I have been intrigued by the album Clockwork Angels by Rush for the past several months. It is a concept-album (like 2112), a journey-story of a young man in a Steam Punk world of freight trains (caravans), city squares, airships, a Watch Maker, lost cities, evil, and a garden. The world is not unlike our own, and the protagonist is not much different from me. He tests his mettle, loses his naiveté, realizes his limited perspective, follows his dreams, and finds new ones.
I took a shine to this lyric from the song The Anarchist, “Find the blood inside this stone,” which evokes the veil (the armor) that hides our inner lives, emotions, and motivations from other people, intrusive companies, watchful government. I’ve come to think we cannot hide; we are only wearing fig leaves. Everyone knows we are naked (vulnerable) underneath these clothes, these masks, this drag.
The Anarchist, starts with “the lure of a wandering pedlar…, ‘What do you lack?’” In the video, Geddy Lee says that right at the beginning. It’s hard to hear. The popcorn is going in the background, like a lottery tumbler full of numbered ping-pong balls.
The protagonist sings, “I lack their smiles and diamonds/ I lack their happiness and love/ I envy them for all those things I never got my fair share of…” I love how you can tell they are acting out the story. Geddy is not singing from the heart. He’s in character.
In the summer before my fourth grade, my family moved to a small town. That is where I grew up, and I envied them the things I was not born into. I envied them the smiles, the shared look of acceptance, their shining countenances. I envied the diamonds (the Levis and Reeboks, the Ocean Pacific, Izod, and Polo shirts, the logos) of the rich kids. These things they kept and bestowed on themselves. How was I, a geeky poseur, ever to fit in with these people who had known each other since kindergarten, who belonged? Reminiscing on these slight (de minimus) slights, I know how easy it is to exclude. And I am guilty myself; too often the shift in my eyes has been a slap in the face or the lash on the back of others. A glancing blow.
The Anarchist continues, The lenses inside of me that turn the world black/ The pools of poison/ The scarlet mist/ That spill over into rage.
This lyric reminds me that it is my perception that the world is black; in reality, the world is clearly grey. (As Rush puts it in Vapor Trail, The sky is turning black. The world is turning gray. All the stars fade from the night. The oceans drain away.) I know that jealousy is my problem. The perception of the snubs (the black lenses) is more real, more hurtful than the snubs themselves.
The things I’ve always been denied/ An early promise that somehow died.
That early promise… who (from Generation X) never dreamed they would be President? And now, what has happened to that dream? It is not even a dream that I wish on my children. And I hear John Cougar Mellencamp singing (Little Pink Houses), “Boy, you’re gonna be President. But just like everything else, those old crazy dreams, just kind of came and went.” Like clouds in the sky. Like butterflies. I have captured some dreams (like the moon, captured in a bucket of water or the pools of my eyes), but many have slipped away.
I have a wife and family, a house (in a nice neighborhood), a job (with benefits!), two cars. My kids go to good schools, and I have time to write introspective blog posts and run. And still, I turn off the TV in frustration with the news and advertisements. With so many dreams fulfilled, why is unhappiness, anxiety creeping up on me? Sometimes I feel like I even lack the ability to pursue my happiness, to know what it might be. But what I know is I could not beat Trump or Clinton in this election; This kum-ba-yah Christian, health-nut, tree-hugger, peacenik would get crushed.
A missing part of me that grows around me like a cage.
Sometimes it seems it is those missing parts, the impossible dreams and old grudges that keep me from my happiness. I have not qualified for the Boston marathon, yet. And that is so full of meaning (redemption) for me it is hard to unpack. If the Boston marathon had not been bombed, I wouldn’t think running it is an act of courage and patriotism. If it wasn’t just within my reach, it wouldn’t even be a goal. Being a Boston marathoner is something I want like I used to want Reeboks (so I could be a member of a group). And like I used to want to be valedictorian (to prove I was smart). And like I used to want to bench press two hundred pounds (to prove I was tough and to wear the t-shirt). And like I used to want to get out of town.
Often-times I am trying to win the acceptance of people who like me anyway, or don’t care, or don’t remember me, or don’t even exist. But I keep creating goals, I keep racing the people on the highway, I keep finding things that I can’t just let be, I keep losing my balance.
With all your science of the mind, seeking blind through flesh and bone, Find the blood (iron) inside this stone.
And there is blood inside this stone, behind this hard, jagged curtain. It’s just hard to find.
What I know I’ve never shown; what I feel I’ve always known.
That which is most deeply known is furthest from being shown.
I plot my vengeance on my own; well, I was always alone.
Sometimes I think of myself as a lone wolf, but I am not. More accurately I am just a scruffy, lonely coyote. I am a scavenger, not a predator. Underneath this hoary, thinning hair, I am still a scared, insecure teenager. I have tried to prove that I am better than other people; but I have found that doesn’t make them like me. I have had to pry my own mind open after opening my own big mouth; my teeth and tongue are just as sharp as those with whom I disagree.
I have come to think of myself as a rock, incapable of thinking, incapable of free-will, incapable of changing my path. I am a star in the sky. I am grain of sand on the sea shore. (I am one of God’s, Abraham’s children.) I am a chip off the old block. One terrible day I will break free, skitter down a water fall, and get tossed into a river. On this journey, I will be broken to pieces. Parts of me will be turned to sand, winding up on the seashore. Perhaps a core will remain, smoothed by tumbling (over and over again) on a lake shore, at the mouth of a river.
Why would the Anarchist (this demon) hide something as deep and terrible as this alienation, the need for recognition and acceptance? So deep that it would turn into jealousy and spill over into rage, vengeance, retribution?
Why is this need for vindication and redemption buried so deep in me? Or is it? Perhaps it is just on the surface, a surface that is easily scraped away. And perhaps, everyone (my peers in that small town) did see it, and that is why the derision did not abate. Perhaps everyone still sees it. Perhaps those snubs are just rubbing off the rough edges; perhaps they are not meant to rub my scruffy fur the wrong way.
My song would end with these lyrics: What I feel I’ve always shown, what I am I’ve never known. I search for myself on my own; well, I was always-never-alone.
Is it any wonder that Here I go again on my own by Whitesnake and Boulevard of Broken Dreams (My shadow’s the only one who walks beside me…) are two of my favorite songs? I find it so hilarious (ironic and re-assuring) when the chorus comes in to sing My shallow heart’s the only thing that’s beating/ Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me/ ‘Til then I walk alone…
Sometimes I wish someone out there… in there (my head), in here (my home), or up there will find me.