Rush’s “Tom Sawyer is a song that uses metaphors and the obvious Twain literary allusion to portray themes of rebellion and individualism, making it the perfect choice for my first song interpretation (we’ll be focusing mostly on lyrics for this one). The song was originally a poem written by Pye Dubois, known as “Louis the Lawyer” in 1981. Upon showing it to Rush members Geddy Lee, Neil Peart, and Alex Lifeson, they knew a song was in the making and began to adapt Dubois’s poem to music. The lyrics can still be read as a free-verse poem with a rhyme scheme.
Now down to juicy stuff, in Twain’s original story, Tom Sawyer is a rebel who doesn’t believe in conforming to societal norms and is instead bent of exploration and discover. In Rush’s version, Tom Sawyer represents an individualist rebel who, much like the original Sawyer, isn’t going to let those around him and the media influence his identity.
“Though his mind is not for rent
Don’t put him down as arrogant“
At this time, the world was moving into faster-paced, more materialistic decade – a decade that has played an extremely large role in the evolution to current society. When writing “Tom Sawyer” Dubois probably had the intentions of portraying a modern rebel who was not willing to submit his mind to the status quo, whether in terms of fashion, behavior, and especially school of thought. This theme is still applicable today, especially with everyone following trends and fads that are made popular by the media.
“What you say about his company
Is what you say about society
Catch the mist, catch the myth
Catch the mystery, catch the drift“
In this next verse, Dubois is making the claim that by criticizing the individuals like Tom Sawyer, you are only further solidifying society’s status as critical an intolerant. The last two lines of the verse are urging the listeners to open their minds to what is different, or “the mystery”. To “catch the drift” is to join the movement and promote individualism.
“The world is, the world is
Love and life are deep
Maybe as his skies are wide“
This verse further emphasizes that the world is more than the materialism that rules most of our lives, that there is mystery and depth if we would only look. If we chose to ignore the distractions of materialism we could discover the depth of “love and life” for ourselves. In essence, Tom Sawyer is about a distinct individual who refuses to let “normal” influence his public persona. Because “his mind is not for rent”, what others think of him doesn’t matter – he expresses himself truly as himself. He doesn’t try to fit the mold by following trends that others have made popular but rather bases it off of what he was learned from watching the world and what he truly believes in his heart. If there were more Tom Sawyers in the world and if the world were a place were Tom Sawyers could be easily accepted, then the walls of prejudice, discrimination, conformity, and self-consciousness could finally be torn down.