If, god forbid, Paul Ryan were to get elected vice president, we might have our first executive-branch hard-rock fan, which is somewhat in line with rock culture's slow shift from radical to conservative. When Ryan, in his late-August RNC speech, detailed the contents of his iPod by stating "my playlist starts with AC/DC and ends with Zeppelin," no one was really surprised. However, in leaving us to fill in the blanks from Lynyrd Skynyrd to ZZ Top, there is one question on every political-minded hard-rock fan's mind: How many Rush albums does he have?
A fair question; not only because no classic-rock playlist is complete without at least a few epics by the prog-rocking Canadian power trio, but because ever since their second album, when John Rutsey was replaced in the summer of 1974 by Neil Peart, Rush's music has consistently espoused a certain high-minded philosophy that could be easily categorized as Ayn Randian. Ryan's connection to Ayn Rand is pretty clear: he has been an outspoken advocate for her philosophy of Objectivism, spelling out his devotion to her work in 2005 when, in a speech to the Randians of the Atlas Society, he stated "If I had to credit . . . one person [who inspired me], it would be Ayn Rand."
It's not a drastic leap from a sentiment like that to the words of Neil Peart; "Anthem" from 1975's Fly By Night, for instance, espouses Rand's theme of the virtues of selfishness. But it's worth noting that, amid the wanton hedonism of '70s rock, pop, and soul, Rush's stance didn't particularly stand out as politically incorrect. Rush may not have sung about smoking doobs, but otherwise their notions of railing against a collectivist regime seemed no more "selfish" than "Slow Ride," "Walk This Way," or any other in-rotation 1975 hard-rock classic.
In 1976, Rush released 2112; the title track was a side-long sci-fi Peart ode to the struggle of the individual against a collective authority. As the tune's premise is cribbed heavily from Ayn Rand's novella Anthem, Peart dutifully credited her in the liner notes, thanking "the genius of Ayn Rand." The band received flack from critics, some of whom labeled the album "fascist," mistakenly thinking that the band sided with the crushing authority that the song's protagonist clashed with. But more to the point, they could read between the lines: with the popular ascent of Rush, rock had a band whose politics lay squarely at odds with the folk, beatnik, and hippie traditions of communalism and collective experience. Did we all come together against Vietnam and Nixon so that a trio of Canadians could fill stadiums with riffing paens to the perils of taking care of those less able?
In April 2010, while at a stop on the campaign trail that eventually led to a Kentucky Senate seat, Tea Party then-hopeful Rand Paul quoted Rush outside of an eatery. "Glittering prizes and endless compromises shatter the illusion of integrity," Dr. Paul shouted, borrowing a line from 1980's "Spirit of Radio." It was the exact confluence of Ayn Rand and right-wing politics that the band had been steering clear of for decades. In an interview this June with Rolling Stone promoting Clockwork Angels, Rush's latest, Peart responded to the Rand question by stating that he considers himself "a bleeding-heart libertarian," and expressed his disappointment in the way his initial concept of libertarianism got "twisted by the flaws of humanity."