When I was a high schooler, I took a summer class from a wild-eyed, and equally wild-haired guy on the topic of dystopian literature in science fiction. (Nerd. Guilty as charged.) The class was great, and introduced me to tons of interesting authors and ideas, but in retrospect, I think the whole thing was a big excuse for the teacher to spend a class session listening to and discussing Rush’s rock opera 2112.
Now, pop music is no stranger to sci-fi tinged rock productions. From Styx’s legendary Mr. Roboto to David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, there’s often been a rock and roll nod towards sci-fi sensibilities. But 2112 is an entirely different beast. Clocking in at just over twenty minutes long, 2112 can barely be described as a song. 2112 begins with a lengthy instrumental overture, segues into a fast-paced hard-rock anthem in the Priests section, and continues through seven distinct sections, telling a story of subjugation and persecution in a far-future dystopia.
Written by Rush drummer and lyricist Neal Peart, 2112 is an extended riff on Ayn Rand’s Anthem (the liner notes include a questionable tribute to “the genius of Ayn Rand“), telling the story of a idealistic dreamer who tries to bring music to a harsh, authoritarian world, only to be persecuted for his discovery.
Quite apart from the Rand-esque philosophy (ugh), the experience of sitting in class with a bunch of like-minded teens, listening to 2112 and discussing its significance has always stuck with me as a turning point. High school can be a tough slog, particularly for those socially underdeveloped or counterculture folks for whom the high-school years aren’t the high-water mark of their lives. (In Rush’s charming but slightly pretentious lyricmaking, “nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone.”) Experiences like this helped remind me what was on the other side of the horizon.
If you got a spare twenty minutes, listen to 2112. It’s worth a listen, even if you aren’t trying to survive high-school as a sci-fi enthusiast.
This blog post is a reprint from long ago.