Monday, July 13, 2015

Rush - Xanadu

Rush is Canada’s greatest rock band. I do not think there is much debate surrounding this, they are by far the most critically acclaimed rock band my country has ever produced, they have sold by far the most records of any Canadian group, and they are wildly popular inside our borders and well respected without, and their body of work continues to grow to this day.

I have not been a very good Canadian; I have never seen Rush live. I almost saw Rush in 2013 but the flood wrecked Calgary and Rush had to reschedule the event in Red Deer and without a car I was not confident I could get up there in time. It was the only time I had purchased insurance on concert tickets, so that worked out at least. Finally on July 15th of 2015 I will live the Canadian dream and finally see our greatest musical treasure live. All I have to do now is stay alive a few more days.

One of the things I love the most about Rush is that they were a band that basically broke all the rules and yet everything worked out brilliantly for them. Their second album “Fly By Night” was a commercial success so they were pressured to do more of the same, and instead they released a series of extremely experimental progressive rock albums, and defying all conventional wisdom at the time, all of them were critical and commercial successes.

In 1977 Rush released their fifth studio album, “A Farewell to Kings,” and on that album there is a song called “Xanadu.”

"To seek the sacred river Alph
To walk the caves of ice
To break my fast on honey dew
And drink the milk of Paradise...."

I love honey dew, it is probably my favorite fruit. I also love eleven minute rock epics with elaborate guitar solos and unique synthesizers, especially when the song is about the quest for immortality, so yes, I really like the song “Xanadu.”

Xanadu is actually a real place, as the alternate name for Shangdu a city in China, and was the temporary capital of Kublai Khan’s empire when he ruled the area. It is now the modern day town Dolon Nor, but like Arcadia, it has more poetic and symbolic cultural meaning then it’s real life historical existence. Now a day’s Xanadu/Shandgu mostly lies in ruins, but according to various accounts the city was once splendorous, and thanks to a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, titled “Kubla Khan,” the city has become more of a metaphor for paradise than anything else. 

"Xanadu" by Sarel Theron
In fact the definition of the word Xanadu is now “A place of great beauty, luxury, and contentment.”

A cursory glance at Rush’s lyrics for “Xanadu” and the lines from Coleridge’s poem, we see some very similar word choice for the description of the wondrous city, strongly suggesting an obvious influence.

Knowing all this helps understand the song “Xanadu” a little more, it makes sense for Geddy Lee to mention Kublai Khan since we are talking about his city and the line about the “pleasure dome” makes super sense when we recall the largest harem in history was Kublai Khan’s. Also knowing that Xanadu is a paradise as well as borderline mythical, it is a suitable location for our traveler to come to find the magical secret to immortality, presumably by drinking the milk of paradise, and eating the fruits of life, which is presumably honey dew since it is so delicious.

To be honest “Xanadu” is a rare example where I have never really paid the closest attention to the lyrics, which is unlike me. “Xanadu” has always been a song where I have just sat back and absorbed the sounds of the guitar, drums and keyboard. It hardly mattered what Geddy Lee was singing about, the sounds of the song were more than enough. It was a great song to get lost in and at eleven minutes and ten seconds there is plenty of time to wonder within.

It is a fantastic little trip, not just “Xanadu” but the whole album “A Farewell Kings.” It does not flow from song to song like one piece of music the way the two previous albums did, but there are plenty of long well crafted moments and the final product is very psychedelic, with the most psychedelic moment likely being “Xanadu.” I say likely, because the final song off of “A Farewell to Kings” is a wild ride called “Cygnus X-1 (Book 1)” which coincides with the first song off of the next album, 1978’s “Hemispheres” aptly titled “Cygnus X-1 (Book 2).” Normally this flow of one track to another does not transcend this way, but what I can say Rush is that progressive.

Well I learned a lot talking about this song and with any luck I might get to hear “Xanadu” on Wednesday.

Until next month, keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves

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