Originally released on the 1981 album Moving Pictures, “Red Barchetta” is an excellent example of musical science fiction, and is hands down my favorite Rush song. It is typical of many Rush songs in that it explores issues of liberty and personal freedoms through metaphor, in this case, the metaphor of an illegal drive through a dystopian future landscape in an outlawed vehicle.
The song was inspired by the futuristic short story “A Nice Morning Drive,” written by Richard Foster and published in the November 1973 issue of Road & Track magazine. The story describes futuristic 1982 where increasingly stringent safety regulations forced cars to evolve into massive vehicles capable of withstanding a 50 mph impact without injury to the vehicle or driver. Consequently, a few unscrupulous drivers have become dangerously aggressive, and ram older, smaller cars as an illegal sport.
In order to get his permission to use the story as a basis for the song. Rush lyricist Neil Peart made several attempts to contact Foster, but was never able to. Instead, Rush included an “inspired by” notation in the album’s lyrics sheet. In July of 2007, 26 years after the song was released, Foster and Peart finally made contact. Both avid motorcyclists, Foster and Peart took a motorcycle tour through the backwoods of West Virginia between stops on Rush’s Snakes And Arrows tour. Foster’s incredibly well photographed account of this trip, “The Drummer, the Private Eye, and Me,” can be read HERE. You can also download a .pdf of “A Nice Morning Drive,” the short story that started it all, by clicking HERE.
“Red Barchetta” makes a decent interpretation of “A Nice Morning Drive,” but the more I read they lyrics, the more it becomes obvious to me that it makes an even better sequel. As a matter of fact, it works so well as a sequel I’m convinced that’s what Neil Peart intended the song to be.
Foster’s story takes place in 1982 when the Barchetta was 15 years old, making it a 1967 model. If the car from the story is the same one from Neil Peart’s lyrics, which is “fifty-odd years” old, then the song would take place around 2020. The “white-haired uncle” of the song is likely Buzz, the driver in “A Nice Morning Drive.” The story clearly indicates that Buzz owns the car, and at the end of the story he decided to stop driving it when the road conditions became even more treacherous. The character in the song states that the car is definitely not his, but belongs to his aged uncle. Also, “Red Barchetta” makes no reference to the impact-proof wheeled cars of “A Nice Morning Drive,” but does make mention of flying giant air-cars and a “Motor Law,” which presumably outlawed combustion engines and/or wheeled motor vehicles. Assuming at least 35 years has passed between Buzz’s adventures with the Barchetta and the adventures of the unnamed protagonist of the song, it’s not unreasonable to assume that air-cars might have been developed. It seems to me that the car is the same in the two stories, but the drivers and times are different. Like I said, it makes a perfect sequel. Just another reason that you should pray to Neil Peart tonight when you go to bed, and thank him for letting us live in his world.