Fly by Night
This one’s tricky. A thousand memories wash through me as I hear the opening bars – this is a song which has always been with me. It seems to have spoken to me throughout my life, and it still does. Without giving too much away here (there are plans as yet unmade, and people as yet untold), we are planning the kind of life change which fits well enough with ‘Fly by Night’; not an escape, but my ship isn’t coming, and I’m tired pretending.
When I first heard it (I’m assuming it’s on ‘All the World’s a Stage; I haven’t checked), I had not long left home. All alone in the big city, I bought Rush albums to keep me company, and ‘Fly by Night’ helped me realise that I was doing the right thing (I do find that what I’m after is changing every day; that’s OK). Two years ago, I was back in Edinburgh for the day, but Phoenix Records on the High Street is long gone, sad to say, and everything has changed.
Listening to this again should make me feel warm and nostalgic; instead it makes me want to get up and do something about my life. Time to move on again; it’s been 4 years in this one place, and we’re coming to the end of it. When I write the story of our experiences, some of the chapter headings will be lines from songs, and one of them will surely be:
Change my life, again…
On the other hand…
Nope, don’t remember this. It’s kind of, well, acoustic, in feel – I can imagine it being busked on a street corner, or late at night in a packed Grassmarket pub – there’s a folkishness to it which surprises me a bit at first, but then I remember Zeppelin’s ‘Gallows Pole’, and I suppose that it’s not such an unusual sound for its time. (Not that I think it sounds a lot like ‘Gallows Pole’, but there’s a certain vibe to it.)
Second time round, I pay more attention to the lyrics. It’s already registered with me that this surely isn’t one of Neil’s, and now I suddenly realise that it’s that staple of the repertoire, a tour song! Man, life on the road is so tough; lucky we’ve got good memories to sustain us. Oddly, for a song I am not that impressed with, it stays with me; the chorus – such as it is – has a neat hook, and I’m humming it all day.
Ah, yes. Tolkien. Now, I’ve done my share of reading, and I’ve ploughed through Lord of the Rings more than once, but I think that my interest in it is more academic than imaginative. By which I suppose I mean that I’ve never felt inspired to write a song from the perspective of one of the characters. But I do understand people who are inspired like that – I have felt like living in many other books (I’m currently immersed in Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, and there’s a series which could inspire all sorts of creativity. Incidentally, I keep conflating Stephenson and Peart in my mind; they seem somehow similar people; I wonder if they’ve met?)
All of that notwithstanding, I’m not sure about this song. I remember it, sure – as a full blown acoustic ballad, it kind of stands out in the Rush repertoire – and I thought I knew what to expect, but I’m still slightly unnerved. Partly this is because I’m listening through headphones, and Geddy appears to be perched on my left shoulder, which is very disconcerting. Partly, I’m trying to work out what the background sound is – eventually, when I hear that some of it sounds like some of the guitar work in ‘Xanadu’, I realise it’s Alex being creative. I’m also wondering who wrote the melody line which causes Geddy to rupture himself reaching the highest notes.
Out of context, this is a lovely song. In the context of the whole Rush oeuvre, this is a bit of an oddity. In the context of this album, it kind of works, but I’m glad this wasn’t the path they followed.
In the End
Remember that stuff about me loving songs which begin quietly and build? Well, this was for a long time, my favourite Rush song of all. I fondly imagined being in a rock band of my own, and doing a cover of this. (Oh, come on, we’ve all done that. Haven’t we?) On listening to it now, I see it very much as the bridge between old and new; even allowing for the fact that this band is only 2 albums old, this is a long way ahead of where they used to be.
There’s a consistency to this song, and it closes the album off perfectly. To dive straight into something raucous would have been too much after the pastoral idyll of ‘Rivendell’; instead we are led gently down the garden path, and set up so that the eruption into the body of the song seems inevitable and welcoming.
This was always one of my favourites, and I can see why: great tunes (I still think ‘Fly by Night’ could have been an excellent pop song); variety; cohesiveness; even a kind of ‘concept’ feel to the thing – especially with the way the second side (it’ll always be the second side to me, even on CD) has a different sound – a different feel – to the first, only to be rounded off by ‘In the End’ bringing us full circle. It’s the first album with that true ‘Rush’ sound, where you can hear all the elements, and understand how three guys can make such a full sound. Once this exercise is over, this is one of the albums I’ll keep coming back to.