Rush’s Alex Lifeson on 40 Years of ‘2112’: ‘It Was Our Protest Album’
Forty years ago this week, the three white-tunic-clad prophets of Rush foretold an intergalactic war on their prog-rock magnum opus, 2112. They predicted that in less than half a century, in the year 2062 to be precise, the universe will finally find peace — and oppression — as the Solar Federation unifies warring planets and instates the music-hating Priests of the Temples of Syrinx as overlords. Everything will change, however, in 2112 when an optimistic, anonymous free thinker finds a “strange device” (a guitar) and martyrs himself while attempting to bring melody to the stars. And that’s just half of the story.
On their lofty follow-up to 1975’s commercially unsuccessful Caress of Steel, Rush finally reached the pivotal moment where they became capital-R Rush, the bigger-than-life hard-rock dreamers they always knew they could be, ever since vocalist-bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson formed the group as Toronto high schoolers during the late Sixties. The band members, which by that point included drummer-lyricist Neil Peart, were all in their early twenties, and they let their imaginations run wild on 2112.
To the chagrin of the record company, one half of the LP contained the 20-minute, eight-movement suite “2112,” an Ayn Rand–inspired science-fiction ode to individualism, while the other found the trio singing about marijuana tourism (“A Passage to Bangkok”), the TV series The Twilight Zone (the song “The Twilight Zone”) and more individualism (“Something for Nothing”), among other subjects. This strange blend earned the band a triple-platinum plaque from the RIAA and changed the members’ lives forever.
Alex Lifeson, now 62, spoke to Rolling Stone from his home in Toronto in early March to reflect on how the album set into motion four decades of defying expectations.
What was your headspace around 2112?
We were still quite young, 22 years old, when we did that. We were touring so much that we wrote it mostly in arena dressing rooms, and in the car and the van. It was done in pieces. The great thing was that we had a chance to rehearse it during soundchecks, so we were well prepared by the time we got into the studio.
How long did it take to record?
It was about two weeks to record and mix. I remember it being a lot of fun, and we felt really positively about it. We were working with Terry Brown at the time, at Toronto Sound, which was a very small 16-track studio. I remember there was a lot of smoky haze in the room [laughs]. When we worked on “Discovery,” I think it was honey oil [marijuana] that was around at the time, so that was a wonderful inspiration. And I do remember working late nights ’til six or seven in the morning with our feet up on the console and suddenly all of us waking up to the flapping of the reel going around and around on the tape machine. It was just the feeling of being in a wonderful place.