#1095: Human Race by Red Rider
Tom Cochrane was born in Lynn Lake, Manitoba, in 1953. When he was eleven he got his first guitar. In his late teens and early twenties, he performed in coffee houses across Canada in the early 70’s. His debut album, Hang On To Your Resistance, was released in 1974. Then Tom Cochrane made his way to Los Angeles. In 1975, Cochrane got work composing theme music for the movie My Pleasure Is My Business. This was a film about Xavier Hollander, the call girl and adult film star who authored her own memoir, The Happy Hooker, in 1971. Unable to get subsequent work in Hollywood, Cochrane returned to Canada for drive a taxi and work on a cruise line. At a concert at the El Mocambo for Red Rider in 1978, Tom Cochrane met the band. Soon after Cochrane was invited to join Red Rider.
Red Rider formed in Toronto in 1975. The band consisted of 1975 when lead vocalist and keyboard player Peter Boynton, guitar, keyboard and backing vocalist Ken Greer, guitarist Arvo Lepp, bass player Jon Checkowski and drummer Rob Baker. By the time Red Rider brought Tom Cochrane on board in 1978, the lineup consisted of Boynton, Greer, Cochrane, baker and former bass player with Rush, Jeff Jones. Red Rider released four albums between 1979 and 1984.
The band’s first single “White Hot” was a Top 20 hit across Canada, and climbed to #5 in Vancouver in April 1980. The single also climbed to #48 on the Billboard Hot 100. The single was from the debut album by Red Rider titled Don’t Fight It. Then on May 10, 1980, Red Rider appeared in concert at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. A second album released in 1981 titled As Far As Siam expanded their fan base. And on September 5, 1981, Red Rider gave a concert at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver.
And in 1983 Red Rider’s third studio album, Neruda, featured the single “Human Race”.
Tom Cochrane wrote “Human Race”. The lyrics are told by a narrator who runs by many houses and thinks he sees someone in one of them he once loved. We learn: “I loved you but that was way back then. Now I’m alone outside and I face the wind.” In the race of being human, the narrator tells us they get knocked down and then they get up again.
In “Human Race” the narrator tells us about “the sunken city that I thought was my own.” Records of Searching for Spirits is a collection of stories from the 4th century CE which was compiled by Gan Bao from the East Jin Dynasty. This literature contains two versions of the legend of the sunken city, described in both Chapter 13 and 20. The story from Chapter 20 tells of a benevolent old woman who is told that her city would be sunk after the eyes of the tortoise statue in her city turned red. Every day she checked its eyes, until one day a naughty child colored the eyes red. The old woman, with the help of a dragon, escaped the city just before the city sank beneath the water and become a lake.
In “Human Race” the narrator describes himself running past houses in the rain as a “brave new world” that isn’t his own. Brave New World is a dystopian novel by Aldous Huxley written in 1931 and published the following year. Largely set in a futuristic World State, Brave New World is about citizens who are environmentally engineered into an intelligence-based social hierarchy. The novel anticipates huge scientific advancements in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and classical conditioning. These are combined to make a dystopian society: a society that is undesirable or frightening. This society is only challenged by one individual: the story’s protagonist Bernard Marx. By using this reference – ‘brave new world’ – in the lyrics, listeners of “Human Race” can deduce that the society that the person running past the houses in the song is coping with living in is undesirable, frightening.
Aldous Huxley knew the phrase “brave new world,” as he was familiar with William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. In the play Miranda makes a speech. Shakespeare’s use of the phrase is intended ironically because the Miranda’s innocence means she fails to recognize the evil nature of the island’s visitors.
In a 2007 article for the Guardian, Canadian novelist and poet Margaret Atwood wrote about Brave New World 75 years after its publication. “…when Huxley was writing Brave New World at the beginning of the 1930s, he was, in his own words, an ‘amused, Pyrrhonic aesthete’, a member of that group of bright young upstarts that swirled around the Bloomsbury Group and delighted in attacking anything Victorian or Edwardian. So Brave New World tosses out the flowing robes, the crafts, and the tree-hugging. Its architecture is futuristic – electrically lighted towers and softly glowing pink glass – and everything in its cityscape is relentlessly unnatural and just as relentlessly industrialised. Viscose and acetate and imitation leather are its fabrics of choice; apartment buildings, complete with artificial music and taps that flow with perfume, are its dwellings; transportation is by private helicopter. Babies are no longer born, they’re grown in hatcheries, their bottles moving along assembly lines, in various types and batches according to the needs of “the hive”, and fed on “external secretion” rather than “milk”. The word “mother” – so thoroughly worshipped by the Victorians – has become a shocking obscenity; and indiscriminate sex, which was a shocking obscenity for the Victorians, is now de rigueur.”
‘”Human Race” climbed to #3 in Regina (SK), #4 in Winnipeg (MB), #17 in Vancouver (BC) and #19 in Montreal. But in the major radio markets in Ontario, “Human Race” failed to get into the Top 20, with its best chart performance in Kitchener (ON) at #21.
A fourth album, Breaking Curfew, didn’t sell very well. In 1986, they released the album, Tom Cochrane & Red Rider. One of the songs on the album was “Boy Inside The Man“. And later that year on October 23rd, the band performed in concert at Vancouver’s BC Place Stadium.
In 1988, Tom Cochrane & Red Rider, they released Victory Day. Their debut single off this album was “Big League”. By 1988 Tom Cochrane & Red Rider consisted of Cochrane, Greer, John Webster on keyboards and synthesizers, Ken “Spider” Sinneave on bass, Randall Coryell on drums and Peter Mueller on guitar. In the studio production of Victory Day, Denny Fongheiser and Mickey Curry also added drums to the tracks. Victory Day earned Tom Cochrane & Red Rider three Juno Award nominations. On March 2, 1989, Tom Cochrane & Red Rider performed in concert at the Orpheum in Vancouver.
After “Big League”, Tom Cochrane went on to release a solo album in 1991 titled Mad Mad World. The studio recording featured Red Rider bandmates Spider Sinneave and John Webster. On the album was a single release titled “Life Is A Highway.” In early 1992 the single climbed to #1 in Canada and #6 on the Billboard Hot 100. The albums’ follow up singles, “No Regrets”, Sinking Like Sunset” and “Washed Away” all made the top ten on the Canadian RPM singles chart. Cochrane followed up with an album in 1995 titled Ragged Ass Road, named after a street in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. It included the top ten hits on the Canadian RPM singles chart “I Wish You Well” (#1), “Wildest Dreams” (#5) and “Dreamer’s Dream” (#4).
On July 1 the band performed in concert in the Vancouver suburb of Surrey at Surrey Canada Day 2006. On February 18, 2008, Tom Cochrane & Red Rider gave a concert at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver.
In all, Tom Cochrane has released seven studio albums as a solo artist. Separately, Tom Cochrane & Red Rider released three albums, and Red Rider released four albums. (So, Tom Cochrane has been featured in 14 studio albums).
On February 24, 2015, the band performed in Vancouver’s suburb of Coquitlam at the Hard Rock Casino. August 29, 2015, Tom Cochrane & Red Rider appeared in concert at the PNE Amphitheatre in Vancouver. In 2016, a stretch of highway between Lynn Lake and Thompson, Manitoba, was named the Tom Cochrane Life Is A Highway. On March 2, 2017, at the Abbotsford Centre, in the city of Abbotsford – a one hour drive east of Vancouver. August 29, 2017, Tom Cochrane & Red Rider performed in concert at the PNE Amphitheatre in Vancouver. On August 17, 2019, Tom Cochrane & Red Rider appeared in concert in West Vancouver’s Ambleside Park.
March 13, 2021
About Tom Cochrane, Tom Cochrane.com
“Interview: Tom Cochrane,” The Wire, Peterborough, Ontario, July 1, 2017
“Tom Cochrane: ‘You Sometimes Write the Happiest Songs When You’re Down’,” CBC, December 7, 2016
Terry David Mulligan, Tom Cochrane Interview – 2014, Mulligan Stew, January 31, 2015
David Friend, “Tom Cochrane reflects on success of ‘Life is a Highway’,” Toronto Star, Toronto, ON, January 5, 2017
Hollander, Xavier. The Happy Hooker. Xavier Hollander.com
Tom Cochrane & Red Rider – Credits, Victory Day, Discogs.com
“Tom Cochrane has Stretch of Manitoba Highway Named After Him,” CBC, October 31, 2016.
“Tom Cochrane & Red Rider,” setlist.fm.
Yang Lihui, An Deming, and Jessica Anderson, Handbook of Chinese Mythology, (Oxford University Press, 2005).
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, (Chatto & Windus, 1932).
Margaret Atwood, “‘Everybody is Happy Now’,” Guardian, November 17, 2007.
“C-FUN Top 30,” CFUN 1410 AM, Vancouver, BC, May 7, 1983.
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