Following the will and wind
We may just go where no one’s been.
Ride the spiral till the end,
It may just go where no one’s been.
I remember in boarding school, the last thing wanted was to socialize in any way with my fellow students, teacher or that god damn nun running the place. I had found an old-fashioned walkman, a relic even then, and managed to hook up my computer to a tape deck. Morpheus was discovered, and soon I had a tape from my favorite artist playing non-stop through cheap Sony heaphones. And thus, music became an inseparable part of my life.
First it was Limp Bizkit. Don’t judge, I’m pretty damn sure there was a time when you thought Bizkit was the coolest thing since Joe Le Taxi. Then, Papa Roach, Eminem, Dr Dre, though I seriously Snoop Dogg was a fucking homo. A little Metallica on the side, though they were a little “dry” for me- they didn’t pluck my pubescent strings like those pre-emo artists tended to.
And then, as I grew older, I learned of the existence of role playing games, MUDs to be exact. In the weekend, I would join my friend in dungeon raids or fishing trips of the fictional kind, and I think it was during one of those moments, when he told me,
“Hey, check this band out. They’re called Tool.”
Today, it is hard to overstate the impact Tool have had on my life. I encountered them right when I became old enough to start asking questions about “you know, life and stuff” and could use some guidance as to which questions to ask.As important as music was to me, Tool were more than music; Not just because of the sick drum lines and insane guitar solos (because let’s be honest, they’re good, better, best but so are a lot of other bands) but because of the subjects brought to mention by none other than Maynard James Keenan.
Maynard is not a god. He isn’t automatically right in every statement that he makes. What makes him so important to me, is that he shares his views on life in the form of a question that you can answer for yourself, many of which should be reflected upon by every self-conscious person on earth. He does it well, too, which makes it compelling to listen to.
You’ll have to get used to Tool though, one song at a time.
I know the pieces fit,
Cause I watched them fall away.
Up to this day I haven’t really figured out what “Schism” means, there’s no real word for it in Dutch. But it was the song my friend let me listen to, and it sounded familiar- it had been a small hit a few years earlier. They won a Grammy Award with it, which makes it the only song that I am aware of that won a Grammy. Back then, it was the most accessible of their songs and for the longest time, the only one I really listened to. I tried a few others but none had the subtlety, the delicacy embedded within the savage power Schism delivers.
For months it was my favorite song, but I never really managed to make sense of the lyrics until I started looking them up. Only then did I discover the layered structure of them, and the references to human interaction in the context of healing. Like its title, Schism never really managed to make complete sense to me, which will always give it a ring of mysticism and poetry.
Wear the grudge like a crown
Calculate what we will
And will not tolerate.
Desperate to control
All and everything.
Unable to forgive
Your scarlet lettermen.
Fascinated with Schism’s lyrics, I started looking up those of other songs, in particular The Grudge after the “Saturn Ascends” bit caught my eye. Here in Europe the “scarlet letter” practice is unknown, and it was quite the revelation for me to discover it.
In medieval ages, women committing adultery were forced to wear a scarlet A on their clothing, so that everyone, everywhere could see they had sinned. Judgment itself was used as punishment, social exile as revenge. It make me think twice about how I blindly judged people from a distance, letting it color my first impression of them, and about giving people a chance to redeem themselves.
The Grudge was my real first grasp on what Tool what really was about, and before I knew it, I was addicted.
Learn to swim,
See you down at Arizona Bay.
In English class, were were asked to bring a song to class and have some fun translating it. I was way ahead of my class in English so I was the first to react when the teacher asked us what Jah Rule’s song was about.
“Nothing. He loses any credibility two lines in: “May my hoes be my witness?” Seriously?”
I prove my point, I brought Ænema when it was my turn. In case you wonder, it’s about what a shithole Los Angeles is and how the world would be a better place if it was flooded and Arizona would become a bay. “Followed by fault lines that cannot sit still” might be a tough challenge to translate for a 16 year old but fuck ‘em, at least I did manage to open the eyes of a classmate or two.
So good to see you once again,
I missed you so much.
So glad it’s over,
I missed you so much.
Came out to watch you play.
Why are you running away?
Came out to watch you play,
Why are you running?
“Prying open my third eye.” It booms out from an otherwise melodic piece, and at first I didn’t feel it much. Until I was on holiday in the Ardennes for the longest period I had ever been away from my girlfriend, and I wandered the fields through blistering heat, missing her terribly. As usual, I was lugging my Walkman around, the tape crammed to the last second with Tool. And I remember the exact spot where I stood when my metaphorical eyes were opened, when Maynard so passionately begged his spiritual self to stay a little while longer, and for a moment the entirety of my love and longing for her were in harmony with my being. That I missed her, so much, as I should.
Contemplate what I’ve been clinging to.
This song is the perfect example of how I don’t need to agree with Maynard’s ideas to learn from them.
A human has 46 chromosomes: 44 regular and 2 sex chromosomes. They dictate how our human body is formed as it grows and for our body to grow more complicated, we would need another pair. Maynard suggests in this song that the next step, when we’ll have 48, is for our minds to merge so we’ll be able to think and feel as one. He expresses a longing for it, as an embodiment of the human race, to move on and evolve into this next form.
I personally think it’s nonsense and if anyone else would have explained the idea to me, I would have discarded it without second thought- a mistake I try to avoid, these days. Although I gave it some serious thought, I discarded the idea for various reasons and took the song for what it was: A thought experiment I personally did not agree with. Besides an awesome fucking track, that is.
Over thinking, over analyzing separates the body from the mind.
Withering my intuition leaving opportunities behind.
Feed my will to feel this moment urging me to cross the line.
Reaching out to embrace the random.
Reaching out to embrace whatever may come.
Lateralus’ lyrics began making sense to me as I had reached the end of my study of Maynard’s texts. I began to wonder if there was more to discover, and if there were other bands who could help me do so. As it turned out, there weren’t, and I had to learn that that’s okay, that I had my own strong reasoning to back me up.
At the time, I mistakenly interpreted “Separating the body from the mind” as a good thing, and saw it as an inspiration to keep going beyond Tool. To wonder about the things I saw; and then wonder about the conclusion I reached. The thought process Tool’s music set in motion, took a life of its own and it feels like Lateralus was their way of letting me go to continue walking on my own.
High is the way, but all eyes are upon the ground.
You were the light and the way they’ll only read about.
I only pray, Heaven knows when to lift you out.
Ten thousand days in the fire is long enough;
You’re going home.
The album 10,000 days is not their best, in my opinion. The lyrics too literal, the subjects too drug-related. However, the twins “Wings for Marie” and “10,000 Days” elevate the whole album to Tool status.
Both are about Maynard’s mother, who suffered a stroke and suffered for another 30 years before passing away. 30 years, or 10,000 days. In the song, Maynard addresses her directly, apologizing for the “collective Judas” and literally praising her into heaven.
Especially 10,000 Days stuck with me because of its ascending structure, and the climax where Maynard encourages her to not just ask, but demand her wings at the gates of heaven, claiming that she has suffered through hell and deserved her place.
My relationship with my mother might have been a very different one, but her loss is something Maynard and I have in common. It wasn’t the great revelation other songs might have been, but to see him miss his mother and openly speak about it, worked well as support to deal with her loss, albeit a little late.
These days I have calmed down a great deal, mentally. I take life as it comes now and my aim is to experience it rather than observe, although I will never lose my tendency to search for those hidden, recurring elements that make up the fabric of this world and allow a deeper understanding of it. I can’t tell if it’s because of Tool’s presence in my youth, but they sure as hell managed to make it a colorful experience as I grew into it.
”Such a beautiful child,” I thought, as I often do. The bittersweet side effect of living in a student city is that the place is swarming with pretty girls, and she was definitely one of them. The small patch of hair cut short above her ear gave her an extra edge that will render me a sucker at the first instant. “God damn. Pretty little thing.” And I wandered on without second thought.
I was there with friends and strangers, people of four different nationalities. I was having a little difficulty finding a subject I was very interested in, and didn’t really connect with anyone at the particular time. All in all, the evening wasn’t quite turning out as entertaining as I had thought but hey, I was out drinking with friends- it beats sitting at home.
It was one of those friends who made contact with her. “Really? That’s just sad.” She had just told him she was sitting there by herself. I didn’t think she deserved that but that’s my friend for you: He’s the only one who I would take that kind of arrogance from because when push comes to shove, he is everything he claims to be. His next line was more to my liking though, “Why don’t you come join us.”
And just like that, I found my point of interest.
I’m used to it by now: Letting my friends make the initial contact and join the conversation. He did most of the talking though, tipsy as he was; basically breaking her down with sexual remarks and degrading comments. Chicks dig that kind of stuff but it’s not my style. No, I just made myself comfortable and proceeded to worship her from a safe distance, once or twice tossing in a question or reaction that I hoped seemed insightful.
After he departed to his pregnant wife (!) I was left to carry the conversation, which of course immediately slowed down after his ranting. Still, I think I managed a good enough job with small talk while I played a game with myself, betting how long I could keep my eyes in contact with hers. Not very long, it turned out.
She’s an industrial designer, and I didn’t think there were many girls alive who can explain to me about the pointlessness of two-stroke engines or the unique uses of wolfram light bulbs as much as she did. She did go on and on about it but fuck that, a girl like her can have another beer and blabber on to me all night, and it wasn’t like she was talking about her cats or fucking shopping.
She had had two accidents in a short amount of time, the first destroying her back and the second leaving small bits of glass in her face and some scarring under her hairline. She brushed her hair back but in the yellow street light, I couldn’t really see much. It wasn’t before I could count the hours of sleep I had left on one hand and prepared to leave, that I moved closer and combed my fingers through her blonde hair to see the scar.
Two scars on her face; one on her forehead, stylishly tucked away under her hair, and one hidden by the shadow of her chin. “Feel this,” she said, and pressed her face in my palm, with a loose, hard piece under my thumb: The glass from a car that hit her hard enough to shatter.
“You have glass in your face,” I told her, but despite my emphasis she wouldn’t grasp the enormity of it. She couldn’t- She couldn’t understand how impossibly, painfully beautiful the brutal scars made her, how the imperfection made her already handsome face, damn close near perfection. The violence made her vulnerably immortal.
I wanted the say something as I left, opened my mouth, and forgot it again. I then realized I was being weird at her and turned around and gave a casual wave® over my shoulder. She’s got a boyfriend anyway: Paws to yourself, big boy.
Still, she wouldn’t leave my mind as I marched home. So once I got there, I sat down,
And started writing.
As my friend would say,
”That’s just sad.”
But I don’t really care.