Earth Intruders (by Björk)

“There is some sort of solution to the situation today in the world that is above and beyond religion. I had this dream that a tsunami of people would take over the justice in the world. So there is this kind-of naive hope that there is some sort of balance gonna be.. you know all these billions that are starving and then the billions being spent on warfare.. maybe we just have to drop this idea that we can actually separate us from nature, and be these kind-of perfect humans… I’m not so sure that it’s such a good idea and we just have to accept that we are a human tribe and we can unite in some sort of a global beat.” [1]

“I mean, the human race, we are a tribe, let’s face it, and let’s stop all this religious bullshit. I think everybody, or at least a lot of my friends, are just so exhausted with this whole self-importance of religious people. Just drop it. We’re all fucking animals, so let’s just make some universal tribal beat. We’re pagan. Let’s just march.” [2]

-Björk (2007)

The ancient Voodoo of West Africa has been revived by Björk to remind us of a time of general harmony and sacred connection between human beings and Mother Earth. Ten thousand years ago, before the monotheistic religions and patriarchy hijacked humanity, there was a strong general bond between people and their environment. This is reflected in the very name ‘Voodoo’, which is derived from the African word ‘Vodun’ meaning ‘spirit’.. not God, but spirit. This is an important distinction to make.

Vodun Bocio sculptures, similar to the shadowed dancers in the Earth Intruders video. They represent the forces in the spiritual realm which directly affect the physical world of nature.

Vodun Bocio sculptures, similar to the shadowed dancers in the Earth Intruders video. They represent the forces in the spiritual realm which directly affect the physical world of nature.

Rather than spending energy on becoming closer to God (thus separating themselves from the natural world) as seen in the dominant Abrahamic religions of today, these ancient people accepted that God was unreachable and unknowable. They didn’t seek to understand the mystery of God, who he/she was, or even how humans came into existence. There was no prayer offered to God, only service offered to the intermediaries.. the spirits who control all aspects of the natural world.. that is, the world that matters to humans. Instead of worshiping their supreme creator, they placed the highest importance on these intermediary spirits known as the Loa. Shamans in these ancient tribes understood that the Loa, through ceremonial dance and other rituals, could take possession of their bodies for short periods of time, during which great wisdom could be communicated to the rest of the tribe.

Earth Intruders recaptures the wisdom of these ancient people with respect to Loa and the spiritual realm. From its universal, tribal beat to its sloshing-water sound effects, it is certainly one of the stand-out pieces on the Volta album. It touches on the fractured/schizophrenic nature of modern humanity, describing it as a “beast with many heads” that is steamrolling over the Earth creating unnecessary turmoil and imbalance. As Björk noted above, modern people are lost in their efforts to become something that is beyond human and separate from the environment. In trying to differentiate man from beast, man has actually become the beast by polluting the environment with large-scale industrialization in an effort to support an ever-increasing population size. The shift from a pagan, female-centric outlook to a God-fearing, male-centric outlook has taken a great toll on the Earth, as most of us are now aware. So we need to revive the “necessary voodoo” and reverse this terrible shift in thinking/spirituality that has taken place.

The cover of the Volta album (left) symbolizes a feminine-led human world. The human mind is still very complex and always reaching higher, and stretching.. pushing the limits. However, the large, heavy, cool-colored feet symbolize the wisdom of the pagan revival. We must keep our feet on the ground and remember that we are, as Björk said, all animals who are meant to march with each other as one. The artwork on the Voltaic album (right) reinforces the feminine energy that needs to wash over the world, as seen in the vaginal-shaped drops.

The cover of the Volta album (left) symbolizes a feminine-led human world, emphasized by the moon on her right shoulder. The human mind is still very complex and always reaching higher, and stretching.. pushing the limits. However, the large, heavy, cool-colored feet symbolize the wisdom of the pagan revival. We should keep our feet on the ground and remember that we are, as Björk said, all animals who are meant to march with each other as one. The artwork on the Voltaic album (right) reinforces the feminine energy that needs to wash over the world, as seen in the vaginal-shaped drops.

A final interesting thing to note is that there appears to be a general similarity between the beings that Björk calls Earth Intruders and the intermediary beings often seen during DMT/Salvia Divinorum experiences. These beings have been observed throughout history in many different forms. They come in dreams (like Björk’s dream which provided the initial imagery for the song). They come to Vodun priests during ceremonial dances. They came to the Irish as ‘faeries‘. And they come to modern psychedelic users in the form of gnomes or elves (you may have heard the term ‘machine elf‘ before). Often times, as you are in the process of breaking through to the spiritual realm, you run into hundreds/thousands (i.e. a tsunami) of happy little elves who are very excited to see you, and help pull you through to the other side. Making regular contact with these intermediaries is important to maintaining a healthy relationship between humans and the natural world. This is the necessary Voodoo that will free us from the metallic carnage we’ve created and get us back on a healthy track toward peace.  Við elskum þig, Björk.

Psychedelic elves compared to images of Björk's Earth Intruder costume.

Psychedelic elves compared to images of Björk’s Earth Intruder costume.

[1] The Volta podcast series, https://youtu.be/WtuqesHa0lc

[2] Interview from Pitchfork, http://pitchfork.com/features/interviews/6592-bjork/

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Land (by Patti Smith)

Sweeter than the flesh of sour apples to children,
The green water penetrated my pinewood hull
And washed me clean of the bluish wine stains
And the splashes of vomit,
Carrying away both rudder and anchor.

And from that time on,
I bathed in the poem of the sea,
Star-infused and churned into milk,
Devouring the green azures; where,
Entranced in pallid flotsam,
A dreaming drowned man sometimes goes down.

-Rimbaud (1871)

Above, is an excerpt from Arthur Rimbaud’s well-known poem entitled Le Bateau ivre, which translates to English as “The Drunken Boat”. When I read these few lines for the first time a few days ago, I was instantly cast back into the exact same surreal world where Patti Smith held me the first time I heard Land. There is perhaps no finer example of Patti’s long-developed artistic skill than the brutal, but hopeful imagery she captured in this piece; and similarly, what Rimbaud (her most important influence) captured in Le Bateau ivre.

Land is a song that could probably be renamed as the title track of the album, Horses, as it certainly stands out as the centerpiece. Quite simply, this song is about transcendence. The “coiled snakes” of Hermes guide young Johnny through the major transitions in his spiritual life: from his darkest point to his most enlightened state, then finally on to his death. The specific images chosen to express these ideas were recently identified by Patti in her book, Just Kids, which discusses her life up to and during the making of Horses.

Specifically, she describes Land as having “wild-boy imagery fused with the stages of Hendrix’s death”. I’m sure Jimi Hendrix needs no introduction for you, but I will say that the “wild-boy” imagery she’s talking about are themes from The Wild Boys, a book by William Burroughs. The chosen name for the character in the song, Johnny, stemmed from a character in this book. The Wild Boys takes place in the future where police states basically control everything through organized military force, and a gang of boys attempts to fight back. The theme of rebellion against the norm (which often marks the beginning of spiritual transcendence) is common to most of Patti’s work leading up to the making of Horses.

This is most likely the reason Burrough’s images appeared to Patti in her first LSD trip, which she also describes in her book as being the basis for the symbolism used in Land. Her close friend and boyfriend for a period, Robert Mapplethorpe, encouraged her to trip with him one night. Over the course of their intimate relationship, Robert revealed that he was actually gay, and later went on to hustle in New York City for a time to earn money (which made Patti extremely nervous for his safety). Similarly, tripping for the first time in a big, dark, dirty, smelly city would make anyone nervous like Patti was, as she described having a “demon vision of the city”. This strange mix of ideas brings us to the narrated introduction to Land, where the tale of Johnny begins.

As I’ve found when interpreting other songs, it really doesn’t matter who the character is exactly.. the important thing is what Johnny represents, which is many things. He represents youth. He holds the ideals of America and freedom in his heart. He represents all the strange goodness that came out of the 60’s.. a goodness that couldn’t live on forever (as marked by the deaths of many of its most esteemed figures, like Hendrix). He also represents someone who has been beaten down spiritually by the human world around him. This is most obvious during the initial scene described in the song where Johnny is pushed against a locker and raped by another boy (an image likely born out of Patti’s fears with respect to Robert and his hustling). This is also made especially clear in more recent performances of Land, where an extended intro is given. Here are some examples..

(Royal Festival Hall, London – 2005)

(Herodeion, Athens – 2013)

(Rio Theatre, Santa Cruz – 2015)

In these performances, you can see how Patti is really making a point to expand on the original recorded introduction. She talks about how Johnny feels the “discordant rhythm of his generation”.. “the material senselessness of his age”.. everything that provokes him and beats him down is converging in the hallway. This angers him and makes him want to go crazy and fight against it. This is the first transcendence in the song; the transcendence from being on a low spiritual plane, and then being blasted into a higher vibrational frequency where Johnny is no longer held down by the ills of society. The spirit of the American 60’s flows through him, and he is surrounded by white horses with flaming noses. They are a symbol of Johnny’s pure, and righteous rage in knowing that he’s never had that untainted freedom that we all wish for in life.

In this state, Johnny enters the real “free world” where he is absorbed in the pleasures of dance (with the incorporation of verses from an older song, Land of a Thousand Dances), sex (“dig your baby sister”), and drug use (“fill my nose with snow”). These things help him feel immune to the senselessness of modern society, as if he is now bathing in the sea of possibility. You’ll notice that although Patti is describing Johnny’s transcendence, she’s also describing her own transcendence during the trip. She gets an image of a black horse (which she specifically identifies as female) with yellow hair who comes to her in the night. The black mare guides her through the darkness, and leads her to the stairway (“up there”) to the sea of possibility. The waters of the sea wash away the stains of hopelessness that society has vommitted on her. She sees that there is no God watching over us and judging our actions..

There is no land but the land
There is no sea but the sea
There’s no keeper of the key
Except for the one who seizes possibilities

We are all responsible for our own actions, and there is much freedom to be found in this idea, as stated in other songs on the album like Gloria (“Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine”). It’s a wonderful realization and a nice place to be in.

However, for Johnny, the bliss of the great sea doesn’t last. Through all of it, he still sees that life is filled with holes and pain, which he can no longer deal with in a realistic, healthy way. This is the final transcendence he makes towards his ultimate death, likely similar to the way we imagine Hendrix dying. The pain and pressure Johnny feels from society ultimately beats him down, causing him to commit suicide by slitting his throat. His vocal chords (really, his voice and identity) shoot up and away, and we are left with a man in a bed who nobody can hear. He feels himself disintegrate and go into a black tube.. he’s just a dreaming drowned man who has finally gone down.

Go Rimbaud

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You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, but I Feel Like a Millionaire

(written by Josh Homme & Mario Lalli, performed by Queens of the Stone Age)

Dead bull with a life on the low,
I’ll be massive conquistador.
Gimme soul, show me the door.
Metal-heavy, soft at the core.
Gimme, Toro.. gimme some more.
Pressurize, neutralize..
deep fried, gimme some more.

Space flunky, four on the floor..
fortified with the liquor store.
This one’s down, gimme some more.
Gimme, Toro.. gimme some more.
Shrunken head, I love to adore.
B-Movie, gimme some gore.
Gimme, Toro.. gimme some more.

A few months ago, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), in a disgusting display of protest and religious-driven militancy, decided to destroy one of the most sacred places in the original cradle of human civilization: the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud. After taking control of the areas surrounding Nimrud, ISIS deemed it to be a city that symbolized a blasphemous culture and history of idolatry which spat in the face of the “one true god”, who they call ‘Allah’.

Prior to the rise of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), idolatry was a common practice in many cultures. People worshiped a great variety of symbols which they thought to be vital to their existence, such as the sun, the moon, the rain, fire, etc. They also identified various animals as having qualities that were important to human development and survival. One animal in particular, considered sacred in many civilizations, was the bull.

The Minotaur of Crete (left) and the Egyptian god Apis (right)

The Minotaur of Crete (left) and the Egyptian god Apis (right)

The bull was appreciated early on as a symbol of superhuman strength and virility. The Assyrians of Mesopotamia (and other Bronze Age civilizations such as the Minoans and Egyptians) worshiped the bull as a sacred being who served as a protector. Hence, the entrances to many religious temples were flanked by large statues that had the body of a winged bull and the head of a human. To the Assyrians, this protective deity was known as a ‘Lamassu’. Statues of Lamassu were placed everywhere, including the ancient temples at Nimrud which were preserved right up until ISIS took control of the city and destroyed them.

Lamassu statues (left) similar to the ones destroyed by ISIS in Nimrud (right).

Lamassu statues (left) similar to the ones destroyed by ISIS in Nimrud (right).

The image of the Lamassu influenced the newer Abrahamic religions, starting with the Jewish prophet Ezekiel, who claimed to have seen God. In Ezekiel’s vision, God appeared in a fiery chariot that came out of a strange windstorm and a burst of light. God’s chariot was being driven by four strange creatures, each having four distinct faces: that of a human, eagle, lion, and bull. Each quadruple-faced being also had wings, similar to the Lamassu imagery found in Assyrian temples. This imagery was later adopted by Christianity, as shown in the many artworks involving the Four Evangelists, one of whom (Luke) is represented by a winged bull.

The Book of Kells (left) representing the Four Evangelists (with Luke in the bottom-left corner), compared with Raphael's interpretation (right).

The Book of Kells (left) representing the Four Evangelists (with Luke in the bottom-left corner), compared with Raphael’s interpretation of Ezekiel’s vision (right).

The bull’s significance in ancient cultures is most clearly seen in the development of astronomy, as it’s image was recognized in the night sky in the constellation that we know today as ‘Taurus’. As with other signs of the Zodiac, Taurus was considered to be the dominating force/energy for a period of time that heavily influenced human development and behavior. This period is usually referred to as an ‘astrological age’. The Age of Taurus is estimated to have occurred between approximately 4500-2000 BC, when the above-mentioned bull-worshiping cultures began to emerge. The end of the Taurean Age has been expressed in many artistic paintings and sculptures, the most famous of which is the slaying-of-the-bull by Mithras (a figure in Roman mythology). The slaying of the bull is significant, because it is a symbol of man conquering his animalistic desires/behaviors as he becomes a more thoughtful, and spiritual being. In other words, the end of Taurus marked a significant advancement in human thinking and spirituality.

The Taurus constellation (left), and the slaying-of-the-bull by Mithras (right).

The Taurus constellation (left), and the slaying-of-the-bull by Mithras (right).

It’s funny though how humans, even with all our intellectual/emotional advancements over time, still have a longing for the past. We continually reach into history and find refreshed meaning and significance in ideas and behaviors that are generally no longer in practice, and often shunned by modern society. Hence, the creation of You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, but I Feel Like a Millionaire. This song is, in part, about the revival of Taurus and the spirit of the bull. It’s the voice of a human who doesn’t want to completely slay his inner bull.. a person who generally operates on an adrenaline-driven, animalistic level. They feel great and powerful, but in reality, they are over-consuming, raging addicts who need to keep feeding themselves to maintain that feeling of strength. So they flood themselves with unhealthy, lowest-common-denominator-type stuff like alcohol, gory b-rated movies, deep fried food, etc.

Yet somehow, the voice in the song is wiser than its Bronze Age ancestors. It sees the bull in a new way.. as a strong, fearless being who can be totally at peace in a field eating grass one minute, but can become a raging, insanely-destructive animal an instant later. It sees the bull as a metaphor for our contradictory/dualistic nature. We’re heavy/hardcore like metal sometimes, but soft/sensitive at other times.. pressurizing, then neutralizing.. shedding the wisdom of old, becoming dissatisfied with the new, then reviving the old in a more mature, spiritual way.

May the Lord bless his land
with the precious dew from heaven above
and with the deep waters that lie below;
with the best the sun brings forth
and the finest the moon can yield;
with the choicest gifts of the ancient mountains
and the fruitfulness of the everlasting hills;
with the best gifts of the earth and its fullness
and the favor of him who dwelt in the burning bush.
Let all these rest on the head of Joseph,
on the brow of the prince among his brothers.
In majesty he is like a firstborn bull;
his horns are the horns of a wild ox.
With them he will gore the nations,
even those at the ends of the earth.

(Deuteronomy 33)

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You Can’t Win (by Tomahawk)

if you wanna bleed, then come along with me
we’re only half-breeds, but we’ll be home-free
so mark your territory, ‘cuz it’s on

put your badge on, we gotta mow ’em down
we got a feelin’.. it’s even breathin’
we know how cheap our freedom is..

put on my best white shirt, walkin’ down the street like a speed ball
purrin’ like a cat out on early parole
well I ain’t takin’ no more, cuz it’s on

and every power abused, and every item consumed, now it’s on
‘cuz it’s on
the laws of history, they’re puttin’ me on, cuz they’re clear, cuz it’s on
and it’s on..

we are the police, and now we’re gonna start a riot
now you’ll see just how we’re gonna start a riot
we are the police, and now we’re gonna start a riot..

don’t know where to begin, it’s all over again, and it’s on
it’s on
and if you think you’re free, then you better believe that it’s on
and it’s on..
and we’ll drink anything if it burns and it’s strong, ‘cuz it’s on
and it’s on..
and the crap of the cream ain’t gonna fuck with me, ‘cuz it’s on
and it’s on..

and we ain’t gonna propagate for you, ‘cuz it’s on
and it’s on..
they’re gonna quit makin’ money ’till we’re taken care of, ‘cuz it’s on
and it’s on..

we are the police, and now we’re gonna start a riot
saw it on TV, and now we’re gonna start a riot
we are the police, and now we’re gonna start a riot
saw it on TV, and now we’re gonna start a riot..

The title of this song really says a lot. “You can’t win” basically means that as long as monetary system is in place, you can’t “fight the power” and win: you can only trade places with those who are currently in power. The song is, on the one hand, a satirical presentation/analysis of an Alex Jones-style ‘Info Warrior’ (for lack of a non-sickening term). The words are mostly spoken by someone who is pissed off that the New World Order is here. But their only answer is to join some activist group, protest/terrorize/whatever, and eventually trade places with those in power (e.g. “we are the police, and now we’re gonna start a riot”).

On the other hand, the lyrics are also indicative of a voice coming from a higher state of consciousness.. a voice that represents *both* the Info Warrior and those people who are currently in power. It’s as if the voice is observing the Info Warrior from above and is casting judgement on him, but is also relating to him at the same time. For example, the voice calls himself (and those he’s preaching to) a “half-breed“, like a eugenicist might describe the average citizen. He also talks about getting the idea of starting a riot/protest from the TV.. again, as if to devalue the idea and show how silly it is. Yet, the same voice talks about the abuse of power, and how the masses should stop propagating the false idea that we need money to live.

So it’s like a weird duality being represented in these lyrics. The voice relates to the Info Warrior’s feelings of disgust with the NWO, and how anger can be strengthening and constructive in a way. But it also recognizes that the monetary system is the overriding issue, and no amount of protest or anger will likely stop it. It’s like the narrator knows he’s being silly/naive/short-sighted but can’t let go of the strong feelings that distract him from seeing the bigger picture and a better solution.. kinda like the general human condition, wouldn’t you say?

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Reckoner (by Radiohead)

Yet how superb, across the tumult braided,
The painted rainbow’s changeful life is bending,
Now clearly drawn, dissolving now and faded,
And evermore the showers of dew descending!
Of human striving there’s no symbol fuller:
Consider, and ’tis easy comprehending —
Life is not light, but the refracted color.

-Faust II

The color of Goehte’s masterpiece has rippled through the medium of Radiohead with their album, In Rainbows. The character, Faust, observes that life is not about some great search for divine light, but rather, it is about the practice of living with the enlightenment of God at your back; thus allowing it to guide you forward through your organic life, and not lead you down a dead-end path of obsession. This is essentially what the phrase “In Rainbows” means. It is the recognition that the source light which governs our world cannot really be seen nor fully understood by human beings (“dare not speak its name“). Although we have moments of clarity and deep understanding, these moments are generally temporary and don’t last very long. As Thom Yorke said of the album, “It very much explores the ideas of transience. It starts in one place and ends somewhere completely different.” [1] This is the transient nature of human consciousness being described by the character Faust in the above passage.

So who is The Reckoner?

At a concert in Glendale, Arizona, Thom Yorke stated:

“..it [the song, Reckoner] was born out of a very trippy dream, one of those ones you wake up from and go, ‘aww man, I don’t want to wake up from that, ever.'” [2]

The Reckoner is the one who wakes you up when you wish to remain in your current perceived reality or dream-state. It is the transient way of true nature that we all need to reckon with and accept. For Faust, this means that he must live up to his bargain with Mephistopheles, who represents the Devil. Note that Mephistopheles is mentioned by name in another song on the album: Videotape.

As the story goes, Faust becomes so obsessed with discovering the true nature of life, he summons Mephistopheles to help him in this quest. Mephistopheles agrees to serve Faust right up until the moment he reaches the height of human wisdom/happiness/fulfillment; at which point, he will claim Faust’s soul. Faust agrees to the deal because he actually thinks it’d be impossible for him to reach that height.

Ultimately, however, Faust does experience a moment of pure happiness, and so Mephistopheles attempts to claim his soul… that is, Faust is woken up from his happy slumber. Luckily, Faust is rescued by a group of angels who escort him to heaven.

The theme of transience can also be seen in the previous song on the album, Faust Arp (“it’s on again, off again, on again“)… another obvious reference to the tale of Faust. The sound of the music is also heavy with percussion and transient in that it folds over on itself between piano & guitar portions.

The most accessible metaphor that I can see for this idea is how people tend to want to escape from reality (that’s the “bittersweet distractor“), and would rather call in sick on their day of reckoning. They, unlike The Reckoner (or Buddha, if you prefer) cannot overcome the division between self and other (i.e. subject and object, which make for the transient/dualistic ways of human beings). Again, we have moments of clarity and understanding, but they don’t last.. “like ripples on a blank shore“.

[1] Chris Mincher (1 July 2007). “Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Ed O’Brien”. The A.V. Club. Retrieved 12 November 2011.

[2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7jGuJzmaiU

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Long Snake Moan (by PJ Harvey)

Dunk you under
Deep salt water
Bring me, lover
All your power

I’ll be no hell
Out of your spell
Over, under
Die of pleasure

In my dreamin’
You’ll be drownin’
Hell’s low, God above
All drunk on my love

You outta hear my long snake moan
You outta see me from my throne

Dunk you under
Deep salt water
In my dreamin’
You’ll be drownin’

Raise me up, Lord
Call me “Lazarus”
Hey Lord, help me
Make ready my veil

You outta hear my long snake moan
You outta see me from my throne

It’s my voodoo workin’..

Moan!

The snake is a very familiar image with various interpretations and meanings. Some people use it to signify evil.. others consider it a symbol of rejuvenation.  This is probably one of the primary reasons it was chosen for this song.  The image of the snake is something that really hits us on an unconscious level.  The way it hisses and slithers is generally unsettling (or at least, intriguing) to almost everyone, and this is consistent with the unsettling, voodoo-like sound effects used in the song.

The deadly Black Mamba snake

At its core, Long Snake Moan uses the snake as a symbol for transcendence, especially with respect to the concepts of religion, “right” vs. “wrong”, life vs. death, and traditional gender roles.  In a 1995 interview, PJ Harvey said:

“I look towards religion as possibly one means to finding an answer, to making sense why we’re here. That’s what drives the creative force, to make sense of one’s life. A very natural place to look is in that divine area, because it’s so strong and has been here long before us.”

Although not a religious person herself, PJ understands the importance of religion in its pure, non-corrupted form where both ‘God’ and ‘Satan’ become part of the same abstraction.  In other words, God and Satan are essentially the same thing on a certain level:  they both represent something that transcends the boundary between the physical and the spiritual.  They interact with the physical realm, but they aren’t restricted to it.

LEFT: The god Hermes, known as a free traveler between worlds, holding his caduceus staff with serpents.
RIGHT: William Blake’s interesting depiction of Lazarus slithering up from the underworld (like a snake).

The narrator in the song is identifying herself with this concept.  This is why she says “Call me Lazarus“, because Lazarus transcended the boundary between life and death after he was resurrected by Jesus.  This is also noted in other lines throughout (e.g. “Over, under” and “Hell’s low, God above“). She also includes the religious ideas of baptism (“dunk you under deep salt water“) and obligation/fidelity to God (“make ready my veil“).

Her baptism, shown on the cover of To Bring You My Love

Thinking about this from a more human/female perspective, the term “Long Snake Moan” seems to be a reference to both 1) the narrator’s libido, and 2) her declaration of independence from a controlling relationship (that’s where “Out of your spell” comes from).  She has transcended the gender boundary by taking on the dominant sexual role in the relationship (a role usually played by the male).  This role-reversal is accomplished through her “voodoo“, where she summons the power of higher transcendental beings (like God and Satan).  In this way, she resembles the snake and takes on its symbolic characteristics.

What is particularly beautiful about this song, imo, is that PJ incorporates the religious idea of transcendence into her own broader abstraction, where the transcendence of morality (right vs. wrong), mortality (life vs death), and gender (male vs. female) are all weaved together to form an extremely rich artistic expression.

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Schism (by Tool)

The primary, identifiable theme going on in Schism appears to be the alchemical concept most commonly known as “squaring the circle“.  Hence, the interlude..

The poetry that comes from the squaring off between
And the circling is worth it, finding beauty in the dissonance

Squaring the circle is a subject that can’t easily be summed up in a small article, but I’ll provide some quotes to start with:

“The ‘squaring of the circle’ is one of the many archetypal motifs which form the basic patterns of our dreams and fantasies.  But it is distinguished by the fact that it is one of the most important of them from the functional point of view.  Indeed, it could even be called the archetype of wholeness.”

-Carl Jung from Mandalas (1955)

“The intent behind alchemy and the alchemical work is personal individuation, which is wholeness.  In order to attain wholeness, it is said, one must square the circle…  To square the circle is to see equally in the four directions, and so to be whole…  To find a new equilibrium where inner, outer, above, and below are balanced and in harmony, is to be One…  The viscous flame of oneness comes burning away all division of spirit and flesh, and the diamond body becomes the eternal fuel of this emancipative, destructive union.”

-Jack Haas from OM, Baby! (2005)

Squaring the circle is also referred to as “quaternity” or “quadratura circuli“, and is represented in countless artistic works going back to ~1000 AD (and probably before then).  It is, as Jung and Haas point out, a symbol of wholeness and balance between the inner portion of the Self (i.e. the spirit), the outer portion of the Self (i.e. the body), the heavens above, and the Earth below.

A Mandala is a visual representation of the concept of ‘squaring the circle’, most notably pointed out by Jung in his works.

The video for Schism, in particular, brings out this theme in a way that the song by itself cannot.  It takes us through the process of purifying the mind and the body, in order to allow “the viscous flame of oneness” to dissolve the boundaries between spirit and matter, between male and female, between good and evil.  This is visualized in the final moments of the video.

In the beginning, we see a circular shaped metronome that bounces up from the floor and becomes suspended in the air, where it starts to oscillate back and forth.  This is symbolizing a spirit that is in a state of confusion and uncertainly, thus it sways to and fro because it cannot reach a state of calm equilibrium.  In other words, the circle has not yet been squared.

We then fade into a room that’s very square-like and gray.  This represents the world of matter.. the physical realm where the spirit is held within a body.  You’ll also notice there are wires that stretch across the room, symbolizing the lines of communication that are gray and stale (meaning they are not working properly, as described in the lyrics).

The circular metronome (left), symbolizes the spiritual Self. The square room (right), symbolizes the physical/material Self.

Similar wires are seen stretching out from a female figure’s head, who now comes into frame.  Only her wires are red, meaning they are healthy and open for connection.  As she wanders around the room, she starts to sink into the floor.  At the same time, she notices an opposing male figure’s feet rising up out of the floor, as if he’s stuck in a state of total unconsciousness.  She pulls herself out of the floor and is also able to pull the male out by his feet thereafter.  When she does this, we can see that she rotates him around on his head, forming a circle on the floor.  This expresses her desire to form a higher, spiritual connection with the man, which is clearly seen as the camera fades out and displays the two figures forming the shape of a compass.  The compass is often shown and referred to in the works of alchemists, because it metaphorically represents one of the tools that can be used in the process of squaring the circle and reaching a higher state of being.

Male and female forming a compass shape (left) compared to the alchemist’s concept of the squared circle (right).

The female then carries the still unconscious male back to the first room we saw in the beginning, and lays him down.  She moves close to him (again, indicating a desire to communicate), reaches out toward him with her arms, and pulls them back toward herself.. like she’s trying to pull him closer, but there are no wires available to hold on to.  She’s just pulling at the air and is only miming the act of connection.

The male continues to remain asleep, as he starts to drift away from the female.  She pursues him into a new room, which has a large tree-shaped crack in the wall where the male is hiding (the cracks are clearly another symbol of a breakdown in communication).  The female then begins to walk on all fours and soon, the male emerges from the crack in the wall and does the same thing.  This is symbolic of male and female communicating at a sub-human level… at the primitive, animal level.  That’s why they walk on all fours.  They’re not yet at a point where they can connect spiritually, so they can only connect through the flesh (i.e. matter).

Male hiding in the crack (left) then emerges to walk on all fours (right)

Now we reach a crucial point in the video, where the female moves in close to the male again (only this time they’re both standing upright).  You’ll notice her movements are very twitchy, again indicating that’s she’s vibrating at a higher frequency and desires higher-level communication.  She then grabs his ear, and pulls it out along with a rectangular chunk of his head.  This represents the process of purifying the mind, as we later see a small goblin-like creature emerge from the extracted head-piece.

Later on, we see another cancerous goblin being extracted from the male’s neck, symbolizing the purification of the body (in addition to the mind).  Once this occurs, the male figure becomes much more vibrant and life-like.  At the same time, the female becomes fearful and weak as she falls to the ground.  While she’s lying there, the parasitic goblins start to feed off of her as they had been previously doing to the male.  Fortunately, she’s strong enough to sit up and remove them from her face so that she doesn’t become consumed by them as he was.

The head and neck extractions, symbolizing the purification of mind and body.

This process of purification through bodily extraction/operation is common in strong psychedelic experiences and also in many instances of alien abduction.  Often, you’ll read about people claiming they were operated on by aliens who extracted things from their bodies.  This also occurs during DMT and Salvia Divinorum trips, where you run into therianthropic figures who reach into your body as if to purify you and show you what is needed in order to reach a higher level of being.

A therianthropic, elf-like figure (left) often seen during DMT/Salvia trips, compared with the familiar alien image (right) as described by many abductees and eyewitnesses.

As the female lays back down, we see more pinkish wires start to grow out of her face.  They grow so fast and thick that she has to pull them away from her face.  When she does this, we see that her face now looks very similar to the male’s.  Afterwards, the male and female turn to face each other and become merged into a single being with a large head.  Male and female (i.e. spirit and matter) have now become one, as we see the viscous flames rain down upon them, symbolizing the union of opposites.  The squaring of the circle is now complete, and the spiritual/astral Self has finally reached a state of equilibrium.  This is confirmed by the reappearance of the metronome we saw in the beginning of the video, which you’ll notice is no longer oscillating back and forth.  This being has now completed the process of individuation, and is in a harmonious, balanced state of oneness.

Male and female merging into one, thus squaring the circle.

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Fancy (by Yeah Yeah Yeahs)

I find it in the atlas
or flippin’ over old news
check what’s in the trash bag
we’re just another part of you
we’re just another part of you
I beg your pardon? (beg your pardon?)
beg your pardon?!
WOAAAAAAAAAAH!

ready me for what you are
tell me what I gotta lose
’bout to get fancy
we’re just another part of you
we’re just another part of you
I beg your pardon? (beg your pardon?)
beg your pardon?!
WOAAAAAAAAAAH!

we read it for three days..

we ran over it
like a perfect fit
didn’t need our..
didn’t need our eyes
watched it from the next island

In an interview in 2006, Karen O said:

“I wouldn’t say that only the softer ballad side of me is who I actually am, as opposed to the more confrontational, irreverent side. They’re both interwoven. It’s not like one is acting and the other is for real. Both are what appeared and came out from the first performance we ever did to the last one, and I’m not exactly sure where it comes from and I can’t ever actually predict what’s going to come out. Both of them come from their respective places inside of me, but I think they are just two sides of the same personality. But one wouldn’t exist without the other. They balance each other out.”

I believe Karen is talking about the conflicting pieces of the human personality that constantly pull you in different directions (depending on mood, setting, circumstance, synergy, etc.).  This is basically what causes your persona to change, perhaps many times, throughout your life.  Sometimes, a single piece (or a subset of pieces) will just fit you perfectly in terms of your level of consciousness, age, experience, and current aspirations.  So you put that mask on because.. it just fits.

However once you do this, you sort-of forget about all the other pieces that are still there, even though they’ve been run over and hidden by the current dominating piece of the persona.  You just jump on this one piece as if it’s your own private island, and treat all the others as old news and throw them in a trash bag.

Then one day, something happens that makes you remember the other pieces of your personality that have been pushed down for a long time.  So you freak out, and things start to get very complicated (i.e. “fancy“).  Now, you have you decide whether you’re going to jump to the next island or deal with the other pieces and try to integrate them into your life in a balanced, harmonious way.

This is the conversation that’s taking place here, in Fancy.  It’s the dominating piece of a persona running into the others that were previously-hidden and pushed into the unconscious.  This is why almost every line is doubled on the vocals; this represents the different pieces of her persona violently clashing with each other.  This is also why she wears a mask during this song in some of the live shows from the Show Your Bones era.  It’s a total expression of the friction that’s created by the complicated nature of the human mind, and the potential for balance if the conflicting pieces can somehow become integrated as one.

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Beauty and the Beast (by David Bowie)

Oooooo..
Weaving down a byroad, singing the song
That’s my kind of highroad gone wrong

My my, smile at least
You can’t say “no” to the Beauty and the Beast

Something in the night, something in the day
Nothing is wrong but darling, something’s in the way
There’s slaughter in the air, protest on the wind
Someone else inside me, someone could get skinned

My my, someone fetch a priest
You can’t say “no” to the Beauty and the Beast
Darling

My my
You can’t say “no” to the Beauty and the Beast
Weakling

I wanted to believe me, I wanted to be good
I wanted no distractions like every good boy should

Nothing will corrupt us, nothing will compete
Thank God heaven left us standing on our feet

——————————————————

I think the meaning of this song can be most easily explored through Jungian concepts and analogies.  Beauty and the Beast is essentially about Anima/Animus possession due to an unassimilated Shadow.  I won’t get into great detail, but you can Google “Anima possession” if you want to learn more than what I’m about to tell you in this article.

To give a very brief overview of Jung’s model of human consciousness, it starts with a “collective unconscious” from which every individual ultimately operates.  It is the totatlity of the human experience that everyone’s personal unconsious is derived from.  Within this unconscious realm lives certain archetypes, like the Shadow and Anima/Animus.  These archetypes are symbols for different aspects of the Self.  The Shadow is all the darker aspects of the Self that we tend to dislike and project onto others.  The Anima is the personification of all the feminine qualities in a man (simililarly, the Animus is the personification of all the masculine qualities in a woman).  Again, Google those terms for more details on what each archetype means.

Here, the concept of “Anima possession” is shown graphically. You can see that the man’s inner Anima has taken possession of his Ego, thereby causing him to operate unwillingly from his unconscious. (Ref: Barbara F. McManus, February 1999, http://www2.cnr.edu/home/bmcmanus/anima.html)

But when you read the lyrics with these concepts in mind, the meaning of the song is more easily seen.  This is a man’s Ego attempting to communicate with his inner Anima, whom he calls “darling“. She consequently addresses him as “weakling“, which is how the man feels when he is possessed by his Anima.  This is why Bowie has the group of female backup singers say the line “weakling..”.   I realize that the lyric sheet that comes in the cd booklet says it’s “liebling” rather than “weakling”, but I hear “weakling” when I listen to the song.  Other sources agree with that assessment, so you’ll have to be the judge.  Remember though, that this is only 1 line out of many others that relate this song to Jung’s attempt at describing the complex nature of the psyche, and the mysterious dualities held within.

Jung wrote:

“Turned towards the world, the anima is fickle, capricious, moody, uncontrolled and emotional, sometimes gifted with daemonic intuitions, ruthless, malicious, untruthful, bithcy, double-faced, and mystical.”

This is what Bowie is describing in the second verse when he says “something in the night, something in the day“.  This is the “double-faced” duality aspect of human consciousness that Jung described in his works.  “Beauty and the Beast” is another way of expressing this duality.  Every archetype that lives in our unconscious has this quality.  For every enlightened Ego there is a dark Shadow lurking beneath the surface.  For every welcoming/positive aspect of the Anima that is consciously integrated into a man’s life, there is a hostile/negative aspect of her that can take possession of the man’s consciousness without him becoming aware of it.  That’s why he says “someone fetch a priest“, indicating that he’s possessed and needs an exorcism or else “someone could get skinned” (meaning he could have a violent, emotional outburst, which is common for men who are possessed by their Anima).

The duality of human nature is shown here on the cover of the Heroes album. One hand is placed on himself (symbolizing the ‘subject’ part of the duality concept), and the other hand is placed out in front of his eyes (symbolizing the ‘object’ part of the duality concept).

This duality is also expressed on more of a group level when he says “there’s slaughter in the air, protest on the wind“.  This line is likely influenced by Bowie’s time spent in Berlin in the 70’s, where one could clearly see a collective split in Germany’s psyche resulting from the Second World War.  The “slaughter in the air” represents the static part of the psyche.. the part that clings to the status quo and doesn’t want things to change.  The “protest on the wind” represents the dynamic part of the psyche that wishes to shake things up and change the status quo.  Again, this is a duality in man being expressed in more group-oriented/political terms, but it’s also a reference to the personal psyche as well.  The Shadow/Anima tend to act as the “protest on the wind” in our personal unconscious, disrupting the Ego’s behavior as described in the lyrics.

The 4 stages of Anima development. From left-to-right: Eve, Helen, Mary, and Sophia are all representations of the inner Anima.

This is reinforced by the interlude where he says “I wanted to believe me, I wanted to be good, I wanted no distractions“.  This is the man explaining how he’s trying to be a good person, but he hasn’t done any work on himself psychologically.  He’s been ignoring his Shadow & Anima, and doesn’t fully understand himself as a result.  He always thought of himself as a “good boy” because he’s been dismissive of his own dark side.  His Shadow is unassimlated, thus rendering him unable to clearly communicate with his Anima and reach the next step in his process of individuation.  He’s still “weaving down a byroad” without knowing how to get back on the main highway to the Self.

Finally, I thought it would also be interesting to note that the fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast, is in fact a story about Animus possession in a woman, and has been referenced by Jung and others when describing this phenomenon.  It’s a long story, so I won’t get into it here, but that’s also something you might want to check out.  I don’t necessarily think Bowie’s song relates directly to the fairy tale, but I think it serves to show how a deeper understanding can come from looking at this song through Jungian terminology and ideas.

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Mayday (by Tomahawk)

kiss kiss, bang bang
gotta tug on the hanging man
suck you clean
turn the penile into pentane
flee your cell
because I could chop it down
you can’t disappear
because you’re already gone

no trumpet sounds when I am coming
no drum beats as a mourning ear
I’m standing on the roof of the world
mayday..

you won’t be saved
from the builder in the morning sun
you won’t be spared
from cheating at your solitaire
keep all that soul
put the freedom in past form
the joke’s on you
but now you’re laughing at me

I’m putting in my two weeks’ notice
as of two fuckin’ weeks ago
I’m not in the running anymore
mayday..

——————————

Mayday is similar to God Hates a Coward in the sense that it’s spoken by a similar, threatening voice (which is supported by the crunching, threatening guitar riffs and drum beats). It is the voice of the Illuminati… of the Occult. Hence the chorus, informing you that his true presence/knowledge is generally hidden (i.e. “no trumpet sounds” to let you know he’s coming). When he says “tug on the hanging man“, he’s referring to the folklore surrounding mandrake and terminal erections (also known as “angel lust“). When a man is hanged, he will typically get a post-mortem erection and ejaculate. It was/is believed that this process would stimulate the growth of mandrake on the ground beneath. Hence the line “turn the penile into pentane“, which is a reference to this type of alchemy and also to the album title itself: Mit Gas, the German way of saying “with gas”.

The first verse is basically describing an old magical practice of attempting to artificially grow human beings in soil that’s been fertilized by human semen; the point being to create a more “perfect” (i.e. android-like) human being; meaning one who is neither male nor female, thus assumed to be more easily managed and controlled (read my article on God Hates a Coward for details). This is another reason he uses the line “no trumpet sounds when I am coming“. Legend has it that the mandrake would emit a nasty, lethal scream when it was dug up, thus requiring the person uprooting the plant to blow a trumpet in order to avoid certain death. This also pairs with the following line, “no drum beats as a mourning ear“, which is a pun on the “mourning ear trumpet” worn by rich widows in the 19th century as a hearing aid.

Over time, this mandrake/android idea has morphed into the more recent “hermaphroditic agenda” that you see going on today. The lines separating male from female have become increasingly blurred, and gender identity is getting weaker and weaker. The album artwork reveals this concept in the gold-colored tribal designs.

These designs appear to contain representations of male/female hybrid mandrake plants (with 2 bulbs on one side representing the male, and 3 on the other side representing the female).

The mandrakes are shown here, highlighted in green.

Male and female mandrake representations shown in the Hortus Sanitatis from the late 15th century. Note that the female version has 3 bulbs, whereas the male version has 2 bulbs.

The mandrake is important here, because it’s symbolic of the influence that occult practice had on Hitler and other high-ranking officials in the former Nazi regime (this influence can still be seen in most of the major power centers today). This is partly why, I believe, the song is entitled “Mayday“. It’s a reference to the mayday distress call but it’s also a reference to May Day (a.k.a. the Beltane festival, or ‘Walpurgisnacht’ in Germany), which is a very important occult holiday. It’s also interesting to note that Hitler committed suicide during Beltane in 1945 (although the Russian invasion forced his hand more so than anything else).

These magical/occult references tie in together with the general German/Nazi/Illuminati theme going on in Mit Gas. This is also revealed through the shining crown shown on the same inner page of the cd case.

The crown shown in the Mit Gas album artwork (left) compared with the Prussian crown of Wilhelm II (right).

This design resembles the crown of Wilhelm II, the last emperor of Germany who ruled a few decades before Hitler. Note the shining beams of light that radiate out from the top of the crown, indicating the Illuminati connection to the Prussian throne.

Keeping these ideas in mind, the meaning of the song becomes clearer. This is a wizard/magician/illuminati member/whatever-the-fuck taunting you and explaining how you should do what he’s doing, and get down with magic/spells so you can “flee your cell” and become a living god (that’s why he’s “standing on the roof of the world“). He’s also warning you that if you don’t do as he is doing, you’re going to die with the rest of the common people when the New World Order takes over and bankrupts all the nations of the world. When he says “you won’t be saved from the builder in the morning sun“, he’s talking about Lucifer (who is sometimes referred to as the “morning angel“.. the giver of light… the one who illuminates man and gives him special powers). But it can also be read as “you won’t be saved from the builder in the morning, son” as if he’s speaking to you like you’re a child. Patton uses lots of double entendres like that, so it’s difficult to really sum up songs like this; especially when the vocals are purposely obfuscated for artistic effect.  However, I hope this leaves you with some food for thought in regards to Mayday, Mit Gas, and Tomahawk.

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