Neil Peart (Jim Ladd "Innerview," 1984): The main theme of the song is a series of things, but that's certainly one of the idea[s] (our very tense world situation), and living in the modern world basically in all of its manifestations in terms of the distance from us of the threat of superpowers and the nuclear annihilation and all of that stuff, and these giant missiles pointed at each other across the ocean. There's all of that, but that tends to have a little bit of distance from people's lives, but at the same time I think it is omnipresent, you know, I think that threat does loom somewhere in everyone's subconscious, perhaps. And then it deals with the closer things in terms of relationships and how to keep a relationship in such a swift-moving world, and it has something to do with our particular lives, dealing with revolving doors, going in and out, but also I think that's generally true with people in the modern world where things for a lot of people are very difficult, and consequently, work and the mundane concerns of life tend to take precedence over the important values of relationships and of the larger world and the world of the abstract as opposed to the concrete, and dealing with all of those things with grace. [more of the song is played] And when I see a little bit of grace in someone's life. Like when you drive past a horrible tenement building and you see these wonderful pink flamingos on the balcony up there, or something like, some little aspect of humanity that strikes you as a beautiful resistance if you like."
In the October 1991 Rush Backstage Club newsletter, Neil Peart explained that the 'Absalom' reference comes from William Faulkners' 1936 book Absalom, Absalom! 1936. "Absalom" was the son of King David. He killed his half-brother for raping their half-sister. Then, he tried to overthrow David and get the throne. A battle resulted during which his hair was caught in a tree suspending him above the ground. Against David's wishes, Absalom was killed by King David's Mighty Men. David grieved for his son by lamenting, "Absalom, Absalom, my son."
Said Peart, "After reading the novel, I was curious... and looked up the name in the encyclopedia. Then, while writing that song, I had 'obsolete, absolute' in there, and I thought how similar the word-shape was to 'Absalom.' Since one of the main themes of the song was compassion, it occurred to me that the Biblical story was applicable-David's lament for his son: 'Would God I had died for thee,' seemed to be the ultimate expression of compassion. And that's how it happened."
Neil Peart added: "Before I ever knew who or what Absalom was, I always loved the sound of it. I had thought perhaps it was an ancient prayer or something. There is a book by William Faulkner called Absalom, Absalom, which, again, I loved the sound of. I wanted to put it in the song, as a play on words with 'absolute' and 'obsolete,' but I thought I'd better find out for sure what it meant. So I called my wife and asked her to look it up in the encyclopedia. When I learned the real story, and its Biblical roots, I decided that it was still appropriate, as it was the ultimate expression of compassion, which is what the song was really about. 'Absalom, Absalom. My son, my son. Would God I had died for thee.' (Now don't anyone go reading any religion into that!)"