Friday Song: “Freewill”

Friday Song: “Freewill”

At this year’s Charleston Conference, I was asked to give a talk about the publisher’s “job,” which in my mind is to serve a community. Steven Heffner of IEEE was my co-presenter, and an excellent one. We reconnected the other day during the virtual portion of the event, which brought this week’s song to mind, as I botched a Neil Peart lyric during the talk (a misquote which was nicely recorded for posterity). The correct quote is:

If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

The point of quoting Rush’s drummer and lyricist was to note that changes in editorial mediation such as eLife’s recent decision to not make accept/reject decisions (to “choose not to decide”) still represents a choice — a choice that gives authors improper decision-making power and externalizes work and confusion to the community.

The song the lyrics come from — “Freewill” — which was released in 1980 as the second track on the band’s popular Permanent Waves LP. This album that preceded by a year their mainstream breakthrough, Moving Pictures.

The song is notable musically for many reasons, including how seamlessly the time signature changes — 6/4, 7/4, 6/4, 7/4, 6/4, 8/4 — repeating as needed. You may feel it, but you might not notice it.

Written as a defense of “freedom of choice and free will, and you believing in what you decide you believe in,” according to bassist Geddy Lee, the song is renowned among fans for the soloing at its middle, where all three musicians — each an acknowledged master — cut loose, playing a memorable coordinated section of solos that always blew audiences away when played live. Guitarist Alex Lifeson called this section “hard to play” and “one of the most ambitious pieces of music Rush has ever done.”

Later in their career, Lee — who also sang and played keyboards and foot/synth pedals — wrote a bass line that he initially found impossible to play while singing the pre-chorus. His solution? “I told myself, ‘I guess I’ll just have to practice more.’” He conquered it, and that song — “Headlong Flight” — became another classic for fans.

Enjoy! Or not. It’s “Freewill,” so it’s up to you . . .