‘The Targeter,’ a Surreal Novel, Chapter Fifteen

I look around at all of the water that surrounds me and is me, and just as I expected, some of it is concentrating, congealing, coagulating, swirling into the shape of my body so that I’m returning to my human form.

In fact, instead of seeing nothing but endless water in all directions, I’m beginning to see the front yard of my apartment building again. I look up and down, and I see the tree above me, the tree I saw that wise old man meditating under so peacefully, and I see myself seated under it, having finished peacefully meditating myself.

I look ahead and, just as I predicted!…my five followers have returned. Surely, they want to hear me tell them my new insights. Along with my enlightenment, I seem to have acquired clairvoyance into the future!

I’ve become a saint!

I see the five of them crouching before me in a semicircle. eager to learn the Way. They’re looking at me with loving, attentive, concerned eyes.

I hear an explosion from up in the sky, with a flashing light. Then I hear some machine gun fire.

Meh. I’ll ignore it. I have much more important things to do than worry about that right now.

“I will now teach you the Three Unities,” I begin in a slurred voice. (My ketamine high is still strong; I hope it won’t impair my ability to impart my message.) “These are the Unities of Space, Time, and Action.”

I see confusion on all five faces. Surely what I’m saying isn’t so abstract, is it? And my speech, as slurred as it is, isn’t so unclear that my words are unintelligible, is it?

Oh, wait: yeah, I’m in East Asia. These five people are Asians, and in all likelihood, none of them understands a word of English, or certainly not well enough to follow what I’m trying to say.

I’ll repeat what I just said, but in Mandarin. Surely I’m not too drunk and stoned to be able to speak intelligibly in Chinese, am I? I’ve lived on this island for many years, having achieved a reasonable level of fluency in the local language, so I’ll try again…

…After having said in Chinese what I said before in English, I see them still sneering at me, not seeming to understand a word I’m saying.

I close my eyes, open them, and try again.

Now I see myself in ancient Asian robes, as are all five of my followers, who look at me with smiles of love. We’re inside what seems to be a palace, all ornately designed like one of the old Chinese emperors’, with gold on the walls. Rapt, my five followers eagerly await to hear what I have to say.

In broken Chinese, I say again, “I teach you of the Three Unities, those of Space, Time, and Action. Mastering these ideas in meditation, you’ll gain wisdom, end all of your suffering, and lead the world in a quest for peace and justice.”

The five of them are looking at me with glowing eyes and toothy grins, hungrily digesting my message.

I continue, in the best Chinese my wasted ass can muster: “Everywhere within us and around us, up above, down below, behind us, in front of us, and to our left and right, is all one. The ego is an illusion. When we fully understand this, selfishness vanishes, replaced by selflessness and compassion for everyone and every living thing.”

I look in their eyes and listen to their responses. In my continuing drug trip, I can’t make out their every word, but can hear only distinct fragments of what they’re saying–words like “crazy,” “love,” and “talk.”

I think for a minute, trying to put these pieces together. I know! They said, “I’m crazy about his message! I love to hear him talk!” That’s it!

“All of time is in cycles of beginning, middle, and end,” I continue, looking in the eyes of my captive quintet of an audience. “But the only time that matters is NOW, for NOW is the only time that is real. The past and future are just mental constructs with no real meaning.”

I listen for their responses. “What’s he talking about?” I think one of them has said with a sneer. Did one of them just call me “crazy”? I think I just heard the words “on drugs.” Well, they’re right about that.

BOOM! Wow, I just heard another loud explosion, with a blinding flash of light. The machine gun fire is louder, too.

The golden palace walls just disappeared, and we’re all outside again, in front of my apartment, in our modern clothes.

I’ll just have to keep on trying to explain, and maybe my five listeners will understand. I must be as clear as I can with my ungrammatical Mandarin.

“All action, all phenomena in the world,” I resume, “are examples of yin and yang, of unified opposites.” I’m trying my best to get these ideas across with the limitations of my Chinese vocabulary. Maybe they can relate to what I’m saying by my comparing it to Taoist concepts. We’ll see.

I’m straining my ears, with all the noise of war around us, to make out their comments. I’m hearing only fragments. I hear “loves,” “hear,” “himself,” and “talk.” I need a moment to put it all together…”I love…to hear…him talk”…that’s it! How encouraging! I’m getting through to them! The golden palace walls have returned, as have our ancient clothes.

“We must see people…and the world,” I carry on, “in a way…that’s not too far to one extreme…or the other. Don’t over-idealize people and things, and don’t hate or be too rejecting…of them.”

Are they smiling at me…or sneering? It’s hard to see in the dark, when you’re high on K. The golden walls are gone.

“We must be open with each other,” I tell them. “To heal, we must express ourselves, in speech, writing, and art. We must also help others…to express themselves…by giving them our ears.”

They’re giving me their ears, but their sneering must mean I still haven’t made myself clear. It sure is hard to communicate when you’re stoned. We’re in our modern clothes again.

BOOM! Another, even louder, explosion has lit up the sky with an even brighter flash of light. I know! It must be the light of understanding coming to my followers, for I see we’re all flying in the air, about to spread the word of the Way.

Yes, we’ve flown out the windows of the golden palace, our flowing Asian robes fluttering in the night sky, as we travel long distances to spread the word.

What’s that noise? No, it can’t be more machine gun fire, not with the light of liberation glowing all around. That must have been fireworks and firecrackers: my followers and I are celebrating the coming of enlightenment to the world!

Analysis of ‘A Farewell to Kings’

A Farewell to Kings is the fifth studio album by Rush, released in 1977. The album demonstrates remarkable musical growth in the band, with their shifting away from their original, Led Zeppelin-inspired hard rock sound and into the realm of progressive rock.

To this musical end, the trio expanded from a basic guitar/bass/drums sound to one incorporating not only six- and twelve-string acoustic guitars, but also classical guitar (by Alex Lifeson). Furthermore, singer/bassist Geddy Lee adds a Minimoog, and both he and Lifeson play bass pedal synthesizers; this electronic sound would be further expanded to the use of more synthesizers by the 1980s, this being a dominant aspect of their music throughout that decade.

Drummer Neil Peart adds a wide array of percussion instruments on this album, including glockenspiel, tubular bells, Vibraslap (heard during Lifeson’s solo on “Closer to the Heart“), and Chinese temple blocks. These new musical colours, combined with Peart’s growth from his original Keith Moon-inspired aggressive drumming style to one of prog rock virtuosity, show the newer influence of the crackingly precise chops of Carl Palmer and Bill Bruford.

But just as newer musical ideas are being phased in, so are older ideas being phased out. As I said above, the hard rock sound, though still present to a large degree, is noticeably less here than on previous albums. And although Lee’s soaring head voice (with its grating vibrato) is as evident as ever here (in fact, on “Cygnus X-1,” he hits his highest note ever, a B-flat 5…or 6?), it won’t be long after this album (two albums later, specifically) that he will phase out the use of head voice and limit his highest notes generally to those within mixed voice, and focus on his lower, chest voice.

A Farewell to Kings is an album that Rush were most pleased with: Lee has never found fault with it, and Peart said that the title track “seems to encapsulate everything that we want Rush to represent.” It’s one of my personal favourites of the band’s, if not the favourite–it’s the first of theirs that I’d heard as a little kid, not long after it was released. Apart from all the musical colours I described above, A Farewell to Kings is genuine art rock, not only with long songs divided into sections, but also with a more prominent use of odd time signatures and superb musicianship that had since become synonymous with Rush.

Here is a link to all the song lyrics on the album.

The cover, by Hugh Syme, shows a demolition site in the background as juxtaposed with, in the foreground, a king slumped on a throne and made to look like a marionette. The picture expresses some of the themes of the title track, and by extension, those of the rest of the songs on the album, as I’ll explain below.

Decades ago, I spotted the obvious theme of morality, but a much more important theme is idealism, particularly the idealizing of the past as against the disillusionment felt in the modern world. Also, there’s the theme of the danger of recklessly seeking to attain those ideals, leading to one’s self-destruction.

The title track begins softly, with Lifeson playing a classical guitar melody with one bar in 3/4, then three bars in 4/4 before returning to the 3/4 beginning, and playing the whole cycle all over again. He plays it a third time, but with the first two of the three 4/4 bars, replacing the third with a transitional bar in 5/4, then one in 4/4, to introduce a middle passage with Lee’s Minimoog and Peart’s glockenspiel.

The first theme returns with all three instruments, and with the 5/4 theme played three times. Though this gentle introductory tune includes a synthesizer, the classical guitar’s lute-like sound makes one think of a time hundreds of years ago. The music’s tranquility makes one imagine, correctly or incorrectly, that that old time was a better, more peaceful one.

A sharp contrast is heard when the electric guitar, bass, and drums come crashing in, suggesting the turmoil of the modern world, a sad decline from that (perceived) idyllic opening. We hear two bars of 4/4, then a switch to several bars of 7/4 before returning to 4/4.

Now, the lyrics come in, Lee singing what amounts to be a conservative’s complaint of “Whatever happened to the good old days?” (If one didn’t know any better, one might think of Archie and Edith Bunker singing “Those Were the Days” at the piano.)

Added to this conservative lament is the use of medieval imagery in Peart’s lyric (i.e., references to “castles,” all things “kingly,” and “nobles”). Let me just get this straight: a farewell to kings, that is, to feudalism, is a bad thing? Morality can be upheld only through the absolute power of a monarch, the ‘divine right’ of kings?

Such would be a very strange position for three young, long-haired rockers (who only the previous year sang of the pleasures of dope in “A Passage to Bangkok“) to take. Either Peart was being ironic, or he was being metaphorical in his references to kings and castles as an ideal, or the lyric is in the voice of a reactionary whose political ideals are in sharp contrast with those of the band.

I’d say that a hint to what Peart was really writing about, perhaps by way of a Freudian slip, is in the line “Ancient nobles showering their bitterness on youth.” Does this line not encapsulate what the whole lyric presents to the listener–grumpy old men griping about all these bad kids, with their long hair, loud rock music, and sex and drugs, only it’s expressed with all this medieval imagery, just to reinforce how “ancient” the complainers are?

One thing to remember about Rush, and about Peart in the 1970s in particular, was the influence of right-wing libertarianism, and of “the genius of Ayn Rand” in their reworking of her novella, Anthem, in their side-long suite, “2112” (not to mention their song of the same name as her book, and in the name of Rush’s record label). Surely, these three haters of ‘Big Brother government’ weren’t holding up the monarchy as a fitting alternative. And if the idealizing of monarchy is meant as a metaphor, then for what?

I want to give Rush credit here, and say that this song, however much Peart insisted would “encapsulate everything that [they wanted] Rush to represent,” is meant as an ironic presentation of the views of authoritarian conservatives “showering their bitterness on youth.”

In other words, Rush represents ironic tongue-in-cheek.

Sandwiched in between these verses is a tight instrumental section in alternating 4/4 and 2/4, with Lifeson doing a solo with a delightfully angular tone on his Gibson ES-355 over Lee’s Rickenbacker bass octaves in A, and Peart’s tight drumming. Lifeson stops soloing for a moment and plays an A-chord with Lee’s A octaves and Peart’s drumming of the 4/4 and 2/4 rhythm; then we have just 4/4 and a chord progression of A major, G major, and D major, over which Lifeson resumes soloing before a reprise of the “Cities full of hatred…” verse.

A final verse, to the same music as that of the reprised verse, ends with the hope for a world that’s “closer to the heart,” an allusion to the famous song that acts as a solution to the problem presented in the title track. More on that later, of course.

Though lyrically, “Xanadu” is inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s classic poem “Kubla Khan,” Peart’s idea originally came from the classic film Citizen Kane, in which the titular character (based in part on William Randolph Hearst) owns a mansion called Xanadu. Just as the title track yearns for an ideal morality in the feudal past (metaphorically, if not literally), so does “Xanadu” involve a quest for the ideal of eternal life.

As with the title track, “Xanadu” begins with birdsong (indeed, Messiaen would have loved it!). We also hear a low E played on the bass pedal synthesizer, along with Lifeson soloing with a volume pedal, and Peart playing the Chinese temple blocks, swiping the chimes, and tapping an E on the tubular bells.

Next, Lifeson plays–no longer with the volume pedal–a seven-note cycle of E–E (octave higher)–A–B–E-flat–A-flat–A, which then brings in the bass and drums. After this passage in 7/8, we return to 4/4, still in E major, with a riff including a whirlwind of notes starting on D, in the E-Mixolydian mode. Then, we’re back to 7/8 (Rush’s favourite odd time), with Lifeson quickly strumming chords of E-major, D-major, B-major, A-major, and G-major, but with an open high E string (he does a lot of this–playing E-shape barre chords, but with the high E-string open, without the barre–at various points in the song). Peart joins in with cowbells of different pitches, and Lee with the bass pedals set at a treble range. The bass and drums soon join Lifeson in this 7/8 passage.

The instrumental opening goes on for about five minutes before Lee finally begins singing, making allusions to Coleridge’s poem. “Drink[ing] the milk of Paradise” is what the speaker hopes will confer immortality onto him, though the milk, combined with honeydew, also suggests the use of narcotics (recall, in this connection, “A Passage to Bangkok,” as well as Coleridge’s own drug use).

The speaker seeks the ideal of eternal life, and hopes to find in Kubla Khan’s “pleasure dome” the ideal abode, paradise. But just as hoping for moral ideals in a romanticized past in “A Farewell to Kings” is foolish, so is the speaker’s hope for happiness in immortality in Xanadu foolish.

A thousand years pass, and the speaker has no hope of dying. He yearns for the end of the world, hoping to be destroyed with it, and thus to be freed of the “prison of the lost Xanadu.” Just as Charles Foster Kane can find no happiness or fulfillment in his wealth and power, the speaker, in his “bitter triumph,” cannot find any in honeydew and the milk of paradise.

Wealth, power, immortality, ideals…these don’t provide happiness. That’s what A Farewell to Kings is all about.

Now, “A Farewell to Kings” may have presented the problem of immorality (just as “Xanadu” explored the problem of immortality), but “Closer to the Heart” presents an attempt at finding solutions. Obviously, “the heart” is meant to indicate that we need a world of love as the solution, though as I’ll later argue, the solution as given isn’t adequate.

From a formal, structural perspective, the song’s lyrics (written by Peart, but inspired by a verse by Peter Talbot, a friend of the band’s) are cleverly written, with parallel structure from verse to verse. Examples of such parallelism include the rhyming last words of the third line of each verse (“reality,” “creativity,” “mentality,” and “destiny”); in the first line of each verse are references to different careers one could have (“men who hold high places,” “the blacksmith and the artist,” “philosophers and ploughmen,” and “captain”); the blacksmith would “forge,” and the artist use his “creativity,” ploughmen “sow” the philosophers’ “new mentality,” and the captain goes “sailing into [the] destiny” of “the chart” that “I will draw.” The most obvious parallelism is the repeat of the song’s title in the last line of each verse.

Now, this all makes for fine rhetoric, which again uses archaic diction, as in the album’s title track, the question song to which “Closer to the Heart” is the proposed answer. Here’s the problem: nothing in the song actually details how we are supposed to move towards a more loving world.

Matters start to get a little disturbing when we consider how the band that’s preaching how we must move “closer to the heart” was only the previous year touting the ‘philosophy’ of an embittered Russian bourgeois expat in the US, she who wrote of The Virtue of Selfishness, which espoused “rational egoism,” or as I would call it, rationalized selfishness.

In all fairness to Rush, and to Peart in particular, when they recorded these 1970s albums, they were young and naïve about the world. Their expertise was in music, not politics. Given the intense anti-communist propaganda of the Cold War, the kind that raised a hack writer like Rand to fame (seriously, I read Anthem when I was young and, being similarly naïve at the time, was more sympathetic to the story’s anti-socialist message, and even then, I was not impressed with her prose), it’s easy to see how Peart could have been seduced by her ideas, as so many have been. And to be even fairer to Peart, in the last decade of his life, he confessed that he’d renounced Rand (who, incidentally, was no libertarian, but rather an advocate for capitalist government) and begun calling himself a “bleeding-heart libertarian“…translation: a liberal. Indeed, it was the individualism of her message, not the pro-capitalist one, that he’d always liked, anyway.

As for those conservative politicians whose Rand influence has stayed with them, look over the past forty years of neoliberalism and ask yourself honestly if their politics have steered the world any “closer to the heart.” Tax cuts for the rich have resulted in their wealth ballooning to the point that they can essentially buy politicians and both American political parties, ensuring that the owners of the big corporations determine the direction the world goes in, which means more for them and less for the rest of us (all of this has given a new, bitter irony to Peart’s complaints of “the seeds that we let grow”). As I’ve explained in other posts, the “free market” dialectically leads to “corporatism,” or the capitalist government that Rand wanted, the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

So, with the song’s championing of a more loving world, with its clever rhetoric and a lack of a concrete plan for realizing its goal, “Closer to the Heart” is another example of the album’s theme of idealism. Note that utopian thinking exists on the left and on the right. Everyone has his or her own notion of the ‘perfect world’: there are, for example, the Nazi ideals of Lebensraum and judenrein, though decent people would never espouse such horrors. “Free market” fundamentalists’ notion of unbridled capitalism, through the voodoo of the invisible hand, leading to happiness and harmony is another utopian fantasy: how does unchecked selfishness help the world? It’s easy to see how it results in unaccountable corporate tyranny, though. And leftism isn’t necessarily all idealistic: contrary to popular belief, Marxism is not, as I explained here, utopian socialism, but scientific, grounded in revolutionary theory.

Now, “Closer to the Heart” may have failed to provide a method for achieving the more loving society, but Lee’s lyric for “Cinderella Man” gives us something of an idea. Just as “Xanadu” was inspired (in part) by a classic old black-and-white movie, so was this one: namely, by Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, one of Lee’s favourites.

Longfellow Deeds (played by Gary Cooper) is dubbed the “Cinderella Man” by a newspaper reporter, named Louise “Babe” Bennett (played by Jean Arthur), because of his sudden rags-to-riches inheritance of his late uncle’s $20,000,000 fortune. He’s from a town called Mandrake Falls, and he goes to New York to get the money.

Since Deeds eventually decides to give all of the money to poor, starving farmers (the 1936 film is set during the Great Depression), powerful men scheme to get their hands on his money by having him declared insane, and therefore too mentally incompetent to be trusted with the responsibility of managing and dispensing with so huge a sum of money. His eccentric behavior, which includes suddenly punching men for no apparent reason, walking in the rain, and feeding a horse an excess of donuts, seems to confirm that he’s insane. In fact, a psychiatrist deems him to be a manic depressive. In the end, though, they “just couldn’t beat him.”

So, Lee’s lyric tells the plot of the film in an extremely abbreviated form. The proposed ideal moral solution to the problem of poverty is, essentially, a kind of charity, acts of generosity done of one’s free, individual will, as opposed to the workers’ revolutionary seizing control of the means of production, resulting in a state-planned economy providing free healthcare, education, housing, and full employment.

It’s interesting to note, in light of Rand’s influence on Peart, that Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is a film by Frank Capra, who also did It’s a Wonderful Life, another film about the value of Christian charity, and one despised by the likes of Rand, who have idiotically claimed it is a “communist” film. Capra, a kind of right-wing libertarian in his own right, didn’t even like FDR’s New Deal, which was meant to keep the Depression-era American working class from agitating for a socialist revolution. As I argued in my analysis of this latter film (link above), the notion that altruism of any kind can be airily called “communist” really only displays the mean-spiritedness of the “rational egoists.”

“Madrigal” is a simple love song, with a sweet melody that Lee plays on his Minimoog, and with Peart’s drums recorded in an echo room. Even this love song can be seen as a manifestation of the theme of ideals, for when one is in love, one idealizes the love object, ignoring his or her faults, and exaggerating his or her virtues, especially as a contrasting bulwark against this harsh world we live in, as expressed in Peart’s lyric. That the song is called madrigal is again, as with much of the diction of its lyric, an example of the use of archaic imagery (suggesting associations with courtly love poetry, which idealized the Lady as love object), reinforcing that sense of idealizing a distant past against our troubled modern world.

“Cygnus X-1 Book One: The Voyage” is, in contrast to the previous songs’ settings at different points in the past, a science fiction story about going “across the Milky Way” in a spaceship to reach a black hole “in the constellation of Cygnus.” It’s in four parts, the Prologue opening with an electronically-altered narration by Terry Brown, the producer of A Farewell to Kings and all the other Rush albums from their second, Fly by Night, up to Signals.

1 is very brief, with Lee singing of how entry “through the void” of the black hole leads one “to be destroyed,” or could it be a wormhole into either another part of the universe, or a door to a parallel one? Our protagonist dares to find out.

Lee begins playing broken-up segments of the bass line that, when Lifeson and Peart join in, will comprise a riff in 3/4, 7/8, 3/4, and 4/4. Soon after, a frantic riff comes in with chords of C-sharp minor, E minor, and G-sharp minor, which we’ll hear again at the climactic end of the song. A guitar line of G, A-flat, B, C, D, E-flat, F-sharp, and G leads into a riff in 11/8, 12/8, and 11/8, with chords in C minor, a passing chord of B minor to F-sharp major, E-flat minor, and a passing chord of D minor back to C minor. The Minimoog eventually comes in, largely doubling the chords.

2, narrated by the protagonist, describes the flight on his ship, the Rocinante, which is named after the horse ridden by Don Quixote, a foolish idealist who, having read so many chivalric romances, fancies himself such a hero, a knight-errant in search of adventure. He’s an awkward fool, engaging in a task far beyond his abilities. The protagonist in the spaceship is similarly foolish and idealistic, engaging in a dangerous quest (though, in “Book Two: Hemispheres,” he enters–through a wormhole, presumably–the world of the Apollonian and Dionysian battle of the mind and heart, achieving the ideal of balance between the two).

Beginning this section is an upbeat chord progression of C major, F major, D major, and G major, musically suggesting the rosy optimism of the protagonist. Things don’t stay positive for long, though.

A repeat of the G, A-flat, B, C, D, E-flat, F-sharp, and G leads to a solo by Lifeson with the wah-wah pedal. Next is a quieter section suggesting the traveling of the Rocinante deep into space, with Lifeson playing octaves of C, A-flat, and B. Backed by Peart’s drumming, Lee comes in with his bass soon after, with fragments of his bass line from that frantic, climactic progression heard in the Prologue and soon to be heard again–notes of C-sharp, E and G-sharp…hearing this is a foreshadowing of the protagonist’s doom. Fittingly, the bass line does a bitonal clash with the guitar line, reinforcing the sense of tension building up to the climax. But just before that climax, there’s a louder section in E, in 4/8, 3/8, and 4/8.

3 has the Rocinante spinning out of control as it reaches the black hole, with that frantic chord progression fully developed in the form of C-sharp minor, E minor, G-sharp major, and G major, then C-sharp minor, E minor, and C minor, all in 6/8. The protagonist screams out that his “every nerve is torn apart.” (The tragedy of his self-destruction in his spaceship is paralleled by the farce of Don Quixote charging, on his horse, the windmills.)

The song ends with soft but eerie chords of C minor, E-flat minor, and E minor added ninth, then E minor again, but without the ninth. This fades out, suggesting the fading out of the protagonist’s life.

The protagonist thus goes through the whole Hegelian dialectic of being, nothingness, and in Book Two, the sublation of being and non-being, that of becoming, the balance between the two (as well as that between the Apollonian mind and the Dionysian heart), the achievement of the Hegelian ideal.

But this ideal isn’t to be reached until the next album. Instead, as far as A Farewell to Kings is concerned, our quixotic hero just destroyed himself, as does the drinker of the milk of paradise in the other long song ending Side One of this album. The first hero destroys his mind in madness, and the second destroys his body; the first erases the possibility of his non-existence, the second erases his existence…both heroes doing so in the foolish pursuit of unattainable ideals.

‘The Targeter,’ a Surreal Novel, Chapter Fourteen

I see a tiny, glowing white dot in the middle of the endless black all around me. I’m floating toward that dot of light, which is getting bigger.

Now that I’m close enough to it, I can see that the dot of white light is actually an exit from this void of infinite darkness. I’m approaching it, and instead of glowing light, I see those waves of the endless, universal sea.

I’ve re-entered that sea, and I’m swimming in it, breathing the water as if I had gills instead of nostrils. I feel a soothing peace vibrating all around me and in me.

I’m coming to understand the full extent of how all is one. Everything within and outside of me is one. Everywhere is an eternal here. I am connected to all around me.

All of time is one. The past, the present, and the future are merged in endless cycles. Only now is real: the past and future are just human constructs.

Everything that happens is unified. Opposites flow into and out of each other in dialectical waves. All people, and all of their actions, are a yin and yang mixture of good and evil, wisdom and folly, beauty and ugliness. My own nature and behaviour are equally such mixtures.

With this understanding of oneness also comes an understanding of the universal, eternal fluidity of everything within and without. This is why I see the waves of an ocean everywhere, undulating without end.

I can feel the feelings of other people flowing into me, and my feelings are flowing out to all of them, like water, to be felt by all the other people. As we all share each other’s feelings, I sense my alert, conscious awareness of every second, every wave flowing up and down all around me, soothing me, massaging my skin.

The dialectical relationship between all opposites, their essential unity, feels not only like the up-and-down movement of waves, but also like a continuum coiled into a circle, the extreme opposites meeting and flowing into each other.

I see a large serpent in the water; it’s coiled in a circle, biting its tail. Darker and lighter shades of green are moving along the body of the serpent, either darkening its scales or making them sparkle. These tints and shades of green are moving from the bitten tail, along the length of its coiled body, around to its biting head, then through to the bitten tail again. Those moving tints and shades are all the opposites of the world, eternally flowing into each other.

Seeing these flowing movements instills in my mind the truth that all things shift from good to bad, to good and to bad, and back to good again, around and around in cycles, forever and ever. This is why I should be patient when the bad times come, but I should also keep from being too attached to the evanescent good times.

So the world, just like all the people in it, including myself, should be seen in a middling way: neither too exciting, nor too rejecting. We must see everything and everyone as they truly are, not as we conceive of them in our fantasies and nightmares. We must refrain from exaggerating, seeing all as either too good or too bad.

Pain is healed by feeling it, by confronting it, as I did in that black hole. Pain must also be expressed, in the spoken or written word, in order to heal it. Another way to heal pain is to consider it not only through the Unity of Space, which includes the unity of Self and Other, but also through the Unity of Action, which reveals, through the dialectical relationship between opposites that I saw in that serpent biting its tail, how going overboard with extremes of pain, we can go past the extremes and achieve soothing. By contemplating not only our own suffering, but adding to it the suffering of others, others felt as ourselves, we achieve compassion and empathy, growing thus into better people.

In this way, by listening to others instead of just preaching to them, we self-soothe as well as soothe others. We self-soothe by contemplating not only our own ups and downs, but also those of other people; and in seeing the unity between up and down, good and bad, we know that the bad is never permanent.

In contemplating the Unity of Time, knowing that now is the only real time, and that endless cycles bring good and bad back again and again, we focus on the present instead of worrying about the future and ruminating over past failures. The endless cycles of good and bad phasing in and out of each other mean neither is permanent: don’t be attached to the good, and patiently wait for the bad to drift away.

Wait! Am I melting? Yes! My body is being absorbed into the infinite ocean! Atman is fusing with Brahman. My body is becoming one with the waters I’ve been swimming in! Oh, bliss! Oh, sweet nirvana! I have attained enlightenment, and as soon as my watery form concentrates, bringing me back to human form, I’ll be ready to teach the Way to any with ears to hear. Those five followers will come back, for sure!

Of course, this melting feeling of mine could just be part of my ketamine high.

‘The Targeter,’ a Surreal Novel, Chapter Thirteen

I look up above my head and see the overhanging leaves of a tree. I look down and see I’m sitting on a bench; yes, those five people must have put me in the same place where that meditating man was.

Maybe they left me here, not out of disappointment in my potential, but rather because of that potential. By leaving me in the seat of the meditating wise man, they’re trying to inspire me to emulate him, to search for enlightenment as he had. Yes, that’s it!

I won’t disappoint those five people! I won’t move from here until I’ve attained enlightenment! (Actually, because of my ketamine high, I can’t move at all, but anyway…)

Ooh! Sudden gunfire from further off. A few explosions, flashes of light. That startled me.

Anyway, let’s see: to be a wise leader who will bring liberation, justice, and an end to the war, I must acquire knowledge of the true nature of the world. I must close my eyes, focus, and go beyond the limitations of my ego. I must also transcend feelings of desire and hate…

Beyond all the surface differences, there is oneness, but the differences must also be acknowledged–in the form of wavelike movements from one state to its opposite, and back and forth, and back and forth, over and over again…

I feel myself vibrating all over. My ketamine high has erased my sense of the boundary between me and not-me. Meditation is heightening my sense of unity with my surroundings…

Everything inside and outside feels…oceanic, all waves flowing into me, within me, and flowing out of me. The whole world, the whole universe, feels like an ocean with no boundaries or shores anywhere out there–just water. It’s a peaceful, soothing experience.

I’m making progress.

Along with this unity of all within and without, the unity of crests and troughs flowing into and out of each other, I feel my sense of relationships with others becoming more unified, too. As well as everything becoming more unified, everything feels more real, too.

Up until now, my perception of other people has been, on the one hand, an idealizing of others, a lusting and yearning for perfection in others, imaginary others; on the other hand, though, there’s been a perception of others as lowly and contemptible, a hating and rejecting of others, these also being imaginary people. I’ve felt my perception of others as being split in two, a hallucinatory halving into black and white.

Now, however, everyone seems more realistic, a grey in between the black and white, a sense that all people are a mix of good and bad. I feel I’m understanding humanity as it actually is, not as figments of my imagination.

As I watch the slowly-moving waves of that universal ocean, flowing gently before my mind’s eye, I also see a black hole growing there. First, it appeared as a tiny black dot, then it began growing and growing until now, it’s big enough for me to be sucked into it.

I’m scared.

Still, I know that I must confront this huge void. Its shape has changed from that of a large circle into that of a human silhouette about my size. I should talk to it. Will it answer my questions?

“Hello,” I say out loud.

I feel, instead of hear, its answer. Hello.

“Who are you?” I ask.

I’m every pain you have ever felt, I feel it say.

“What are those pains?”

You know what they are. You just don’t want to face them.

“Very well: how do I face them?”

Come inside me, it says, then it changes back into the giant hole, welcoming me in.

I float forward and enter the hole. Instead of seeing dark oceanic waves, I now see endless black.

“OK, I’m inside,” I say with impatience and fear. “Now what am I supposed to do?”

Talk to me, the voice says in my imagination. Talk.

“Talk about what?”

About any and every pain you’ve ever had in your whole life.

“Very well. I’ll start at the very beginning. Mother?”

Emerging from the centre of the void is an older woman in regal, Oriental clothes. I can’t quite make out her face. She must be my long-lost mother, the queen who died about a week after I was born.

I never knew her, but I saw plenty of pictures of her, so I’ll recognize her face when she comes close enough to me.

“Mother? Is that you? It’s your son, Sidney. Please come here and let me see you. Come and talk to me.”

She is coming closer, but I still can’t see her face clearly.

I grow anxious and impatient as she continues approaching.

Finally, she’s close enough for me to see her face.

“Queen Maya! My mother!” I shout in sobs.

I see her face, but she isn’t smiling, as my mother did in her pictures. This queen is scowling a familiar scowl.

My stepmother?

No, my mother!

There never was a stepmother.

There never was an ideal mother from which my stepmother represented a sad decline.

There never was an ideal world, a garden where she gave birth to me, an Eden from which our present world was a sad decline.

There are no ideal people, contrasted with contemptible people. There are only real people, a grey in between the imagined black and white. My ‘stepmother’ wasn’t all bad; my actual mother was far from all-good.

There is no heaven, no hell. Just life here on Earth, a mix of good and bad.

It hurts to know there’s no paradise to aspire to, yet it’s good to know the truth, not to be deceived by illusions. Knowing the truth is like an abrasion on the skin, but one can rub the hurt surface and soothe oneself.

I hear some more gunfire and explosions from further off, but they aren’t as loud or startling, so I can bear them better.

I’m making progress.

‘The Targeter,’ a Surreal Novel, Chapter Eleven

Wait a minute…no. I cannot have attained enlightenment. That would be far too easy, especially for a dope fiend like me.

I haven’t attained nirvana…I’m just really fucking high.

No, I’ll just have to work hard to attain it like everyone else, with discipline, like that old man meditating under the tree. That man I see over there…wait a minute. He’s gone! Oh, I wanted to ask him for guidance!

Oh, well. I’ll just have to look for him, or someone like him, to teach me how to gain that peace of mind I saw on his grinning face, that impressive grin I saw while hearing the bombs and gunfire all around me. I’ll float up and fly in the air in search of him, airborne by ketamine.

I’m flying as if lying on my side, as if reclining on the ground. Am I? I’m traveling high in the air, but I feel as if I’m not at all moving.

I see all these Asian faces looking at me in wonder and awe, amazed at my superhuman flying ability. I see a mix of wonder and worry, as if they think I’m having health problems. Am I? All I know is that I need to find that wise old man, or any wise old man, to guide me to enlightenment.

I see Asian gurus in robes advising me to use extreme discipline and self-denial. They tell me that I must learn to endure extreme pain and discomfort, including fasting.

One of them says to me, “The evil is inside of you, Sid! You must expel it! Vomit it out of your body!”

So I do.

My puke smells as awful as it looks, a pink ooze pouring out of my mouth and onto the stony ground that my head is using as a pillow. I hear voices in Chinese saying, “How disgusting! This foreigner needs a doctor.”

My stomach is empty…so empty. I need food…No! I must be disciplined and resist the urge for material comforts.

I’m getting dizzy. Everything around me is spinning. Apart from that, I feel nothing, as if I have no body.

I hear someone say in Chinese, “Is he dying?”

I’m scared.

Am I dying?

Hey! Was that an explosion in the sky? I thought I saw a huge fireball.

I hear machine gun fire. Since I don’t know where my body begins and ends, and I feel an ache in my…stomach?…I wonder if the bullets have hit me.

I feel a black hole growing in my centre. Is it a bullet hole? Is it my growing hunger? It hurts.

Am I going to throw up again? That puke stink is still all around me.

Wait…now I see only black all around me.

Am I dead? Have I become a huge black void? Is that what the black hole in my centre has grown into? A black everything?

Oh, my God…help me! Wait, I don’t believe in God.

I smell…food. Some kind of…rice pudding? Milk? I still see only black.

Something soft and mushy is going in my mouth…I think. Am I eating the rice pudding? I taste milk.

Hey, that feels better. Still, I’m really wasted. That smell of vomit is still nearby. I wish someone would clean it up.

The black void around me is gone. I’m floating in the air again, still on my side, as if I were lying on the ground.

I see groups of men in army uniforms. Some speak of liberation, some of revolution, others of “restoring order.” All of them are speaking in Chinese. Many are arguing.

Still floating in the air above, I look down and see all of these soldiers from a bird’s eye view. Some are anarchists, dressed all in black and carrying Molotov cocktails. They would overthrow the government immediately and replace it with the ideal world they want, or so I hear them shouting.

Some are wearing PLA uniforms, demanding loyalty to the Beijing government, their rifles pointed at the anarchists and the soldiers of the third group, who are in camouflage, their rifles also pointing at the anarchists and PLA men. This third group is shouting about wanting to restore order to the island.

Shots are fired. Molotov cocktails are thrown, breaking some windows in the neighbourhood buildings. I see a few more fireballs bursting in the night sky, breaking up the darkness.

Several of the men, one or two from each of the three groups, are lying on the streets and sidewalks by my apartment, bleeding. Those that aren’t dead are wailing and moaning in pain from their injuries.

I agree that revolutionary change must happen, to eliminate poverty and end this war; and I agree that some kind of restoration of order must come, so our lives can at least go back to normal. I don’t, however, want to see needless infighting among the revolutionaries, and I don’t want the restoration of order to be so repressive and violent.

These agitators, therefore, are not my kind of people. I’ll float away to some other part of town, one where I can hope to find either that wise old man, or some other guru, one not so extreme in his quest for nirvana, or some other revolutionaries to help me bring down this oppressive power structure we’re all forced to live under.

Buoyed by my ketamine high, I’m flying away from my home.

‘The Targeter,’ a Surreal Novel, Chapter Ten

Having just snorted my second line of K, I’m feeling an urge to go outside, as foolish an idea as that is. I felt no numbness from the last line; maybe I won’t feel numb from this one. We’ll find out.

I get up and stagger to the door.

My sparkling, dazzling ecstasy high is so powerful that I want to share my love with the world.

I walk out of my apartment. Did I close and lock the door? Who cares? It’s the world I must take care of, not myself!

I plod my way down the stairs, almost stumbling and falling a few times. It’s a good thing I’m holding onto the hand rail. I get to the ground floor, then begin staggering towards the front door.

I’m outside.

Not just outside my apartment building.

I’m…outside…my…body…

Am I floating?

Am I up in the air?

Am I one with my surroundings?

It sure feels that way.

I see that old man sitting under the tree with his eyes closed and his toothy grin. He looks so peaceful, with the sound of bombs and gunfire all around us.

I want to be him so badly.

A fuzzy, wave-like feeling is permeating my whole body, or this whole, vague presence where I am, be it in or outside of my body. There’s no sense of where I physically begin and end. Is there a boundary between that old man and me? There doesn’t seem to be.

I see him sideways, as if I’m lying on my side on the ground. Am I? I didn’t feel myself fall.

Everything…everything…feels fuzzy, wavy, vibrating…

I am that old man!

I am the great, wise one! Or at least, I’m going to be him.

I am Sid Arthur Gordimer, spiritual leader of the people! I will lead us all to enlightenment! Follow me, my disciples!

I am prince of the realm of Sakia, and I renounce my throne-to-be!

No, Father, I will not be the next king! You and that horrible stepmother of mine, the queen, can argue with me and yell at me all you want! I won’t continue the regal family line! I am leaving home, in search of enlightenment, and salvation for my impoverished people, those you have impoverished, Father, through your neglect!

I don’t want my inheritance, not one gold coin of it. Give it all to my wife, Jessie, and to our son, Raoul. When he comes of age, he can inherit your throne, if he wishes to have it!

As for me, I am leaving the palace! I am seeking liberation for myself and for all of our starving, oppressed people! When I attain my goal, I aim to be reclining on my side on the ground (as I am now?), in a state of perfect bliss and peace, with all of my followers standing and sitting around me, gazing on me in love.

Perhaps I’m already there, floating up to heaven, at the gates of nirvana-like perfection. It looks that way, with all these Asian faces looking at me (Indeed, I hear Chinese whispers of…is it…”Crazy foreigner”?…”On drugs”?…”needs a doctor”? I’m not sure; the voices aren’t clear.)

Nirvana isn’t to be actively sought out, anyway…is it? We already are there…we just need to wake up and recognize it, don’t we?…the Buddha-nature already within, the Atman that is already at one with Brahman. I feel no dividing line between my body and all that’s around me. I must have already attained enlightenment.

Haven’t I?

Analysis of ‘A Passion Play’

A Passion Play is a 1973 concept album by Jethro Tull, their sixth album. This album moved the band further in the direction of progressive rock, a move started with their previous album, Thick as a Brick.

Both albums have the format of continuous music spread over two sides of the original vinyl releases; but with A Passion Play, the music became much more elaborate and complex. Also, while Thick as a Brick has been largely well received critically, A Passion Play was panned by the critics, who soundly thrashed bandleader Ian Anderson for his perceived self-indulgence (i.e., the over-the-top “Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles”) and pretentiousness.

Nevertheless, the album sold well, reaching No. 1 on the charts in the US and Canada. It also sold well in Germany, Norway, and the UK. Though I agree that the “Story of the Hare” is little more than outright silly, I feel it’s unfortunate that the album has such a bad rap, for musically it’s among Tull’s most accomplished, with Anderson expanding on his already considerable multi-instrumentalist abilities to include soprano and sopranino saxophones. He does some fine acoustic guitar playing here, too; and John Evan‘s keyboards and Barriemore Barlow‘s virtuosic drumming and percussion add lots of musical colour.

Here are links to the lyrics, and here is a link to the album.

When I bought my copy of the LP as a teen in the 1980s, it didn’t have the gatefold inner sleeve with the lyrics and the drama masks (let alone the six-page programme included in the original album to tell us the characters, etc.). All I had was the outer cover, with the pictures of the ballerinas. As gleaned from just the lyrics, the story is quite unclear.

Indeed, what do they mean by “a passion play”? The story of the album isn’t a dramatization of the suffering and death of Christ, so the title is obviously a metaphor…but of what? Here’s where everything is open to interpretation–so here’s mine.

A “passion play” is a metaphor for life. Instead of Christ, our protagonist, as indicated in the programme, is “Ronnie Pilgrim,” an everyman whose death at the beginning of the story, and whose progress through the judgement of his life, then through heaven and hell, and back to corporeal existence (rebirth), is an ironic cross between passion plays and a variation on John Bunyan‘s allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress.

Now, the story is full of Christian imagery, though Jesus is only briefly and occasionally referred to. On the other hand, since passion here has its original meaning of “suffering,” rather than “ardent emotion,” and play refers to life, as in “All the world’s a stage,/And all the men and women merely players,” then “a passion play” as a metaphor for life means a life full of suffering, which sounds more like the Buddhist concept of dukkha. After all, the first of the Four Noble Truths is that all life is suffering. Furthermore, Pilgrim ends his progress by being reincarnated.

Whether Anderson consciously or unconsciously intended A Passion Play to have a Buddhist subtext hidden under Christian concepts is ultimately irrelevant; my point is that such a subtext can be found in the story.

Another irony is how a story about the suffering of life is mostly presented in the afterlife, causing one to wonder if this “afterlife” is literal or metaphorical. Indeed, how does one go from being accepted into heaven, then opting for hell, and finally coming back to physical life if this is all understood to be literally happening? After all, when entering hell, aren’t we all supposed to “abandon all hope” (i.e., of leaving hell)?

I’d say the Pilgrim’s “death” is really either a coma in which he, dreaming, mistakenly believes he’s dead, and from which he eventually wakes; or, the death, heaven, and hell experiences are just temporary psychological states between incarnations. Whatever the answer may be, let’s dive into the music.

Side One begins with a fade-in during which we hear Evan’s synth imitating a heartbeat. This is mixed with various other instruments, including the organ and Anderson’s sax; it has a trippy, psychedelic quality, suggesting a dream-like state, as if Ronnie Pilgrim is merely imagining the whole story.

Barlow’s drums kick in with the rest of the band, and we hear them playing a brief instrumental fittingly called “Lifebeats.” It has an almost march-like rhythm in triple time, until there’s an interruption in 9/8 (subdivided 2+2+2+3), first played only on organ, then with added acoustic guitar, whistling, and tritones on Martin Barre‘s guitar and Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond‘s bass.

This brief 9/8 passage ends with a ritardando of the synth-heartbeat, which also lowers in pitch, indicating that Pilgrim is dying. A crashing sound then indicates that he is now dead, as Anderson sings, beginning the narration of the predicament of our protagonist. “The Silver Cord,” which ties mortal flesh to the spirit, now “lies on the ground”…and so Pilgrim is dead. Evan’s soft and pretty piano accompanies Anderson’s singing.

Pilgrim sees his friends all attending his funeral, though they’ve arrived too late by taxi. “A hush in the Passion Play” means that death is the silence when life ends.

Pilgrim meditates on the good and bad moments in his life, though the “rich attainments” are “all imagined,” and “sad misdeeds in disarray” seem more prominent. Such is the essence of life as an experience of sorrow, or a “passion play” that we all must go through. To compare the suffering of life (e.g., aging) to music, we could speak of “melodies decaying in sweet dissonance.”

“The Ever-Passion Play,” or eternal life of suffering, with death conceived as an integral part of this eternal experience, suggests the cyclical suffering of samsāra. Since the Passion of Jesus ends with His harrowing of hell (as Pilgrim will do on Side Two) and resurrection, Pilgrim’s ‘resurrection’ could be seen as symbolic of reincarnation.

An instrumental section interrupts the narration, starting with a reprise of that 9/8 tune, now played slower on the organ and with Barlow’s marimba and the tritones on the guitar and bass. After this, a jazzy passage is heard in 11/8 time, featuring a sax solo by Anderson. Then there’s a return to the narration, with Evan’s dainty piano playing.

An angel descends to meet Pilgrim, and “a band of gentlemen” escort him out of Limbo. An instrumental “Re-Assuring Tune” comes next, including an acoustic guitar solo displaying Anderson’s skill on the instrument. This leads to “Memory Bank,” in which we find Pilgrim in “the viewing room,” where he’ll watch video of his entire life. They have him taped; he’s “in the play” of life, which will now be judged.

We’re coming into what is perhaps the most musically tense part of the album, and fittingly so, since this is the moment that determines whether Ronnie Pilgrim will go to heaven or to hell. Still, this issue is resolved with him going to heaven by the end of Side One. Pilgrim’s real issue isn’t whether or not he’ll be saved, but rather if he even likes it in heaven, or if he likes the afterlife in general.

In contrast, the pilgrim of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (the protagonist fittingly named “Christian,” for the purposes of Bunyan’s allegory) has to go through an ordeal of temptations and dangers of being led astray, and therefore he’s in danger of not being saved. Of course, Christian passes all the tests and makes it to the “Celestial City,” or heaven. Ronnie Pilgrim’s “progress” is about contemplating the vey nature of the afterlife, and making up his mind whether it’s worth venturing into at all…or would one rather just stay in this material world.

An instrumental passage in 11/8 leads to a reprise of that jazzy section originally with the sax solo, but this time instead of the sax, we hear the album’s major showcasing of Anderson’s trademark breathy flute soloing. Though there is, of course, lots of flute heard on this album before and after this particular passage (on which Anderson overdubs two solos), since Jethro Tull in general is more or less synonymous with the flute, by Tull standards, A Passion Play has far less of the instrument highlighted.

“Memory Bank” ends with the judges watching the videotape of Pilgrim’s life and noting some of those ‘rich attainments’ of his (“Captain of the cricket team,/Public speaking…” and “a knighthood…”), I must wonder if he really did attain these honours, or were these attainments “all imagined,” as stated above. In any case, this section segues into “Best Friends.”

Apparently, Pilgrim never stopped chatting on the phone with his best friends. Rain coming through a tear in his old umbrella, rain like tears, seems to represent old sorrows of his; still, “the rain only gets in sometimes,” and the sun, which seems to represent his fiery passions, never left him alone, as we’ll judge soon enough.

The next section is the particularly dark, heavy, and tense “Critique Oblique,” which opens with an ostinato of six notes (G, A, B-flat, D, D-flat, and C, each with an inverted parallel fifth below these tonic notes) that starts slowly on the organ and is repeated accelerando. These six notes (and their inverted fifths) will form the basis of the riff for this whole section, backed by Barlow’s pounding drums.

The judges watching the videotape of Pilgrim’s life seem to be judging him here for a sexual indiscretion of his, which has resulted in an illegitimate child. As a comment on this sin, we hear comically melodramatic voices singing an example of the album’s fatuous infatuation with puns: “The examining body examined her body.”

After a judgement of Pilgrim’s moral imperfections, we have one on the limitations of his intelligence. Since life is a passion play, we who live life are the actors, and Pilgrim is one “of the low IQ.” Not only was his sexual indiscretion sinful, but it was also foolish, leaving the illegitimate child’s mother “faded,” that is, her life ruined.

Still, in spite of his errant ways, the judges “won’t cross [him] out.” Pilgrim is loved like a son, or like the Son (John 3:16). Indeed, the only way Pilgrim could be saved is through Christ’s blood on the Cross, because of “how absolutely awful [he] really [is],” awful the way Lucifer is awful, as we’ll learn on Side Two, the way the state of unredeemed sin makes us awful.

In any case, Pilgrim is admitted into heaven, and the blissful state of the celestial paradise is reflected in “Forest Dance No. 1,” which leads to “The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles,” ending Side One and beginning Side Two.

It’s curious how “The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles” is sandwiched in between the two ‘Forest Dances’ of Pilgrim’s experience of heaven. As we will discover on Side Two of the album, he becomes disenchanted with heaven when he finds its inhabitants all reminiscing about their lives on Earth rather than simply enjoying eternal life (indeed, at the beginning of “Forest Dance No. 1,” we hear that synth heartbeat of life again).

The story, narrated by Hammond-Hammond in an over-the-top, affected Lancashire accent, seems a mixture of Prokofiev‘s Peter and the Wolf (i.e., the music), Peter Rabbit (i.e., the hare), Winnie-the-Pooh (i.e., the kangaroo and rabbit), and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (i.e., not only the rabbit but also the extensive use of puns). As pretentious, self-indulgent, and generally annoying as this story is as an interruption of Pilgrim’s story (I used to skip this part when listening to my LP, and when I taped it, I omitted the story), in a sense it could be considered a fitting inclusion, in that, as a children’s story placed in the middle of Pilgrim’s experience of heaven, it represents how one must be a child to enter the Kingdom of God (Luke 18:17).

The hare losing his spectacles sounds like someone who has lost his vision, lost his way. This is an odd experience to have when in heaven…unless the whole point is that heaven was an illusion from the beginning. We all fantasize about a perfect world that can never be, and in that fantasizing we grow myopic, if not outright blind.

Or perhaps the point is that in heaven, our troubles are only slight. The hare loses his spectacles, yet has a spare pair, so his problem is quickly solved. Heaven is thus perceived as a charming children’s world, with the cute hare, a kangaroo, an owl, a newt, and a bee. (Here is a link to a video dramatizing the story.)

During the course of the story, we hear a number of puns on the animals’ names: “Bee…began,” “Owl…scowling,” “Kangaroo…hopping mad…” and “…can guru,” “Newt knew too…”, and Hare did have a spare pair/A-pair.”

After this nonsense we hear the heavenly “Forest Dance No. 2.”

In “The Foot of Our Stairs,” Pilgrim expresses his astonishment, incredulity, and surprise at how disappointing he finds heaven to be. Instead of enjoying eternal bliss, the saved just remember their old lives on Earth. Apparently, our life here in the physical world, in spite of all its suffering (“a passion play”), is the only life worth having. Indeed, dukkha as the Buddhists understand includes even the mildest of unpleasant feelings, like disillusionment, or the foreknowledge that even the best of parties have to come to an end sooner or later.

Pilgrim, in fact, is so disappointed with heaven that he’s decided, as AC/DC would observe years later, that “Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be” (though he’ll regret his decision soon enough). He tells God that his “is the right to be wrong,” and requests to be sent to the Other Place; for the reward of heaven is just “Pie in the sky.”

Could “Jack rabbit mister” be a link to the hare who lost his spectacles? In any case, “The last hymn is sung, and the Devil cries, ‘More’,” suggesting that the Devil has all the best tunes. What we note in this qualifying of heavenly bliss vs. hellish torment is that the two places aren’t as black and white as we’ve been told; that as in life, there’s a considerable grey area in both heaven and hell, and that ultimately we never really escape suffering as long as we keep existing.

After an instrumental passage with a sax solo, Pilgrim carries on in his qualifying and relativizing of heaven and hell by singing of “that forsaken paradise that calls itself ‘hell’.” Pilgrim’s decision to leave heaven for hell is made all the more ironic with his allusion to Christ’s healing of a paralytic (Mark 2:9) by singing “Pick up thy bed and rise up from your gloom smiling,” since Christ spoke of how much easier it is to forgive sins (i.e., deliver a sinner from hell and admit him into heaven) than it is to cure paralysis.

Anyway, Pilgrim has left heaven and gone to hell, where in “Overseer Overture,” we are given Satan’s perspective, him being “the overseer.” One would expect music depicting the hellish experience to be of the gloomiest, most hopeless and evil sort; oddly, what we get instead is music of a mostly merry sort, with a bouncy rhythm in triplets. There’s even a joining “round the maypole in dance.”

The only exception to this merry tune are two brief, dissonant moments with synthesizer arpeggios and groaning. These appear before the lyrics “Colours I’ve none…” and “Legends were born…” These are the only truly musically infernal moments in this part of the story. These brief moanings put among larger passages of musical merriment reinforce the sense that heaven and hell are not meant to be understood here in the classical, Christian sense of being absolute opposites. Again, I suspect that Pilgrim either hasn’t really died, but is merely mulling over the idea of the afterlife in his mind, or he’s experiencing a temporary, relative heaven and hell before being reincarnated.

So his dissatisfaction with hell is really just like his dissatisfaction with heaven and everything else–all is dukkha.

In “Flight From Lucifer,” the Devil being “an awful fellow” sounds like extreme understatement for describing Satan, once again reinforcing the relativity of hellish torments as felt in Pilgrim’s experience of the place. Though the Devil is “icy,” a reference to Dante‘s Inferno, Canto XXXIV, in which Lucifer is trapped waist-deep in ice, he is called by his original name, Lucifer (“Light-Bringer”), back when he was once held by God to be fairest of the angels before his pride became his infernal undoing.

The musical structure of the louder, more rhythmically pounding verses of this section is interesting in its trickiness. (I refer to the verses beginning with “Flee the icy Lucifer,” “Here’s the everlasting rub” [an allusion to Hamlet, perhaps?], “Twist my right arm in the dark,” “I would gladly be a dog…”, “Pick me up at half past none,”and “Station master rings his bell.”) In the first, third, and fifth of these verses, we have 4/4, 2/4, 5/4, 4/4, 5/8, and three bars of 4/4. This pattern happens again in the second, fourth, and sixth of these verses, but instead of the bar in 5/4, it’s one in 6/4, with a pounding of Barlow’s tympani providing the added beat.

In Pilgrim’s regret over coming to hell, he realizes he’s “neither…good nor bad.” He wants to come back to physical existence; it’s “Time for awaking,” or coming back from the sleep of death. He politely says he’d like to stay, but his (angel’s, or devil’s?) “wings have just dropped off.”

Another pounding of the tympani, as well as some organ, fades out and segues into the next section, an instrumental passage called “To Paddington,” on which we hear overdubs of sweet acoustic guitar playing by Anderson in 5/4.

Next comes “Magus Perdé,” with a scratchy, angular electric guitar riff by Barre, including quickly strummed harmonics, as well as hammer-ons and pull-offs. Anderson’s flute joins in, along with shaken tambourine from Barlow and Evan’s synth.

Pilgrim, “voyager into life,” wants to come back to the material world. He’s with “The passengers upon the ferry crossing, waiting to be born”; normally, Charon would be taking them in the opposite direction, to Hades. There is an instrumental section in 7/8, then a tricky passage with jumps, starts, and interruptions before a restating of the main guitar riff, and the final verse.

Here, reincarnation is given the metaphor of resurrection. Christ’s in particular is alluded to in “son of man” and “Roll the stone away.” Note that in the Old Testament, “son of man” (ben-‘adam), lacking the definite article, refers to humanity in general; whereas in the New Testament, Christ tends to refer to Himself as “the son of man” (ὁ υἱὸς τοὺ ἀνθρώπου, or ho huios tou anthropou). So this last verse, while linking reincarnation metaphorically with resurrection, is also linking man in general (and Pilgrim in particular) with Christ.

In the “Epilogue,” we hear a brief reprise of the soft piano melody from Side One and Anderson singing about “the ever-passion play.” The word ever was heard repeatedly in the verses of “Magus Perdé,” namely “ever-dying,” “ever-burning fire,” “ever-door,” “ever-life,” and “ever-day.” In all of these “evers,” we have the eternal sense of recurrent death, pain, and movement through the (as it were) doorway of changing states of life experience, as well as the eternality of existence in the light of day. In this sense, we move away from Christian symbolism to the Buddhist concept of the endless cycle of life, death, and rebirth…samsara.

So Pilgrim returns to physical life, and we hear that synth heartbeat again, as well as what would seem, at first, a reprise of the Forest Dance of heaven as heard at the end of Side One, just before “The Story of the Hare.” Both of these sections begin with the “passion play” reprise of the soft piano and Anderson singing “play,” ending the word in falsetto, suggesting a conceptual link between the reprises.

So, coming back into the physical world, despite its suffering, is the closest we’ll ever come to anything like heaven.

Why do people believe in an afterlife? A simple fear of death, which is of course unavoidable, but we feel a yearning for at least some kind of existence afterwards. Belief in hell satisfies our wish for justice against the evildoers of the world, but that belief also carries with it the negative trade-off of a fear that we ourselves may be included among the wrong-doers. The afterlife, as a solace against the fear of death, becomes a cause for an even greater fear of death.

The conclusion of A Passion Play is that we should focus on this material life here, with all of its pain and contradictions (as symbolized in the fadeout of Side Two, with its dissonant, startling organ chords, etc.). Instead of fantasizing about a utopian heaven for our narcissistic selves (as parodied in the absurd “Story of the Hare”) to enjoy, and an infernal concentration camp for those we hate, we should do what we can to improve our material conditions here as best we can.

Instead of admiring and imitating a resurrected Christ who has suffered a passion for us, we should be like the bodhisattvas, who swear off entering into the blissful state of nirvana to return to the physical world and help all of humanity to end suffering. Instead of emulating the passion play of life, one should end the passion of it (i.e., life’s suffering), liberating us all to enjoy the play.

‘The Targeter,’ a Surreal Novel, Chapter Seven

In my mind’s eye, I see a grassy field and a nearby forest. I look up and see a cloudless blue sky.

I open my eyes and see, on a shelf of DVDs by my TV, a photo of my smiling cousin, David, back when he was in his mid-twenties.

I close my eyes and see that field of grass and those nearby trees again. I’m riding a horse, feeling the bumps as it walks. I look behind me and see my father’s palace. I see him and my stepmother out there in the yard.

I also see David, about his age as in the photo (meaning I’m about that age, too, since our births were within weeks of each other). He’s behind me, riding his own horse and smiling at me, again, the same way he did in that photo.

He’s taking me hunting; I’ve never done it before, so he’s teaching me how.

An odd thing about our weapons: sometimes, they’re bows and arrows; sometimes, they’re rifles.

I look back at our home. Instead of seeing a palace this time, I see a rich man’s estate. I continue with David towards the forest…this time, not on horses, but in a car.

We reach the edge of the forest and get out of the car. I look back at our home and see the palace. Instead of rifles, we have bows and arrows again. Instead of a car, I see our horses, tied to a tree.

We look up at that beautiful blue sky and see two birds flying overhead.

“Now’s our chance, Sid,” David says, pointing his rifle up at them. “Shoot! Let’s see who hits one first.”

I raise my rifle up and shoot, as does he. We see two arrows flying up at the birds; we have bows in our hands again.

His arrow misses the bird he was aiming for; my arrow goes right through the chest of my bird. It falls to the ground, a few feet in front of me. We run over to it.

“Good shooting,” David says coolly, with what I suspect is a hint of envy. “Beginner’s luck.”

I look down at the dead bird, and instead of seeing an arrow through it, I see a bloody hole where a bullet pierced it. My shaking hands are holding a rifle, not a bow.

I see the beauty of the bird and remember its pretty singing before I shot it. I frown and feel a tear running down my cheek.

“My goodness, you’re a sensitive one, aren’t you, Sid?” David asks with a sneer. “Quite an emotional guy.”

“Yeah, I suppose so,” I tell him, almost sobbing, and now holding the dead bird in my hands. “Let’s go back inside. I don’t want to kill anything anymore.”

“I didn’t come out here for nothing, Sid,” he says, now pointing a bow and arrow up in the air. I see him aiming again at that bird he missed.

“No, David!” I shout, grabbing at his arms, so when he shoots, the arrow misses.

“Hey, Sid!” he shouts, scowling at me. “What’s the matter with you! If you don’t wanna hunt, go home. I don’t care. But let me target what I wanna hit, OK?” He has a rifle now.

“No,” I insist with teary eyes. “One should be a targeter of enlightenment, of bliss, of happiness, not a targeter of animals.”

David laughs at my softheartedness, aims, and shoots at the bird.

(I hear a loud shot, open my eyes, and remember the civil war outside my window. The fighting must be getting closer to my home. I close my eyes in fear, in spite of my drugs’ numbing of it.)

David has hit the bird, and we see it fall to the grass just before our feet. It has an arrow through its chest.

I pick up the bird. With two dead birds in my hands, I feel even more tears flowing from my eyes.

“What a saint you must be, Sid,” David says with another sneer.

I open my eyes and look at his photo on my shelf. Then I look down at my coffee table, with the marijuana, my glass of bourbon, the ecstasy pills, and lines of ketamine all over it.

The shooting and bombs dropping outside, which indeed seem louder and closer, continue.

“The last thing I am is a saint,” I muse in slurred words.

So Undeserving

In spite of how logically indefensible as the belief in a just world is, in spite of how high the evidence is piled against believing in such an absurdity, many people out there still believe in it.

The reasons for having such a belief range from the religious, or a notion of philosophical idealism (the mind, or soul, determines how the world is), that ‘God’ is watching over everything and therefore He in His infinite wisdom will set everything right sooner or later, to the emotional need to feel safe and comfortable in such a disordered and scary world. If I’m good, nothing bad will happen to me, and if it does, with a little patience, I’ll see the wrong turned to right.

If not, then I must have deserved the wrong.

Here is where belief in a just world is not only logically indefensible, but morally indefensible, too, for victim-blaming is about as despicable as despicable gets.

In a previous post, I wrote about how wrong it is to think it’s cowardly and weak to say that we aren’t where we want to be because of other people’s thwarting of us in some way. There may be individual instances when it’s nobody’s fault but our own, but one would be amazed to find out how often our misery is caused at least partly, if not wholly, by others.

Similarly, the individualist capitalism of our day all too often attributes the great successes of those in our billionaire class to their own individual talent, while saying little (if anything at all) about the many people who helped those fat cats get so fat. Little attention is given to the people who were stepped on as those billionaires made their ascent to success, too.

The idea that the global poor ‘deserve’ to be as they are in ‘God’s just world’ because they are ‘lazy’ and ‘stupid’ is itself an intellectually lazy–and therefore stupid idea. The poor work very hard because they have no choice but to do so…otherwise, they’d starve. If they seem ‘stupid’ to you, consider the fact that they typically don’t have the money to get a proper education.

That the rich supposedly deserve to own millions or billions of dollars, while paying minimal if any taxes, because they ‘work so hard’ is also a dubious argument. There are only twenty-four hours in a day: how much ‘hard work’ can be done in a day for someone like Jeff Bezos…justifiably…to make $321 million per day?

It’s elementary Marxism (a materialist philosophy, as opposed to the idealism of the just-world fallacy) to know that capital is accumulated through the exploitation of labour, that is, the overworking and underpaying of workers–the talent and hard work of the capitalist, however present they may be, are if anything, more of a detail than a central element of his success, which is typically being born into at least some degree of affluence. Consider, on the other hand, the slavish suffering of Amazon workers, who have to piss in bottles so as not to be late with deliveries, and so Jeff could go up into space in his cock-rocket.

So undeserving, on both sides.

Did so many get plunged into poverty, often even greater poverty, over the past two years because they were ‘lazy’ or ‘stupid,’ or was it because of ill-advised lockdown policies and the exploitation of the pandemic (whose danger many of us still insist has always been exaggerated) by the capitalist class, causing the wealth of men like Bezos and Gates to go through the roof?

So undeserving, on both sides.

So many of us have lost work, going from fully employed to underemployed or completely jobless, and facing the danger of no longer being able to pay our rent or other basic necessities. Is this our fault? Not at all. The capitalist class–with its crises of overproduction and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, problems we have known about and been able to foresee happening for decades if not centuries–are the ones to blame, as they are for the exacerbation of this problem with their exploiting of Covid as described in the paragraph before my refrain:

So undeserving, on both sides.

The capitalist class thrives, while the rest of us suffer. These economic problems have been further exacerbated by the backfiring sanctions on Russia, and the refusal to allow Europe to use Nordstream 1 and 2, just to kowtow to the US imperialists in their anti-Russian agenda, means Europeans will have to endure a winter without gas, or to buy the much more expensive American gas. This, even though Putin is willing to boost gas supplies to Europe after repairs (following sabotage that, in all likelihood, was caused by the US).

[These macrocosmic, global injustices have their parallel on the microcosmic level, in families and other social groups tainted with narcissistic abuse. The narc enlists flying monkeys and other enablers to assist in bullying and scapegoating the chosen victim, typically a highly-sensitive person who sees through the falsely altruistic veneer of the narc, calls him or her out for it, then suffers the consequences, being publicly shamed for merely telling the truth. Meanwhile, the narc continues to be admired and is never suspected.]

So undeserving, on both sides.

Now, we can see, as I observed in my post, The Toxic Family of Imperialism, how the global media celebrates political villains while scapegoating political victims, as is happening with the dangerously escalating war between Russia and Ukraine, one that–contrary to popular belief–was anything but “unprovoked.” Many of us have been trying to tell the uninformed and propagandized that Russia’s intervention had been thoroughly provoked for a period of eight years since a 2014 US-backed coup d’état replaced the democratically elected, pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych with a government and military that includes Russian-hating Neo-Nazis. They make up small percentages, but they’re politically very influential.

These Ukrainian fascists have been discriminating against, physically attacking, and killing ethnic Russians in the Donbass region for eight years. Putin has tried to establish peace negotiations, first with the thwarted Minsk Accords, then in April of this year (thwarted by an intervention by BoJo), and recently with the Zelenskyy and American governments, both of which have refused to talk to Putin. Meanwhile, everyone demonizes Putin for merely trying to protect his country.

Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian Nazis are celebrated and regarded as heroes, and the US and NATO are perceived as ‘defending freedom and democracy,’ while they use this ridiculous slur on their scapegoat: “Putler.”

So undeserving, on both sides.

As I’ve said in previous posts, I don’t regard Putin as any kind of political ideal. He’s a bourgeois, reactionary politician who assuredly has his own secret, ulterior motives for wanting Russian control over the newly-annexed, formerly Ukrainian territories. But I see no reason not to regard the referenda results, of the people living there who mostly voted to join Russia, as legitimate. (I don’t trust the Western media bias against the Russian referenda; the West refused to legitimize them before they even got the results, as they were biased against the Crimea referendum.)

A great many of the people living there are ethnic Russians, and most eastern Ukrainians speak Russian (a language the Ukrainian Nazis wanted to prevent them from speaking): why would they want to stay in a country unprotected against Russophobic fascists? In any case, whatever faults are to be found in Putin are minuscule compared to those of the US/NATO warmongers (who have military bases all over the world, and are stealing oil and wheat from Syria, of which they’re controlling a third), who are pushing us all to the brink of WWIII and nuclear annihilation…all because the American ruling class refuses to accept the emerging multipolar world.

None of us is deserving of being killed in a nuclear holocaust.

Now, some of you who have read my posts on what I call The Three Unities, those being the Unity of Space, of Time, and of Action, may be thinking that, as they read this little rant of mine, I’m being hypocritical and self-contradicting. My discussion of The Three Unities, as well as my post, Beyond the Pairs of Opposites, in no way necessitates a belief in a just world. I’m not saying that the ups and downs of life are somehow equalized, and therefore ‘just.’ On the contrary, I stressed that the evils of the world “are all unqualified evil.” Good can flow from those evils as a dialectical response to them (and through human effort), though it far too often doesn’t.

Our negative belief systems (e.g., the illusion of a separate ego, black-and-white thinking, capitalist apologetics, bigotry, etc.) cause our problems to a far greater extent than the external difficulties of life. My Three Unities are an attempt to remedy those bad beliefs, not to deny the existence of evil.

Indeed, the belief in a just world is one of those very negative beliefs. The paradox of such a belief is that it leads to less empathy, or to no empathy at all, for those who suffer (i.e., victim blaming). Granted, to be fair, such a belief doesn’t absolutely lead to no empathy or to victim-blaming, but it does tend toward such an attitude.

On the other side of the coin, acknowledgment of the many injustices of the world tends to prod people towards trying to right those wrongs…again, I mean this as a tendency, allowing for many exceptions.

So, what should we think about the idea of a ‘just world’? It shouldn’t be conceived as already existing; it should rather be something to strive for, with all our hearts.

Don’t see a just world…make a just world!