Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ruled by Fear

Rush has a series of songs which explores the theme of fear: the idea that we are ruled by fear more than hope. This has become known as the "Fear Trilogy", though since the band's 2002 album it has been expanded to a quartet. The first three songs were written in reverse order -- in the order they were easiest to grasp, according to Neal Peart, the songwriter -- with the fourth written two decades later. Here they are:

Part I: The Enemy Within (Grace Under Pressure, '84) -- how fear works inside us
Part II: The Weapon (Signals, '82) -- how fear is used against us
Part III: Witch Hunt (Moving Pictures, '81) -- how fear feeds the mob mentality
Part IV: Freeze (Vapor Trails, '02) -- how fear is evaded and confronted

Back in 1994, Peart described the genesis of the series as follows:
"The idea for the trilogy was suggested by an older man telling that he didn't think life was ruled by love, or reason, or money, or the pursuit of happiness -- but by fear. This smart-but-cynical guy's position was that most people's actions are motivated by fear of being hungry, fear of being hurt, fear of being alone, fear of being robbed, etc., and that people don't make choices based on hope that something good will happen, but in fear that something bad will happen.

"I reacted to this the way all of us tend to react to generalities: 'Well, I'm not like that!' But then I started thinking about it more, watching the way people around me behaved, and I soon realised that there was something to this viewpoint, So I sketched out the three theaters of fear, as I saw them: how fear works inside us (The Enemy Within), how fear is used against us (The Weapon), and how fear feeds the mob mentality (Witch Hunt)."(From The Rush Backstage Club Newsletter, January 1994)
There's plenty of truth to this. People may talk more about hope, but they live mostly by fear. (If you have any doubts about this, start really paying attention to the behavior of your family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers.) Hope allows us to live in denial, as it were, and keep fear at bay and from suffocating us. That may be anti-religious, but it's at least scientific.

But back to the songs. The ingenius thing about them is that while explicating the fear theme, they also tie back to the theme of their respective albums (on which see here). The Enemy Within is about internal fear as a response to external stress. The Weapon is about the way people exploit the fears of others, resulting in communication breakdown. Witch Hunt is a "story" of Salem, a portrait exemplary of mob fear. Freeze is about facing fear, and then moving on. It's neat how all of this fell into place, and I enjoy listening to the songs sequentially in their proper order. (I burned a special CD so I can do this.) Not only are they philosophicaly stimulating, they just plain rock.


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