What Is The Song “The Trees” By Rush Really About?

Neil Peart, Rush, The Trees & Socialism

Geddy Alex Neil of Rush

Rush on stage 1980s Photo Paul Slattery

“The Trees,” from Rush’s 1978’s Hemispheres is a song about maple and oak trees. Why should a song about two species of deciduous timber be analyzed for some secret narrative?

In an April/May 1980 Modern Drummer magazine article, lyricist and drummer Neil Peart  was asked if the song has a deeper meaning.  “No.” he said, “It was just a flash. I was working on an entirely different thing when I saw a cartoon picture of these trees carrying on like fools. I thought, ‘What if trees acted like people?’ So I saw it as a cartoon really, and wrote it that way. I think that’s the image that it conjures up to a listener or a reader. A very simple statement.”

At websites that debate the meanings of songs, The Trees draws polarizing conjectures. It’s no secret that during Rush’s formative years 1974 – 1980, many of Neil Peart’s lyrics were greatly influenced by the Objectivist writings of Ayn Rand.

The Trees certainly reads as an Ayn Rand-ian like message of the evils of collectivism / socialism. It is a metaphoric tale about how people of lesser ability and power, band together and take down those who have it.

Here is the video for The Trees with lyrics below.

Unlike hundreds of other pre-MTV band videos, Rush is actually performing this 1978 promotional video live (with no audience) – not lip synching to the record!

The Trees
Music: Alex Lifeson & Geddy Lee
Lyrics: Neil Peart

There is unrest in the Forest
There is trouble with the trees
For the Maples want more sunlight
And the Oaks ignore their pleas.

The trouble with the Maples
(And they’re quite convinced they’re right)
They say the Oaks are just too lofty
And they grab up all the light
But the Oaks can’t help their feelings
If they like the way they’re made
And they wonder why the Maples
Can’t be happy in their shade?

There is trouble in the Forest
And the creatures all have fled
As the Maples scream ‘Oppression!’
And the Oaks, just shake their heads

So the Maples formed a Union
And demanded equal rights
‘The Oaks are just too greedy
We will make them give us light’
Now there’s no more Oak oppression
For they passed a noble law
And the trees are all kept equal
By hatchet,
And saw…

So is The Trees really about Socialism?

To make all things equal the maples will achieve what they want: equality, fairness, by passing a “noble” law. The sarcasm of “noble” to make everyone equal by hatchet, axe and saw is clearly apparent. In order to gain equality the maples will not / cannot raise themselves up to oaks. So they will bring the oaks down to their level through destruction.

For those who hotly contest Peart’s intent, just read what Peart and the band were saying about themselves and Ayn Rand the year The Trees was conceived.

This infamous March 4, 1978 article in New Musical Express (NME), described Rush in a very unfavorable light. Barry Miles concert review and profile of Rush, turned into a malicious attack. Even the headline was a dig at the band, “Is Everybody Feelin’ All RIGHT? (Geddit…?) The Gist Of This Being That Heavy Metal Tourists RUSH Are All RIGHT-Er Than Most, As MILES Discovers.

Barry Miles disdain of Ayn Rand’s form of laissez-faire capitalism led to a harsh analysis of Rush’s  philosophy and music. The resulting rambling tirade made Rush out to be right wing, neo-fascists.

A highlighted quote from Peart, ‘You have no freedom. You do what you’re told to do. By the socialists.’

The article lambasted Rush in every possible way; their music, ability, performance, stage presence, appearance, and lack of interaction with the fans. The self-important Miles couldn’t  get past the band’s fascination with Ayn Rand.

Regardless of what Rush now says about the song, reading the NME article, there is little doubt that Ayn Rand’s anti-socialist philosophy provided the inspiration for the allegory of The Trees.

Barry Miles article greatly affected Peart’s future relationship with the press. From that point forth Peart  distanced himself from participating in most media interviews leaving bandmates Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson to deal with the mostly inane questions journalists hurled at them.

One year after Barry Miles hatchet job on the band,. Peart cautiously talked with writer John Hamblett in a follow-up NME  piece. “That was a very dishonest article,” Peart said.  “I was under the impression that Miles and I had gotten on very well. I even gave him my address in New York and told him to stop by any time he was in the neighborhood. All that so-called political dialogue took place after the interview had finished; we were just chatting, really amenably, I thought, and he twisted it all round. I just feel that it was basically dishonest.”

On the successive occasions Peart has been interviewed about his lyrics, his reticence to open up has been obvious, leaving interpretation up to the listener.

Neil Peart’s influence by Rand was not permanent according to a 2012 Rolling Stone Q & A, “Neil Peart on Rush’s New LP and being a ‘Bleeding Heart Libertarian.’ ”

Peart was asked, “This is somewhat random, but you were interested in the writings of Ayn Rand decades ago. Do her words still speak to you?”

“Oh, no,” Peart said. “That was 40 years ago. But it was important to me at the time in a transition of finding myself and having faith that what I believed was worthwhile.”

Whatever Peart’s feelings now are towards The Trees and Ayn Rand, the song still resonates with Libertarians and those who see America’s Maples masquerading under the name Progressives.

9 thoughts on “What Is The Song “The Trees” By Rush Really About?

  1. xyzzy

    I’ve always seen it as a condemnation of the Oaks. They let the problem fester long enough the Maples would reach for a saw. Indeed, the song confirms twice they were too tall to see the problem at all…

  2. Squirrelly John

    Saw Rush twice in high school. I am saddened I never took my son, who picked up on their magic at a much earlier age than I, to see a show. Two hour drive for a concert? Nah. I still feel terrible every time we crank Rush up and just listen to the musical sorcery those three men could play.

    Trees – Wasn’t till I was older, I kinda got the idea that maybe it was a bit about Canada being in the shadow of the US. We being the lofty oaks. Maples, pretty clearly, could represent Canada. Makes for a pretty good analogy until the “noble law”, as nothing has really been destroyed US/Canada-wise.

    Long live Rush. Neil Peart, rest in peace, your genius is missed.

  3. Joe

    Thanks for the honesty, it’s rare now days. first time I heard RUSH was right after Farewell to Kings came out (8 track). Shame that media was already sowing the seeds of what we’re sadly becoming today. Orwell warned us in Animal Farm, Peart warned us, and their music was attacked, it can’t just be a simple “you’re awesome, better than I’ll ever be, but I disagree with that song”. The Music is amazing art, critics couldn’t see that over their political media agendas. When they turn the pages of history, I think they’ll look to us with sadness…

  4. Tbone

    The meaning of the song is even more relevant today as the leftist socialists are trying to destroy America and bring her down.

      1. B man

        As a communist, my whole goal in life is too destroy America, I can’t wait until the revolution comes

        1. Jasper

          You sound like a nice person. When the revolution comes, will you put me, my family and friends against the wall? Or will you pull the trigger?

  5. George Maxwell

    Excellent post! My very first concert was at the Palladium NYC in Jan 1979 was to see this legendary rock trio during their Hemispheres tour. At that time, 200 plus shows on tour was common for them. Some of Peart’s lyrics with Rand’s influence have always been a challenge to interpret; he’s like Ernest Hemingway with a drum kit.


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