I was just listening to Bravado, one of Rush’s greatest songs. On their 1998 album Different Stages, it really stood out to me (and the mead probably helped!). I wanted to juxtapose the lyrics to it with some thoughts I have. Maybe listen to it live on Youtube or something, it’s quite a piece. Very aspirational and inspiring. The first two lines feature the pithy line, flying too close to the sun.
It is an amazing song about willingness to risk, courage, vision, sacrifice, dedication, love, sorrow, and meaning.
It has me staring out the window, eyes welled up with tears.
I think of Enya’s: “Who can say where road goes, where the day flows? Only Time./ And who can say if your love goes/ As your heart chose? Only Time.” (LINK)
Back to Bravado, the invigorating song about glory by Rush (from their album, Roll the Bones):
If we burn our wings
Flying too close to the sun…
I was just thinking of the myth of Icarus the other day (LINK) when I was writing about the spectacular rise and sort-of-sad fall of Val Kilmer, the actor extraordinaire. Both the mythological character Icarus and the modern-day actor put it all on the line, and left it all on the court, as the sayings go. No retreat, no surrender, as the Spartans said. Full-tilt, as Ken Miles would say. Icarus wanted to fly as close to the heavens as possible, forgetting the sun… Kilmer took the roles he wanted and inhabited them the way a poltergeist inhabits a body. For the former, the world was spiraling toward the tragic character as he fell to Earth; for the latter, no compromises and no shortcuts took a toll—in many senses of the phrase…
I think of a Harriet Tubman, or an Olympic sprinter who pushed the limits to the point of exhaustion—or worse. What about Olympic diver Greg Louganis getting back on the high diving board after hitting his head on the board? Wow, that is courage.
Greg said: “Fear is a part of everything you do…You have to take great risks to earn big rewards.”
Amelia Earhart tried and tried and tried at aviation. She succeeded in many ways, and had much to be proud of. Yet, she met with a tragic end, probably in the form of the ocean busting through her cockpit window. I have to imagine that she had plenty of fear—panic, even—but perhaps she did have the wherewithal and grace to take a moment and reflect on all she accomplished and what kind of a person she was, and thought to herself, “This is my end, but it was all worth it.”
This soliloquy from Henry V, the Shakespearean play, is long but is an elegant and compelling description of a king’s speech to his soldiers to buck up because they were the pride of England; someday, should they live, they will enjoy a place of honor back home and will forever be part of “a band of brothers”:
In the stanza below, lyricist Neil Peart is saying in these lines that in some cases, the heroes and the winners and the leaders have to stretch themselves beyond the norm—beyond, perhaps, what seems possible.
If the moment of glory
Is over before it’s begun;
If the dream is won—
Though everything is lost…
A.P. Gouthev said, “To get profit without risk, experience without danger, and reward without work, is as impossible as it is to live without being born.”
The inimitable author and existentialist Albert Camus urged future generations to “Live life to the point of tears.” He died at age 47 in a car crash, three years after winning the Nobel Prize for literature.
“Imagine living the same life you do now, only loving deeply and continually—delighting in the warmth of your morning shower, relishing the smell of breakfast cooking, celebrating with the birds on your way to work, enjoying driving the roadways, feeling bonds of cooperation with your co-workers, cherishing your family members, and deeply appreciating whatever and whoever is at hand. Visualize going through the activities of a typical day while deeply caring about what you are doing, a day in which sensitivity, affection, warmth, and wonder fill the moments.“
Do you know who absolutely killed it for 40 years, with only the occasional pause for something like the death of a spouse? Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart, and Geddy Lee of the rock group, Rush. They boast a fan following beyond compare. The thing most people respect about these guys is that they kept their axe to the wheel, kept making albums and touring. Despite injury, arthritis, family concerns, and the fatigue of “road life”, these virtuosos of progressive rock kept pushing and pushing and pushing..…
Rush is more successful than any rock-and-roll band next to the Rolling Stones and, of course, the Beatles. True legends.
Next in the song Bravado, lyricist and drummer-beyond-comparison Neil Peart writes:
We will pay the price,
But we will not count the cost.
Such rare devotion he is referring to. Perseverance. Bravery. A singular focus. Drive. Unparalleled sacrifice. Valor. Glory. Honor.
Have you pursued a goal to such a mad degree that it cost you something significant? I’m not just talking about the sore fingers of the writer, the bruises of the sports enthusiast, the speeding tickets of the automobile racer.
Many of you have had children… Think back on the long nights, the challenging days.
Some readers obtained a Ph.D., or run into burning buildings for a living.
“Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things.”
Balls to the wall, as my swimming coach used to say. Pushing so hard you think you might just collapse…
One of the first African-American major-league baseball players, Jackie Robinson, faced tremendous hurdles and obstacles to break through the racial barrier bigots placed in his way. On this topic, he said:
“Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.”
Brendan Francis believed that “Inspirations never go in for long engagements; they demand immediate marriage to action.”
I know. I’m obsessive-compulsive and perfectionistic. So is everyone in my immediate family. I told my sister the other day, “We Mercheys are all obsessed at times; the only one who isn’t is dad, and that’s because he is now dead.”
Some of us can call forth the lightning; fewer of us can maintain it for any length of time; fewer still can turn it off at will. How many nights have I stayed up when I should be sleeping, thinking of some idea, hope, inspiration, business venture, crisis, or love interest?
When the dust has cleared,
And victory denied—
A summit too lofty;
River a little too wide—
If we keep our pride,
Though paradise is lost—
We will pay the price,
But we will not count the cost…
Milton, who authored Paradise Lost, wrote: “Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to Light.”
I recall my love for Carolyn. I was 19. She had a boyfriend, but I sat behind her in art class and essentially made her fall in love with me. I earned it day in and day out. That was two months of emotional hurricane-force winds. Absolutely unforgettable. It’s a long story, but one that involved me striving, trying to attain glory, and failing. Would I trade that experience, make it go away if I could—despite the pain I still sometimes feel, 27 years later? I don’t know. The song Bravado would lead me to say “No.”
In Tombstone, a sick and dying Doc Holliday counsels—implores—his friend Wyatt Earp to go off and seize the day, to really live, and to leave him to die. The conversation—which could have single-handedly won Val Kilmer an Oscar—goes like this:
Holliday: I was in love once. My first cousin. She was 16; we were both so.
Earp: That’s good, Doc. What happened?
Holliday: She joined a convent over the affair.
She was all I ever wanted.
What did you want?
Earp: Just to live a normal life.
Holliday: There’s no normal life, Wyatt. There’s just life.
Now get on with it.
Earp: I don’t know how…
Holliday: Sure you do. Say good-bye to me. Go grab that spirited actress and make her your own.
Take that beauty and run, and don’t look back.
Live every second.
Live right up to the hilt!
Live, Wyatt. Live for me.
I am thinking of the mega-career of uber-talented singer, Michael Hutchence, of INXS. Take one look at their Wembley Stadium stratospheric-level concert (LINK), or the multi-platinum albums, and you can’t help but feel an intense pain and sadness to think that he wasn’t happy and (purposely or accidentally) killed himself. He paid the price and apparently, didn’t count the cost. Game over.
Writer Mark S. Albion wrote: “Most of the MBA students [I interviewed] admire people for their hearts more than their heads—they admire people who do good. But why, if you greatly respect one way of life, would you feel compelled to pursue an entirely different course? It isn’t easy to give yourself permission to pursue your dreams, follow your heroes, and seek your inner truth.”
My late friend John A. Marshall admired the pluck of Helen Keller when she said: “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.” He himself said, “Build the path to your dreams while you’re wide awake.”
Here is how Peart’s illustrious song ends:
And if the music stops,
There’s only the sound of the rain;
All the hope and glory;
All the sacrifice in vain;
If love remains—
Though everything is lost,
We will pay the price
But we will not count the cost.
The message is about heroes; about those who seek glory for some higher purpose. Think: Mr. Rogers; think Kyle Carpenter that soldier who fell on a grenade to protect others (LINK); think Bryan Stevenson, the attorney who struggles mightily to show that when the D.A.’s office puts someone innocent behind bars (LINK).
They paid the price. Did they count the cost? I’d have to say No. Mister Rogers for example tried hard every day of his life. His mission: help children. When he died I was so relieved to read in his obituary that no one disliked him; he was not a weirdo or God-forbid, a secret child molester. No, he was a man on a mission; a pastor with a heart of gold who washed the feet of the other.
Peart used the word pride, and it is akin to honor in this context. He means, “Can you look yourself in the mirror every morning, or are you going to feel like a coward, like a weasel, like a weakling, if you do/don’t do X or Y?” Honor means the ability to stand up straight and say, “I did not achieve all I hoped for; I took some lumps. But in the end, I did not buckle and I did not cheat.” Though Peart is talking about going for the gold, if we at least try hard and compete fairly/justly, then there is no dishonor, no shame, in coming up short, or failing, or dying.
One person said of Bravado: “There is a profound difference between trying one’s best and failing at something vs. accepting defeat. Many of the greatest achievements in history came after a series of failures; the people behind those achievements refused to give up and kept at it until they prevailed.”
The bassist in the band, Geddy Lee, said this of Neil’s lyrics: “That line to me says really says so much about the people, really that move the world, you know, the people that go out there and do what has to be done. And they’re not worrying about what it’s going to cost them personally down the road, they’re doing what has to be done, and they’re prepared to pay the price for it without worrying about…. the payment that comes later.”
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
More Quotes About Willingness to Risk, Glory, Courage, Fortitude, and Sacrifice:
“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”
“Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire.”
“There is no sort of valor more respected by the gods than that which comes of love.”
“We are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love…”
“Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn.”
“Freeze this moment a little bit longer; make each sensation a little bit stronger.” ~ Neil Peart
“They are not long, the weeping and the laughter, love and desire and hate. They are not long, the days of wine and roses.”
“Gamble everything for love, if you are a true human being.”
“We’ll live forever
That we did it all
For the glory of love.“ ~ Peter Cetera
“To win without risk is to triumph without glory.”
“Heroism is the best [quality] in human nature, an ideal we can all aspire to. Of course, there’s exaggeration in the use of the term ‘hero’. Celebrities are confused with heroes these days. Lately the conception of the hero has probably become diluted—it’s being applied to, say, people who buy the groceries for their neighbor. That’s altruism. That’s being decent. But I think the current COVID crisis will throw more definitive ideas of heroism into the spotlight.” ~ Philip Zimbardo
“Take a risk and go after your dream. This is the only chance you’re going to get. One day, it will be too late – and that day is coming fast.”
“All significant achievement comes from daring, from experiment, from the willingness to risk failure.” ~ Sydney J. Harris