brian [at] parasol dot io



A WHO-supported interdisciplinary arts project to benefit cancer research

Neil Peart’s well-meaning lyrics for “The Pass” cannot be read as anything other than suicide shaming.

Long lauded as a potent anthem sympathetic to the disillusioned and sufferers of mental illness, it’s astonishing that it’s never been outed for the cold-blooded dismissal that it is.

tw: suicide

and now you’re trembling on a rocky ledge
staring down into a heartless sea
done with life on a razor’s edge
nothing’s what you thought it would be

no hero in your tragedy
no daring in your escape
no salutes for your surrender
nothing noble in your fate

Christ, what have you done?

Proud swagger out of the schoolyard
waiting for the world’s applause

Straight out of the gate we’re not so far from “Subdivisions,” or “The Analog Kid,” are we? Isolation, alienation, misfits, dreamers and schoolyards. Neil made a lyrical career out of assuring misfit teens felt seen. He understood. He empathised. No prerequisite of arrogance needed to relate to the feeling expressed here, proud of one’s self in one’s teens, preening for attention in one form or another.

Rebel without a conscience
Martyr without a cause

Rebellious, sure, but who can relate to not having a conscience? Perhaps this means self-centered or insular. 

Conversely, “Martyr without a cause” is a brilliantly knowing sum-up of teen angst that frequently spills over despite not always having a coherent target.

If we connect this to the later passage about the lack of honor in suicide, however, the connection to martyrdom gets shaky as 

Static on your frequency
Electrical storm in your veins


Raging at unreachable glory
Straining at invisible chains


And now you’re trembling on a rocky ledge
staring down into a heartless sea


Can’t face life on a razor’s edge
Nothing’s what you thought it would be


All of us get lost in the darkness
Dreamers learn to steer by the stars
All of us do time in the gutter
Dreamers turn to look at the cars

This is akin to telling someone struggling with depression to “take a walk,” “play some music,” or “try yoga.” These are all lovely things, and given that our own internal barometers vary greatly when it comes to what is and isn’t depression, it’s likely that some feel these techniques have helped them.

For others though, suggesting we “take a walk” or “steer by the stars,” can be doubly damaging. First, that it is in no danger of helping, and second that it reinforces the sufferer’s aloneness since the advice-giver seems adamant that this solution is viable.

These are the suggestions of someone without the experience to know how to constructively address depression.

Turn around and walk the razor’s edge

An encouragement to ride out one’s distress regardless of the cost. Do the challenging thing. Don’t take the easy way out. If Neil was able to successfully navigate the unimaginable nightmare of losing his daughter and wife in such a short span in the late 90s, it’s at least partly down to luck 

Don’t turn your back
And slam the door on me

Neil’s assertions about the challenges of modern life are typically simple outbound musings. 

“Than the pride that divides when a colourful rag is unfurled”

“The suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth”

This couplet, however, is one rare case where he’s inserted an anticipatory rebuttal out of frustration, taking his imaginary interlocutor to task for not following his advice and instead following through on his suicidal intentions.

With this, Neil bizarrely paints himself as an aggrieved party. How else can you read this? You’re turning your back on me. Slamming the door on me. In essence, “you’re discarding my cautions and electing to follow through on your suicidal intentions, don’t do that to me.” To my knowledge Neil never before and never again inserted himself lyrically into something so private and unknowable.

As if to say, “I’ve given you the keys to liberate yourself from this prison, why don’t you use them?” Taken together what we have here is an assertion that those contemplating suicide all have a way out, and 

it’s not as if this barricade
blocks the only road

This is a lovely, carefully-phrased metaphor of encouragement for the disillusioned, and it arrives at a particularly tender moment in the song where the arrangement has broken down. It feels like the first thing softly uttered after the temperature of an argument has subsided and deep breaths have been taken. And to my mind, he’s right. Suicide is 

it’s not as if you’re all alone
in wanting to explode


someone set a bad example
made surrender seem all right


the act of a noble warrior
who lost the will to fight


No hero in your tragedy


No daring in your escape


No salutes for your surrender


Christ, what have you done?