“In the dissection room I almost passed out when in anatomy class the brain was plucked out of a lifeless body. Two half spheres weighing about 1.5 kilos emerged. A left hemisphere and a right hemisphere. The title and cover of Rush’ “Hemipheres” refers to this. You see two men standing on the hemispheres of the brain. The one on the left is a man neatly dressed. It is a symbol of order and cleanliness. A naked man on the right hemisphere of the brain. Symbol for celebration, orgies and chaos. Does he lead the way? Is he the dominant person? The difference between the two half spheres has been described in literature many times. It started in Greek mythology with the battle between the gods Apollo and Dionysus. Apollo is the god of order, cleanliness and logic. It symbolizes the left half of the brain. Dionysus is the God of wine and festivities. From ecstasy and losing control of yourself. He symbolizes the right half.
If I let my left brain, Apollo, dominate, I’m just describing the facts about this cover. Neatly arranged. That the cover was made in 1978 by Hugh Syme and Bob King. That Canadian group Rush was in England at the time for the recording of this album. That side 1 of “Hemipheres” is about the battle between Apollo and Dionysus.
The facts neatly ordered. The left half is also compared to a chest of drawers. You open a drawer and you are only talking about that particular subject. You don’t bring in all sorts of other thoughts. By the way, the drawer that appeals to me most in this left half is the so-called ‘empty drawer’. Just clearing your head, not thinking about anything in particular. Just like lying on the couch while zapping, watching TV, looking at infinity.
The right brain can be compared to a high-voltage box with all kinds of electricity wires that are interconnected. If you let this half go ahead, your thoughts will fly in all directions. You make all kinds of associations and before you know it you lose yourself and you are in an ecstatic state. If I let this side dominate, with regard to this cover, I immediately sense the smell of the cutting room once again. Or I suddenly see visions of prog rock band Yes’ cover for “Going for the one”. This cover also prominently features a man in bare buttocks. And when I hear the high-pitched voice of Rush bassist and singer Geddy Lee, I get all kinds of weird thoughts that I’d better not write down.
Incidentally, I find myself in good company with those thoughts swinging back and forth. It is also a main theme in one of the works of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, just like me an avid music lover. Wagner’s and Mahler’s symphonies could lead him into ecstasy, for him the ultimate condition every human being should strive for. But when he was thrown back into the everyday reality of order and cleanliness, he immediately fell into a deep depression. It ended badly with Nietzsche. Ecstatic, he went to kiss horses in the streets of Turin. Eventually ending up in a psychiatric institution. So the trick is to keep some balance between right and left hemispheres. That is what the fifth part of side 1 of “Hemispheres” is about. The naked man and the man in a suit can best maintain a dialogue with each other. The naked man may lead the way, but the gentleman has to consider whether it is the right way and not ultimately leading into chaos.
To be honest, this LP had disappeared a bit from both hemispheres of my brain. In fact, I no longer had a copy in my record collection, I may have lent it to someone and never got it back. But this week the album suddenly appeared in a collection that was for sale. It is a wonderful asset. It might be Rush’s most progressive rock album. The entire album consists of intricate arrangements and thought-provoking lyrics from drummer Neil Peart. And the record cover is simply stunning. It now hangs prominently on the wall. I just have to make sure that all associations with the cutting room fade into the background.”
By Gerrit-Jan Vrielink
Translation: Alex Driessen