When I first heard "A Passage to Bangkok" as a 16-year old, I was fairly certain I'd never heard anything so very fucking cool before.
That's one of the things about adolescence (even aside from a fascination with controlled substances): it's very prone to superlatives. These days, while I still might be tempted to term "Passage" the "best weed song ever," I'm aware, in that world-weary way of an adult, that there might just be a better weed song out there, one I've not heard as of yet, or maybe even one, shit, that I've forgotten.
I'm also a little more likely to temper my enthusiasm for the song just based on the subtext that the lyrics have sadly gained with me over the years.
Let's take a look at those lyrics for a second.
Our first stop is in Bogota
To check Colombian fields
The natives smile and pass along
A sample of their yield
Sweet Jamaican pipe dreams
Golden Acapulco nights
Then Morocco, and the East,
Fly by morning light
We're on the train to Bangkok
Aboard the Thailand Express
We'll hit the stops along the way
We only stop for the best
Wreathed in smoke in Lebanon
We burn the midnight oil
The fragrance of Afghanistan
Rewards a long day's toil
Pulling into Katmandu
Smoke rings fill the air
Perfumed by a Nepal night
The Express gets you there
While I have maintained all along a sort of admiration at Rush's literacy, and their ability to come to a point (a talent many bands further along the prog scale don't always share), a quick scan of the lyrics yields an awful lot of blood.
To the world-weary these days, "A Passage To Bangkok" is not only a seeming tour of the world's great trouble spots, half of it seems a tour of places that have been deeply and mortally affected by the black market sale of illicit recreational drugs.
The band's first stop was in Bogota, and while the Cali and Medellin cartels are dead, the gunmen and the carbombs used during the '80's to carry out over 3500 brutal assassinations of political foes and uncorrupt police remain as their chief legacy.
My sixteen-year old self was thrilled by the mention of Acapulco Gold, but the cynical 43-year old version is unfortunately first reminded of the thousands of headless corpses that were found in Mexico last year, all victims of the country's notoriously savage drug cartels, who have for the most part declared war on the country's elected government.
And while I can't seem to read
The fragrance of Afghanistanwithout cracking up anymore, I remain sobered by the known and established connection between the Taliban and drug smuggling.
Rewards a long day's toil
Be careful now with what you take from what I write. I'm not necessarily being critical of Rush for writing the song back in the naive '70's, or even for continuing to perform the song these days. I'm not even finding fault with those who have chosen to smoke marijuana regularly--although I might there proffer the advice I give in other problematic arenas: Buy American, dude.
No, what I'm lashing out at is this tenet I've learned all too well as I've grown older: Nothing is simple, nothing is easy. Everything carries strings, I've been sad to learn, and though a naive teenager just wants to be left alone with his preferred high volume music to craft his personal buzz in peace, the real world in fact never leaves you alone, and never will.
So much so, in fact, that it will steadfastly and ruthlessly erode the ramparts of your youth when you're not even looking. Take "A Passage To Bangkok." It's a song about partying, and it takes itself so seriously that it employs the Asian riff not once, but twice. It's a clever song, a fun song, but the years have done their work on me such that I can't even listen to the fucking thing--a totem of my Rock 'n' Roll Number One, Disco Sucks adolescence, mind you--without becoming all preachy and prescriptive about it.
It's enough to make one sick of oneself, it is.
Rush - 2112 - 2 - A Passage To Bangkok.mp3
This file was removed March 31, 2009. If you're still way interested in coming up with a copy of this--and really can't figure out where you might get one--drop me an email and I'm sure I'll be able to figure something out for you.
File under: Canada Rock