We are the Priests
Of the Temples of Syrinx
All the gifts of life
Are held within our walls
The above four lines are part of the second section of Rush’s epic 2112 – a 20 minute long song that tells the story of one persons discovery of music.
That is, music not controlled by the Priests of Syrinx. With every aspect of life governed and dolled out by the sinister Priests, when the unnamed protagonist finds a guitar in long lost caverns they become captivated by what it could mean…
What can this strange device be?
When I touch it, it gives forth a sound
It’s got wires that vibrate, and give music
What can this thing be that I found?
…In their eagerness and instilled belief that the Priests have their best interest at heart, they can’t wait to show them their discovery…
I know it’s most unusual
To come before you so
But I’ve found an ancient miracle
I thought that you should know
Listen to my music
And hear what it can do
There’s something here as strong as life
I know that it will reach you.
But the discovery isn’t met with the reaction they hoped for. The Priests, instantly recognising how music that doesn’t conform could be a great threat to everything they have built, react poorly…
Yes, we know
It’s nothing new
It’s just a waste of time
We have no need for ancient ways
Our world is doing fine
That helped destroy
The elder race of man
Forget about your silly whim
It doesn’t fit the plan
The song progresses and the protagonist reels with their rejection.
I’ll leave the rest of the song alone and instead focus on why I love it as much as I do.
Firstly, the music. The song begins with a three-ish minute instrumental that manages to convey the intensity of an upheavel and then an exodus, with the only lyrics coming as the music fades into the next section – And the meek shall inherit the Earth.
This instrumental sets up the rest of the song. You’re introduced to the Priests and the world they inhabit. Their world, completely under their control with no room for dissent or disturbance. The music is fast, it grabs you and drags you along, refusing to let you go until it suddenly ceases and you’re left the sound of trickling music. Enter the protagonist, who discovers a guitar, and figures out how to play it. I highly doubt anyone could go from discovery of a guitar to the virtuoso display that Alex Lifeson dolls out a few moments later; the music is beautiful and fills you up. Geddy Lee’s voice hits the perfect balance between naivety and hope. You feel the joy of the character, and the light they have discovered in their controlled, monotone world.
During the presentation of the guitar to the Priests the music and lyrics cut harshly back and forth between the thrumming rock of the Priests and the gentle, hopeful strumming of the protagonist. The contrast between the two serves to hammer home the differences in the ideologies, and as the Priests dismiss the protagonist, the heavy rock steadily overrides and overcomes the hopeful guitar.
2112 was written by drummer Neil Peart and is one of the earliest examples of his foray into sci-fi/fantasy song writing. With it he sets up and executes a story with an economy of words that is incredible to me. Introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement – all driven forward by Rush’s inventiveness and mastery of their instruments.
I would be remiss not to mention that the music and style will not be for everyone. Just like books, enjoyment of music is a very subjective thing, and the prog rock style that Rush had during the late seventies may have some people switching it off before the first minute.
Peart wrote many other sci-fi/fantasy songs like Red Barchetta and essentially all of the Clockwork Angels album (which he and Kevin J Anderson turned into a novel).
There are more, but to me 2112 is the best of them. It is an incredible feat of storytelling, both through words and music.