by Rush

Album: Permanent Waves (1980)
Play Video


  • Geddy Lee (Rockline, Dec 4 1989): "The song is about freedom of choice and free will, and you believing in what you decide you believe in."
  • Neil Peart: "Lotus-land as it appears in 'Free Will' is simply a metaphor for an idealized background, a 'land of milk and honey.' It is sometimes also used as a pejorative name for Los Angeles, though that was not in my mind when I wrote it."
  • From the Rush FAQ: Lotus-land is mentioned in The Odyssey, where Odysseus goes to the land of the lotus-eaters. The people hang out and eat lotus petals, and are perfectly happy but basically brainless. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Mike - Mountlake Terrace, Washington, for all above
  • In 1993, no movie was made about this song. You're thinking of Free Willy, which is about a boy and his love for a killer whale.
  • This song uses somewhat strange time signature changes. The time signature alternates 6/4, 7/4, 6/4, 7/4, 6/4, 8/4 and repeats during the first verse. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Billy - Miami, OH
  • The lyric, "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice" was originally written "If you choose not to decide, you cannot have made a choice," but was later changed to make more sense logically. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Matthew Daubert - Mequon, WI
  • The Permanent Waves album marked the band's transition from epic length tracks to more compact songs, generating increases in both radio airplay and album sales. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
  • This song can be seen as an atheist screed, as it champions the idea that we are in control of our own destinies and not listening to "some celestial voice" for guidance. Neil Peart is not an avowed atheist, but does question the existence of God.

Comments: 54

  • Dan from EarthRush obviously uses pentagrams and Neil can be seen drumming wearing a shirt with the Leviathan/Satan's double cross. They are into works of a cult no doubt. Anton Lavay from the church of Satan teaches free will and that's everything this song represents. It is to break away from God and be your own. Also there is no idea behind atheism here as the mentioning of guides clearly recognizes something beyond, not stating atheistic ideas that there is nothing.
  • Dennis from Here And TherePersonally I feel that God gives us freewill to think and act any way we want. He even gives us the freewill to think and act like he doesn't exist. People who think they are gods believe they give themselves freewill and this can become quite troublesome if left unchecked. These types tend to work to remove freewill from the people (Trees: Hatchet, Axe, and Saw). These people are everywhere including the religious communities. This has been going on since the beginning of time. Always choose Freewill! Never let the "man" keep you down!
  • Griff from UtahFree Will is something we should always recognize and not be forced to surrender. Not by mandate, not out of fear, not by intimidation or shamed into submission. If you do not respect another person’s free will then you do not deserve to be respected.
  • Tom from Sewell NjWhen it comes down to it, the only thing we really own in this life is our free will. In a world loud with the sound of salesmen, how sad it would be for us to ignore that will and let others do the choosing for us.
  • Mykel Greene from Im In The Northern Hemisphere And Then To The Stars!The devine holy creator all and of modern day humans gave us freewill! We wouldnt even exist invidualy with out oure own spirit guiding us threw oure journey in life on earth and beyond. The gift and blessing of free will lets you decide what direction go in the spiritual realms.! We must try to ascend to upper levels with this gift most will not.
  • Danf from No CalMy favorite line in Freewill is “Blame is better to give than receive.” With BLM, this makes perfect sense.
  • Rick from IndianaThe many comments on the line "if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice" has compelled me to add my own perception of this nugget of wisdom.
    As an adherent to Socrates and an open agnostic I see this verse as representing that spectrum of the song's message and holding a more personal meaning defining my stance on this subject matter. Anyone who says, "I know for certain" one way or the other will only play into their foolishness.

    "A fool will say, "I know" but in fact knows very little. Yet a wise man will say, "I really don't know for certain." but in fact he knows much."
    -- unknown

    However, as stated below, those following this understanding are in fact led the confirmation of the closing line of this beautifully arranged bridge.

    "I will choose a path that's clear. I will choose free will."

    "I am only aware of the fact of my own ignorance." -- Socrates

    I hope this was in some way helpful to the collective.
  • Hayden H from Singapore@Stacie

    "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice" - Yes, this is free will but a deeper meaning to it which I interpret is that this verse is telling those in contemplation that motions are already in place; time awaits for no one.

    This is further reinforced with further elaboration of societal / psychological environment in the following verse "You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill"

    and finally the 1st person perspective that while other are doing just that (as above), (s)he has made a move even with the above factor.


    "I will choose a path that's clear, I will choose freewill"
  • Tyler from Here, OnYes, God could have made the world in millions-of-year-long days, but honestly, there's far more logical proof of the world being a chunk of floating rock. Period.
    Oh, sure, it's written in the Bible that a mystic being made Earth, that's all well and good. The Bible also more or less states that gay people aren't people, women aren't the equals of men, and that a talking snake and an apple ruined the lives of humanity. But hey, believing that is up to you. If you want to interpret that as choosing freewill, all the more power to you. Indeed, much power to you, considering the wealth the Catholic church has.

    I, however, choose to believe that the Bible was written by primitive, sexist, homophobic, and probably racist men who enjoyed having power over the people they told stories of a vengeful God to. I interpret this as freewill.

    Have nice day.
  • Ryan from Red Hook, Ny, NyOne of my choices for Senior Quote was "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice"

    I still wish I had used that.
  • James from Norfolk, VaFree will is one of the most pressing issues in the field of philosophy. Its polar opposite is predestination which was covered in the Rush song, "Roll The Bones". Since time primordial, philosophers have pondered on the reality of our existence: are we totally free of anyone's leash or is everything really prearranged so that we're all resigned to the situation we're cast in. I think a case can be made that both concepts can apply to our lives. Now we have to put our courage to the test and then make the most important decisions we're ever going to make.
  • Sam from Las Vegas, NvIn a 2009 interview in Heeb Magazine Geddy said he considered himself a Jewish athiest and that he was not down with religion at all.
  • Lisa from Rockford, IlThis is probably my favorite Rush song (although The Trees is a very close second). To me it's a statement against fatalism. I've known so many people who have the attitude that life or the universe has conspired against them, that they are completely powerless, just being tossed around by fate. The singer is saying, "Not me...I'm going to choose my own destiny."
  • Josh from Flagstaff, AzI am a christian and Richard that is kind of a dumb question. In all reality as a Christian you can believe that the earth is more than 6000 years old it could possibly be 10s of millions of years old or however much and this is easily shown in the bible. Well in Genesis it says that God took 7 days to create everything 1 day he created one thing and the next something else so on and so forth. Well for God time is non existent so say the one day to create the world could be 20 million years. So the world could easily be that old even by Christians and the bible. Stop being so narrow minded Richard.

    That being said Rush is awesome and this song is awesome nice to see a band that is not just your run of the mill liberal thinkers. These guys think for themselves and their lyrics are so deep especially "The Trees" at least for me.
  • Stacie from St.louis, Moif you choose not to decide you still have made a choice means you have just chose freewill. duh.
  • Eli from Hesperia, CaZach im proud man!!!
    Not enough Christians are around!
  • Bret from Coos Bay, OrMy dad never liked this song because he thought it suggested to deviate from what's right (in his case "What's right" would be God). But I never thought like that. I think they're trying to say that whatever you choose, whether it be God or not, is right as long as it's right to you. And because of this song I will choose Freewill!
  • G from Potomac, MdNow everyone, I want you to listen along with me as the chorus leads into the instrumental break. OK, chorus. Riff. oooh! Connecting phrase, something's about to happen. OK, here we go. Now count along with me (and the bass/drums), 1-2-3-4-5-6, 1-2-3-4-5-6, etc. Does everybody feel 1 and how 4 is accented in each measure? No? Rewind and try again. Ignore the syncopation although there is a lot of it. That's what's called 6/8 time!! Kind of like 4/4 except totally different.
  • Stacie from High Ridge, Mooh yeah and that concert we had 1st row and i had so much eye contact with ged was the best day of our lives even b4 we knew we created life!
  • Stacie from High Ridge, Momy daughter was conceived in cinci,ohio night b4 rush concert! her middle name is rush, her favorite song is freewill even while pregnant i would make her listen i could feel her dancing in my belly! we told the band and neil gave us drumsticks when she was 3weeks old! Rush always has and always will kick ass and be number one for me my husband and our little 'rush' baby!
  • Richard from Syracuse, NyZach.... Do you also believe that the world was created only 6,000 years ago?
  • Zach Abbott from Caledonia, MiAs a christian i believe that God has given us free will. For example i can choose to rob a bank, God won't come down and hit me with lightning for it. However, i will pay for it someday. To be honest when Geddy sings he will choose free will its almost like he's choosing God. Also little side fact for those who think nature is the place for perfect harmony, that's because nature points to God. Nature recognizes the Creator, but humans somehow miss Him and take nature.
  • Tristan from Los Angeles, Casee William James' The Will To Believe and Pragmatism
  • Allison from A Little Ol' Town In, MiThis song means a lot to me. its all about who you choose to be and not letting anyone change that. I think that when one chooses to make ones own choices, no one can change those choices. This song illustrates the idea that man has his own mind. OUR MINDS ARE FREE!!! The song is about LIBERATION and FREEWILL
  • Matt from Post Falls, IdI believe Rush to be the greatest band of of all time, simply because they are some of the most talented musicians and they put it all together in an amazing sound. The lyrics are deeper than what most bands sing about like girls, and they are one of only a few bands that have been able to make great music for so long.
  • John from Asheville, NcIt's a pretty masterful song, lyrically and musically. It's really quintessential Rush to me. It's catchy, proggy, melodic...provocative.
  • John from Toronto, CanadaCan any of you say "Ayn Rand?" ANother great song influenced by Rand's philosophy: Objectivism. Well done, boys! Well done.

    The song is an explicit rejection of mysticism and God belief for a clear, purpose-directed life through THINKING FREELY. Choosing free will is to reject the contraints of ambiguous, arbitrary dictates.

    "My mind is not for rent to any GOD or GOVERNMENT" are lyrics from another one of thier songs, which shows philosophical consistancy with the song being discussed.

  • Bjørn from Vardø, NorwayThis song might be refering to what the alchemists call true will. Which is found by breaking the will of the ego and find a being in a state of perfect harmony.
  • Amanda from Phoenix, AzThis was the first Rush song I heard. I love it, I think everyone should listen to it.
  • Gomer from Mayberry, NcOne of my faves from Rush, because it also deals with taking responsibility for your life, and your actions.
  • David from Youngstown, OhThe lyrics are brilliant and it's my favorite Rush song. The problem is the lyrics are so difficult to understand and that's a shame because they have such incredible meaning. I'm a politics writer for a newspaper in Ohio and I love to quote great songs when they fit into articles. I've used the "choose not to decide" line in an article I once wrote about voter apathy.
  • Ryan from Shoreham, NyThis is one of my favorite songs by one of, if not my favorite, bands.

    love how the lyrics flow so well with the music.
  • Voodoocat from Zimbabwe, United StatesGreat song. "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice" is one of my favorite quotes of all time (sort of like "if you try to fail, and you succeed, which have you really done?" to some extent).
  • David from Port Hawkesbury, CanadaI like the bass in this song, some of the best I tell ya.
  • Mike from Santa Barbara , CaGreat song, deep meaning
  • Kevin from Erie, PaThis is a great song talking about our frewill to do whatever we want. Alex,Geddy,and Neil you guys rock. I'm going to see you this summer in Canada. ROCK ON!!!!
  • Joe Public from Anytown, AlThis song is about living for one's own convictions. It's similar to "Tom Sawyer" in that vein. There's a triumphant ring in the chorus, stating proudly, "I will choose a path that's clear / I will choose free will!" Then an almost disgusted tone to the verses as those who act like mindless sheep are described: "There are those who think / That they were dealt a losing hand / The cards were stacked against them / They weren't born in Lotusland."
  • Peter from Mountain View, CaThats what it sounds like like, Joe.
    This song talks about how some people believe that every aspect of their lives is being controlled because someone (a god) has already made the choice for them. Because there is no way in proving this, you might as well not blame everything on someone else and believe that you can control your own life.
  • Robert from Schaumburg, LaLyical studies aside the guitar solo is a tour de force!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Stuart from Huddersfield, EnglandIf you choose not too decide you still HAVE made a choice.

    ...and you have!
  • Brad from Indianapolis, InI love Rush, and I love this song.

    Vote Libertarian!
  • Kelly from Houston, Txi believe the lyrics, written and sung are, if you choose not too decide you still haven't made a choice
  • Ernest from Northfield Center, OhThis is essentialy about the philosophical arguement between free will and determinism. It attacks both scientific and religious determinism:"The stars aren't aligned,
    Or the gods are malign..." Of the arguement Rush develops the opinion that not only is a world that we can't control dark and purposeless but also that what ever we choose to believe in is itself a choice, illustrating logical proof of free will. It is obvious that they believe that free will is more in accordance with a divine plan and despite what science may offer we ultimately have soverignty over our own lifes, evidenced by our self awareness:"Each of us
    A cell of awareness
    Imperfect and incomplete.
    Genetic blends
    With uncertain ends."
    It is also clear that they see a deterministic approach to life as an excuse fo moral ambivalence and lack of perseverance.
  • Sean from Newmarket, CanadaI think the lyrics are much more simple than they seem, dont over complicate
  • Glenn from Swansea, WalesTo me the lyric, "If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice" Illistrates the fact that somebody who is not strong enough to state that they don't believe in God ( by choosing not to make a choice and wait on the fence) has in fact made a choice by hedging his bets just in case there is a God. In a nutshell it takes as much belife, faith and commitment to say you don't belive in God as it does to say you do. But most people would prefere to wait and see, rather that get out there and make it happen for themselves.
  • Rob from Las Vegas, Nvprobably just sang it wrong in studio but a listen back figured it sounded better good job geddy!
  • Yolanda Morphinite from Bountiful , UtWhen I hear this song, I always think of not letting government, religion, etc. control you and/or think for you. Just do what you believe you want to do!
  • Yolanda Morphinite from Bountiful , UtGood job Joe. That always made me think too.
  • Koko from Bla, AlWay to go, Joe! Looking carefully at Rush! I like your style!
  • Mike from Rochester, NyIn the sheet music the lyrics are written as "If you choose not to decide, you still haven't made a choice"
  • Joe from Miami, FlThanks, John.
  • John from Santa Maria, CaYes Joe, the printed lyrics from the old vinyl album did have an alternate lyric. I always assumed that the members rethought the lyric, as the recored one " still have made a choice..." is so much more clever and in keeping with the spirit of the song.
  • Mike from Mountlake Terrace, Washingtonquote from songfacts: "In 1993, no movie was made about this song. You're thinking of Free Willy, which is about a boy and his love for a killer whale." -This is correct but there was a film from 1993 titled "Falling Down" that might illustrate these lyrics fairly well.
  • Joe from Miami, FlMy recollection is that the lyrics included in the album (yes, album) for Permanent Waves included the line "If you choose not to decide, you cannot have made a choice." This, despite that Geddy has always sang "If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice." Can anyone confirm this (sadly, I no longer have my old albums)? If true, does anyone have any information on the reason behind the discrepancy?
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Roger McGuinn of The Byrds

Roger McGuinn of The ByrdsSongwriter Interviews

Roger reveals the songwriting formula Clive Davis told him, and if "Eight Miles High" is really about drugs.

Muhammad Ali: His Musical Legacy and the Songs he Inspired

Muhammad Ali: His Musical Legacy and the Songs he InspiredSong Writing

Before he was the champ, Ali released an album called I Am The Greatest!, but his musical influence is best heard in the songs he inspired.

History Of Rock

History Of RockSong Writing

An interview with Dr. John Covach, music professor at the University of Rochester whose free online courses have become wildly popular.

Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde

Johnette Napolitano of Concrete BlondeSongwriter Interviews

The singer/bassist for Concrete Blonde talks about how her songs come from clairvoyance, and takes us through the making of their hit "Joey."

Charles Fox

Charles FoxSongwriter Interviews

After studying in Paris with a famous composition teacher, Charles became the most successful writer of TV theme songs.

Michael Bolton

Michael BoltonSongwriter Interviews

Into the vaults for this talk with Bolton from the '80s when he was a focused on writing songs for other artists.