Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” Lyrics Meaning

Tom Sawyer is a popular fictional character dating back to 19th century American literature. And succinctly put, what he is most known for is being adventurous.

And whereas this song is named after him, it is not directly based on his story. Rather the lyrics originated from a poem Pye Dubois had written entitled “Louis the Lawyer”. So actually what the title of this track alludes to its subject having characteristics similar to Tom Sawyer in that both are apparently free-minded and adventurous.

Tom is a Free-Minded Warrior and an Everyman

More specifically, the guy who is at the center of this song is portrayed as being “a modern-way warrior”. This is not to imply that he is an actual soldier. Rather it is more indicative of his attitude. And perhaps the best way to describe his overall disposition is one in which he is not compelled to submit to any authority in his pursuit to find fulfillment his life. So for instance, he does not subscribe to any religious doctrine, nor is he patriotic in nature. And the way the lyrics read are as if the reason he is so is that none of these types of institutions have what he is looking for in his heart.

There are also other metaphors in this song which are more-challenging to decipher. But the general idea they seem to point is that “Tom Sawyer” is sort of an everyman. Or stated differently, his character is a representation of how many people feel internally. They are withdrawn and free-minded like Tom, but such should not be attributable to arrogance. Rather the situation comes off more as if they are in search of the full richness life has to offer and do not deem any of the popular paths presented towards reaching such as being viable.


So that being said, “Tom Sawyer” is also an ideological figure, as in a hero within the context of this song. For instance, his vibrant energy is portrayed as being infectious. And the general feeling, which is perhaps why this song has remained popular throughout the ages, is that he is a representation of what it is like for an individual to be free mentally within the context of Western society.

Lyrics of "Tom Sawyer"

Facts about “Tom Sawyer”

The writers of this song are Rush members Geddy Lee, Neil Peart and Alex Lifeson. And they were assisted by lyricist Pye Dubois.

Rush also produced “Tom Sawyer” along with Terry Brown.

“Tom Sawyer” was released by Anthem Records on 12 February 1981 as part of Rush’s album, “Moving Pictures”. And a couple of weeks later it was officially issued as the first single from that project.

This song has an extensive history of being featured in pop media on shows like “Family Guy” (2006) and “The Sopranos” (2007) and movies such as “I Love You, Man” (2009).

“Tom Sawyer” charted in both Canada and the United States. And a live rendition from Rush’s album “Exit… Stage Left” also made it onto the UK Singles Chart.

As aforementioned this song has remained popular throughout the years. In fact the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame formally recognized “Tom Sawyer” in 2010. 

1 Response

  1. Need more modern day warriors! says:

    Excellent read, thank you! Love the way you have with words, not unlike how Neil Peart did. Wish I could express as well. 🙂

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