Like many young nerds who came of age during the 1980s, I loved the music of RUSH--driving, compelling rock beats with intricate, literate lyrics about outsiders and the harshness of the modern world. The tune "Red Barchetta" (Moving Pictures, 1981) in particular seemed crafted for a 16-year-old just learning to drive, even though I was stuck with a goose-shit-green VW Rabbit rather than a vintage sports car. It's a song about a dystopian future in which automobiles are outlawed, though the hero of the song sneaks off each week to drive a sleek red car at high speeds. It's full of killer guitar riffs that sound like engines and evocative lyrics describing a science fiction world, and how can you not love that? Lately, though, I listened to this song with fresh ears, and the contrast between my young impressions and those of my middle-aged self alarmed me somewhat. Let's break down this song line by line and unpack some of the baggage associated with it, shall we?
Music and Lyrics by Geddy Lee, Neal Peart and Alex Lifeson
My uncle has a country place Here we learn about the nightmare future in which gas
That no one knows about engines are outlawed, and the totalitarian state restricts
He says it used to be a farm travel and watches its citizens. Terrifying, right? Except
Before the Motor Law in today's world, we are trying to cut back on fossil fuels,
And on Sundays I elude the Eyes and there are cameras everywhere. In the '80s I didn't
And hop the turbine freight want to live in a world like this; now, I kind of feel like
To far outside the wire "Meh. Could be worse."
Where my white-haired uncle waits
Jump to the ground as the turbo slows I accepted this with little thought for years. Old cars turn
To cross the borderline up in barns all the time, and people restore and preserve
Run like the wind as excitement shivers these vehicles in pristine condition. Except think about it:
Up and down my spine Cars have been outlawed for fifty years, the song says.
For down in his barn Where is this old codger getting the parts and supplies to
My uncle preserved for me maintain this beast? It's not like it's a production car (say,
An old machine a VW Rabbit). No, it's a rare vintage roadster. Suddenly
For fifty odd years my disbelief has trouble staying suspended.
To keep it as new has been his dearest dream
I strip away the old debris Now maybe the old guy is a genius mechanic,with his own
That hides a shining car machine shop. Maybe there's an underground market for
A brilliant red Barchetta obsolete car parts. Maybe there's even plenty of leftover
From a better vanished time. tires, because sure. But can you please explain to me
Ooh fire it up the willing engine where these guys get fuel for a 50-year-old car in a world
Responding with a roar that has outlawed gasoline engines?
Tires spitting gravel I commit my weekly crime.
Wind Now just shut up a minute and listen to this verse and the
In my hair music, because no one has ever described high perform-
Shifting and drifting ance driving better.
Well weathered leather, hot metal and oil
The scented country air
Sunlight on chrome, the blur of the landscape
Every nerve aware.
Suddenly ahead of me Aha! Conflict! Our hero encounters two modern vehicles
Across the mountainside that pursue him through the valley--aircars, which I assume
A gleaming alloy aircar shoots toward me to be hovercraft or ground effect vehicles like those found in
Two lanes wide David Drake's Hammer's Slammers stories. But they are
I spin around with shrieking tires two lanes wide, which begs the question: what has the
To run the deadly race Red Barchetta been riding on all this time? Aircars don't
Go screaming through the valley need roads, so why are the roads maintained? Have you
As another joins the chase seen a road neglected even for a couple of years, let alone
Ride like the wind
Straining the limits of machine and man Furthermore, I always figured these cars were the cops of
Laughing out loud with fear and hope the day. Wouldn't they coordinate their chase better? After
I’ve got a desperate plan all, this kid has been out here every Sunday! And they
At the one lane bridge don't even check to see if a one-lane bridge is coming up!
I leave the giants stranded
At the riverside Oh, well, at least our totalitarian government doesn't have
Race back to the farm helicopters or satellite surveillance, so our hero can do this
To dream with my uncle at the fireside. all again next week. No way they'll be waiting.
Don't get me wrong: I love this song. I just never gave thought to the inconsistencies in my interpretation, and I certainly never thought before that the hero was kind of a criminal!
Before RUSH purists sneer at me, Yes, I know that "Red Barchetta" is based on the short story "A Nice Morning Drive" by Richard Foster, 1973. The story explains a lot that was not made clear in the song, but that's kind of my point. For years I listened to the song, accepting the world it portrayed--but only when you get old and crotchety do you start to think, "Slow down, you young punk!"