. Add in that most of her statements were tautologies (as “A is A” itself is) and you find that Rand is an outsider for whom there’s little debate.

Exit the purpose of philosophy, if there is no debate.

But that’s not why people usually reject her. She’s often rejected because she’s seen as very much right-wing (a typical claim is that she’s a “fascist,” which means that the one making the claim has either no idea what Ms. Rand actually wrote, or no idea what a fascist is.)

Was she right-wing? Oh, probably. Right-wing philosophy relies on distinct striata of social classes; by comparison, left wing philosophy sees few social classes. There’s a lot of room in right wing philosophies for movement among classes; some (like fascists, since we’ve brought them up) see the classes as fixed and based on immutable characteristics (Is your skin dark? Are you female? Are you Jewish?), while others see the classes based on very mutable characteristics (How much money do you have?)

Rand was right-wing, because she saw a definite benefit to a meritocracy – thus, she was classist – but it’s important to note that her classism was based entirely on merit and production. The “upper” – or “good” – classes were those that produced. The “lower” – or “bad” – classes were those that did not produce.

Another important facet here is that she didn’t actually assign value to those classes. She didn’t see someone in the “lower” classes as less human than someone in the “upper” classes. She valued those in the “upper” classes more – there’s a tautology here, after all, in that the whole reason someone would be in the “upper” classes is because they produce more, therefore naturally they’re more valuable because of the value they create.

But that doesn’t mean that she saw the lower classes as fodder for some inhuman mill. They produced less, thus they were less pragmatically valuable than someone who produced more.

Rand’s a thorn for populists, because she was vastly opposed to populism. In order to produce, you have to be driven – internally – to produce. You can be whipped to produce, but the result historically is disappointing. Marx had a dream of reprogramming mankind so that they were driven by a need to supply rather than a need to survive, therefore subverting the drive for production for one’s own provision (in other words, he wanted to change mankind so they wanted to provide rather than consume).

It’s not a mission that has ever been accomplished; in any society with scarcity, the search for sufficiency for one’s own needs is of prime importance.

That makes sense, too: if one can’t survive personally, how can one provide for others? If one is the only person able to provide, and the provider perishes, then everyone else perishes as well – and you see this in safety manuals, too: in an airplane, you save yourself before you save others.

Rand more or less codified this, using language that’s rather shocking: “Be selfish! It’s good to have an ego!,” even titling one of her collections of essays as “The Virtue of Selfishness.”

In a world where so many are very left-leaning, and where so many are dependent on the good will of others, such a claim is effectively a declaration of war. “If everyone is driven by their own needs, what about ME? How will I survive?”

Let’s be really clear here: Rand wrote a number of novels that would be classified as rather poor science fiction. And she wrote as a screenwriter, too: she drew her characters very broadly; her villains wore black hats and slunk around, and twirled mustaches. Her heroes were blond-haired and blue-eyed (not really; Howard Roark was gangly and orange-haired) and strode mightily across this brave world they made.

Rand was trying to draw the lines easily. She didn’t want readers identifying positively with Ellsworth Toohey, so she made him small, sunken-chested. She wanted her heroes to be the heroes. She amplified every statement because she wanted her alignments to be utterly obvious and inescapable; anyone who says “Wait, is Toohey the hero?” needs to feel utterly stupid in asking the question.

Of course, people manage.

And so we come to Rush. I know I’ve been giving what is probably a really poor summary of Ayn Rand for nearly 1000 words now, but Rush actually summarized Ayn Rand better than anyone else has – including Rand herself – in “Anthem,” a song whose title was drawn from one of her fictional works.

“Live for yourself, there’s no-one else more worth living for;
Begging hands and bleeding hearts will only cry out for more.”

This was on their second album, one of the first songs they wrote with Neil Peart in the band.

I don’t mind people rejecting Rand, especially when one regards her personal life, which – like most personal lives – was a confusing morass of conflicting and poor choices. Especially viewed through today’s lenses, she seems archaic and rather offensive, insisting on classism and gender roles that modern society has redefined.

But I think it’s important to note that she was NOT many of the things her detractors claim, even in her own context and even in THEIRS, and that Rush found her guiding principles of valuing productive and artistic ability important through the entire lifecycle of the band, covering their entire body of work.

One can reject Rand, of course, just as one can reject Rush… but to utterly reject Rand is to invalidate your own ability to render judgement, which means your rejection has no merit. One simply has no choice but to admit the power of one’s own will in order to judge.

And that’s part of the power of Ayn Rand.

Rush from 2000 feet

I wrote an article a few years back entitled “How I See Rush’s Albums from 10000 Feet,” basically summarizing each studio album in the context of the entire discography.

That’s… pretty high level. I wanted to kinda of give myself more room to dive in to each album, to look at them all a little more closely in their own context.


This is an album where they were trying to fulfill their dreams of being the next Led Zeppelin. The “first Rush lineup” was made of John Rutsey on drums, Geddy Lee on bass, and Alex Lifeson on guitar. Sonically, it’s pretty spare; there’s a phaser on the guitar, Geddy doubles most of the vocals (really pretty impressive for such a young band), and the sound’s pretty beefy after Terry Brown fixed it.

The songs themselves are about what one would expect of such a new band. It’s all original, which is nice (many bands of the time did covers of other songs first.) Some of the songs were even fairly iconic; the obvious is “Working Man,” with “What You’re Doing” and “Finding My Way” being barn-burners themselves; “In the Mood” stayed with them for most (if not all) of the band’s career, too, but I find the song puerile even for 1974.

Other songs: “Here Again” is the band trying to be something it never would really accomplish again: a blues band. It’s a good song, but it fades immediately; it’s done well but it’s not really a song worth remembering. “Take A Friend” is similar to “Here Again,” and “Need Some Love” is a song that’s in the same vein  as “In The Mood” but, sadly, “In The Mood” is far better; “Before and After” is probably the fourth best song on the album, with a pretty workable change of pace between sections.

It’s a good initial effort for a new band. It’s got a lot of what would be rightfully considered as filler material over the band’s career; if you reduced it to a four-song EP you wouldn’t miss much (i..e, “Finding My Way,” “What You’re Doing,” “Before and After,” and “Working Man”), although then we’d be left with a three-and-a-half minute block of silence where the band used to play “In the Mood.”

The drums are workable; Rutsey was a bricklayer drummer, playing mostly caveman riffs and holding down the beat serviceably. 

Geddy Lee played with a decent amount of chutzpah on what sounds like a Fender Precision; I get the sense that locking into the rhythm on drums held him back a little in terms of what he might have done otherwise. Geddy’s vocals are workable and provide a distinct high tenor that isn’t always necessarily pleasant but sits in the mix pretty well; he’s not competing with the guitars or drums.

The real star of the album is Alex Lifeson; it’s not that Geddy didn’t play well, but the music was really designed to give Lifeson the chance to solo a lot, over songs with a lot of different feels. He shows a pretty decent mastery of rock guitar, with a lot of blues influence.

It’s a fun album to listen to, overall. Is it a good album? Hmm, well, in context it sure is. In the grand scheme of things it’s an okay album, probably rounding out the bottom quarter of the Rush catalog. Without the context of being their first album, it’d live with “Test for Echo” and sneer at “Feedback.”

Fly By Night

This is what’s probably rightfully considered the first album from “The Real Rush:” Neil Peart on drums, Geddy on bass and vocals, and Alex on guitars. 

Peart gave the band a lot of energy, being about the farthest thing you could think of from a “bricklayer drummer;” if you imagined Keith Moon given a lot of discipline and introspection, well, you’d… have Peart. 

Was there a way in which Fly By Night wasn’t a positive change from “Rush?” I… don’t think so, unless you valued having a shorter album name. The lyrics improved dramatically – from “Need some love! Yeah! Yeah!,” to “We marvel after those who sought/Wonders in the world they wrought.”

I suppose “Rivendell” might be considered a flaw, outside of the album’s context; more than anything else, it was evidence of a band that felt free to start experimenting with different forms. In “Rivendell” that wasn’t much of a success; it’s five minutes of blah on the album. In “By-Tor…” Wait, let’s look at the tracks.

First off, this is a stellar track list. Maybe not every song is a “hit” per se – and history shows this to be the case – but overall the entire album is fantastic. The outliers would be “Best I Can” – which had some flow issues, to my ears – “Making Memories,” and “Rivendell,” which was so down-tempo that it never really got started.

But of the rest? “Anthem” is the song that created Rush as we know it now; “Beneath, Between, and Behind” is a song with astounding political ramifications that still apply today as they did then, perhaps in greater measure; “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” was the first song that really showed off Rush having the chops to create true dynamics in a long-form song; “Fly By Night” is a concise and legitimate hit; “In The End” is another song with what we’d consider true light and shade in the Zeppelin vein, and it really shows a ton of potential. (Live, this song absolutely cooks.)

“Making Memories” is a good song, but doesn’t really stand out apart from a really nice vibe. It stands well with “Best I Can,” and is certainly better  than “Rivendell,” but being “Better than Rivendell” is a claim pretty much every song in Rush’s catalog can make, even “Need Some Love” and “Tai Shan,” even though Tai Shan tries to compete for “Worst Rush Song.”

The performances… well, Peart’s no Rutsey, that’s for sure. Peart brought a level of dexterity to the drums that Rutsey didn’t even seem to have tried. The mix is a little weak on the drums; thank the technology of the day, but at least they’re detailed. (This was pretty common; Moon’s drums weren’t recorded hot in the mix either, for example.) The actual playing of the drums? Stellar, especially for the band’s age. It’s a bigger kit than Rutsey played (I think Rutsey was on a five-piece and Peart was on a seven-piece kit, based on the Fly By Night video) and it shows – especially because Peart knew how to use the kit well.

Geddy had switched to a Rickenbacker 4001, which gave him a much better projection on bass. This is where listeners used to the first album would have said, “Oh, my – Lee really can play all those bits he more or less implied.” On “Rush” he sounded like a guitarist who was asked to play bass well; on “Fly By Night” he sounded like a bass player who had a clear idea of what he was about as a melodic player.

His vocals also improved; they’re still awfully high, pitch-wise, and still duck the other instruments quite well, while being potentially unpleasant for some listeners; however, his delivery was far less screechy, and had a lot more confidence than braggadocio.

Lifeson was asked to carry a lot less of this album than on “Rush.” The result was that he was able to fit in the mix and song construction much more capably; he feels relaxed and comfortable here, challenging himself musically and showing off different aspects of his style than he was able to on “Rush.”

I loved the guitar playing on Fly By Night. In fact, I think it’s a stellar album all around.  Ranking it is really difficult, because in a few short years, Rush would release a set of albums that can be considered absolute classics; in fact, with the exception of “Caress of Steel,” there really wasn’t anything less than a stellar offering for seven or eight albums (depending on taste). This album could be considered the first of the “golden era,” and if not for “Caress of Steel” would undoubtedly be considered in that set.

But compared to the “golden era” – the albums from 2112 to Signals, in my opinion – “Fly By Night” is an also-ran; in my opinion, every album in that group exceeds this one. In retrospect, that’s simply amazing.

Caress of Steel

Ah, poor Caress of Steel.

With Fly By Night, the band saw a direction it could go, and with Caress of Steel, they… tried to go there, and weren’t quite ready. It’s an odd mix of the goofiness of “Rush” and the approach of “Fly By Night,” and while it’s a good listen – being considered a favorite for a lot of Rush fans – it’s simply the red-headed stepchild of the band’s discography, fitting in well with “Rush,” “Test for Echo,” and “Feedback.”

Songwise, it’s actually a lot weaker than its constituent parts!  “Bastille Day” was a strong opener for the album and for the band, live; “Lakeside Park” has a sort of maudlin appeal that worked out pretty well live as well; “The Necromancer” evoked the feel of a suite while rounding out the story of By-Tor from “Fly By Night.”

And then there’s “The Fountain of Lamneth,” which tried to tell the story of life – or, well, a story of life – in a full side-long epic. 

All of those are worthy songs, and then they added “I Think I’m Going Bald,” a rather silly song poking holes into the “Rush is too serious!” meme. It and Lakeside Park are the weakest songs on the album, but people would miss Lakeside Park, while many would pretend “Bald” was never recorded.

(Not me: I actually think the song’s kinda funny.)

Songwise… like I said, I think it’s an album that ends up being less than the sum of its parts. It doesn’t have a song that really unifies the effort, unless it’s “Bastille Day,” but that song isn’t strong enough to bring the album together; it’s like Led Zeppelin III, in that “The Immigrant Song” sets up an album that … never really gets delivered.

Playing-wise, you could probably copy the notes from Fly By Night across to Caress of Steel; everything’s played well, the mix is good, the production is good… it’s just that the song selection never really turns into a concrete whole for some reason.


This album kicks off what a lot of Rush fans consider to be the “golden era,” a string of five (or six, or seven) fantastic albums, each one greater than the one previous.

2112 was the result of the label giving Rush one more chance after the relative failure of “Caress of Steel.” “Give us a pop album, lads,” was the call, and Rush said, figuratively, “right away, sir, we’re on it” while doing nothing like that at all. They saw the album as going out on their own terms, and created something that had the excesses of Caress of Steel with none of the half-hearted design.

And they never looked back. 

And what an album it is! Another side-long concept, of an individual in a world without music discovering a guitar – and being defeated by rejection; side two was eclectic and bizarre. It was a watermark album, one where listeners could actually sense what Rush’ values were, both musically and intellectually.

Is there a weak song?  Good question! If there was, it’d be “Lessons,” a song that didn’t really ever actually conclude itself very well. But everything else was stellar.

The title track – “2112” – was twenty minutes of fury. “A Passage to Bangkok” documented a figurative trial of some of the most famous marijuana in the world; “Twilight Zone” explored weirdness; “Something for Nothing” was a paean to earning your way; “Tears” was a downtempo song referencing the power of emotion.

Musically, it was a tour de force; it’s a little dated by modern standards (the drums are still a little “in the mix” even though Peart was playing with more confidence than ever – meaning that he was challenging giants like Bonham and Moon and Baker for ascendancy); the guitars were also a little tinny (i.e., the album lacks some midrange punch that more modern sensibilities would have desired).

So what? The bass was stronger than on Caress of Steel, and the playing… oh, the musicianship was off the charts.

The band also started integrating synthesizers; first was an ARP Odyssey (for the opening of 2112), a taped effect for the future, but you also had what sounds like a Solina on “Tears” (for strings and flute – or maybe a Mellotron? Or real flutes? A recorder? Wikipedia says a Mellotron.)

Hmm, what to say about the musicianship? There’s not much to say, I think; every member of the band was on point for every song (even “Lessons”) and this is one of those albums that’s so distinctive that I can’t really imagine changing much about it without essentially subverting its character.

It’s a worthy start to the “golden era,” and many rightfully consider this, or Moving Pictures, to be Rush’s best album. (I think you could make the same argument for any album from 2112 to Moving Pictures, but I think Moving Pictures and 2112 are the obvious candidates for most people.)

A Farewell To Kings

(Fair warning: there’s a lot of “squee!!!!” involved for the next few albums. I’m going to try to be honest, but… being honest, there’s a lot of “squeee!!!” involved.)

Rush’s fifth album was the first where they actually were granted creative freedom. (They exercised it with 2112, but that was against the label’s wishes.) Here, though, they’d demonstrated their ability to be marketable, now with three albums that had performed well: Fly By Night, 2112, and “All The World’s A Stage,” the live album they recorded during the tour for 2112.

They used their freedom by embracing the progressive music mindset. More of everything was involved: more synthesizers (Moogs this time, in pedal form and in keyboards: the Taurus and the Model D, everyone!), more guitars, more necks on the guitars, more drums, more everything except, well, songs.

The songs made up for the quantity with quality.

The album only had six songs… but what songs! “A Farewell to Kings,” the title track, opens up with a classical guitar (hello, prog!) and a beautiful trill on the Model D, followed up by a pretty self-aware social commentary that could hearken back to “Beneath, Between, and Behind” with faithfulness. Then we have “Xanadu,” a tour de force that many consider a candidate for Rush’s best song; “Closer to the Heart” is next, one of Rush’s early popular hits and a beautiful sentiment itself; “Cinderella Man” was much like “Closer to the Heart” in ballad form. After that, we have “Madrigal,” another representation of a particular socio-political mindset reflected in personal relationships… and rounding out the album we have “Cygnus X-1.”

Personally, I find “Cinderella Man” to be the weakest song on the album, partially because it’s so straightforward and partially because it echoes themes the rest of the album expresses in better form. That’s not to say it’s a weak song – if it had been on Caress of Steel it would have been the strongest song on the album. But here it struggles by comparison to the rest of the release.

This album sped up Xanadu slightly to allow for limited run length on vinyl; it also altered the nature of the song ever so slightly (as such tricks do). It’s an incredibly heavy song, but in its natural speed (as seen live) it’s actually even stronger

Closer to the Heart was probably the best synthesis of the new instrumentation on the album, though, and was incredibly appealing not only because of its sentiment but it’s construction; every verse of the song adds something new. It’s a “pop song” for Rush, but it’s the kind of pop song that even the most hoary prog rockers would be able to enjoy.

Cygnus X-1, though, was probably the most important song on the album, because it was the song that actually changed how the band sounded. For the rest of “A Farewell to Kings” you have a pretty gradual change from “2112”; sure, there are more instruments and they’re played with more confidence and creativity, but you could intersperse most of the songs and they’d sound like they were on a continuum.

But Cygnus X-1 … didn’t fit on the continuum at all. Geddy changed his amplification of the Rickenbacker 4001, as the most noticeable change, and the result was an incredibly muscular, distinctive bass sound. The effects of that sound ripple through the rest of the song, giving it a tone that allows it to stand sonically with any song from the next four albums, a claim that the other songs on “A Farewell to Kings” cannot make.


“A Farewell To Kings” was a progressive rock album… but if it was put in a boxing ring for a progressive prize fight, “Hemispheres” would beat it to a pulp and leave it for dead. Hemispheres is Rush at their most progressive for an entire album; they never went for twee progressive like Yes did, but they were still all in.

It’s an incredible album. It only has four songs; three are freaking classics in the catalog, and the fourth is a… freaking classic.

Author’s note: this is the album that got me into Rush, although I didn’t know it was Rush at the time; a station in Leesburg played “The Trees” and I managed to have a cassette recording of it. I didn’t know the band. Didn’t know the name of the song, knew nothing of them at all, but it was an amazing song with an amazing sound and an incredible breadth of instrumentation, and I loved it.

So: the songs themselves. 

Hemispheres is Book II of Cygnus X-1, a rendering of Nietzche’s “The Birth of Tragedy”  in ballad form, telling the story of a god of balance being formed as he observes the war between Logic and Emotion (the “hemispheres.”) It’s a complex, constantly warping, always amazing bit of music.

“Circumstances” is a song referencing Peart’s time in London, reflecting on the passage of time and how – in Rastafarian terms – “time be time.” It’s got the first “lead section” Rush performed on synthesizer; prior art had been flourishes or harmonies.

“The Trees” is a rendering of a cartoon (according to Peart), with maples protesting the immutable characteristics of oaks. It has the second “lead section” on synths from Rush; I don’t know if this, or Circumstances, was written first.

Lastly, the album closes with “La Villa Strangiato,” Rush’s first instrumental. (They had instrumental sections of suites: “Overture” and “Grand Finale” from 2112, for example, and it’s arguable that “Didacts and Narpets,” a section from “The Fountain of Lamneth” was instrumental as well, but it wasn’t. It has actual lyrics.)

This album continues the sonic development from “A Farewell to Kings,” although the bass had some odd compression characteristics; it ends up being a bit “thumpy”, when compared to prior works. That said, the album’s incredibly clear on every instrument, and it’s played with an incredible amount of skill.

Vocally, this was the highest Geddy would ever stay – the band wrote the album without singing it in its final key, and by the time they realized it was awfully high it was too late to go back and change it. As a result, his pitch was a little… wobbly at times, but it’s not really a point of criticism worth making; the album sounds fantastic, and any minor pitch issues would be obscured by other elements. The biggest impact here is that Hemispheres was a slog to sing in concert, so we wouldn’t get a lot of it played live for long.

Hemispheres really is an amazing example of progressive rock, with an emphasis on the “rock” as opposed to a band like Yes, which emphasized “progressive.” It’s got the same hallmarks: amazing breadth of instrumentation, high concept lyrics, shifting time signatures and morphing keys, but as far as what people think of when they consider “progressive rock” it’s not only very heavy – with lots of distorted guitars used liberally and appropriately – but also accessible.

It was also apparently an incredibly difficult album to make, not just because of the complexity of making such music with only three members, but because of the actual circumstances of making the album, which was impacted by issues in the studio desk. Rush decided that Hemispheres was not indicative of a trend.

It was time for a change.

Permanent Waves

Hemispheres suffered from an attack of “more.” More guitars, more music, more length; it had a “short song” (“Circumstances”) but honestly everything on it was … a lot.

Influenced by the difficulty of recording (and performing) Hemispheres, and by New Wave in general, Rush decided to take a more song-oriented approach to the next album, along with focusing on shorter songs in general, without losing whatever it was that made them Rush.

The result was “Permanent Waves.” Like “Hemispheres” before it – and like “A Farewell to Kings” before “Hemispheres,” and like “2112” before “A Farewell to Kings,” it exceeded the previous album, although tastes obviously factor in.

Permanent Waves was not an album with short songs, but the songs were still accessibly shorter… and what songs! It’s a murderer’s row for the catalog, including songs that are easily candidates for Rush’s signature recordings.

The song list: “The Spirit of Radio,” “Freewill,” “Jacob’s Ladder,” “Entre Nous,” “Different Strings,” and “Natural Science.”

“A Spirit of Radio” included aspects of everything Rush had ever done, along with adding sections for sequenced synthesizers (during the chorus) and reggae, during the bridge.  It was about the influence of free music, as a poor summary.

“Freewill,” about refusing to accept the dictates of religion (while not judging others for accepting religion), was one of the two “progressive rockers” on the album, with a frenetic lead solo section that has to be listened to to be believed.

“Jacob’s Ladder” was about the inspiration of natural phenomena (a “Jacob’s Ladder” is sunlight shining through clouds). It’s the other “progressive” song, and has its own freeform elements.

“Entre Nous” and “Different Strings” are both “easier listens,” being about relationships; they demonstrate a comfort with the instruments that we really hadn’t seen from Rush up to this point, except perhaps in “Madrigal.” For most of the catalog, Rush seemed to feel like they had to live up to their reputation as stunning musicians; most of the music feels “up” because of it. With these songs, the band takes deeper breaths and lets the music relax. They’re well-written and well-performed; Peart plays “Different Strings” ‘straight’ and the song benefits from it.

“Natural Science” is the longest song on the album (at over nine minutes, with “Jacob’s Ladder” coming in at seven and a half), and is an expression of a synthesis of science and the humanities. Lyrically, it stands among Peart’s best work, with the third section (“Permanent Waves”) having some of the most beautiful and relevant lyrics in Rush’s entire catalog.

(Author’s note: quick, guess which track stands as the author’s overall favorite Rush song. Hint: It’s “Natural Science,” and your first two guesses don’t count.)

Musically, the album is really pretty dry overall, demonstrating a heavy influence by the Police’s production; the reggae influences, along with other minimalist elements, shine through as well. As a result, Permanent Waves is probably the hardest possible rocking version of the Police, to everyone’s benefit.

Geddy’s singing in a lower register, which made the album probably more appealing to a mass audience (and made it easier to perform live as well, I would imagine, apart from the absolutely brutal performances on guitars and drums).

Permanent Waves was Rush’ best release… but there was better on the horizon.

Moving Pictures

Moving Pictures is an industry tentpole. If there is a “perfect Rush album,” this would have to be the one, a syncresis of the band’s every aspect into a fantastic blend of lyrical proficiency, technical dexterity, purpose, production, songwriting… all of it.

Geddy switched to alternating between his Rickenbacker 4001 and his 1972 Jazz for the album, playing the Jazz on Tom Sawyer, Limelight, Witch Hunt, and Vital Signs, and the 4001 on Red Barchetta and The Camera Eye – although there’s some debate (even from Geddy) on which bass was used where; it really doesn’t matter, because his bass tone here is absolute boss.

Alex’ guitars – heavily overlaid – sound fantastically rich as well, and the album has some of his most elegant legato playing on it. He was heavily influenced by Allan Holdsworth, and it shows; his tone’s heavily compressed and it is absolutely ravishing to listen to, combined with some of the most precise playing in his career.

Neil’s Tama kit was also surprisingly on point; he played less of the kit than he did on, say, Hemispheres, but it sounds amazingly direct, very present. It’s like they took the kit sound from Permanent Waves and added just enough ambient reverb to make the drums come slightly more alive.

The synths here are the Oberheim OB-X (maybe an OB-8? I’m not sure) and a series of Moogs (Taurus and the Model D, probably). They’re actually not used that much, although a list of the synth sounds looks pretty long on paper… but where they are used, they’re iconic. The “growl” that opens Tom Sawyer, the sequence that defines Vital Signs, the sample and hold used in The Camera Eye, the pads in Limelight, YYZ, Red Barchetta… and the evil-sounding intro for Witch Hunt. The synths are pervasive, but not dominant.

The album itself uses a dominant theme of pathos. Everything is a source for reaction – Tom Sawyer’s independence, the glory of a morning ride, the thrill of returning home, the isolation of being a “star,” the wonder of some of mankind’s greatest cities, fear… theme-wise, Vital Signs is probably the most important song on the album.

Moving Pictures’ impact on Rush is difficult to overstate. Individual taste determines what one might think is the “best Rush album” – so “your favorite” might change from day to day, hour to hour. With that said, it’d be difficult to imagine that the “average Rush listener” wouldn’t have Moving Pictures at or near the top of every list; it would have to be in every discussion of “best Rush album.” It’s also the album of which the “average music listener” would be most aware.

It also freed the band from financial obligations. Up until Moving Pictures, the band owed advance money to the label, but Moving Pictures moved them (well, the band as a whole) into the black; they already had creative freedom (from the success of 2112) but now they had financial freedom as well.

They followed “Moving Pictures” with “Exit…Stage Left,” their second live album. Exit… Stage Left was heavily edited and selected “best of” performances from the Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures tours, but represents the band at the height of its youth and power.


Signals is an interesting album, catalog-wise. It feels like an album produced largely by a sense of “now what?” after Moving Pictures; when you’ve climbed the mountain, what do you do next? Some bands, like the Police, shatter after creating “Synchronicity”; others, like Pink Floyd, turn inside after “Dark Side of the Moon” (and then shatter under the weight of “The Wall”); some, like AC/DC, calcify after “Back in Black” and basically create albums under the same formula for the rest of their careers.

Rush didn’t want to follow any of these paths, unless it was the Pink Floyd model of “let’s find a new mountain to conquer.” The result was an album that tore down most of the values behind the production of Moving PIctures, retaining many – but not all – of the tools, and amplifying aspects of the songwriting process while diminishing others.

The result is a strange and fantastic album that ends up leaving room for improvement. That’s difficult to write, because it’s one of Your Humble Author’s favorite albums – and it’s the first album I got where I knew it was Rush and completely bought in. (Again in Leesburg: the radio station played “Analog Kid” and gave the name of the band and the song title. My response: “Er! Ma! Gerd! I LOVE THIS BAND! MUST ACQUIRE ALL OF IT.” When I found out this was indeed the band that had done “The Trees,” I was done for. I was all in. I’m still all in, close to forty years later.)

So: the album. Songwise, it’s … variable, the first album we’ve been able to say that about since Caress of Steel, really, with many really powerful songs and a few songs about which opinions vary. “Subdivisions” is a classic; “Analog Kid,” “Digital Man,” “The Weapon,” “Losing It” are all equals to Subdivisions (with “New World Man” being the band’s peak single!), and then you have “Chemistry” – the last song whose lyrics were written by the whole band – and “Countdown.”

“Countdown” is a ballad about the launch of the first Space Shuttle. It’s interesting in that it has no guitar solo to go with the synthesizer solo sections.

And that’s … a characteristic of the whole album. It’s drenched in synthesizers, with a few exceptions: Analog Kid and New World Man use the synths the way that the Moving Pictures album did, as backing instruments for the guitars. For every other song, the synths are very much forward in the songwriting process.

And they dominate the mix, too: one of the features of subtractive synths like the Oberheims and Moogs of the time is that they had very very broad frequency spectrums… a really big sound for the mixing board. As a result, the whole album tended to try to fit the guitars and drums around the synths; the drums ended up being muddy, the guitars fairly thin. The bass guitar escaped, because Geddy was playing either the bass or the synths, so the bass rarely had to compete with the synthesizers.

(A personal anecdote: I always saw myself as a guitarist and a drummer, and keyboards were always sort of what I wanted to have someone else play… until I listened to “The Weapon,” which stunned me. After that, I started getting into synthesizers, a fascination I carry with me to this day.)

Speaking of bass tone: Geddy’s bass tone on Signals is drool-worthy. Compressed to the dickens and back, with a beautiful distortion, the bass here is simply to die for.

But for every other instrument? Eh. The synths sound lush and warm, and that’s good – maybe even great – but the guitars and drums ended up suffering badly by comparison. The performances are wonderful, but much like Caress of Steel, the album ends up feeling slightly less than the sum of its parts. Those parts are so strong that Signals still feels like it’s part of the “Golden Era” of Rush, starting with 2112, but it’s also the misstep that closed the era.

It also represented the end of Terry Brown’s association with the band; Brown had stepped in to rescue their first album (the original producer apparently did jingles, normally, and the album was poorly produced as a result). But Brown objected (heavily, apparently) to “Digital Man,” and the band and he decided to represent their own creative visions separately after “Signals.”

In Your Humble Author’s opinion, Rush would struggle with the results of that decision for years, continually chasing producers who could help realize their vision. They would pair with producers who were quite accomplished, but until they finally matched up with Nick Rasculinecz, they’d never have an external producer who really seemed like they “got” the band and wanted to amplify what Rush could be.

Grace Under Pressure

This was a troubled production, as Rush had a producer back out due to overcommitment. That, plus the politics of the time, make this a really dark album, and Rush was also trying to redefine its sound to recover from Signals’ own difficult production.

This would be a trend, with varying results, for years to come.

Grace Under Pressure – P/G or GUP from here on out – was a giant change in nearly all ways from Moving Pictures, while being a logical progression from Signals in nearly every way.

So: the songs. It’s got a really strong track list, heavy with themes of isolation and oppression and loss: “Distant Early Warning” (about an impending nuclear holocaust), Afterimage (referring to the death of an associate of the band, Robbie Whelan), “Red Sector A” (about the Holocaust in the 1930s and 1940s) , “The Enemy Within” (part I of the “Fear” trilogy, rounding out “Witch Hunt” and “The Weapon” from the prior two albums, and yes, the parts were written and released in reverse order), “The Body Electric” (an android discovers it has a unique identity), “Kid Gloves” (about interpersonal relationships), “Red Lenses” (an odd song about media), and “Between the Wheels,” about the grind of ordinary life among all this terrifying technology.

Some of the songs are fairly ordinary. Unfortunately, they’re most of side 2 of the original vinyl release. The songs are done well – and “Kid Gloves” has an absolutely burning guitar solo – but “The Body Electric,” “Kid Gloves,” and “Red Lenses” all sound like they’re part of the album without really adding a ton to it besides that they’re there. 

That sounds more critical than it’s intended to be. They’re good songs! They’re done well! It’s just that if you took them out, you wouldn’t be left thinking there was a “Red Lenses”-shaped hole in the album; you’d just go on without having heard the song.

That can’t be said of the other songs; the rest of the songs have a lot of passion and impact that actually have a more transformative potential for listeners, much like every song on every album from 2112 on (apart from “Chemistry” and “Countdown”).  It’s because of this new trend that P/G starts the “down period” after the “golden era,” even while still being a stellar album as a whole.

Speaking of: if Signals and Caress of Steel were less than the sum of their parts, P/G fixed that. It’s a lot easier to criticize nearly every aspect of the album (like the songs, as above), but at the same time… it actually hangs together really well despite all of the potential issues with it. For example:

Geddy Lee switched to a Steinberger bass for the album, probably a Spirit. It was very tech-forward for the time (a trend he’d also follow for the synthesizers), but in Geddy’s hands, it’s … missing a lot of mid-range punch. On a good set of speakers, the bass sounds great, especially at volume… but on a regular sound system? It’s weak and emphasizes top end.

Geddy also switched to a more traditional bass role. On the prior nine albums – well, if we’re being really gracious to the first album – Geddy played bass very melodically, with a lot of riffs individualized for each section of the song. To play Rush on bass meant learning the structure of the song – verse, chorus, bridge – and then figuring out how Geddy played each verse individually (“first verse, he does X, Y, and Z, second verse, he does A, B, and C…” .. for every section.) On GUP he retained the structural complexity – I played Distant Early Warning incorrectly for years – but the parts themselves simplified. If you learned the structure properly, you could play that structure repeatedly and play the song correctly.

The drums sound better here than on Signals, but there’s a weird saturation that makes them all sound faintly electronic. (Peart started playing a legitimate electronic kit at this point, too; the criticism isn’t the equipment, it’s the mixing of both the acoustic kit and the electronic kit.) The drums don’t penetrate the mix like they did on Moving Pictures; that’s partially because the other instruments are different, but the end result is that comparing the drums on (say) Moving Pictures to P/G… ends up with P/G being a distant also-ran, although the playing itself is excellent.

Geddy also switched synthesizers, away from typical subtractive synths like the Moogs and Oberheims, to more tech-forward synths of the day, like the Waldorff PPG, a wavetable synth. Wavetables create different sonic profiles than subtractive synths; subtractives tend to emphasize a lot of low-end lush tones (at least, in Geddy’s hands!) and the wavetable synths tend to create more chime tones, with a lot more harmonic complexity. The complexity sort of works, but sort of doesn’t.

The guitars showed up again, but like the drums, there’s a saturated top edge to them that reduces their clarity. Because of the synthesizers’ tonal complexity, the guitars ended up working around the space the synths took up, just like the drums (and just like the bass). They’re a lot more audible than they were on Signals, and the playing is as good as could be asked for, though. This album also marks where Lifeson more or less abandoned the Gibsons he’d been using and switched to a single-coil, bright sound that could more easily cut through the mix.

Lee’s singing actually progressed here. He’d been getting a little lower and lower in pitch from album to album, but here his delivery was actually really strong and controlled. It meant he abandoned his deep vibrato a bit (itself a crutch to make up for a lack of “professional technique,” although Your Humble Author found it appealing) and it also tended to preserve his voice. As a vocalist, he more or less “grew up” here, with that being a positive (in that his delivery was more constant and predictable) and a negative (getting rid of the worst aspects of his vocal performance also meant getting rid of some of the best aspects of his vocal performance.)

Of the songs: for such a “down album,” the songs sure are good. 

So is P/G a great album? It’s really hard to say, honestly. My personal opinion is that it’s the beginning of the third chapter of Rush, with 2112 being the beginning of the second; P/G is a competitor to “the golden age” while not being part of it.

That isn’t to say that it, or the albums that followed it, aren’t worthy; they are! In fact, a lot of people suggest that the period following P/G was Rush’s best. There’s nothing wrong with that, and this period may be Rush’s best – it depends entirely on taste. The key takeaway, in my opinion, is that P/G represents a new chapter in the band’s development, one that would last for seven albums (through “Test for Echo”) – and include more songs that were “okay for Rush” than any other chapter in Rush’s history.

Power Windows

This album was dominated by technology even more than Grace Under Pressure was. It’s a lot brighter, a lot more technology-forward, and while it has some fantastic songs on it, it’s also an “ordinary Rush album,” a trend that Rush would hold for this and the next five albums. Each would progress the process of making music in various ways, each album would have its own unique zeitgeist, each one would end and you’d be waiting for the next one.

That’s not to say there aren’t fantastic songs on each one, or that a given album wasn’t a good album – for most musicians, having their best album be the equivalent of the worst album from Rush (“Test for Echo,” because “Feedback” doesn’t count and does not exist) would be a crowning achievement.

Let’s see: songwise, there’s a lot to love here, but the dominance of technology makes them impressive more than intriguing. The technology puts the band on equal footing with every other band relying on the same technology (which means: most other bands!) and thus an essential something was lost; you still had a world-class rhythm section and a guitarist who knew how to contribute to every song, because Rush was still Rush, but the environment around the music changed and it all feels slightly plastic while still retaining an essential heartbeat. There’s a lot of reliance on sequencers and samples, so anyone with a Fairlight could do what Rush did; since they were working around what the synthesizers could do there was a lot of “normal”-sounding drums and guitars to go with the sequencers. It creates a sameness one doesn’t really expect from Rush, and this dominates Power Windows and Hold Your Fire.

The song construction, musically, tended to emphasize transitions: for this kind of section, Geddy would play bass and the drums would focus on this tempo; for this other kind of section, Geddy would use the synthesizers and the drums would go to half-time (or full time, depending.) Meanwhile, Alex would play these giant chordal stabs so that he wasn’t trying to compete with how busy the sequencers were.

To the songs themselves! There’re some real gems here, especially lyrically, even if the songs themselves don’t always stand out. Highlights include “The Big Money,” “Middletown Dreams,” “Marathon,” and “Mystic Rhythms,” all of which represent a really good synthesis of music and lyrics; after that, well, the lyrics are fantastic and the playing of the instruments is great, but the songs really don’t stand out all that much.

Geddy switched away from the Steinberger to a Wal bass, which was … probably a lateral move. Wals are really nice basses, but for some reason Geddy never really could really get it to give him a ton of “meat” – it was a lot of the same problem the Steinberger had given him. He sure played it like a beast, though.

What other instrumental changes occurred? Well, Peart’s kit changed some, Alex’s rig changed too, but… realistically, from a technology standpoint the band morphed but didn’t really evolve.

Is Power Windows a good album, then? Heck, yes. Of course it is. And it’s got a unique organic feel; the album most similar to it in the catalog is “Hold Your Fire,” which feels sterile by comparison. It’s just yet another good example of “middle period” Rush.

Hold Your Fire

If Power Windows was dominated by technology, Hold Your Fire was … worse by comparison. Hold Your Fire basically took every attribute of Power Windows and amplified it somewhat; if you liked how many sequencers and synths went into Power Windows, then Hold Your Fire was fantastic… unless you also thought that maybe you were uncomfortable with how many synths went into Power Windows and maybe the band should shy away a little.

The biggest changes were in the quality of recording. Hold Your Fire (HYF from here on out) sounds amazingly pristine, although it has a very dated snare sound that stands out as probably the worst snare sound Peart’s ever used. (At the time, it was the snare du jour; now it’s…  if it’s your thing, that’s awesome. Otherwise it kind of sucks.)

The songs themselves are surprisingly strong: this is another one of those albums where the whole was less than the sum of its parts, even if you don’t count “Tai Shan.” Lyrically, it has a lot of strong songs with some decent songs thrown in for spice to help you appreciate what a good lyricist Peart really was. The great songs, lyrically: “Time Stand Still,” “Open Secrets,” “Second Nature,” “Prime Mover,” “Lock and Key,” Mission,” “Turn the Page;” the outliers, lyrically, were “Force Ten,” “Tai Shan,” and “High Water.”

Musically it felt like a really good pop album recorded by the members of Rush. It had songs that would be really awesome to listen to if they were put on other albums, but together … they really didn’t lend themselves to a cohesive whole. Musically, the standouts were “Force Ten,” “Second Nature,” “Prime Mover,” “Lock and Key,” “Mission,” and “Turn the Page;” the other songs were played really well but to me they’re kinda… eh.

And that’s sort of the whole album; if I listen to a single song on the album I’m left thinking “Wow! That was fantastic!” but put songs together and it’s very hit or miss, and if you play Tai Shan it’s … definitely a “miss.” This unfortunate song would be really pretty given any other band performing it, but from Rush it’s very much a sense of “They weren’t satisfied with Rivendell being their worst song, so they gave us this, too.”

I really wish I had more to say about Hold Your Fire. I want to love this album so much, but I don’t, because for the most part it drowns in its own technology. It’s a beautiful album to listen to if you’re being really selective, it’s just… not that great of a Rush album.

HYF was followed by another live album, “A Show of Hands,” and it’s performed brilliantly – but my first impressions on seeing and hearing it were mostly that the band didn’t seem to be having much fun playing the newer material, especially as it got closer to HYF’s material. It’s only my impression, but the sense I get was that it was a slog to play, and was more like a choreographed dance than playing in a rock band – and having recorded some of the songs myself, that’s certainly the impression I get running through the songs. The “no more synthesizers” meme you find on various Rush forums relates mostly to this period, and it’s not hard to understand.


Presto was a reaction to HYF’s excesses, in a lot of ways. Rush had become almost mechanized, over-reliant on technology, and Presto felt like a return to Rush’s power trio roots… mostly. There was a lot of momentum to the band; they had to play the songs from the “synth era,” which meant the synths weren’t going away (you can’t play “Subdivisions” or “Between the Wheels” without synths, after all, and synths made up a distinctive aspect of the band’s sound all the way back to A Farewell to Kings), and their songwriting process did nothing to isolate the music away from synths, either.

So while Presto was a slight reset back to emphasizing the “trio” aspects of Rush, the synths didn’t go away… at all.

It’s a good album, but like some before it, has a .. unique sound. Overall, it’s a thin sound. On a speaker system with good projection it sounds great, but on most other speakers it’s weird and missing a lot of midrange… midrange that the synths would have taken up on prior albums.

The theme of the album was the idea of things not being entirely rational… and reacting to it. The theme shows clearly in a few songs and is a stretch in others; it has some of Rush’s best lyrics on it (seriously!) buried among scherzos and other forgettable songs. It’s almost like every member of Rush exceeded any personal effort they’d made before, but forgot to do it in the context of the band.

The songs: as usual, they’re really strong, but as seen on some prior albums, the whole didn’t add up to the sum of its parts. (We wouldn’t see that repaired until Vapor Trails, IMO, although that sounds like I’m putting down a series of really good albums.) The biggest problem I think the songs have is that they dictate a lot of things; Peart made a lot of personal statements without imperatives on earlier albums, but this period used a lot of commands – not dictatorial commands, but imperatives nonetheless.

“Show, Don’t Tell.” “War Paint.” “Red Tide,” for example… are they good songs? Absolutely. (In fact, my email signature includes a quote from “War Paint.”) I’d say they’re all good songs, really; you don’t have a “Tai Shan” lurking here. Even “Scars” – which uses a sampled bass guitar through the whole song and has Alex doing all kinds of weird noodly things – is a good song.

But they’re songs that seem less accepting of open views; Peart’s not exposing his heart to us through a lens any more, he’s telling us his literal impressions (well, as literal as they can be through song lyrics, and through the lens of Peart’s own guarded point of view.)

Therefore: are they good songs? Absolutely. Are they great songs? Occasionally – “The Pass” is an amazing song, one that resonates as well as any other song Rush has done. But at the same time, there’s a formulaic feel here that doesn’t inspire; “Red Tide” is a good song, it’s the “Turn the Page” of “Presto.” “Available Light” is a good song, it’s the “High Water” of this album. Those statements couldn’t have been said about some earlier albums, and they’ll be a feature for a few albums left on the list.

The playing: Geddy’s still on the Wal. We have this and one more album of that bass. As a result, when he does “Geddy things” – like the “bass solo” section of “Show Don’t Tell” – he plays it really well and the bass sound just lets him down. (It’s telling that the best bass sound on the album comes in “Scars,” which uses a sampled slap bass.)

Alex is using an armada of guitars, and he’s using all of the toys he wants; that tends to mean the guitar feels a little like an afterthought (even when it’s front and center, like in “Show, Don’t Tell”), even though he’s doing amazing things. It’s almost like he’d built up habits of avoiding the bits the synths did on prior albums, and stayed in them… but the music purposefully tried to avoid relying on the synths, so their lack was significant.

Peart, as usual, does a fantastic job on this album. Did he push the art? Probably, but the album as a whole isn’t influential enough to make advances in percussion significant.

Presto’s a significant album not only because it’s good (I know I’ve been slagging it the whole section, but it really is a good album!) but because it marks a distinct and intentional return to values that Rush held early in the band’s history: it’s a killer power trio. They just hadn’t shed the weight of having added the shackles of technology, and it showed.

Roll the Bones

“Roll the Bones” is the completion of what Presto was trying to be: a synthesis of old Rush (a power trio) with the capabilities that all the technological wizardry made available. It also marked a return to a more “fun” album; Presto was more of a fun tour (with inflatable rabbits, of all things!) than a fun album, but on Roll the Bones (RTB hereafter) the band seemed to have fun finding adventure making the album.

It’s a really carefree album. It deals with heavy things – the impact of chance, and how one might react to it – but the playing feels free, like the band doesn’t feel like it has to measure up to expectations of what it might do. Therefore the first song – “Dreamline” – opens up with Geddy Lee playing a straight legato pedal on bass, instead of feeling like he has to dance all over the neck of the bass, to “be Geddy Lee.”

That’s all over the album: there are places where the band really cuts loose – RTB has some drum parts that take your breath away when you think about how they were played – but because the playing on the album’s so free, those high points have room to stand out and shine.

Geddy even does a rap – a “chat,” he called it, self-aware that his rapping wasn’t, like, a real thing. It sounds like it should be cheesy. It has every chance to be cheesy. It is cheesy… but it works.

The songwriting is as good as one might expect. High points on the album include “Bravado,” also a musical zenith, “Roll the Bones” – rap and all, the first instrumental we’ve had for a long time in “Where’s My Thing”, and “Heresy,” with “Ghost of a Chance” and “Dreamline” also being really well done. The other songs on the album – “Face Up,” “The Big Wheel,” and “You Bet Your Life” are decent, and then there’s “Neurotica,” which took the same chances “Roll the Bones” did and came up snake eyes. (“Neurotica” is not a particularly good song.)

The bass is still Geddy’s Wal; he gets a better sound from it on this album than any other, and he benefits from playing it less hard – which makes the moments where he chooses to play “out” even more impressive. The synths also don’t really factor in a ton here; they play effects at the edges of songs (and Peart would end up triggering a lot of them, live), and so they seem a lot less intrusive.

Peart also plays “back” – more of a bricklayer’s approach than he used on a lot of albums. It feels like he is wondering how much ground there is left to cover… for a lot of the album. Then he breaks out “Bravado,” and reminds listeners that this is Neil Freaking Peart; that outro is a testimony to dexterity and control that has to be listened to closely to be believed. It’s in two parts: the first is a symphony of alternating parts that sound like it would have had to have been recorded in multiple stages to keep straight… then he repeats the section, while adding in drum rolls. Without missing the original syncopation in any real way.

Alex Lifeson holds the rhythm section in place, as usual. It’s really easy to see him as the “forgotten player” here but that’s really unfair to him; he’s doing exactly what the music requires, and he’s doing it fantastically well. His tone is forward and clear; it also has more meat to it than it’s had since Moving Pictures, even though he’s still playing those single-coil guitars, from the sound of it.


Counterparts is Rush’s grunge album. It’s a difficult album to write about, for a few reasons.

One reason is that most of the things said about it could have been said (and were) about the previous albums: it’s a reaction to what went well and poorly about the previous album, as well as a reaction to the musical environment around it. (Thus: grunge.)

It’s also a weird album. Sonically, there were two things that stand out: one is that the engineer, Kevin “Caveman” Shirley, rigged everything up to really crank up the bottom end of the sound. Peart’s kit sounds beefier here than it might ever have sounded; it’s a monstrous, very present sound, probably the best sounding drums since Moving Pictures.

The other thing is that Geddy finally moved away from the Wal bass, back to his Jazz (last seen in the studio on Signals), along with a radical change in style and an emphasis on sound that hearkened back to the days of the late 70s as well.

On the Roll the Bones tour, Rush paired up with Primus, a choice that would affect Rush positively (for the most part, depending on perspective) for years, but particularly with Lee’s playing. Les Claypool, Primus’ bass player, had a… relatively unique approach to playing bass, involving a lot of ostinato and techniques one would associate with guitar, including tone. Lee integrated a lot of this approach into his own bass playing, with the result being a heavily distorted low end and a “flamenco” style of playing the bass, with lots of strumming, along with intervals (and chords).

Counterparts, then, ended up with a really, really heavy sound from the rhythm section, and Lifeson ended up filling the edges around that rhythm section.

The result is a “basics” album that ends up looking like what Presto and Roll the Bones had wanted to be, along with some experimentation that really works; it’s a “free” album, but has some hits and misses, depending on tastes.

Songwriting was generally really good, often paired with really good instrumentation. High points here include “Animate,” “Nobody’s Hero,” “Between Sun and Moon,” “Double Agent” – a fantastically odd song for Rush, the instrumental “Leave That Thing Alone,” “Everyday Glory” – the song that “High Water,” and “Available Light” had wanted to be when they grew up, and “Alien Shore,” the song that your author thinks might be the best of the entire era from “Power Windows” to “Test for Echo.”

Then you have good songs like “Stick It Out” and “Cut To The Chase” and “Cold Fire” and “Speed of Love,” all of which sound and feel vaguely the same, even though they’re all very different songs.

It’s a good album, but it really didn’t push Rush much; if anything, the band sounds like it’s on cruise control. It’s done really well, and it’s enjoyable – when I think of the “best song” from this “third period” of Rush, “Alien Shore” is the song that comes first to my mind, although it has a lot of competition from every album – but it feels like Rush is doing what Rush does, instead of growing.

Test for Echo

What do you get when you’ve done everything you know how to do, when you run out of new things to say, when you’re searching for relevance in a world that acknowledges the greatness you’ve been, but wants more?

You get “Test for Echo.” This album was a strangely lifeless attempt from Rush, and could very well have been Rush’s last album for various reasons – and let’s thank our respective dieties that it wasn’t Rush’s last album, because while it would dominate most bands’ catalogs, for Rush it was a low note. It was distinctive mainly for being not very distinctive; it’s “the one with ‘Driven’ on it”, with relatively little other merit.

Does that sound harsh? It probably does. It’s also probably deserved. Test For Echo has solid music, but nothing really stands out as “nobody else could have done that.” It’s good late-period Rush – again, that’d be fantastic for other bands – but for Rush, it’s only okay.

Let’s see, high points: “Driven” and “Time and Motion.” There’re a lot of other songs that are okay: “Test for Echo,” “Half the World,” “The Color of Right,” “Resist,” the instrumental “Limbo”… and then you have “Totem,” which is a fun song and I like it but… um… at least it’s better than “Dog Years,” which was written during a hangover and shows, and “Carve Away the Stone,” which tries to evoke “Available Light” and fails, and then you have… 

“Virtuality.” For a band that was so reliant on technology, Virtuality feels like a song written by a band that read about the Internet on a clay tablet and decided to tell those kids to get off it’s lawn.

The playing is fine. It doesn’t really push art, for guitars or vocals; Peart, trying to figure out where to go after being a dominant drummer for so long, started taking lessons from jazz great Freddie Gruber and changed his approach to drums (using a traditional grip instead of matched grip, as he’d used for decades). The drums feel different as a result, although a casual listen wouldn’t really identify how.

But apart from that? It feels like an album that’s trying to find something new to say when everything’s already been said. It feels tired. In surveys like “which Rush album is listeners’ favorite,” “Test for Echo” ends up tied with “Feedback” for the one that shows up least, generally speaking.

After the tour for Test for Echo, Peart’s daughter and wife passed away (in separate and tragic  circumstances) and Peart retired from everything.

Vapor Trails

Vapor Trails was released years after Test for Echo. Peart had taken a lot of time off from the band, but had recovered as well as a man might; he moved to Los Angeles to be with his new wife and rediscovered something he wanted to say about the unpredictability of circumstances. It was a theme he’d visited somewhat cynically on Roll the Bones, but life had given him a change in perspective.

When the band got back together, they rebuilt the entire sound and ethic of Rush. Almost every element of their music was considered; a lot of things were discarded. For every aspect of their sound, they asked, “Do we need this? Do we want this?” – and many characteristic elements were cast away, and others were added.

When you look at the progression from Signals to Test for Echo – eight albums! – you see a pinball effect: GUP was a reaction to Signals, Power Windows was a reaction to GUP, Hold Your Fire was an amplification of Power Windows, Presto was a reaction to HYF, and so forth and so on…

But Vapor Trails stands alone almost as an album created from whole cloth.

It was not without failure. The recording process was … not good, and the mixing process struggled as well, to the point where the production of the album was justifiably used as an example of “what not to do.” Everything was recorded very “hot” and thus the resulting sound lacks dynamics – a lot of listeners reported that they wondered if their sound systems were broken when listening to Vapor Trails for the first time, and the album was remixed a few years later to repair the sound to some degree.

But apart from the sound – which is, of course, an important aspect of a record – this album is filled with amazeballs. The songwriting changed dramatically; if Test For Echo felt tired, Vapor Trails felt like it was written by a man with Something To Say, who Knew How To Say it. There’s one “low point” – the outro, “Out of the Cradle,” which is still an excellent album closer – and there’s some weird stuff on the album – Nocturne comes to mind – but honestly? Lyrically this album is on fire, and that doesn’t do justice.

Musically, the sonic production makes the album feel like much less than it is. When you listen to the actual playing on the album, it’s just as ferocious as the lyrics are: “One Little Victory” opens up with a spondee rhythm that says, rather clearly, that Peart is back on the drums. There’s very little showing off – guitar solos are rare – and yet the instrumentation is incredibly dense, layering guitars (and the bass!) multiple times.

Vapor Trails is easily a return to the progressive elements that pushed Rush into the stratosphere, with an approach to the music that we really hadn’t seen since Signals. Most of it worked, and what didn’t was either due to the obedience to form (i.e., an “upbeat close to the album”) or a failure in production (the awful sound on the original release, unrelated to the performances of the music.) 

Vapor Trails begins the “fourth era” of Rush, the elder statesman era, and is a return to what made Rush great; they’re playing with confidence without feeling like they have to check off boxes, they’re unafraid to make mistakes, and they’re pushing the music in new directions.

It’s a fantastic album. It also took a lot out of the band to create (taking over a year to record), and it was followed by a CD that should never have existed.


This album was released mostly to justify the R30 tour, to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the band. It contains no original material from Rush, only songs from other bands that “influenced” the members of Rush. I refuse to admit the existence of this release, and I resent having included it at all.

You know what? That’s not fair.

In “Natural Science,” in part III – “Permanent Waves” – Peart wrote this:

Art as expression
Not as market campaigns

Will still capture our imaginations.

It’s a beautiful lyric, one of my favorites of all time covering all music everywhere, and it serves to capture precisely why I despise “Feedback.” It’s literally nothing but market campaign, a release to justify a tour. I wrote before that it’s like the band said “Hey, we need money! Let’s record ‘Feedback’ so we can get some!” … and succeeded.

I’m always glad to hear new Rush, but this wasn’t new Rush. It was Rush recording some really classic songs that I love, but it’s still just under the banner of raw marketing, and I hate that from Rush, of all bands.

Snakes and Arrows

This album matched Rush up with producer Nick Rasculinecz, probably the first producer since Terry Brown to fully “get” Rush (besides, of course, Rush itself). It was a good pairing.

The album itself was, like Vapor Trails before it, an expression of raw emotion on Peart’s part: it contains a lot of fire about political and religious division, probably the most judgemental album along those lines Rush had ever done.

It continued Vapor Trails’ progression musically as well. It’s generally an adventurous album, tempered with Rasculinecz’ awareness and awe towards Rush’s back catalogue; there’s a lot of new technique interspersed with callbacks to significant moments from Rush’s entire career, including the use of the “Rush Chord” from Hemispheres, for example.

For nearly every song, there are homages to earlier songs along with the new material. It’s an interesting, generally pleasing blend, and the album feels very much alive because of it. It’s a lot like Vapor Trails in all the good ways – the band’s incredibly invested in every line, every note – without having Vapor Trails’ flawed production, and thus it exceeds Vapor Trails.

The songs are incredibly strong, a symptom of Peart actually intimately caring about his subject matter. The only outlier, lyrically, is “The Larger Bowl,” written as a poetic exercise; it’s a good song, but lyrically, it’s probably the weakest on the album despite having a strong message. 

There are three instrumentals: “The Main Monkey Business,” “Hope” – a solo guitar piece, and “Malignant Narcissism,” featuring Geddy Lee on fretless bass for the first time I know of. The former was an actual “Rush instrumental,” written and designed for the album; “Hope” was apparently recorded as the producer was inspired by Lifeson noodling around on guitar (and it’s a ravishingly beautiful piece, a testament to how talented Lifeson is even when he’s just fooling around), and “Malignant Narcissism” was purportedly created from Lee playing around with a fretless bass, Peart joining in on a four-piece drum kit and Lifeson contributing his parts afterward.

The playing on the album is really strong. Probably the only outlier instrumentally is “Spindrift,” which has some odd dynamics that play well on the surface but somehow jangle with the intent of the song.

While opinions differ on the placement of the album in the overall catalog, to me it feels like this album can easily stand alongside any album from the “golden era” – the period from 2112 to Signals – and hold its own.

Clockwork Angels

And so we get to Rush’s swan song, the last studio release before the band retired for good.

Neil Peart died at the beginning of 2020 from a form of brain cancer, but even before it started affecting his life, age was affecting his ability to play. He could have coasted; Neil Peart half as good as he was is still better than most drummers’ best, but he didn’t want to look back on his playing with regrets.

But before the final tours, Rush gave us their first actual concept album. They’d done concept sides – “The Fountain of Lamneth,” “2112”, “Hemispheres” – but never an actual full album.

Enter Clockwork Angels, a story of a young man rebelling against an externally ordered life, a theme they’d sort of visited in 2112, but here written in the context of his entire life and spanning much more distance and time.

It’s a very encompassing theme; it embeds thoughts on government, totalitarianism, anarchy, religion, trust, faith, belief, honor, sufficiency, even perspective.

Musically, it relaxes a little bit compared to Snakes and Arrows; much like Test For Echo, it’s recorded by a band fully aware of what it knows how to do. Unlike Test for Echo, though, the band aggressively exploits its skills; the result, musically speaking, is that everything flows. It’s played frenetically and passionately (also a change from Test for Echo, where the band sounded like it was sleepwalking its way through the album).

If you imagined Rush playing Rush as hard as it could, you’d have Clockwork Angels.

And it’s an honorable way for the band to go out: having recorded a work that does honor to their entire legacy, intellectually and spiritually, and leaving no regrets about what could have been, other than the regret of not having that… one… more… performance to send us on our way.

Dividers in Chief

I saw a reference to Donald Trump as the “Divider in Chief” recently, and the comment made me laugh.

The context was that of the pandemic and response to it, and how to frame the response: the model most people take is that of motorcycle helmets, and the model the poster preferred was that of sewage systems; when you refuse to wear a helmet, you are the one who pays, but if you dumped your sewage in the street, everyone suffers the consequences for it. (There’s irony here, but it’s secondary.)

The comment that made me laugh was the “Divider in Chief,” though, because otherwise the post was pretty good. And its point was probably apt; Trump could have phrased the response to COVID-19 such that people responded more appropriately, and if people had responded more appropriately early on, not only could more lives potentially have been saved, but more lives might be affected less even now.

I say this, typing from my home office, wondering how a good friend is doing in surgery, surgery that might have been delayed due to strained medical resources, while also hoping a close relative isn’t being ignored by his own doctors who don’t feel like they can take the time to actually properly diagnose him. I am in this world. I have skin in the game.

But “Divider in Chief…”

We are flotsam, droplets in a sea of ignorance. We are not pearls among coal; we are not diamonds in a plain of glass.  We are the coal, we are the glass. From dust we are formed, to dust we shall return. Every one of us.

It’s one thing to believe in a messiah that will rescue us from our state, staunch the bleeding and cure the disease… but it’s foolishness to rely on the messiah to change the world first.

Yochanan ben Zakkai, a rabbi from the time of the destruction of Judah, said “If you have a sapling in your hand and people tell you that the Messiah has come, plant the sapling and then go and greet him.” This does not diminish the role of the Messiah; it simply recognizes that a Messiah whose duty and power it is to actually change everything can do so after you plant the sapling… and if you know anything about the history of messiahs, well, it’s a safe bet that the sapling will outlive the so-called messiah anyway.

(This was after the revolution of Bar Kochba, a man that another great rabbi, Akiva, proclaimed as the messiah… and this was but one of many proclaimed as messiah who’ve somehow left the world in its current state.)

Our leaders… they are not gods. They are not special. They are not messiahs in any mystical sense. They are coal, glass, dust just like we are. If they have power, it is because we assigned it, not because they are special or wise or … anything. Any access they have to greater things, we gave them

And if we gave them, we can take them away. The implication that we cannot suggests that we are lesser beings, that there are lesser beings of less worth than others.

I reject that suggestion.

Otherwise, I would expect election by the general populace to conform some kind of power to heal upon the elected; a President becomes a sort of god, who can wave a wand and heal the world, and who bears the guilt of not doing so.

To be fair, an elected official does bear some additional responsibility; we do not choose candidates who do not seek power, and to seek power is to seek responsibility, too.

After all, “Divider in Chief” is funny in part because in some ways it’s apt. Trump certainly bears some responsibility in this, although his detractors also bear responsibility; in my opinion, his opponents should have been willing to accept the possibility that he was greater than they claimed, and he should have been a strong enough person to reach out despite their opprobrium. Neither situation occurred.

(Follow the logic: there was nothing Trump could have done to make some of his detractors willing to acknowledge anything good he did – and yes, I asked; at best, it was “even a blind hog finds an acorn once in a while,” and even that kind of grudging response was rare, and became more rare over time. So what would Trump, who is a simple transactional thinker, get by reaching out to such people? Nothing – and so, in the nature of such transactional psychology, he stopped trying, which only amplified the criticism, which only meant he had even less investment in trying to satisfy the unsatisfiable. Both groups bear guilt here, and I’m quite sure that both groups would point to the other and say “they started it!,” thereby completely missing the point. Guilt isn’t only about having started it – guilt can be found just as much in voluntarily continuing it when you have a choice.)

I would love to see Americans stop worshiping their leaders. We made them; we can remove them; we shouldn’t see them as guides, but as simply people who’ve been called upon to be reliable. They will not succeed, every act they make is a chance for failure and glory; when you take 100 shots, you have a lot of chances to miss.

Their only chance for true success is to do less, but the current climate is to demand they do more.

So we as a people need to recognize our own complicity in creating failure, and stop saying stupid things like “Divider in Chief” – Trump’s a divider, yes, and he’s certainly not done anything to tell Americans that he’s not who he always said he was. 

But “in chief?” No.

That’s us.

My Fractured Writing Process

Yesterday I mentioned using Scrivener to write, and I mentioned that I have sort of a graduated process for writing that isn’t very efficient. I wanted to actually write down how I write, just to sort of collect what I do; maybe the documentation process will help me see it for what it is (“a mess”) and fix it some.

Here’s the thing: it’s very haphazard and very much cross-platform. All of it. I write on mobile devices (my tablet, mostly, but my phone as well), I write on Linux, I write on paper, I write on Windows (rarely, but still!), and usually on one of two Macs. One’s a desktop machine (upon which I’m typing right now) and one’s a MacBook.

The tools I have available at any time factor very heavily into how I write and what I write and where, often with negative effects.

Draft Simply

I rely really heavily on simple mechanisms: pen and paper, cloud storage, simple keyboards. I’ll start with a text editor more often than not – either WordPress (as I’m doing right now) or Day One, because they’re shared – if I’m on a walk and I dictate something into Day One, I know I can open up Day One on my Mac and see whatever it is I happened to say. Likewise, on WordPress, I can write it in one place and see it somewhere else.

Cloud storage has done more to free me than anything else.

I also tend to write in plain text; Day One has simple markdown-style formatting, as does WordPress; I don’t get wrapped up in style very often, although in WordPress I can – I keep wanting footnotes in WordPress just like I do in Word (which is why I rarely draft in Word).

So: the first step in my writing process is to draft simply.

Going Further

The next step in my writing process is to decide if there’s… more steps to follow.

Honestly, a lot of the stuff I write is just me capturing my thoughts so that my kids can see inside my head should they ever want to; I’m really writing to them.

So a lot of editing would actually work counter to what I’m trying to accomplish; I don’t want my kids to see a sanitized version of me, I want them to see how I think and why I think what I think, to hear my voice and my motivations.

When I write directly, with little editing, you’re getting what I actually would “sound like” as long as you cut out all the stuttering and pauses and moments where I … you know, lose what it is I’m trying to say as I’m trying to work it out.

That – the loss of what I say as I’m trying to say it – happens a lot. I get distracted. A lot of my writing gets discarded because of that; I’ll look at it, and see where I hopped off the tracks, and think to myself, “This is not worth knowing or reading; it communicates my confusion, not my soul,” and … into the bin it goes.

Day One is fantastic for this; I have a lot of rather confusing journal entries. They’re embarrassing, really, but for the right reasons; they’re not embarrassing because I’m betraying some deep, dark secrets, but because they’re rather silly even in their own context.

Anyway – did you see how I got off track, right there? – after I’ve drafted something in a simple medium, the question is: what next?

A lot of times, it’s pretty simple: hit publish! I said it, go to … well, not “print,” because a lot of it’s online, but go “live.” That’s fine, that’s the whole purpose of a lot of things I write, like this piece itself.

I’m writing “raw,” and publishing “raw” is the whole point.

Going Formal

If the answer to the “next step” isn’t “expose it to everyone, flaws and all,” then it’s time to get serious. Here, I’ll crank up a real tool – it’ll be either Scrivener or a mind mapper of some kind.

A mind mapper – Freeplane, XMind, or MindNode, for example – is where I’ll take the draft’s points if I think they’re solid but disorganized. A draft is going to be completely burned down to the ground if I take it to a mind mapper; this is usually a completely destructive, but entirely useful, process.

It’s where I look at the structure of what I have written, and extract the useful bits. I’ll use them to rebuild a structure from the ground up.

In my opinion, my best works – not my most artistic works, but my best – come out of this process.

The next destination – mind-mapped or not – is likely to be Scrivener, where I’ll either transcribe the mind map into text to be moved about, or I’ll just copy the draft and then edit it there, with notes. This is a fairly formal drafting process – this, or the mind map, are the first times I usually actually try to apply process to writing.

Scrivener allows me to make notes about what I’m writing (much as mind mapping allows me to make connections between concepts). Scrivener also allows me to focus on the drafting process without getting tied down by the editing process, which is a big deal (and, again, why I avoid Word for writing, usually).

Final Production

The next step is to compile the work from Scrivener into a Word document.

I’ll then read… and read… and reread… and read again until I’m sick of it, applying edits and notes back in Scrivener and republishing.

Once I’m happy with it – or once I’m so sick of it I can’t read it any more – I’ll do a final compilation with Scrivener and send off to a publisher… or copy it from there back to WordPress or wherever its final destination will be. This part’s usually pretty light.

There’s More Than One Way

Of course, if it’s not clear already, there’s more than one way to do it.

That Day One -> Scrivener -> Final Destination process is probably what I do most often, but it’s not the only way.

I also draft with Asciidoctor, and do the same render/edit cycle there that I do with Scrivener (including the mind mapping stage).

I wrote a book this way, for example, and there were a lot of really good aspects to this… and some really unfortunate aspects to it. The problem AsciiDoctor has is exporting to Word format, which is the lingua franca of publishing; the Word conversion is… problematic.

(There’s more to it than that, too, but this is not the right forum for that.)

Anyway, how about you? What do you do?

Scrivener 3.2 Compile Issue

I’m a big fan of Literature and Latte’s Scrivener product. If I’m writing “for real,” it’s typically in Scrivener, although I think my process there could still use a lot of work. (I use a graduated system for writing, which … now that I think about it, isn’t very efficient for organization or promotional purposes.)

Anyway: Scrivener! If you write, it’s a fantastic product. Highly recommended.

However, they recently put out 3.2, and I ran into a problem with it.

The process in Scrivener is to write a draft (surprise!) and then compile that draft into a final product, which can be in any of a number of formats: Word document, PDF, Mobi, Epub, and so forth and so on.

What was happening is that I could not get it to run that compilation step, at all. I’d select the menu option, the program would… do nothing. It was as if I wasn’t even hitting the menu item.

I reported it to Literature and Latte, and they figured out a workaround: it’s related to a setting for fonts in the compile.xml file.

There are a number of ways you can approach this: my project’s still in early draft mode, so I simply opened the directory that my project was in, went to Settings, and deleted compile.xml. Once that was done, the menu item worked again and I could generate a draft document from my project.

You can also open up compile.xml in a handy text editor, and delete the lines that have <Font> in them. (The error is related to a font lookup, somewhere internally.) I haven’t tried this, because, well, the project I’m working on is in early draft so I don’t need anything special here.

Lastly, you can wait for Literature and Latte to release a new build of Scrivener 3.2. I’m on build 14343, and I expect they’ll suss out this problem quickly and there’ll be a fix out soon.

Books that Shaped You

What books helped shape your political and moral opinions?

A lot has gone into my reading list. Here’s a list of the things I think were most important, with a focus on fiction:

  • Starship Troopers. Often derided as fascist, this book… isn’t fascist. It’s not a complicated book, but it does contain a lot of essays about political theory and the application of force: a lot of its message is “You don’t own it if you’re not willing to defend it.”
  • The Fountainhead. Ayn Rand was not a … good writer, but the Fountainhead’s focus on personal creativity and adherence to individual vision was, and is, inspiring. There’s a lot to find distasteful here – her view of personal relationships was… um… not profitable to anyone who didn’t enjoy the concept of Fifty Shades of Grey, but she avoids bonking her readers over the head quite so much with morality plays in The Fountainhead, unlike some of her other books.
  • Dune. Dune is a fantastic book for communicating ideas about perspective and control. When the Imperium itself is 10000 years old, the value of an individual life… it ends up looking like what it is: a drop of water in a vast river. It’s still valuable, but it can’t scream that it’s the point of the river, nor is it in control.
  • Foundation. In addition to being a rollicking set of adventures, the perspective shifts about what’s important and what things drive economies and political engines are wonderful. And then Asimov breaks the model with an outsized predator just to show the system in action.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird. Anyone who can read this without being affected is a robot. Accepted groupthink along tribal lines died for me for once and for all when reading this book… even accepted groupthink that agrees with the premise, that racism is wrong and evil. It is wrong and evil… but it’s not a set of definitions that can be applied without reason. I may agree with groupthink, but it’s because I agree, not because it’s groupthink.
  • Lucifer’s Hammer. An apocalyptic book about a comet’s calves hitting the earth, it’s a lot like Starship Troopers in that it focuses heavily on the issues one would care about given a lack of comfortable privation.
  • A Wizard of EarthSea. Illustrated the idea that a hero didn’t have to act like, or look like, a traditional hero. Wizards who didn’t focus on blasting spells at enemies? Wizards who were not white? Even gender issues were addressed. Fantastic book, fantastic series, fantastic author.
  • The Wheel of Time. As a prospective author of fiction, this series gives me hope: if people are willing to pay for crap like this, then maybe I can some day retire by pumping out similar dreck. An author whose best material falls under the quality level of Robert Jordan’s offerings really should never be willing to write such that others can buy it. Books not linked because I’m a kind person and I don’t want someone to accidentally read this and blame me.

This is hardly a list of “good material” – I mean, I’m leaving off the Jubal van Zandt series, Lord of the Rings, Dragonlance, The Mote in God’s Eye, Night, Neuromancer… really more books than I can even think of at the moment. But these are the books that I can think of right now that shaped my political and personal philosophies the most.

What about you?