There are sites dedicated to interpreting song lyrics. It’s tempting to take a song like Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” to one of those sites. Why? Because the song introduces a metaphor capable of being taken a lot of different ways. It begs some unpacking. The Canadian guys in Rush make claim concerning the American character: there is a new Tom Sawyer.
Enter the warrior: I won’t look at the interpreter sites because I’ve got a mean, mean pride. I’m my own free thinker.
So does that make me today’s Tom Sawyer? Here’s what Rush has to say:
A modern day warrior
Mean, mean stride
Today’s Tom Sawyer
Mean, mean pride
Though his mind is not for rent
Don’t put him down as arrogant
His reserve, a quiet defense
Riding out the day’s events
What’s up with Mark Twain’s old Tom Sawyer? He was an adventurous Missouri lad, prone to day dreaming and fun-loving. He was compassionate, as well. And he’s been a part of North American culture for 140 years. There’s something to be said for that kind of staying power. He sticks because he is identifiable and empathetic. He sticks because we read him and he reminds us of us. We see ourselves in Tom Sawyer. Aren’t you fun-loving? Don’t you care for people? Don’t you entertain a daydream or two? Don’t you long for the time of innocence when all those things were normal and acceptable? Tom takes us to that time… and we like it. We are all Tom Sawyer. Sawyer is the every man (or person). Rush nails it in saying “what you say about his company is what you say about society” because we are all Tom Sawyer.
So I can’t take the song to the interpreter sites… because this Tom Sawyer’s mind will NOT be rented out by some other word monkey’s guess at what Rush was talking about. I’ve got my own thoughts, thank you very much. And that’s a mark of a Tom Sawyer: an independent mind–one unswayed by dogmatic views of god or government. The new Tom Sawyer has a streak of disestablishmentarianism: we recognize institutions (like religions and governments), but we’re not completely picking up what they’re laying down… not without reservedly holding them up to identify their roles in creating “the day’s events”. Governments and religions will try and tell us who we are. But we know better. Don’t we, Tom Sawyer? We’re individualistic. We have a will to shape our own minds… to a point.
We are all Tom Sawyer. In that sense, we are all connected.
The world is, the world isLove and life are deepMaybe as his eyes are wide.
Both old and new Tom Sawyers long for love and life. Twain’s Tom Sawyer desperately sought the love of Becky and seized life through imagination-driven adventures. We feel the same longing for love and life. In those pursuits, we are in the adventure together. We belong together, you and me, Tom Sawyer.
In that belonging lurks the presence of the Divine. We belong to one another as we ride the river of life and love. We belong together because there’s a force that wills for us to be together. Tom Sawyer felt that force while watching his own funeral. Don’t you feel the force, too?
I’m admitting that Rush’s song just as easily could have been about a blow-hard sitting next to the band in a bar. But that doesn’t negate what they say about the universality of humanity’s need for life and love. We are meant to share these things. Let that sit in your straw hat the next time Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” invades your space.