Friday, March 27, 2015

Middletown Dreams

Rush's "Middletown Dreams", from their 1985 album Power Windows, has always affected me.  Many of their songs do, but this one is especially powerful.  The beloved Canadian power trio have a 40 year catologue of haunting lyrics and majesty in their music.  Teens from any decade could painfully relate to "Subdivisions", for certain.  "Red Sector A", from 1984's Grace Under Pressure,  is a commanding, heartfelt Holocaust remembrance.

"Middletown Dreams" is a straightforward tune, an ode to those good folk, young and old, in small towns who yearn for something bigger.  Each verse draws a portrait of someone you may have known, possibly yourself. Or at least someone who shares your mental flights of fancy as you survey your humdrum existence. With few words drummer/lyricist Neil Peart conjures some vivid Americana (Canadiana?) of those whose dreams are perhaps the only essence or measure of their self worth as they wander modest landscapes and surrender to a far from stimulating lifestyle.

Dreams flow across the heartland and feeding on the fires
Dreams transport desires
Drive you when you're down
Dreams transport the ones who need to get out of town, out of town

You might say these lyrics are somewhat of the flip side to those individuals "caught in ticking traps", those who escaped the suburbs for the excitement of the city in "Subdivisions".

"Middletown" really came to life for me during the summer I lived in Clermont, FL.   Back in 1991, that town off Highway 50 west of Orlando had only a few traffic lights, a Ryan's Steakhouse, and a shopping center.  A very Mayberry kind of place, far different than what I was used to.  The folks went about their business, humble and genuine.  I hate to paint in broad strokes but it really did resemble like a neo-Norman Rockwell  piece of art.  I was living in a big, ancient two story with an elderly woman named Opal who was friends with my fiancee's mother.  She made me breakfast every day, even when I told her I had no time to eat it as I had to make the daily drive at the crack of dawn into the city.   To sell things.  I was miserable.  

I met some of Opal's neighbors.  A few reminded me of this verse:

The middle-aged Madonna
Calls her neighbor on the phone
Day by day the seasons pass
And leave her life alone

But she'll go walking out that door
On some bright afternoon
To go and paint big cities
From the lonely attic room

I thought about their lives.  Did they feel helpless to move on?  Did they even desire that? Was I some sort of elitist?  Listening to Rush's song that summer gave it more weight, gave me something more to ponder than Alex Lifeson's insanely complicated guitar licks and Geddy Lee's synths and bassline.  Though their music itself positively evoked the feelings of loneliness in a quiet town, its stillness.  Quite an interesting feat, a paradox to create busy instrumentation yet also some crystal clear visions of the "flyover" town.  Peart's words tell an unmistakable story, but the entire thing works to stir the heart and mind.
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