Tool Fans Part 2

Part 1 is floating around somewhere on the Internet, on one of my old blogs somewhere. I don’t know. You can find it if you’re really interested.

After leaving a party because some idiot decided that it would be a good idea to get his gun out of his truck and start shooting–in city limits after dark–I came home and started listening to live A Perfect Circle performances. Since I’m not going to be able to see them while they’re on tour, that’s the best I can do. And I can’t even get started on how much it fucking sucks that I’m not going to be able to see play what is literally one of the greatest and most underrated bands of our time, with indisputably one of the best composers [Billy Howerdel] at the helm. There is no band that has influenced me half as much as Billy Howerdel, though David Gilmour of Pink Floyd is certainly second. But you can hear APC in almost everything I write. Not being able to see them is beyond heartbreaking, to the extent that when someone told me they had tickets, it was extremely difficult to resist the urge to hang up on them for the unbridled insensitivity. It’s hard to state the importance that music has in my life, but nowhere is that importance better exemplified than with A Perfect Circle. Severely underrated, but songs like “Orestes” and “Gravity” are some of the best things a person can listen to.

Go ahead. Listen to Orestes. I’ll wait.

A fucking masterpiece, right?

I mean… What do you even say? The only reason it’s better in the studio version is that the singer was rested up and was able to hit the last chorus an octave higher, which is just… god.

My introduction to Tool came through A Perfect Circle. By happenstance one morning, I saw the music video to A Perfect Circle’s Judith, and I was blown away. It was incredible. It was raw, edgy, and profane, and the lyrics masterfully drove it home. Everything about it captured undistilled emotion and threw it right into your face. When I later heard Schism, I thought that it was A Perfect Circle, and it took me a while to separate the two bands and figure out what was going on. It didn’t help that this was right in the middle of Tool’s dispute with their record company, which led to speculation that A Perfect Circle and Tool were exactly the same band, but with a different name because their record company wouldn’t let them do another album or something. You know how rumors go.

Eventually, I pieced it together, and stumbled across Tool and the album Lateralus. I liked it, but it was no A Perfect Circle. Many people still consider it heresy to say, but there’s absolutely no doubt: Billy Howerdel is a better composer than any of the members of Tool. Perhaps the weakest link in Tool is Adam Jones; I’d love to see what Billy Howerdel, Justin Chancellor, Danny Carey, and Maynard could do together. There was a time that Adam Jones, the guitarist, had a lot of original and clever ideas, and I’m getting to that.

From Lateralus, I went backward and bought Ænima, which I easily fell in love with. Lateralus became largely a thing of the past. “Reflection” was probably my favorite song on Lateralus, but it had nothing on “Third Eye” or “Forty-Six & Two.” There was something qualitatively different between Aenima and Lateralus, but I don’t mean in regard to sound quality, though instrument clarity was multitudes better. It was readily apparent that Tool was no longer an underground band; Aenima had given them the resources to release a studio album with some of the greatest instrument clarity you’ll ever hear. That’s no exaggeration–just check out “The Grudge” for an example of what I mean, or even “Schism” if you’re not sick of it already.

It was more than that, though. It was a gigantic tonal shift, from songs that were about things… to songs that weren’t really about anything. Let me give you an example of what I mean:

Shadows o’er the desert, cast
by the unrepentant crow,
whose callow cries are first and last,
and ring loud from sand to snow.

That’s meaningless bullshit. It sounds very profound. It sounds like it is dripping with meaning and symbolism, but… it isn’t. Any line discussing “shadow” is going to sound symbolic, and throw a desert on top of it, and you’ve got Easy Symbolism For Idiots 101. The next line is my favorite, though: “…by the unrepentant crow.”

What?!

It’s a fucking bird. For what does it have to be repentant?

“…first and last” is an obvious and transparent allusion to the Alpha and the Omega. Is it meaningful? No. I just put it there because it has a pseudo-spiritualistic meaning. It’s nonsense. The cries are first and last? What does that mean? The callow cries? It means nothing, and it means nothing. It just sounds deep. It sounds like it has a lot of meaning to it, a lot of powerful meaning to it, but it’s just bullshit.

Here’s a legitimate scientific study on bullshit. I would suggest everyone who still calls themselves a “Tool fan” to read it. Here’s the first example of bullshit presented by the actually legitimate scientific paper: “Attention and intention are the mechanics of manifestation.” It sounds so profound and so meaningful, doesn’t it? But it’s bullshit. At best, it means “You have to try to do stuff for stuff to happen.” That’s hardly a profound thought. One of the biggest indicators of bullshit, actually, is something that I’ve talked a lot about: pretentiousness. Anarchists are really bad about it, surpassed only by voluntaryists. Saying something with three and four syllable words when it could be said more briefly and simplistically is usually an indicator of bullshit, and the scientific study backs me up on that.

The real version: “You have to try to do stuff for stuff to happen.”

The Bullshit version: “Attention and intention are the mechanics of manifestation.”

Same meaning, but one is obfuscated severely and made to sound a lot more meaningful than it really is. The same is true of the eye-rolling poetry I wrote above: it’s bullshit without meaning, but it sounds meaningful. But, as is the case with bullshit, if it conveys anything at all, then what it conveys will be an extremely simple idea, or it won’t convey anything.

So what does this have to do with Tool? Well, it should be obvious to anyone familiar with the band.

To be fair to Tool, though, they don’t really go overboard with it. I actually think Tool finds a pretty good balance between bullshit and underlying meaning; usually when they reference something, there is a reason for it, like how the story of Cain and Abel is referenced in “Right in Two” to discuss how humanity divides everything and fights over it petulantly. The song contains some truly profound and meaningful lines, but they also aren’t obfuscated: “Repugnant is the creature who would squander the ability to lift an eye to heaven, conscious of his fleeting time here” is pretty clear.

So it’s not really Tool’s fault that this has happened. It’s the fault of people who are so desperate to find meaning in their lives that they make some truly bizarre, nonsensical connections. We’re talking about the people who rearrange the songs from the album Lateralus into the Fibonacci Sequence–or so they say. Somehow, they manage to start this collection–which they call, and I’m not making this up, “The Holy Gift”–with the sixth and seventh songs. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure the Fibonacci Sequence applied to Lateralus would include very little of the album and would be:

1. The Grudge
1. The Grudge
2. Eon Blue Apocalypse
3. The Patient
5. Schism
8. Ticks & Leeches
13. Faaip de Oaid or whatever

But, of course, that isn’t what they did, is it? No, somehow they “applied the Fibonacci Sequence” and came up with this tracklist:

6. Parabol
7. Parabola
5. Schism
8. Ticks & Leeches
4. Mantra
9. Lateralus
13. Faaip de Oaid
1. The Grudge
12. Triad
2. Eon Blue Apocalypse
3. The Patient
10. Disposition

I wonder what Fibonacci Sequence they’re using. The only part that makes any sense at all is 1. The Grudge followed by 12. Triad, but then the next song must be 3. The Patient. That would be a neat way of preventing The Grudge from being listed twice, but there’s no way to get 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, or 12 in the lineup. I’m sure they have some lengthy ass document somewhere where a lot of really bored people came up with all kinds of Moon Logic reasoning to explain how they manage to come up with this listing, but we can also find a Moon Logic document on the Internet that shows how the Jews were like totes 4 real responsible for 9/11 and how, seriously, British MPs are shapeshifting Silurians. Once we throw logic out the window, fucking anything goes, including starting the Fibonacci Sequence–which is an actual thing with an actual numeric sequence that most certainly does not start with a 6–with a 6.

Perhaps they meant that it’s based on Phi.

Look, it’s not a coincidence that I have Phi tattooed on my body twice–once as the Greek letter and once as the Golden Shape, nor is it a coincidence that I have Pi tattooed on me. I understand that the universe is a tribute to mathematical function, including human beings. The ratio of your shoulder-to-elbow to shoulder-to-fingertip? 1 to 1.6. The ratio of your head-to-waist to your head-to-feet? 1 to 1.6. Phi. The Golden Ratio. 1:1.6. The Golden Spiral, found all throughout the universe, from spiral galaxies to sunflowers.

So I totally get a person’s fascination and admiration for these things, so much so that I have them tattooed on me. I am marveled and awed by the beautifully woven form of the universe, that the same ratio that dictates the pattern of growth for sunflowers dictates the spirals of a galaxy. It’s nothing short of incredible and breathtaking. But I stop short at attributing any spiritual significance to it. It simply is. I don’t know why, and I don’t see much value in speculating. It’s worth pointing out that Pi is every bit as ubiquitous through the universe as is Phi; Pi is not limited to being the proportion of a circle’s diameter to its circumference. Like Phi, it shows itself throughout our entire universe. And that is why I have them tattooed on me.

But then people start going “Tree of Life” and shit, I have to roll my eyes. There is no need to take something clear and scientific and taint it with spiritual bullshit. Phi is a remarkable proportion found throughout the universe, from conch shells and sunflowers to galaxies. This fact stands on its own. It doesn’t need anyone’s help making it more special by calling it a “manifestation of the divine within us all” and shit like that. It simply is, and it is amazing. It doesn’t need anyone’s help to be appreciated. It’s there for all to see.

Believe it or not, all of this still has to do with Tool. Lunatics aside, there is a lot of beauty and meaning in Tool’s music and in their lyrics. Like Phi and Pi, Tool doesn’t need people’s help; the music stands on its own, without people attributing a bunch of pseudo-scientific bullshit to it. We don’t need conversations about Anasaki and chakras to appreciate the beauty and majesty of Phi. In fact, such things only distract from what is there, from what is clearly visible to anyone who cares to look. As a musician, I think I would honestly be insulted if people said, “Yeah, that riff is great, but what’s really great is how this lead interacts with it to form a tribute to an ancient Tibetan prayer that resonates with the black hole at the center of the galaxy!”

And people do say shit like that about Tool’s music… I ended up clicking *sigh* “The Holy Gift – Full Album” wondering if it was Tool’s new album that has been “on the way” for like 8 years. I thought it was odd that Tool would call an album that, but I clicked it anyway, and it didn’t take long scrolling through the comments before I found someone who said–and I’m not kidding–“Every song here is a tribute to God.”

Honestly, it gives me a headache just thinking about it. If Maynard James Keenan believes anything, it’s overwhelmingly more likely to be that we are all gods. The same guy who wrote a song that contained the lyrics “Fuck your god! Your lord, your Christ–he did this! Took what you had and left you this way, and still you pray, you never stray, you never taste of the fruit, and you never thought to question why?” is absolutely, definitely not writing “tributes to God” of any sort.

Worse yet, it’s all an act, and the band themselves told people that. Maynard has never stopped telling people that. The entire reason there hasn’t been more Tool albums is that he hates Tool fans. He seizes every opportunity to bash them for exactly this shit. They found out that Maynard put the Fibonacci Sequence in the lyrics to Lateralus:

Black
Then
White are
All I see
In my infancy
Red and yellow then came to be…

…and they immediately concluded that other “mystical” things must be hidden throughout. Tool cultivates this on purpose, of course. It’s how they’re marketing themselves, and it’s clearly successful–probably too successful, given what Tool fans have done with it. And people praised that short passage as brilliant! No kidding. Like it’s hard to do.

This
Is
Simple
So easy
To do that I’d bet
Anyone else could do it, too.

You want to talk about brilliant? Talk about the musicians who actually write their lyrics in such a way that they actually have meaning backward, with things like “new moon” becoming “noo mewn.” It’s always slanted when such a thing happens, but many musicians have done it. That is hard. I think it was Barry White who hid a “fuck you” to someone in one of his songs if played backward. But scattering a single sentence along certainly syllabic patterns? That’s trivial to anyone who has ever studied poetry.

But because it’s there, Tool fans took it and ran with it, and “The Holy Gift” is the result, with these… people… stating without the slightest trace of irony that these songs are “tributes to God.” Let’s look at some of Tool’s other tributes, shall we?

Prison Sex

Got your head down, and your hands bound,
And your eyes closed–you look so precious, won’t you
Won’t you come forth, just a bit closer,
Just enough so I can smell you?
I need you to feel this
I can’t stand to burn too long
Release in sodomy
I am your witness that blood and flesh can be trusted…
I have found some kind of temporary sanity
In this shit, blood, and cum on my hands…

Ah, positively dripping with prayers to God, isn’t it? No. It’s a song about a dominant relationship, and a particularly vicious one at that, since it so strongly implies unwillingness on the part of the victim and how the victim goes on to pay it forward: “Do unto others what has been done to me…” It’s a great song, believe it or not, and it actually has meaning. It’s conveyed in grotesque and vivid terms, but it’s about victimization, sodomy, prison sex, and victims becoming abusers while dying inside and finding peace with their abuse–Stockholm Syndrome-ish.

Maynard’s Dick

Kinda like the way you’re breathing
Kinda like the way you keep looking away
Would you like to climb on
Climb on my six inches and go down on Maynard’s dick
Took you out in the back of the toolshed
Put it right on top of your forehead
Took you out in the back of the toolshed
Now you know what you’re fuckin with… Maynard’s dick!

Again, just dripping with symbolism, right? No, it’s a fun song about fucking the singer’s dick.

Stinkfist

But I’ll keep digging till I feel something
Elbow deep inside the borderline
It may hurt a little, but it’s something you’ll get used to
Shoulder deep within the borderline
Relax, turn around and take my hand

Once more, it’s a song about fisting. That’s all it’s about. It’s not a metaphor for modern society, it’s not an allusion to materialism. It’s about anal fisting. And, need I remind you, this is the same fucking band who apparently is writing albums that are “tributes to God.”

4 Degrees

Locked inside you, like calm beneath castles
Is a treasure that no one has been to
Let’s go digging. Let’s go digging.
Bring it out and take it back
You won’t do what you’d like to do.
Lay back and let me show you another way.
I’ll kill what you want me to,
take what’s left and eat it.
Take all or nothing.
Life’s just too short to push it away.
Take it all.
Take it all in.
All the way in.
Let it go.
Let it go in.

Yes, yet another song about anal sex. Why anal sex? Well, look at the name–4 Degrees. Have Tool fans never wondered why it’s called that? It’s called that because the anal cavity is four degrees warmer than the vaginal cavity. It’s literally about taking someone’s anal virginity, cajoling them repeatedly to “take it all, take it all in.” This is the band that is now writing songs that are tributes to God?

No, you idiots. You were played. Tool marketed to you, and you swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. We have only to look to the aptly named “Hooker With a Penis” to see why.

Hooker With a Penis

All you know about me is what I’ve sold you,
Dumb fuck, I sold out long before you ever heard my name.
I sold my soul to make a record, dip shit, and you bought one.

All you read and wear or see and hear on TV
Is a product begging for your fatass dirty dollar
So… shut up and buy my new record
Send more money.
Fuck you, buddy.

Maynard spelled it out, clear as day, for people, and they still missed it. The entire spiritualistic, higher meaning “get in touch with the divine in you” mysticism bullshit is an act. It is how they’re marketing themselves, and, holy shit, has it worked. We’ve got people talking about how “Reflection,” which has wonderful and profound lyrics, is actually an allusion to Narcissus and Greek Mythology. It’s nothing of the sort! It’s a song about ego. “Reflection” stands perfectly well all on its own without people adding nonsensical bullshit to it, and that is why it bothers me.

Because I do like Tool. A lot of their lyrics are really insightful, really meaningful, and reasonably profound, and the music–though it’s getting increasingly predictable and repetitious–is still good. But it’s good on its own merits, without this nonsense added to it, and by adding all that nonsense to it people are missing and overlooking the good shit that is actually there. They end up focusing on the tree of life and dedicating all their time to studying that nonsense instead of simply marveling and enjoying the ubiquity of Phi throughout the universe. So intent upon seeing higher meanings and deeper insights, they are completely missing the meanings and insights that are there, and they’re being absolutely insufferable while they’re at it.

It’s like if I said, “The sun is beautiful because it gives life to Earth, shines brightly, and warms us all,” and someone came along and said, “Nuh-uh! Idiot! The sun is beautiful because it’s a manifestation of the divine and is reaching out to you to convince you of your oneness with it! Dumbass! You just can’t see the bigger picture!”

It’s like… But the sun is literally right there, literally giving life, literally shining brightly, and literally warming us. It doesn’t need that bullshit you said to be beautiful. It’s beautiful all by itself. You’re just cheapening it with that bullshit.

“Right in Two” is a beautiful song about human divisiveness, bloodthirstiness, tribalism, and war. “Silly monkeys, give them thumbs, they make a club, and beat a brother down… How they survive so misguided is a mystery…” “Ticks & Leeches” is probably about Tool fans, to be honest. Even with its pretentious, meaningless symbolism about ones, tens, and Saturn, “The Grudge” still has a good meaning behind it: holding grudges is bad. In fact, most of the symbolism in Tool’s songs that is mystical or astrological in origin comes closer to being Big Lipped Alligator Moments than anything, and they rarely have anything at all to do with the song. Sure, it’s pretty obvious Maynard is talking about Saturn moving into a first astrological house or the tenth astrological house and wrecking shit, but what does that actually have to do with the rest of the song? Nothing. It’s just there for people to squee over and motivate them to go looking for deeper meaning, not realizing that they were just marketed to.

Because of that, Tool stopped being a band that I can really get on board with. They’re not marketing to me any longer. They’re marketing to that larger audience: people smart enough to see the symbolism, but too stupid to see through it. And I’m not particularly happy to say that, but it simply is what it is. I shouldn’t have to point out to anyone that randomly bringing up Saturn and ones and tens doesn’t add depth to a song that is otherwise about letting go of grudges. No, I’m not missing the brilliance of the symbolism; the meaning simply isn’t there.

It has spilled into A Perfect Circle, too. As much as I love the song “By and Down,” primarily because it’s the only new APC song we’ve had in like 14 years, most of its symbolism is meaningless. It’s so very, very different from “Orestes” and “The Noose.” “And not to pull your halo down, around your neck and tug you off your cloud, but I’m more than just a little curious how you’re planning to go about making your amends to the dead.” Clear, concise, and meaningful. It’s conveying a lot more than what the words alone indicate. Contrasted to “Pied piper, float on down the river, bloated carcass crippled ‘neath the weight of adoration. Moving in and out of the shadows, it’s no easy mission holding on to how I pictured you,” it’s pretty clear that the references to the piper don’t actually add anything to the song. In fact, the song probably would have been stronger without them, but what do I know? I’m not a millionaire like Maynard surely is by now.

Marketing geniuses, for sure.

 

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