Cygnus X-1 (song series)

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"Cygnus X-1"
Song by Rush
from the album
  • August 18, 1977 (1977-08-18) (Book I)
  • October 8, 1978 (Book II)
  • 10:25 (Book I)
  • 18:07 (Book II)
  • 28:32 (both songs)
Lyricist(s)Neil Peart

"Cygnus X-1" is a two-part song series by Canadian progressive rock band Rush. The first part, "Book I: The Voyage", is the last song on the 1977 album A Farewell to Kings, and the second part, "Book II: Hemispheres", is the first song on the following album, 1978's Hemispheres. Book I is ten minutes and twenty-five seconds long (10:25), and Book II is eighteen minutes and seven seconds (18:07).

It was released as a limited-edition extended play on April 22, 2017.[3]

General storyline[edit]

A black hole, known as Cygnus X-1 (an X-ray source believed to be an actual black hole), lies in the constellation Cygnus. An explorer aboard the spaceship Rocinante journeys toward the black hole, believing there may be something beyond it. As he moves closer, it becomes increasingly difficult to control the ship and he is eventually drawn in by the pull of gravity. The final words of Book I describe his ordeal: "Sound and fury drown my heart/Every nerve is torn apart."

The explorer re-enters the story midway through Book II. He has emerged into Olympus, where he witnesses the gods Apollo and Dionysus caught in the struggle between Mind and Heart. Prior to his arrival, the logical thinkers are led by Apollo and the emotional people are ruled by Dionysus. Apollo had shown the people how to build cities and explore the depths of science and knowledge, but Dionysus had lured many of them into the wild forests and provided love. However, his followers do not store any food for the winter and are caught unprepared. A conflict breaks out as the two different ways of life clash.

When he reflects on what he sees, he becomes tormented in the lack of balance of the people who insist on one extreme or the other. His silent scream is felt by the warriors and causes them to rethink their struggle and unite. The gods recognize the explorer as a nascent new god and name him Cygnus, the God of Balance.

Allusions and allegory[edit]

Although the storyline revolves around a science fiction world, it uses Greek mythology to explain the double meaning. "Cygnus X-1" is primarily about the discovery of two conflicting ways of life, and two vastly different ways in which the human mind thinks (logic and emotion are separated into separate sides, or hemispheres, of the brain). The balance point (Cygnus) allows the mind to think with some logic and emotion at the same time, allowing people to be analytical, but not unemotional.

The name of the spaceship Rocinante is derived from the name of the title character's horse in the novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. It was also the name of the camper truck John Steinbeck used while writing his book Travels with Charley. It is also the name of James Holden's salvaged martian warship in the book and television series The Expanse by James S. A. Corey


Book I: The Voyage[edit]

"Prologue" This starts with a dissonant electronic soundscape and spoken introduction by album producer Terry Brown. Afterwards, a heavily syncopated bass riff in shifting time signatures (3/4, 7/8, 3/4, 4/4) fades in, with the full band joining in as the introductory sound effects fade out.

"1" The shortest section of the song describes the black hole itself, and asks the question of what happens to someone who flies into it.

"2" The protagonist sails into the black hole on board his "Rocinante". This section contains a wah-wah guitar solo by Alex Lifeson.

"3" The climactic section of Book I uses a chord sequence first heard at 3:21 in the Prologue. The lyrics describe the "Rocinante" spinning out of control, and the protagonist's body being destroyed ("every nerve is torn apart"). This section includes the highest note sung by Geddy Lee on any studio album (B♭6 at 9:27). The song fades out with a repeated chord sequence – which returns at 11:56 in Book II – along with the sound of a beating heart.[4]

Book II: Hemispheres[edit]

"Prelude" This section contains several themes heard later in the song, similar to the "Overture" in "2112."

"Apollo: Bringer of Wisdom" Apollo, the Greek god of the sun and the arts, represents the left hemisphere. 'Left-brainers' are often logical thinkers, adept at mathematics.

"Dionysus: Bringer of Love" Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and fertility, represents the right hemisphere. He stood for uninhibited desire in Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy and Human, All Too Human and was the opposite of Apollo. 'Right-brainers' are more common than 'left-brainers,' and include people who are artistic and sensitive.

"Armageddon: The Battle of Heart and Mind" The title is reference to the Biblical war, but in this case Apollo and Dionysus pull man in opposite directions, toward Order or Chaos, respectively. The debate between classical and romantic (Apollonian and Dionysian) cultures is ongoing. The left stereo channel switches to the right for dramatic effect when Lee sings the word 'hemispheres'.

"Cygnus: Bringer of Balance" The chords played at the end of The Voyage return here. The explorer from The Voyage is frightened by the fighting and, after hearing the explorer's silent cry of terror, Apollo and Dionysus stop fighting and dub him Cygnus, god of Balance.

"The Sphere: A Kind of Dream" Jane Austen's novel Sense and Sensibility may be alluded to in the last few lines of the song.[5]

Live performances[edit]

Rush performed the cycle (Book I followed by Book II) on the Hemispheres Tour and the Permanent Waves Tour. The band also played it on the Permanent Waves Warmup Tour, with the absence of Parts 2 (Apollo: Bringer of Wisdom) and 3 (Dionysus: Bringer of Love) from Book II. Book II: Prelude made a final appearance on the Counterparts Tour. Since then, an abbreviated version of book one was occasionally played live with only the instrumental section, as seen on Rush in Rio and R30. Occasionally, the "Prelude" from Book II was also performed. During the 2010-11 Time Machine Tour, the band played part of Book I at the conclusion of the final song, "Working Man." During the 2015 R40 Tour, the "Prelude" section from Book II was played, but tuned a step down to accommodate Geddy Lee's vocal range, which has decreased with age. The Prologue and part 3 of Book I were played immediately after as instrumentals, with a drum solo by Neil Peart ("The Story So Far") as an interlude.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Murphy, Sean (22 May 2011). "The 25 Best Progressive Rock Songs of All Time". PopMatters. Retrieved 8 January 2019.
  2. ^ Wagner, Jeff (2010). Mean Deviation: Four Decades of Progressive Heavy Metal. Bazillion Points Books. p. 26. ISBN 9780979616334.
  3. ^ ‘CYGNUS X-1’ Record Store Day Exclusive
  4. ^ "A Farewell To Kings". Retrieved 29 May 2015.
  5. ^ Telleria, Robert (July 1, 2001). Rush: Tribute : Mereley Players. Kingston, Ontario: Quarry Press. pp. 153–154. ISBN 978-1550822717.