Music can be a powerful tool for enriching our lives. It can bring us joy, or provide solace during tough times. It can inspire creativity and spark passion. Some music can also teach us valuable life lessons. This is the case with much of the work of the Canadian progressive rock band Rush. Although they’re best known for their musical complexity, their lyrics are filled with rich philosophic themes, compelling stories, and thought-provoking questions. Here are just a few examples of the valuable lessons I’ve garnered from their songs.
1. You can’t have something for nothing.
Oh, you don’t get something for nothing
You don’t get freedom for free
You won’t get wise with the sleep still in your eyes
No matter what your dreams might be
The closing track of Rush’s epic breakthrough album 2112, “Something for Nothing,” cautions the listener against waiting around for life to get better purely by chance—“Waiting for the rainbow’s end to cast its gold your way.” Many people cross their fingers and hope for a chance event to make them rich, famous, or happy, whereas consistent, hard work is what’s really required to achieve success.
Further, the song identifies that the effort you put into creating values is what gives you the right to those things. When you put passion, time, and hard work into something you truly value, you are putting your life into it, and the result of your effort is yours to use and be proud of. As the song concludes, “What you own is your own kingdom, what you do is your own glory, what you love is your own power, what you live is your own story.”
2. Selfishness isn’t wrong.
Live for yourself, there’s no one else
More worth living for
Begging hands and bleeding hearts
Will only cry out for more
Well, I know they’ve always told you
Selfishness was wrong
Yet it was for me, not you
That I came to write this song
Rush’s second album Fly By Night features the track “Anthem,” inspired by Ayn Rand’s novella of the same name. It stands proudly against the popular notion that morality consists of sacrificing yourself for others. Instead, the song celebrates the value of living for yourself, creating the things you want to create, and proudly holding your head high as you do it. The song highlights the value of self-esteem, of learning to see yourself as the proper beneficiary of your actions, and of taking pride in and ownership of the things you’ve achieved in life.
3. Appreciate the people you love while you still have them.
Suddenly, you were gone
From all the lives you left your mark upon
On the 1984 album Grace Under Pressure, Rush deals with darker themes than elsewhere. A prime example is “Afterimage,” a tribute to a friend of the band members who died in a car crash. It describes the experience of remembering a recently lost friend or loved one, the sense of feeling, as the song puts it, “the way you were,” after that person is gone. It’s a heartrending reminder to appreciate the time we have with the people we love, because it won’t last forever.
“Afterimage” is followed by the even more harrowing “Red Sector A,” based on the experiences of singer and bassist Geddy Lee’s parents, who both survived Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust. Its distressing descriptions of human suffering and the loss of hope and loved ones are a poignant reminder of how lucky we are to live in relative freedom, and a reminder to enjoy and defend what we have.
4. Enjoy youth while it lasts.
We are young
Wandering the face of the Earth
Wondering what our dreams might be worth
Learning that we’re only immortal
For a limited time
When we’re young, it’s easy to feel like we’re immortal. We have decades stretching out in front of us, and it feels like there’s all the time in the world to do whatever we want. But as we start growing older, friends and family begin to pass away, and we start to realize that our time is a finite resource. Thoughts of our own mortality begin to set in. Rush’s 1991 song “Dreamline” captures this beautifully, describing the way many of us stride out into life eager to explore and discover, before realizing how little time we have.
Listening to the song has helped me learn to value my time and to think carefully about how I use it. I now limit the time I spend on such activities as playing video games and watching TV, and more on the things that matter most to me. Every time I listen to this song, I am reminded that I don’t have all the time in the world to achieve my goals.
5. Spiritual values don’t require faith.
I don’t have faith in faith
I don’t believe in belief
You can call me faithless. . .
You can call me faithless
And I still cling to hope
And I believe in love
And that’s faith enough for me
We often hear people talking about the importance of having faith, but what does it really mean? Sometimes people simply use it as a stand-in for “confidence” or “hope,” but in its literal meaning, “faith” means believing in something without evidence. In “Faithless,” from Rush’s 2006 album Snakes and Arrows, the band takes a firm stand against the idea that we need faith in order to live a good life, and against the wider notion that morality requires a mystical or divine source. “I’ve got my own moral compass to steer by,” the song opens, “A guiding star beats a spirit in the sky.”
The song is a powerful statement that spiritual values such as morality, love, and hope come from natural, not supernatural sources. Giving up faith doesn’t require giving up these values.
These are just five of the hundreds of powerful lessons contained in Rush’s songs. In addition to being insightful, their music is often uplifting, benevolent, melodic, and energetic. It has brought immeasurable value to my life, and I hope it will do the same for you.