Meaning of Manhattan Project by Rush & The Story Behind

Canadian progressive rock band Rush was formed in 1968 in Toronto.

The original lineup consisted of guitarist Alex Lifeson, bass guitarist/vocalist Jeff Jones, and drummer John Rutsey. After the first rehearsals, Jones left the band and was replaced by bass guitarist/vocalist Geddy Lee and co-guitarist Lindy Young. However, Young pretty soon left the group, and Rush existed in a trio format until the very end of their career.

In 1974, the band released their debut album on Moon Records. At that time, the band’s own style had not yet developed, and Rush’s music was blues-infused hard rock with a clear bias towards the then very popular Led Zeppelin. The album was not a great success, however, it showed the undoubted talent and outstanding creative potential of young musicians, which will later be revealed in all its glory.

Shortly after the release of the debut album, drummer John Ratsey left the band. To replace him, Rush included Neil Peart, a drummer who already had an enviable playing technique, and a talented poet as well. There were no more changes in the composition of the group, and the Lifeson-Lee-Part trio worked until the death of Neil Peart in 2020.

In 1985, the band released the Power Windows album. It was on this album that Rush’s music reached its peak of complexity. The sound of the album is built more than intricately and multifaceted, with numerous overdubs of synth parts. Among others, the album included the epic composition “Manhattan Project”. The song tells about the history of the development of nuclear weapons in the Manhattan Project and the world’s first use of it. In the American hit parade, the composition reached 10th place.

The song was inspired by a visit to the US National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. One of the museum’s historical exhibits is the B-29 Enola Gay bomber that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

In the initial versions, the song was called “Enola Gay” and “Hiroshima”, but then a slightly more neutral “Manhattan Project” was chosen, under which it was released.

As the musicians later recalled, when creating the composition, they conducted a whole study in order to accurately establish historical facts. I had to sit a lot in the US National Library, studying the archives of that time, so as not to sin against the truth in anything, and also look at hours of newsreel dedicated to this topic. Part of the footage from this chronicle, including real footage of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, was then used to create a video clip of the same name, which was included in the official Rush videography. The group in full force even made an excursion to the Alamogordo test site, where, on July 16, 1945, the world’s first nuclear weapon test was carried out as part of the Manhattan Project.

Working on the track caused a lot of difficulties for the band, largely due to the fact that Peart, in his own words, “… it was difficult to write lyrics for the song, while remaining an outside observer, and not a direct participant in the events, passing everything that happens through the mind and heart. I read a bunch of books before writing the lyrics to get the right idea of ​​what the Manhattan Project really was. We tried to find a way to translate the dry historical facts into a lyrical format. Geddy suggested starting the song with the line “Imagine a time when it all began…” Then I began each of the three verses in exactly this style: “Imagine a time…” – “Imagine a place…” “Imagine a person…” It was exactly what we needed, it was an extremely useful design.”

The song consists of four verses, which deal with the following:

  • The era of the end of World War II.
  • The collective image of a scientist involved in the development of nuclear weapons.
  • Location – Los Alamos in New Mexico, where the main work was carried out under the project.
  • The man – Paul Tibbets, whose name is mentioned in the song – was the commander of the bomber that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

In the chorus, the explosion of the atomic bomb is called the Big Bang, by analogy with the Big Bang theory about the origin of the universe. Thus, the group hints that after this event, our world has become different and will never be the same again. In this composition, Rush touched upon the deeply philosophical question that technological progress can be not only a boon. It can also become a tool for the destruction of morality, since the one who starts the process often does not feel at all responsible for the consequences to which it can lead.

Imagine the time when it all started

In the dying days of the war…

A weapon that will take your own life.

And whoever finds it first

Will definitely do his worst deed –

It’s always been like this before…

Manhattan Project by Rush Lyrics in Video


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