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Distant Early Warning Lyrics

An ill wind comes arising
Across the cities of the plain
There's no swimming in the heavy water-
No singing in the acid rain
Red alert (red alert)
Red alert (red alert)

It's so hard to stay together
Passing through revolving doors
We need someone to talk to
And someone to sweep the floors-
Incomplete (Incomplete)
Incomplete!

The world weighs on my shoulders
But what am I to do?
You sometimes drive me crazy-
But I worry about you

I know it makes no difference
To what you're going through
But I see the tip of the iceberg-
And I worry about you...

Cruising under your radar
Watching from satellites
Take a page from the red book-
Keep them in your sights
Red alert (red alert)
Red alert (red alert)

Left and rights of passage
Black and whites of youth
Who can face the knowledge
That the truth is not the truth?
Obsolete (Obsolete)
Absolute Yeah!

The world weighs on my shoulders
But what am I to do?
You sometimes drive me crazy-
But I worry about you

I know it makes no difference
To what you're going through
But I see the tip of the iceberg-
And I worry about you...

The world weighs on my shoulders
But what am I to do?
You sometimes drive me crazy-
But I worry about you

I know it makes no difference
To what you're going through
But I see the tip of the iceberg-
And I worry about you...

Absalom
Absalom
Absalom
Song Info
Submitted by
Submitted on
May 26, 2002
27 Meanings
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NOTES

"no swimming in the heavy water" -a pun on heavy water, an altered form of H2O used in plutonium production. Nuclear fallout is thus hinted at.

"no singing in the acid rain" -an ironic pun on the classic hollywood musical "singin' in the rain." The insertion of "acid" into the phrase turns the happy-go-lucky tone of the film on its head, since acid rain is a dangerous result of pollution.

"take a page from the red book" -I'm betting this is a rather obscure allusion to Tolkien. We know from "Rivendell" that Peart is a fan, so I think it's fair to assume he is familiar with the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, in which it is claimed that both The Hobbit and LOTR were translated from The Red Book discovered by Tolkien. Many readers of Tolkien noticed parallels between the events in Middle Earth and political events in the '30s and '40s, including the policy of appeasement taken by Britain towards Hitler. Sauron's unchecked rise to power after his defeat by the men and elves mirrors Germany's rise after her defeat in WWI. Since this song addresses the Cold War, to "take a page from the Red Book and keep them in your sights" in this context means to remain vigilant and attempt when possible to check the power of the Soviets.

"Absalom, Absalom, Absalom!" -Absalom in the Hebrew Bible is one of King David's sons, who incites and leads a rebellion against his father, splitting the Kingdom of Israel and ultimately precipitating his own death in battle. After David's victory, David mourned his son's death against the wishes of his general, who feared demoralizing the troops. This line is likely an indirect allusion to this biblical story, routed as it were through Faulkner's novel "Absalom, Absalom!" which also deals with conflict between father and son. As for how this allusion fits in with the themes in the rest of the song, I'm kind of at a loss.

Here is a link with interview quotes with Pert talking about the Absalom reference:

songfacts.com/detail.php

@tommythecat42 Neil Peart stated that for a father (King David) mourning, CRYING over his son's death (Absalom), THEN saying he wished he had died instead of his son, even son who rebelled against him. Neil said in an interview David saying that last part-that it IS the ultimate expression of compassion. ............I wish I were dead instead of my son who rebelled against me! :(......

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As a parent of 2 teens, I see Neil dealing with the issues surrounding his teenage daughter growing up, He sees the problems, issues, troubles that she may have on the horizon and is struggling with how to deal with them. Should he get involved early and try to shelter, or let her learn as she goes, the way he likely did. The DEW references and political references are his way of showing how important it is for him to handle it correctly as the consequences are as big as they can be for a parent.

My Opinion
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Interesting aside-:The world weighs on my shoulders(Atlas)But what am I to do?(shrugged)Another nod to Ayn Rand?

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This song always reminds me of when I think about my friends either being in trouble or heading towards trouble, and there's nothing I can do to help them. It's a great song, and definitely one of my favorite Rush songs.

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Distant Early Warning refers to a system that NORAD set up in Northern Canada to detect incoming Soviet missiles. I think the song talks about nuclear war and the video does too.

@floydfan87 I thought NORAD did Santa tracking. Hm. Guess not.

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Excellent comments. I have an alternative viewpoint to offer. When I first heard this track, I had a sense that the actual speaker of the words was actually an Artificial Intelligence (AI) that was standing watch over the DEW Line. I speculated as to whether there were any actual survivors - "We need someone to talk to And someone to sweep the floors- Incomplete (Incomplete) Incomplete!

Perhaps overthinking the meaning, but I WAS born in the '50s, so this was definitely part of my childhood. :-)

Read more at songmeanings.net/songs/view/107543/

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very cool

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The lyrics quote the writer Faulkner

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Great song, interesting video.

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I agree with "floydfan87:" The first paragraph says very clearly, "There's no swimming in the heavy water- No singing in the acid rain Red alert (red alert)." Heavy water is D20, Hydrogen with an extra neutron. It is utilized in the production of nuclear warheads. Accompanied by "acid rain," it's talking about all the complexities of our society and whether we are receiving "Distant Early Warnings," just like they did through NORAD. It is a metaphor for our own ability to deal with the complexity of a falling-apart world. That's why "The world weights on my shoulders." Love the lyric, "Left and rights of passage." NOt to mention kick-ass musicianship! :)

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