Rush’s Clockwork Angels: A Political Analysis

I realize I don’t talk politics on here often but I may do it every once and awhile in relation to art/entertainment. And one of the things I’ve wanted to write about is how Rush’s latest studio album from 2012-Clockwork Angels-and how that album embraces a very libertarian/individualistic perspective. I suppose this may seem pointless since Neil Peart-drummer and lyricist for the band-has said he is a libertarian so it would make sense that the album has at least somewhat of a libertarian perspective but I want to talk about it more in relation to the story found inside the concept album (as well as the novel that expands the story) and get fairly analytical with it. (It may also be worth noting that I myself consider myself at least somewhat of a libertarian if that wasn’t obvious enough by me writing a post about art and libertarianism.)

The album starts off with the song “Caravan” which helps at least somewhat with establishing a setting with the protagonist-Owen-proclaiming, “I can’t stop thinking big. In a world where I feel so small, I can’t stop thinking big.” It’s a fairly simple lyric and makes sense for the seventeen-year-old protagonist who has lived in a world of oppression (which is more properly established in the next song) by government forces and expectations set out for him. “BU2B” is the second track and one of the most politically charged on the entire album and that is almost simply made evident by the sound of almost anger coming for the entire track, anger at the forces taking hold of everything. “I was brought up to believe/The universe has a plan/We are only human/It’s not ours to understand…All is for the best/Believe in what we’re told/Blind men in the market/Buying what we’re sold/Believe in what we’re told/Until our final breath/While our loving Watchmaker/Loves us all to death.” The lyrics here are fairly politically charged with at least some subtlety hidden within metaphors and the storyline itself. The universe having a plan can easily be a criticism of the entitlement many people feel they deserve in society for not really doing much at all which I think has become more of a problem than ever and has also been used as a point of criticism just for simply being white (which as a white man, I find to just be a lazy argument. I do think racism is incredibly alive but that doesn’t make the opinion of someone who is white invalid on political subjects). But just in general, people think all will be well and that everything will be okay if they simply believe what they are told. The Watchmaker-who is essentially a basic metaphor for the current government forces as a whole-is telling lies at every turn but the ignorant masses follow without a care. They believe their leaders and those in power will do good for them by default without even giving it a second thought. How do you think the two party system has thrived in America? Nobody is willing to see they are both the same corrupt viewpoints that are simply leading through lies. There isn’t a single difference between a Democratic or Republican president, they will both lead the masses with deceit and they will follow. A simple metaphor for government goes a long way in this album, people will follow, people will continue to believe in the status quo, people will be afraid to think outside the boxes of what has been provided for them and that is the current job of government: to allow things to go as is without anyone realizing nearly all of it is disgusting deceit.

The next track is the title track of the album and is more of a criticism of religion but also can simply be a political metaphor as well expanding on the ideas of BU2B. It essentially establishes the main city surrounding this steampunk world found in this album/novel, Owen has escaped his small village where everything is provided for him (The Watchmaker also provides the people of this society with a job and someone to marry essentially by the age of 18) and found his way into the city. And in the city he sees the Clockwork Angels for the first time, large, angelic figures of stone that every person follows without a single thought. They bow down and pray to it. “Clockwork angels, spread their arms and sing/Synchronized and graceful, they move like living things/Goddesses of Light, of Sea and Sky and Land/Clockwork angels, the people raise their hands/As if to fly/As if to fly.” They don’t even bother to question what they are doing. They simply bow and listen. Is it a pretty obvious criticism of religion? Absolutely. Neil has stated he is an agnostic and has certainly tapped on the subject of religion a few times over the years (especially in the song “Faithless” on the album Snakes & Arrows) so a criticism isn’t surprising in the slightest. I’m an atheist personally and people can believe whatever the hell they want to as long as they don’t force it onto me but I do think that for SOME people, religion causes them to lose a sense of individualism or thinking for themselves and causes them to blindly follow. In a political sense, the figure of the Clockwork Angels expands on “BU2B” and the idea of blindly following the government without questioning or just authority in general.

“The Anarchist” establishes another character in the story that actually has no name beyond “The Anarchist” which I actually enjoy as a counter to The Watchmaker. It essentially does establish the basics of what an actual real life anarchist might actually feel and it doesn’t condone or criticize the behavior as much as it just simply describes it, which I quite enjoy. Though once the story is established further, it’s pretty clear The Anarchist is not a good person and the behavior is somewhat criticized as probably not the best way to live (especially considering the guy just sorta puts bombs in places where innocent people can just be hurt). “Carnies” is more or less a story centric song with Owen and how he begins to work with a carnival, nothing really overly political in it. “Halo Effect” is also another story centric song of Owen’s confusing situation of love with a girl he thinks loves him back but maybe actually doesn’t, he decides to leave the carnival (where he met the girl) and seek out the “Seven Cities of Gold.” Essentially, these three tracks are very much coming of age-esque songs (well the entire album is as a whole but this is more of a political analysis…mostly) that are very necessary to carry the story in the album further, give it more emotional resonance, and as a whole, make it more relatable for the listener.

“The Wreckers” is one of my favorite tracks on the entire album and at least (slightly) gets back into the political notions of the album and may have one of my favorite choruses of all time. At this point, Owen is traveling with another man on his ship but pirates and The Anarchist attack them (I’m going to be frank and I don’t entirely remember how the novel leads to this point but it does). “All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary/Of a miracle too good to be true/All I know is that sometimes the truth is contrary/Everything in life you thought you knew/All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary/Cause sometimes the target is you.” Sure, these lyrics can be easily applied to real life with the simple notion of that you should question most things in life and see what is or isn’t true before blindly believing it but in a political sense, I know that when I first really started to see “the truth” of politics and realize that the two party system is a goddamn joke and neither side is really here to help you very much that it was like seeing an entirely different world. I thought that the people in power would maybe want to help but maybe they don’t entirely. Maybe they think they are helping but it is actually hindering. And it makes you see life in an entirely different and better perspective. But at the same time, I am not an anarchist; I find the position of an anarchist to be dangerous and almost just as silly as believing in the two parties. Violent revolution is not the answer nor is disgusting ridicule; you have to be sensible for change to happen. You have to talk about your ideas as much as possible to others and try to see them to change some of their ideas and at the very least to question those in power who aren’t doing very good things. Owen himself begins to see that once he sees people attacking him, The Anarchist is wrong but so is The Watchmaker. Neither one of them is there to lead, they are there to either cause chaos or bring absolute control. Neither position is correct or just.

“Headlong Flight” is a reflective track on Owen’s journey and his escape from the pirates and nothing really political but another important track in terms of story development (and it has one hell of a drum solo in the live album). “BU2B2” is a transitional track but a very important track, “I was brought up to believe/Belief has failed me now/The bright glow of optimism/Abandoned me somehow/Belief has failed me now/Life goes from bad to worse/No philosophy consoles me/In a clockwork universe/Life goes from bad to worse/I still choose to live/Find a measure of love and laughter/And another measure to give/I still choose to live/And give, even while I grieve/Though the balance tilts against me/I was brought up to believe.” We refrain back to “I was brought up to believe” from the second track but in a very different way, Owen has become much more cynical in his travels, he has finally seen the fullest truths set out, The Watchmaker was never the world’s savior or real provider, The Anarchist was a fool but he still chooses to fight against it. He doesn’t have a philosophy yet at this point (but that is more established in “The Garden” which I will get to soon) and feels blinded by a lack of one. But he will live on with love and laughter and giving even if nearly everything tilts against him just as in our own world. Nearly everything tilts against us as humans in society especially by an overbearing government and very corrupt notions all throughout society and we have to continue moving forward and fight for what is worth fighting for and maybe throwing away the rest.

“Wish Them Well” is a song with words to simply live by and again, doesn’t have any intense political notions but I will talk about it regardless. Owen establishes a pretty simple ideology that it isn’t worth trying to change every person who isn’t good. It is a waste of time. I actually find this to be quite libertarian in a lot of ways, I think something many libertarians realize is that as much as we want to change people, it is impossible. We realize that you cannot stop racism or sexism or people doing generally shitty things, is it possible to minimize in certain ways? Sure. But is an intense amount of government restrictions the way to do it? Absolutely not. And I’m not saying it is impossible to change people but sometimes it just isn’t worth it and you have to wish them well and those have been words I live by. As much as I consider myself an empathetic and understanding person, I have to realize to a certain point, that sometimes some people aren’t worth it and Owen himself has begun to realize that.

“The Garden” is the final and arguably the best track on the album both lyrically and instrumentally and was actually the reason I wrote this in the first place as it is the first time the album sprung up to me as something quite libertarian. This song takes place much later after the events in the rest of the album; Owen is now married to the girl from the carnival now (yeah, it was just one big misunderstanding) and has children and is an older and wiser man. He still works and travels with the carnival but also tends to his garden in his spare time and he’s begun to realize something: what the point of this damn life is. (I’m going to go nearly verse-by-verse for this song by the way; nearly every lyric is worth talking about). “In this one of many possible worlds, all for the best, or some bizarre test?/It is what it is-and whatever/Time is still the infinite jest.” We obviously get a call back to “all is for the best” but in a much different way, he realizes that everything is not for the best and that everyone is not there to help and that sometimes it truly is what it is and people can’t fight against everything and that dammit, we don’t have enough time for everything (and that infinite jest may or may not be an allusion to either Hamlet or the wonderful David Foster Wallace novel, Infinite Jest). “The arrow flies when you dream, the hours tick away-the cells tick away/The Watchmaker keeps to his schemes/The hours tick away-they tick away.” The Watchmaker keeps to his schemes is really the line I want to point out. Owen realizes something that I think every person needs to realize especially those with anarchic tendencies or libertarians or really anyone with a more outside of the box political ideology, you CANNOT entirely change the awful shit in the world, you can try your best but dwelling on it forever is just going to lead to one hell of an awful life, you might just have to let The Watchmaker keep to his schemes sometimes. “The measure of a life is a measure of love and respect/So hard to earn, so easily burned/In the fullness of time/A garden to nurture and protect.” Sometimes putting really simple things into great lyrics makes them much better than they should be. This is really a simple ideology of valuing respect and love…but that’s kinda okay. What the hell is wrong with that? Out of anything, those ARE the two things most worth valuing. And the garden described at the end of this verse is also a metaphor for the love and respect as mentioned but also individualism and finally just living for yourself and those you love. Maybe all we can do before the lights go out is to find our own garden worth tending to instead of arguing political ideology at every minute (again, spreading ideas is important but so is living life as an individual which I’m sure nearly every libertarian values). Okay, I really need to make another paragraph here, so uh, awkward transition to next paragraph.

“It is what it is-and forever.” Sometimes we can’t answer everything we would hope to answer in life and it simply is what it is-and that includes politics. “The Watchmaker has time up his sleeve.” A government and forces of authority always have the power of time up their sleeve, people don’t really entirely have the time to care about politics which has really caused a fairly apolitical society and/or a lack of critical thinking society, people don’t have the time as they have jobs or families or whatever, the government will always win in that side. They’ve got plenty of time (and well, money)…even if it seems otherwise. “The treasure of a life is a measure of love and respect/The way you live, the gifts that you give/In the fullness of time/It’s the only return that you expect.” One of the things I enjoy most about libertarians is they don’t expect the government to necessarily help them, they realize they have an individualistic life to lead with choices they can make and reason and logic and values to guide them. Do I think the government should be doing real things to help those not as well off? Absolutely. And are they doing it right now? No, not really. And the stuff they do isn’t really…great. Welfare has backfired when if we allowed real, private charity, it would probably work out pretty great. Most charities are stealing most of the profits. You get the point. The only thing I expect from others is respect and from a few individuals I would obviously expect warmth and love. What I don’t want is people forcing me to do things I don’t want to and not valuing my INDIVIDUALISM, which is exactly what the government seems to enjoy more than ever. Owen as the protagonist is realizing he can’t rely or expect anything from The Watchmaker or the Clockwork Angels or The Anarchist; he must simply expect the basic notion of love and respect and live as good a life as he can. “The future disappears into memory/With only a moment between/Forever dwells in that moment/Hope is what remains to be seen.” Hope is a very important thing ESPECIALLY to libertarians who pretty much have to be optimistic people…at least I’d say I’m a “cautious optimist” as I realize things can certainly turn to shit in life but the point is, once you lost hope, you’ve lost everything. Cynicism has run rampant in society and the government and the media have LEECHED off that cynicism for years now. They’ve used that cynicism to make people lack thinking for themselves and make them mindless. If there is one simple way to make people follow, make them think there isn’t a whole lot left positive in the world. Why do you think any time a mass shooting happens it is sensationalized to no end? Or when any tragedy happens? Because they want you to think awful things are going on at every turn! Because they want you to think more government regulation is the solution! Because they want you to not think for yourself but believe your politicians! (Though you can probably believe some politicians like Gary Johnson-he’s the fucking man). I realize I may have gotten on a bit of a tangent there but I thought it was important enough to write. Hope is important and Owen realizes that maybe it’s one of the only things he’s got and they even wanna take that away from you!

Well shit, this went FAR longer than I wanted it to but I couldn’t help it. Overall, I sincerely think Clockwork Angels is truly an album that embraces individualism and libertarianism in a very positive nature and that maybe we all need to realize we better find a garden before it’s too late and sometimes we can’t win against our government and simply have to find a life worth living, sitting and being negative about politics all day is going to make you miserable…I simply don’t recommend it and I don’t think Neil Peart does either.


Author of this post (and every post thus far and maybe forever more):

Jesse Jordon is an aspiring comedic writer/filmmaker/performer/pieceofshit who writes this garbage on these blogs to (hopefully) make you laugh or learn something I guess. Follow him on Twitter @WhyShitSoCrazy for bad, witty tweets.



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