"2112" is the side-long title track of an album released in 1976 by Canadianprogressive rock band Rush. The overture and the first section, Temples of Syrinx, were released as a single and have been featured in most of Rush's setlists since. The "sci-fi" sounds in the beginning of the song were created using an ARP Odysseysynthesizer and an Echoplex tape delay. On the "2112 / Moving Pictures" episode of the documentary series Classic Albums, producer Terry Brown states the synth intro is composed of various parts played by Hugh Syme that were put together in a collage. Today, when any parts of the song are performed live, they are transposed down one full step, as heard on every live album and DVD from Different Stagesforward.
This song is described in the liner notes of the album—its interior and back cover—in two ways:
by the actually-sung lyrics, and
by the narrative of the song's Protagonist—identified as "Anonymous, 2112"—quoted and italicized like entries from a personal journal—on the back cover and before the lyrics of all songs except "Overture" and "Grand Finale".
Both serve as the source, except where otherwise noted, of all that follows.
Lyricist/drummer Neil Peart isCREDITED in the liner notes as acknowledging "the genius of Ayn Rand." Many listeners believe that "2112" is based on Ayn Rand's book, Anthem, as Neil Peart explained theINFLUENCE that the book had on his music, saying in a 1991 "Rockline" interview:
The inspiration behind it was ... It's difficult always to trace those lines because so many things tend to coalesce, and in fact it ended up being quite similar to a book called Anthem by the writer Ayn Rand. But I didn't realize that while I was working on it, and then eventually as the story came together, the parallels became obvious to me and I thought, 'Oh gee, I don't want to be a plagiarist here.' So I did giveCREDIT to her writings in the liner notes.
This part musically foreshadows the rest of the song—incorporating movements from "The Temples Of Syrinx", "Presentation", "Oracle: The Dream", and "Soliloquy"—as well as a guitar adaptation of a familiar part of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. Its sole lyric, at the end, "And the meek shall inherit the Earth", is a reference to the Beatitudes of the New Testament and Psalm 37:11.
The meaning of this part is not explained; some listeners regard this part (and this lyric) as signifying the rise of theSOLARFederation, an event described on the back cover as follows:
The Protagonist lives in "the bleakness of Megadon", reflecting on how "we have had peace since 2062, when the surviving planets were banded together under the Red Star of the Solar Federation." The Protagonist initially believes what he's been told, thinkinghe is happy, until he finds, as will soon be seen, "something that changed it all"—an old guitar from the time before the Federation.
Everything he's been "told" comes from "The Priests of the Temples of Syrinx". The Priests—relying on an elaborate set of "great computers"—micromanage every aspect of Federation life: They proclaim, "We've taken care of everything—the words you read and the songs you sing. ... Never need to wonder how or why", asserting a "Brotherhood of Man". But their "equality" is illusory: They control all available information, and, as will soon become clear, have little tolerance for individuality or creativity that doesn't conform to their plan.
The song is hard rock, except for a gentle acoustic guitar tag at the end—foreshadowing the next part, "Discovery".
Note: In Greek mythology, Syrinx is a water nymph. Temples are ascension symbols and are regarded to be closer to the gods with their height. The computerized nature of The Priests' system was a concept envisioned by Neil Peart in the 1970s. The syrinx is the vocal organ of birds, analogous to the larynx in mammals.
The Protagonist finds the guitar—the life-changing thing—in a cave by a waterfall. He figures out how to tune and play it—enabling him to make his own music: "How different it could be from the music of the Temples!" He decides to perform it before the Priests, believing they will "praise my name" for letting "the people ... all make their own music."
In this song, guitarist Alex Lifeson builds up from simple open string guitar playing into increasingly complex patterns and chords, showing the man's progress as he teaches himself to play the guitar.
Note: Printed on the album were the lyrics "Chords that build high like a mountain" and Geddy sang it this way for the 1996 live album, but the original recorded lyrics were "sounds" instead of "chords" ("sounds that build...").
The Protagonist performs before the Priests, but they—particularly Father Brown—express not "grateful joy" but "quiet rejection": They tell him that "we have no need for ancient ways", and dismiss the instrument as a "silly whim" that "doesn't fit the plan"—in fact, "another toy that helped destroy the elder race of man." Not believing "these things", the Protagonist tries to explain, "our world could use this beauty; just think what we might do"—to no avail. Father Brown stomps on the guitar and destroys it, and the Priests tell him, "Don't annoy us further."
Vocalist/bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson alternately represent the Protagonist—with gentle, low-pitched vocals and clean, soft rock guitar—and the Priests—with harsh, high-pitched vocals and distorted, hard rock guitar. The song ends with a guitar solo outro similar instrumentally to the chorus of "The Temples of Syrinx".
The Protagonist "wanders home" and has a vision of the past andFUTURE—he "guesses" it was a dream, but it seems "so vivid" to him: An oracle shows him the way it was before the Federation rose—a society where creativity and individuality flourished, with great "sculptured" works of beauty driven by "the pure spirit of man." He now sees that without these things, life has become "meaningless."
But he also sees "the hand of man arise with hungry mind and open eyes": The "elder race" was not destroyed, but "left our planets long ago", plotting to ultimately return "home to tear the Temples down."
The protagonist returns to the cave and broods for "days". He imagines "what my life might be in a world like I have seen", and now considers life under the Federation "cold and empty", with his spirits "low in the depths of despair". He resolves that, in order to "pass into the world of my dream, and know peace at last", he must take his own life—his narrative ending as "my life blood spills over."
One of the most famous soliloquies in literature is Hamlet's where he contemplates suicide, saying "To sleep, perchance to dream". The title of the song movementINDICATES a similar struggle where the protagonist chooses the liberation of spirit "that with my death I may pass into the world of my dreams, and know peace at last".
The song concludes with an upbeat hard rock instrumental part. Like "Overture", the meaning here is ambiguous. Pingree's Music Reviews says, "‘2112’ ends with the oppressive government being attacked by another entity, left entirely up to the listener’s interpretation." On the Classic Albums episode on 2112 and Moving Pictures, Lee comments on the ambiguity of the ending, but Peart states that his intent was that the Elder Race successfully deposed theSOLAR Federation.
As the Grand Finale ends, the message "Attention all planets of theSOLAR Federation" (7 words) is spoken three times (7x3 = 21), followed by three repetitions of "We have assumed control." (four words; 4x3 = 12), echoing the title of the song.
This song is on Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock where it is used within the game's storyline (four band warriors find Demigod's Battle Axe Guitar and must play all parts of "2112" on basic controllers). The level is narrated by Rush.
It was made available to download on December 31, 2011 as both 3 pieces and as the complete 20-minute track, for play in Rock Band 3 Basic, and PRO mode which utilizes real guitar / bass guitar, and MIDICOMPATIBLE electronic drum kits in addition to vocals.
Electric Six recorded a cover version of "Overture" and "The Temples of Syrinx" as part of aPLEDGE package for their Absolute Treasure Kickstarter campaign. The cover was subsequently released online.