Limelight (as made famous by Rush)

“Limelight” is a song by the Canadian progressive rock band Rush. It first appeared on the 1981 album Moving Pictures. The song’s lyrics were written by Neil Peart with music written by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson. “Limelight” expresses Peart’s discomfort with Rush’s success and the resulting attention from the public. The song paraphrases the opening lines of the “All the world’s a stage” speech from William Shakespeare’s play As You Like It; the band had previously used the phrase for its 1976 live album.

The single charted at No. 4 on the U.S. Billboard Top Tracks chart and No. 55 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and remains one of Rush’s most popular songs. “Limelight” was one of five Rush songs inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame on March 28, 2010.[1]

In “Limelight”, lyricist Neil Peart comments on the band’s commercial success and the fame and its demands that come with rock star status. According to guitarist Alex Lifeson, the song “is about being under the microscopic scrutiny and the need for privacy—trying to separate the two and not always being successful at it”.[2] Bassist Geddy Lee describes the motivation for “Limelight” in a 1988 interview:

Limelight was probably more of Neil’s song than a lot of the songs on that album in the sense that his feelings about being in the limelight and his difficulty with coming to grips with fame and autograph seekers and a sudden lack of privacy and sudden demands on his time … he was having a very difficult time dealing with.

I mean we all were, but I think he was having the most difficulty of the three of us adjusting; in the sense that I think he’s more sensitive to more things than Alex [Lifeson] and I are, it’s difficult for him to deal with those interruptions on his personal space and his desire to be alone. Being very much a person who needs that solitude, to have someone coming up to you constantly and asking for your autograph is a major interruption in your own little world.[3]

In a 2007 interview, Alex Lifeson gives his take on “Limelight”:

It’s funny: after all these years, the solo to “Limelight” is my favourite to play live. There’s something very sad and lonely about it; it exists in its own little world. And I think, in its own way, it reflects the nature of the song’s lyrics—feeling isolated amidst chaos and adulation.[4]

Lifeson’s guitar solo was performed on what he called a “Hentor Sportscaster”, a modified Fender Stratocaster equipped with a Floyd Rose vibrato arm. Critics frequently point out Lifeson’s use of vibrato in the solo,[5] with Max Mobley writing that it “is dripping with Floyd Rose whammy”.[6] “Limelight” has been described as Lifeson’s “signature song”,[7] and critics cite the influence of Allan Holdsworth.[8] Lifeson himself calls it his favourite solo.[9]