The title is the name for the area where the band witnessed the inaugural Space Shuttle flight April 12th, 1981. The band wanted to capture the excitement of the launch with this song. Also see Songfacts for "Countdown."
Neil Peart (Jim Ladd "Innerview", 1984): "I read a first person account of someone who had survived the whole system of trains and work camps and Dachau and all of that, and this person, she was a young girl, like thirteen years old when she was sent into it, and lived in it for a few years, and then, uh, through first person accounts from other people who came out at the end of it, always glad to be alive, which again was the essence of grace, grace under pressure is that though all of it, these people never gave up the strong will to survive, through the utmost horror, and total physical privations of all kinds, they just never, ever wanted to be the ones who were shot, you know, they were always the unlucky ones, which was an important thing that I wanted to bring out. And also, what I learned from the first person nonfiction accounts that I read was that these people would keep their little rituals of their religion, and whatever, and if it was supposed to be a fasting day, even if they were starving to death, they would turn down their little bit of bread and their little bit of gruel, because this was a fasting day, and they had to hold on to something, some essence of normality, you know, that was important. And that moved me, you know. That's, that's intense. I wanted to give it more of a timeless atmosphere too, because it's happened, of course, in more than one time and by more than one race of people. It happened in this very country in which we sit, it happened, you know, the British did it, no one can set themselves above that, slavery rather involved how many countless countries in terms of the commerce of it all, and people shipping them around like animals and all of that. And no one can set themselves above that in a racial or nationalistic way. So I wanted to take a little bit out of being specific and, and just describe the circumstances and try to look at the way people responded to it, and another really important and to me really moving image that I got from a lot of these accounts was that at the end of it, these people of course had been totally isolated from the rest of the world, from their families, from any news at all, and they, in cases that I read, believed that they were the last people surviving. You know, the people liberating them and themselves were the only surviving people in the world, and it sounds a bit melodramatic put into a song I realize, but the point is that it's true, so, you know, I didn't feel like I needed to avoid it as being over-dramatic, because, you know, I heard of it and read of it in more than one account."
Geddy Lee (Bass Player magazine, 1987): "When we play a song like 'Red Sector A' live, MIDI enables me to use the bass arpeggiator part, and send it to more than one instrument. Then I can get a really nice bass sound triggered by the arpeggiator that keeps the bottom end rolling and feeling good. That song sounds better live than it ever did on record, just because the technology has allowed me to get better sounds. That's another reason for doing this up-and-coming live album. I think some of the versions that we'll be putting on this live album are better than the original versions."
Neil Peart (Rush Backstage Club newsletter, July 1985): "It is one of the 'grace under pressure' themes which captured my imagination on the last album, and is not meant to portray a specific human atrocity, although many of the historical accounts which inspired it were of course set in World War II. There have been many periods of slavery and mass imprisonment in the world and also many fictional accounts of the future. I was thinking of all these things, and wanted to try to express something timeless enough to encompass them all."
Suggestion credit: Mike - Mountlake Terrace, Washington, for all above
Geddy Lee's parents were Polish Jews who survived a number of concentration camps and were finally liberated from Auschwitz at the end of WWII. They lived in the camp afterward for four years before emigrating to Canada. For a while, the people left in the camp believed that the rest of the world had been destroyed and that they might be the only survivors. The song was not written specifically about their experience, but certainly includes it. In an interview, bassist Geddy Lee said, "My parents were in Poland at the outset of the war, and the Germans came in, and every man they thought could be a threat to them they took out and shot. As the war moved on they were taken to a concentration camp. As the war got a little heavier, they were all moved to different concentration camps. My parents were sent to Auschwitz where they survived, which they thought was a miracle. When they got liberated -- when the war was over -- they didn't know what to do. They still lived in the concentration camp, as most people did, trying to collect themselves. When they liberated them, they thought they were the only people left in the world Can you imagine that? They thought they were the few survivors. They were slowly informed that the world was still going on. Then they couldn't understand why they were saved. How could it happen? How could God let it happen? They gathered up what they could and came to Canada. They were going to go to New York, but someone said it was nice in Canada" - source: Circus Magazine, October 27 1977.
John from Asheville, NcVery atmospheric song, sung with a ton of passion and emotion. It'd be nice to hear some other songs from this album live, but you can't go wrong here. Love the mention of this album having a bleak pensivity to it. It does indeed.
John from Overland Park, KsI picked up the album one spring, and I made the mistake of listening to it during an unseasonably cold snap, with overcast skies and cold winds. It was incredibly depressing at the time. This particular track was one of the most emotionally-affecting songs I can remember ever hearing.
Dave from Cardiff, WalesJesse - I also love the bass synthesizer in this song, especially the distorted, high-octane synth loops at the climax of the song, which would become Rush trademarks. Modern rock bands such as Radiohead have also tried experimenting with distorted bass-synths in their music, but in my opinion no one has ever done it better than Rush
Dave from Cardiff, WalesLike "Distant Early Warning" (which also came from 1984's 'Grace Under Pressure' album), I've always felt that this song - and its accompanying video - appears to be a testament to life in the early 1980s, written in a climate of a society self-destructing and veering towards catastrophe. In fact, all of the songs on the 'Grace Under Pressure' album were moody, stark and bleak in their sound, and had a touch of pensive sadness about them. "Distant Early Warning", for instance, appears to be rooted in the past, reflecting past disasters, and warning that history is about to repeat itself. "Afterimage" is plainly a song that deals with someone's attempts to come to terms with losing someone close to them, but who cannot cope with the overwhelming feeling of grief caused by their loss. "Distant Early Warning" on the surface seems to be a 1984-ish look towards hardship in the 21st Century, though may also have been a release of emotion, a personal statement from Geddy Lee, conveying his anger about the way that his ancestors were treated by the Nazis
Brian from Meriden, CtA high school history professor of mine showed the controversial TV-movie "The Day After" to our class. It portrayed a rural American community after a Soviet nuclear strike and occupation. It raised a fuss among our parents. I was glad I saw it. It showed some pretty intense scenes of mass destruction, everything covered with white nuclear fallout. Chronologically this seems to jibe with the release date of Grace Under Pressure, the album on which Red Sector A is found and seems to coincide with the movie's theme, too. I've always wondered if this was any source of inspiration for the song.
Jesse from L.a., CaThat bass synthesizer in this is cool. Love the lazers they use when they play this live...
Joe from Allston, MaAside from what the song is obviously about, I've always seen Red Sector A as a song about someone who's had their masculine side stripped from them, the submissive prisoner forced to await salvation in a chaotic situation. Even the way Geddy sings this, it's like someone crying out to a patriarchal figure that's not there anymore.