Retrospective: Losing It

Honestly, how many Rush songs deserve retrospection? I thought of “Anthem”, “2112”, “Xanadu”, “The Spirit of Radio”, “Subdivisions”, “Red Sector A”, “Prime Mover,” “Animate”, “Far Cry”, and “The Anarchist”. Quickly dismissed them all. Now that I’m in my fifties — and seeing a pandemic like Covid-19 rob people of their dreams, successes, and even life — the song for reflection is obvious.

“Losing It” (1982) is the white whale of the Rush canon. It’s a calm and mature track on the otherwise aggressive Signals (1982) album, but it’s depressing as hell — so depressing that I sometimes can’t listen to it. Usually I find bleak songs therapeutic, but there’s something about the ethereal melancholy of “Losing It” that makes me feel isolated — as if I’m really at the end of my meaningful existence, when everyone I know and the things I cherish are fading away. I’m not sure why it affects me that extremely, and it may be my favorite Rush song for this reason. Even if it’s the one I often have to skip over in my playlists.

The song laments getting old and losing talent, using the examples of a dancer and a writer. The dancer can’t cut it anymore, suffering from aching limbs and burning lungs, and she limps to her bedroom clutching memories of her successful years (“the echoes of old applause”). The writer is washed up, unable to fill empty pages, crying over his own memories:

Thirty years ago, how the words would flow
With passion and precision
But now his mind is dark and dulled
By sickness and indecision

And he stares out the kitchen door
Where the sun will rise no more

As a middle-aged writer I see my future in these verses. What’s astonishing is that the song came from the early part of Rush’s career. Neil Peart was only 29 when he wrote it — already imagining himself and his fellow band members as has-beens at the end of their careers. In an interview he described it thus: “It’s a horrible thing. You spend all your life learning how to do a thing and then because of something beyond your control, all of a sudden you can’t do it anymore. It’s very sad. There’s an essential dynamic to life that you have a prime, and you have something leading up to that prime. The essence was whether it was worse to lose something great or whether it was worse to have never known it.” (Italics mine.)

Thus one of the saddest and most poignant verses in rock history: “Sadder still to watch it die than never to have known it.” When there’s a part of me wishing that my life had been boring and mundane, so that I don’t have much to lose, that’s staring into the eye of mortality. There will come that day, when the bell tolls for each one of us. I hope that “Losing It” has done whatever small part it can in preparing me.

 

Listen here (if you’re up to it) and sing.

🎶

The dancer slows her frantic pace
In pain and desperation
Her aching limbs and downcast face
Aglow with perspiration

Stiff as wire, her lungs on fire
With just the briefest pause
The flooding through her memory
The echoes of old applause

And she limps across the floor
And closes her bedroom door

The writer stares with glassy eyes
Defies the empty page
His beard is white, his face is lined
And streaked with tears of rage

Thirty years ago, how the words would flow
With passion and precision
But now his mind is dark and dulled
By sickness and indecision

And he stares out the kitchen door
Where the sun will rise no more

Some are born to move the world
To live their fantasies
But most of us just dream about
The things we’d like to be

Sadder still to watch it die
Than never to have known it
For you, the blind who once could see
The bell tolls for thee, bell tolls for

For you, the blind who once could see
The bell tolls for thee, bell tolls for thee

🎶

From the album Signals, 1982.

Also watch the only live performance of the song on the Rush’s final tour in 2015. It was a special performance that brought the house down in tears.

One thought on “Retrospective: Losing It

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