Time Stand Still
by Jude Joseph Lovell
On a warm night in September 1987, right around the start of my senior year of high school, a few friends and I piled into somebody’s car and cruised out to the infamous Route 22 in north-central New Jersey. Route 22 was this old highway running east to west from central Ohio to Newark. The Jersey portion, vaguely depressing and dingy, was jammed with hardware stores, fast-food restaurants, one very seedy amusement park, bowling alleys, strip malls.
You really didn’t take to this dreary road unless you were burned out, down on your luck, or bored out of your mind. Our gang, exasperated with suburban life and itching to get into the world (or at least college) in less than a year, was most decidedly all three.
On this night, however, I was on an important mission. It seems frivolous now, but I can remember how much of a priority it was. My favorite rock band at the time, the Canadian prog-rock trio Rush (still my favorite, although they sadly no longer exist), had just released their twelfth studio album, Hold Your Fire. I was determined to acquire the cassette version, since all I had to play it on was a Sony Walkman. With maybe $18 or $20 in my Velcro wallet, I ordered my friends in a non-negotiable manner to take me to a record store.
My friends were good guys—worthy gentlemen, in Shakespearean terms. Even by then we had logged many years of loyal brotherhood. I don’t recall exactly who was stuffed into the one car that night, but I know my identical twin brother was there and at least one other pal I am still close to today, thirty-four years on.
We flew by night to the closest store—can’t remember which one, but it was something like Sam Goody or Camelot Music—and I bought the tape for around seven or eight bucks, on sale. We pulled off the cellophane and blasted it from the car’s tape deck from there to the chrome-walled Jersey diner which was, inevitably, our next destination.
I played bass in a garage band at the time, and Geddy Lee, the bass player and lead singer of Rush, was on my personal Mount Rushmore. (I’m not sure he’s ever left it.) At least two of the songs on the new record, “Force Ten” and the “hit” single “Time Stand Still” (it said so on the album’s sticker), had been released to FM radio. I had already absorbed these two songs into my neural pathways and possibly even my philosophy of life by then (hey, I was not even seventeen). I was positively giddy to hear the rest.
Those who know me well understand that I could write about Rush forever (I wrote a whole book about the band thirty years later), but this essay is not about them. Still, Hold Your Fire, maligned by many hard-core Rush fans, let alone the public, somehow became a seminal album in my life. I’ll defend it to the death for the bass playing alone. But that night when I first bought it was rather boring, really, and I honestly don’t know why it stands out for me so much.
There is something specifically about that song, “Time Stand Still,” that hit me hard even then, lingered inside of me for more than three decades, and still has the power to throttle me today. I know because it happened to me just yesterday as I write.
“Time Stand Still,” not even a favorite of mine from Rush’s giant catalog, has a fairly conventional, though highly relatable, lyric concerning exactly what the title says—the universal feeling of wanting to hit the “pause button” during our lives so that we can take it all in, remember the good times, etc. “Freeze this moment a little bit longer/Make each sensation a little bit stronger.” You get the idea.
The lyrics were written by Neil Peart (1952–2020), who was famously the band’s drummer and lyricist. Peart died of brain cancer just before the global pandemic, five years after completing Rush’s final tour at the top of his game. He was a complicated, introverted, philosophical, but occasionally dour man (judging only from his lyrics and interviews). In truth, I have always had a wobbly relationship with his writing. I would not call anything in “Time Stand Still” particularly unique, but it came from the period of his lyrical development (the ’80s and late ’90s) that I prefer over his later work or even some of Rush’s most revered material from the 1970s.
The late ’80s, for me, represent a high-water mark among many in my long journey with Rush. This song resonated with me despite my youth because I was fast approaching a transformational life event—leaving my hometown and my parents’ home for college. Even in September of that year I was already engaged in the process of stopping, pausing, and taking in the whole of life as I knew it to that point, trying to preserve it—unsuccessfully, of course.
It was the chorus that buried itself deep in my head and stayed there all year long. That part of the song shifts to a lush, reflective tone as the Canadian band ’Til Tuesday’s Aimee Mann (in an extremely rare, for Rush, guest appearance) sings “time stand still” followed by Lee’s vocalization of Peart’s declaration, “I’m not looking back, but I want to look around me now.”
That’s exactly where I was at the time. I played the song—and the entire album—again and again and again for that entire last year of high school. Eventually, the tape cassette wore out and wouldn’t play properly anymore.
Then, before I could turn around, I finally did leave for college and went on with my life. Thirty-four years flew by beneath me like raging rapids.
Until yesterday. As August was beginning to roll downhill towards another autumn and school year, I was out in my car alone on my way to the grocery store, minding my own business. For no reason at all, I decided to spin Hold Your Fire on Spotify. I reached the second song, “Time Stand Still,” and was mindlessly singing along because I know every single line of the record like I know my own skin. Then the final verse ambushed me. Lee sang:
Summer’s going fast
Nights growing colder
Children growing up,
Old friends growing older.
And I thought, Oh my goodness. I’m here!!
I remember so well how that part of the song had hit me as an excited high school senior. It was a nice sentiment. It seemed infused with some degree of profundity. But it wasn’t where I was just then, naturally. I was at the “I’m not looking back, but I want to look around” stage in 1987.
But now? I’ve been group texting with my graying buddies from youth about how long we’ve been friends. I have four children, and it just so happens that the oldest, my daughter, having just turned eighteen, is leaving for college in less than three weeks. I have loads of responsibilities, problems, and stressful life matters to deal with, like every other adult I know. And mixed in there is that feeling of utter disbelief and the nagging inquiry of what exactly happened to all those years in between?
The song was approaching its finale. There’s nothing spectacular to that either. I love the guys from Rush, all their incredible work, but surely they have written better songs. I don’t think anyone would put “Time Stand Still” on any list of Rush’s finest moments.
Yet there was Geddy, back with a recurring line: “Experience slips away . . . experience slips away.” Then, in the final moments, Lee and Peart change it up and close out with “the innocence slips away . . .”
Who’s that line about? I wondered. Me? Or my eighteen-year-old, very soon? Wasn’t it only last week that her mother was delivering her to the world, with a little patch of fuzzy hair and one hand up over her head, as if she was pumping her little baby fist?
Go bravely, my little girl! Keep your old man in your heart! And if you someday figure out how to stop time, assuming I have not yet run out of mine, please give Dad a call and let him know.
Photo credit by Nathan Dumlao (Los Angeles CA) @nate_dumlao
Jude Joseph Lovell writes on books and popular culture for Silver Sage and is the author of four novels, three short story collections, and four works of nonfiction. His newest book is Door In The Air: New and Selected Stories, 1999-2020. He lives with his wife and four growing children in the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. For more information visit his website at judejosephlovell.com.