Sunday, November 30, 2014

ENGLISH & MUSIC: A RIDE Through the Future

By Paul Ponce, PLS Teacher

Songs are always a great way to learn a language in context. And when the song tells a story, the music acts like the soundtrack. The story behind this song takes us to a future where things are less than ideal.

Of course, stories about future dystopian societies normally act as cautionary tales about what might happen one day. So they are usually not a lot of fun. However, this one is a little different.

First of all, it’s a rock song by legendary Canadian power rock trio Rush, which means powerful music and thought-provoking poetic lyrics (hence, a chance to improve your vocabulary). Second, it’s about a guy that breaks the law by escaping from a gated city to visit his cool uncle and enjoy the freedom of driving a real car, something which is illegal in this place and time. But not just any car, a stylish Italian sports car from a bygone era: a Barchetta.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY:  First, READ and understand the lyrics. Next, WATCH the short animated film - based on the song - which tells the story as you listen to the lyrics. The lyrics are provided below and have links to the meaning of some words. Afterwards, proceed to QUESTIONS and DISCUSSION at the end.

"Red Barchetta" Story Reel from Sant Arellano on Vimeo.

GRAMMAR NOTE: The story is told in present tense narrative and in many cases omits the subject when the protagonist talks about what he does. This is a poetic decision which makes the lyrics easier to match to the music, while still maintaining clear storytelling.

Red Barchetta by Rush

My uncle has a country place
That no one knows about
He says it used to be a farm
Before the Motor Law
And now on Sundays I elude the eyes
And hop the turbine freight
To far outside the wire where my
White-haired uncle waits

(subject “I” omitted)
Jump to the ground as the turbo slows
To cross the borderline
Run like the wind as excitement shivers
Up and down my spine
But down in his barn
My uncle preserved for me
An old machine
For fifty-odd years
To keep it as new
Has been his dearest dream

I strip away the old debris
That hides a shining car
A brilliant Red Barchetta
From a better vanished time
We'll fire up the willing engine
Responding with a roar
Tires spitting gravel
I commit my weekly crime

In my hair
Shifting and drifting
Mechanical music
Adrenaline surge

Well-oiled leather
Hot metal and oil
The scented country air

Sunlight on chrome
The blur of the landscape
Every nerve aware

Suddenly ahead of me
Across the mountainside
A gleaming alloy air-car
Shoots towards me two lanes wide
Oh, I spin around with shrieking tires
To run the deadly race
Go screaming through the valley
As another joins the chase

Ride like the wind
Straining the limits
Of machine and man
Laughing out loud with fear and hope
I've got a desperate plan

At the one-lane bridge
I leave the giants stranded
At the riverside
Race back to the farm
To dream with my uncle

At the fireside

QUESTIONS: Use the vocabulary in the lyrics to answer:

  • What do we know about the boy's uncle’s country place?
  • When does he commit his weekly “crime”?
  • How long has his uncle kept the Barchetta?
  • How does the boy prepare the car before driving?
  • What are some of the sensations he feels as he drives?
  • What appears across the mountain side?
  • What's the boy's desperate plan to escape from the alloy air-cars?
  • What does the boy do when he gets back to the farm?

SENTENCES: Create new sentences using some of the following: used to, elude, run like the wind, shiver, odd years, strip away, fire up, roar, gravel, surge, scented, chrome, allow, spin, shrieking, tires, straining, stranded

  • What are some of the major themes of this story and how do characters, actions and events represent these themes?
  • What does driving the car represent to the boy?
  • What does driving a car represent in other places?

LIVE MUSIC: Here are Geddy Lee (bass, vocals), Alex Lifeson (guitar) and Neil Peart (drums, lyrics) of Rush performing the song live at a recent concert. By the way, these guys are like the boy's uncle. Not so young any more, but still firing up their machines and having fun.

Origin: Rush drummer / lyricist Neil Peart was inspired to write this song after reading a futuristic short story titled "A Nice Morning Drive", by Richard Foster and published in the November 1973 issue of Road and Track magazine.