Rush – Middletown Dreams

Prog rockers Rush, at their concerts, probably see a lot of grey pony tails in the audience. They were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame this year after decades of their complicated, and often philosophical, recordings being adored by a passionate, even cult-like following.

This song, from their 1985 album, Power Windows, is a deep cut with many musical and melodic niceties, though now perhaps dated by the keyboard sounds. It appears to be about suburbia.

We often read and hear how modern life is a an urban one, but it may be more apt to call it a suburban existence: most people don’t live in the downtowns of their city, but on its peripheries. The suburbs are typically criticized for a sameness most famously articulated by folkie Pete Seeger, with Little Boxes. They are also the bane of progressive urban planners who highlight the economic, social and environmental costs of sprawling cities.

Rush nonetheless notes that “life’s not unpleasant” in these neighbourhoods, so long as one holds onto their dreams, whatever they may be.


Pete Seeger – Little Boxes

You might know this 1963 song as the original opening music to the television program, Weeds, before protagonist Nancy Botwin literally burned down the suburbia criticized by the tune.

Given that so many people aspire to a detached home in a nice neighbourhood, the brief song is somewhat sanctimonious. Inside those copycat homes can still be vibrant families making contributions to their country. But the song does draw attention to the conformity wrought by urban planning and can remind us of the importance of not following the crowd. Going into business for martini lunches does not have to be the American dream, nor does a rambling folkster life in the vein of Seeger or Woody Guthrie cut it for others.

The dominant paradigm today in city planning is “mixed use” and density,” a shift away from the American Beauty-movie conception of suburbia which only hides so many problems; to combine residential living with businesses: to live on one floor, with a coffee shop and office space in the same building. The thought behind this also seeks to rectify the transportation needs of suburban commutes to downtowns, in the name of the environment. In short, Seeger’s song (actually, written by Malvina Reynolds), has been influential.

Now in his 90s, folkie Seeger continues his activism, at Occupy Movement marches. In decades past he has appeared before the House Un-american Activities Committee, opposed the Vietnam War, helped clean up the Hudson River… the list goes on. A self-described communist once called “Stalin’s Songbird,” in fact he adopts the argument that the atrocities of the Soviet Union were not about the ideology, as it was improperly applied.

Also by Seeger reviewed here: Where Have All The Flowers Gone