Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Zen and the Art of Lyric Comprehension

I met a friend of a friend at a bar this weekend and inevitably conversation turned to music. In my world everything gravitates toward music. It's not a secret that I'm a fan of the band Tool. I've been to 5 of their live shows. They're presentation is mesmerizing, and they musicianship is even more evident live than it is on recordings. It's not uncommon for me to be seen in a T-shirt that bears their logo.


(I'm particularly fond of my T-shirt with the eye design that's on the left side of this pic. It amazing that a simple pattern, gray on black, can be both subtle and slightly unsettling simultaneously. In fact, that may be my definition of art.)

So given my respect for Tool, when he mentioned this band I began to express how much they have impressed me. He stops me in the middle of my praise to tell me, "Yeah, but I was disappointed to find out that their singer was gay." Yes, some one's sexual orientation is should have no influence on whether or not you enjoy their music, but this was a hole in the wall bar in Hicksville, IN so I had to let that slide. At no point should meaningless chatter over drinks evolve into a sermon.

The piece I couldn't help but overlook was that it's not true. (Scroll down to question C13) I explained that Maynard has a son that was featured on an A Perfect Circle record, and that I was curious as to why he thought so. His response: "My buddy made me listen to the lyrics of Stinkfist. He's talking about being elbow deep in some dude." Genius reply, no?

The lyric is: "Elbow deep inside the borderline. This may hurt a little, but it's something you'll get used to." First male or female is never mentioned for either the speaker or the person being addressed so obviously he was reading into this what he wanted to read into it. Second, why would anyone think that the song is actually so literal? The "deep inside the borderline" section is repeated 4 times. Each time getting progressively worse: from finger, to knuckle, to elbow, to shoulder. At the end it's not even believable. So again, why would anyone take this literally?

The lyrics of the chorus: "Not enough. I need more. Nothing seems to satisfy. I don't want it. I just need it, to breathe, to feel, to know I'm alive." This reinforces the metaphor. The presentation is more or less just for shock value.

Everyone wants more. More money, more toys, more power, more sex. Did I mention money so you can buy more toys, power, and sex? Like an adiction, it takes more and more to get that dopamine high. This is the real problem with consumer society. Say you buy a fast car. You like it for a while, but then you get bored with it so now you have to spend even more money to buy a faster car that you'll eventually get bored with. Until you can't afford to buy a faster car. Consumption requires more and more resources, and leaves you less and less satisfied.

The antidote to this cycle is creativity. The more you create the more difficult it will be, but the more satisfied you become. When I play music, the more I practice the more difficult material I can play. The more difficult material I can play the better musician I will become, and the more satisfied I will be. It's a self reinforcing loop.

This works with any craft. Art, carpentry, archery, cooking, anything you like to do. The more you practice, the better you will become, and you will feel more satisfied. So why don't you create something? It seems to work for the guys in Tool.

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