‘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.

‘The Targeter,’ a Surreal Novel, Chapter Five

The ecstasy I’ve taken has amphetamine mixed into it, so there’s no way I’m going to fall asleep. Indeed, as I recline here on my sofa, I’m fidgeting and, so to speak, bouncing off the walls as I peak on the E. Still, sitting here with my eyes closed, and in the middle of a trip on a combination of E, weed, and ketamine, while also tipsy on my few glasses of bourbon, I’m finding myself slipping into a reverie…

***************

I am a little white elephant, floating in the clouds in the evening. The sun has almost set.

Looking down from heaven, I see the Queen of Sakia, all decked out in regal finery: she is wearing a red robe with goldwork embroidery on the neck and chest areas, as well as on the wrists of the sleeves and on the hem at the bottom. She looks gloriously beautiful.

She is reclining on a soft, purple couch and sleeping with her legs open, in all insouciance. Still hovering in the heavens, I decide to make my descent.

As I’m coming down, I find myself always fidgeting and twitching. A sparkling sensation is stimulating me from my head to my four feet, a sparkling augmented by that shiny gold embroidery on her, which shines, sparkles, and glows all the more as I get closer to her.

I’m shrinking in my descent. By the time I reach her open lap, I’m small enough to fit into her vagina. A hole in her white undergarment opens up so I, now the tiniest of elephants, can go inside the dark opening.

In her infinite black of a womb now, blacker than eyes squeezed shut, I float there, still fidgeting and twitching. Though I no longer see any shining gold, that sparkling feeling never ceases to thrill every inch of my body.

The sparkling slowly changes into a warm, humming sensation. As I feel this soft buzz, I can also feel the shape of my body changing. I’m getting thinner. My elephant ears are shrinking, as are my trunk and tusks. These all shrink to the point of disappearing.

My elephant legs are also shrinking, eventually getting to the point of transforming into the tiniest of feet and hands, which do little more than shake slightly. My head, almost as round as a ball, is about the same size as my torso. I’m attached to a placenta. No longer white, I’m a light, dull grey.

I am now a human fetus, of the development of one about two months in the womb. I black out for a moment.

I open my eyes briefly and see my living room, the TV turned off. I close my eyes again, and see only black.

It seems I’m opening my eyes a bit, for the blackness is only at the top and bottom of my field of vision, my eyelids’ borders, apparently. The light outside is blurry; I can barely make out anything at first.

I feel myself fidgeting and twitching some more, but now because I seem to be coming out of something dark, moist, and smelly. Fully emerged, I am soaking wet, naked, and freezing cold. The shock of it causes me to bawl. Someone wraps a blanket all over me, except for my face.

Aah…that feels much better.

My eyes focusing, I can see the flowers of a garden all around me. These flowers are of a variety of bright colours, including reds, yellows, pinks, purples, and whites.

I hear birds chirping, and I look up at the branches of trees above the flowers to see those birds in their nests. Funny thing: the birdsong sounds like a flute, a flute improvising variations on an Indian raga. I hear the glissandi of a violin, and the tapping of tablas, in the background, too.

I breathe in the fresh air, though I can also smell the smoke of a burning marijuana cigarette not too far away. I look up and see a cloudless blue sky beyond the trees’ foliage.

I feel myself being picked up and handed to that beautiful queen, my young, pretty mother, who is now wearing a dark green satin robe, again with goldwork embroidery along the hems. She puts me on her lap, caresses my head, and looks down at me with a loving smile.

I look to the side and see a man approaching, one perhaps ten years older than her. Wearing a gold crown and finery similar to hers, he must be the King of Sakia, my adoptive father. He sits beside her, looks down at me, and smiles.

An old man with a cane hobbles over to the three of us. He says, “This child will grow to be either the heir to your kingdom, to run the family business, or he will become a great revolutionary and spiritual leader!”

“A revolutionary?” the king shouts with indignation. “Not while I am king! I will do all that I must to prevent such a calamity to my kingdom and people!”

I close my eyes and see another void of black.

I open them again, and see myself inside a magnificent, luxurious palace, with gold lining the walls; between the gold lining is dark red or dark green, with paintings hung in the centre of each wall. These are portraits of the king and queen, as well as landscapes and scenes of glorious battles.

A nurse is breastfeeding me. I wonder where the queen is. My nurse is weeping, as is everyone else who walks by and looks at the queen’s portrait.

I hear one of the male servants say in sobs, “Only a week has passed by since the birth of the little prince over there, and our beloved Queen Maya is dead! What will King Sutton do without her?”

Another servant, a female, whispers, just loud enough for my baby’s ears to hear, “He will marry her twin sister, an abominable act of incest typical of royalty, with an abominable woman who I’m sure will give the prince no love at all…but what are we to do about it?”

‘The Targeter,’ a Surreal Novel, Chapter One

My name is Sid, I’m forty years old, and…we’re all going to die.

Now, I’m not talking about plain, old, ordinary mortality here. I mean that all of us on this planet are going to die, and quite soon.

I’m sitting in the living room of my apartment late tonight, and I can hear the sounds of machine gun fire and far-off explosions from outside my window. I’m watching the news on my TV as I roll a joint, my right hand an inch or two away from my half-drunk glass of Jim Beam and Coke.

While all of this is happening, the last thing I want to be is sober.

President Harris is giving a press conference on the progress that the US and NATO have made in engaging the ‘enemy’: the alliance led by Russia, China, and Iran. She keeps ruling out the use of nuclear weapons, but why should we believe a word from that cackling bitch?

For almost fifteen years, I’ve been teaching English as a second language here in China…though we shouldn’t expect the Western world ever to admit that this small island is a part of China. Many, if not most, of the locals here insist it’s a country rather than a Chinese province.

Why, you may be wondering, didn’t I, a Western expat, simply leave when I had the chance, before this island became a war zone? There are several reasons: one, this is my home, of which I have no other, me being estranged from my ‘family,’ the Gordimer family, owners of Sakia, a weapons manufacturing company. As a pacifist, I have no need of any other reason to disown that family, though I have many others, as I will go into later on.

Two, my skill set as an English teacher is very limited. What am I going to do for work in my predominantly English-speaking country, where so many others are snapping up almost all of the job opportunities, as scant as they already are? I’ll doubtless be a derelict back there.

Three, and most important of all, World War Three has been going on for the past several days. This island isn’t the only place being hit, as I can hear from outside my window. Russia is counter-attacking Europe and the UK. China is hitting not only us here, but also Australia, New Zealand, the US, and Canada with its long-range missiles. Iran is hitting the American military bases surrounding it. North Korea has its nuclear weapons ready to fire.

Nowhere is it safe; it especially won’t be when the nukes start flying…when they start flying.

So, you see, we’re all going to die, and quite soon.

Nothing is going to save me or anyone else. Not getting off the island, not praying to a God that so obviously doesn’t exist, and not any of the wisdom contained in all the books on the bookshelves I have surrounding my TV.

No, none of my translations of Buddhist scriptures, nor the inspiration of Gautama’s mythical biography, nor my three volumes of Das Kapital, my Communist Manifesto, my Grundrisse, my Lenin anthology, my essential works of Mao Zedong, my Dialectical and Historical Materialism, nor any of my books by Melanie Klein, WRD Fairbairn, DW Winnicott, Wilfred R Bion, Heinz Kohut, or Jacques Lacan will help me.

My only escape will be a mental one, a manic defence, assisted by booze, marijuana, ecstasy pills, and a line or two of ketamine.

Yes, we, the lowly, wretched people of the Earth, are the targeted. It’s as though each of us has had a bullseye painted on his or her chest. If the bullets and conventional bombs don’t hit us, the nukes will. And even if, by some miracle, we manage to survive all of that, then the destruction of the Earth through climate change will kill us all.

If only we the people could target all the evils of the world, hit them like marksmen, and save humanity from itself. If only we ‘targeters,’ if you will, could have gone thus and stopped the warmongers from instigating what’s now the irreversible: the destruction of all life on this planet.

The targeter, having thus gone to his target, not missing the mark, would replace the error of the warmongers’ ways with the truth: namely, that those who are able should give to those in need; that ego is an illusion and we all are one; and that to harm others is to harm ourselves.

I can only dream of such a cure for the world, though. It’s already too late for us all. I hear the noisy proof of our doom from outside my window, and from the quacking of the American president on my TV.

So, in my despair, I’m using alcohol and drugs to numb my pain. If I can’t escape in body, I’ll do so in mind. May I, being a target, be too stoned to feel the incineration of my body when the time comes. May the drug trip I’m about to go on take me on a surreal journey somewhere far away, somewhere peaceful, so I won’t care when I finally die.

Wine

In vino veritas,
but wine can
also be
a way
out
of
the
sad truth trapping us.

Dipsomania
craves a
high to
fend
off
the
low of
depression.

There is the high of
drink and drugs,
and there’s the
opium
of
the
toiling masses,

the wine that one imagines
to be transubstantiated
into the blood of Him
who had blue water
turn into a
red
and
tasty wedding beverage.

We cannot change
our blue to red
by wine gods
or
by
the
Word of God’s red blood.

Changing blue to red is not a
matter of Spirit or spirits.
Red bourgeois blood
must be spilled
so
we
can
have a red state for all the people.

Analysis of ‘Drugstore Cowboy’

Drugstore Cowboy is a 1989 crime drama directed by Gus Van Sant (his second film as director) and written by him and Daniel Yost, based on the autobiographical novel of the same name by James Fogle. The film stars Matt Dillon, with Kelly Lynch, Heather Graham, James LeGros, James Remar, and William S. Burroughs.

The film was widely acclaimed by critics. Siskel and Ebert included it on their top ten lists for movies in 1989. Rotten Tomatoes has given it a rare score of 100%, based on 28 reviews.

Tom Waits was Van Sant’s original choice to play the lead, but the finance company would not support his choice. Dillon, instead, won the Independent Spirit Award for playing the lead. Drugstore Cowboy was filmed mainly around Portland, Oregon. The soundtrack music has songs contemporaneous with the 1971 setting.

Here is a link to quotes from the film.

The movie begins with a shot of Bob Hughes (Dillon), a 26-year-old junkie and thief of pharmacies/hospitals, in an ambulance with a smile on his face. We will see him here again at the end of the movie.

He and the three other people in his group of pharmaceutical thieves do what they do as, of course, an escape from the miseries of life, comparable to the escape that religion offers. Recall Marx’s words: “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” (Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, from the introduction)

Getting high is the foursome’s religious ecstasy. Drugs are their sacraments: in liquid form, the transubstantiated blood of Christ; in pill form, they are the Host wafers.

So, this quartet of drug addicts/thieves is allegorically representative of religious people, since both groups have escape from life’s frustrations as their goal. As I will attempt to show, parallels of the druggie life with that of the religious can be found in subtle, and not so subtle, manifestations throughout the film.

The thieves go into a drugstore one by one, as if they aren’t together. Nadine (Graham) suddenly pretends to have an epileptic seizure and falls on the floor, shaking violently. It’s as if she were possessed of demons. This distraction allows Bob to sneak into the back of the store and steal as many pharmaceuticals as he can get his hands on, while Dianne (Lynch) tries to keep the pharmacist from going to the back to call an ambulance.

When Bob has all the drugs he can get, and he, Dianne, and Rick (LeGros) leave the store, Nadine is suddenly better. She simply gets up and walks out of the drugstore, too, with all the people who watched the incident looking at her incredulously. Yet why wouldn’t she just get up and leave? They have their drugs, their religious ecstasy and salvation, so she has experienced a miraculous ‘faith healing.’ As Christ said, “Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk.” (Mark 2:9)

Now, these four have broken the law, but remember what Paul said about salvation by grace, as opposed to adherence to the law: “a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16). In accordance with the antinomian distortion of this idea, of all the swearing we hear coming from their mouths, blasphemies are notably frequent. We hear “Goddamn,” “Jesus,” and “Christ” because God is Who they have unconsciously on their minds.

Having returned to their home, Bob tells the other three to act as if they’d just come back from church. Well, of course: a drugstore, home of their sacraments, is church. During that car ride home, Bob has put some of the drugs into his veins and has vividly described the pleasure they give him, like receiving God’s grace, it seems. He says, “Your worst enemy–he wasn’t so bad.” Recall in this connection what Christ said” “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)

When Bob imagines “blues and Dilaudid in such great amounts on the spoon that it would literally be overflowing,” we’re reminded of Psalm 23: “My cup runneth over.” Bob says, “You could do no wrong” while on drugs, for such is the effect of sanctifying grace as brought on by the sacramental pharmaceuticals.

Inside their home, we see shots of all the pills they’ve stolen, and immediately after those, a shot of a small figurine on a side table of what must be the Virgin Mary. A fitting juxtaposition of images, for immediately after that shot, we return to close-up shots of drugs–more pills, and a needle Bob’s getting ready for Rick to shoot up.

Another interesting parallel that can be made between substance abusers and the religiously devout is the two groups’ stance on sex. Paul held chastity as a moral ideal, only assenting to marriage for other Christians by necessity–hence, the celibate Catholic priesthood. In the case of drug addicts like Bob, it is well known that the men suffer a depressed sex drive, including erectile dysfunction.

Small wonder Dianne, as beautiful as she is, gets so frustrated with her husband Bob, asking that if he’s so hot (actually, he’s hot to steal more drugs!), why won’t he just throw her on the bed and make love to her. Later, she tries to turn him on by undressing and dancing to music, but he’s so high that, to her chagrin, he shows no interest in sex. For that matter, we never see the other couple, Rick and Nadine, as attractive as she is, getting it on, either.

Indeed, their home is like a coed convent.

Soon enough, the police, led by Detective Gentry (Remar) and having been tipped off about the theft in the drugstore, raid the junkies’ home and wreck the place in an unsuccessful search for the stolen drugs (actually, Dianne has hidden them in a hole dug outside). Just as Christians, assumed to have engaged in such vices as cannibalism (a far-too-literal interpretation of the Eucharist), were persecuted by the Roman authorities in the first century AD, so are the quartet of dope fiends harassed by the cops. Gentry’s name aptly sounds like a near-pun on Gentile.

Bob needs to go to his mom’s house to get some clothes, but she feels totally estranged from her son and daughter-in-law for their drug habit. One is reminded of when Jesus said that faith in Him would set the believers against their families (Luke 12:51-53)

Bob et al have to find a new home to get away from Gentry, and they find the “Josephine apartments.” Why they have this name is lost on Bob and Rick, the latter saying that the man who rented it is named “Dale.” Perhaps the feminized “Josephine” is a fusion of Joseph and Mary, which is fitting given the aforementioned figurine of Mary found in their first place.

In the new place, Nadine makes the faux pas of asking if they can get a dog, the mere mentioning of which in Bob’s superstitious mind causes a hex that makes stealing drugs dangerously bad luck for a month. One is reminded, in this connection, of Matthew 7:6, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”

We learn of how Bob and Dianne have come to regard dogs, and even the mere discussion of them, as bad luck. The husband and wife owned a dog that, out of its love and loyalty to them, found its way home after being separated from them during a robbery gone wrong, and the police followed the dog home. The police put Bob and Dianne in jail for it.

As we can see, giving what’s holy–for Bob and Dianne, their pursuit of the Holy Grail of drugs–to their dog has made it turn against them and rend them to pieces, so to speak.

The worst hex that can be brought onto Bob, though, is a hat placed on a bed, based again on his bad experience with this cause of ill fortune. Why is leaving a hat on a bed so catastrophic for Bob, though? Why would such a mundane thing put a hex of at least fifteen years on him, with such risks as prison or even death?

I believe a hat, with its round base going over the wearer’s head, represents a halo, which in turn represents holiness (in these drug addicts’ conception of ‘spiritual bliss,’ mind you). The bed represents sex, something both the drug abuser and religiously devout avoid, as I explained above. Placing a hat on a bed thus is symbolic of profaning the spiritual, of the devout breaking his vow of chastity and celibacy.

A hat on a bed is also symbolic of the mixing of the divine, upper world with the profane, lower world, which causes the calamities we read about in the primordial narratives of the first several chapters of Genesis. A hat goes on the head, seat of the mind, reason, and therefore spirit. The body lies on a bed. The juxtaposing of a hat and a bed, therefore, is symbolic of making the mind focus on carnal things–thus, it is bad luck.

Now, I keep comparing Bob et al to spiritual, religious types, and while the ideal for such people is to “love thy neighbour as thyself,” there is of course a huge abyss separating this ideal and the average religious person’s ability and willingness to live up to the ideal. Bob and Dianne are frequently mean to poor Nadine, who is increasingly getting afraid of being abandoned by them one day.

Knowing Gentry is doing a stakeout by Bob’s apartment, he figures out a way to get rid of the detective and his spying cops. He writes a letter–how like Paul writing an epistle!–to trick the cops into spying up in the window of a neighbour’s apartment, provoking the man living there to get his rifle and shoot at the cops; for Bob has led his neighbour to believe the spying cop up at the window is a peeping Tom!

Bob, Dianne, Rick, and Nadine all sit by their window to watch the neighbour shoot the cop peeping in his window. Bob sets it up as some fun entertainment for himself and his druggie friends. Since I’m comparing these dope fiends to religious types, this entertaining show of watching the evil cops getting their comeuppance is rather like the entertainment churchgoers get watching their preacher dramatically describe and narrate how the sinners of the world will get what’s coming to them on Judgement Day.

Gentry, of course, is furious with Bob the next day, furious about his fellow cop getting injured, and he gives Bob his own comeuppance with several punches to Bob’s gut.

To deal with their hex and get away from Gentry, Bob et al go “crossroading.” During the ride, we hear “Israelites,” by Desmond Dekker and The Aces. This song again involves a comparison between the use of drugs and religion, for it is a reggae song about the struggles of Rastafarians (for whom the smoking of cannabis is a sacrament), a religious group associated in the song with the Israelites, who in a life of crime don’t wish “to end up like Bonnie and Clyde.” The song is heard again during the end credits.

Bob robs a drugstore with an open transom, and gets vials of pure powdered Dilaudid. Encouraged by this treasure trove find, Bob convinces the group to help him rip off a hospital.

The robbing of the hospital is far less successful. In his attempt to evade capture by the staff, Bob gets a bloody cut on his forehead, which in his, so to speak, ‘imitation of Christ,’ is symbolic of the crown of thorns.

Meanwhile, the abuse Nadine is suffering from Bob is pushing her to the breaking point. She calls him a “hog,” reminding us not to cast our pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6). By the time he returns to the motel the quartet is staying at, Bob discovers what Rick and Dianne have already found: Nadine, dead of an overdose of Dilaudid. She’s also left her hat on her bed, to spite Bob.

Her suicide–having put the other three in serious danger of being charged with her death, since as Bob says, it’s “paramount [sic] to a murder beef,” combined with the hex of the hat on the bed–is therefore her betrayal of them. She is the Judas of this story; Bob calls her a “conniving little bitch.” Her suicide also reminds us of that of Judas (Matthew 27:5).

What’s worse, the three of them must give up their room to some people involved in a sheriff’s convention. Bob is so scared that, as we understand later in the film when he explains himself to Dianne, he prays to God to keep him from being sent to prison for Nadine’s death. In return, Bob promises to God that he’ll give up the junkie life, get on the methadone treatment program, and live a virtuous life.

His switch from the escape of drugs to the crutch of prayer is much of what solidifies my interpretation of the film as the junkie life being allegorical of the religious life. His fear during this moment is like Christ praying in Gethsemane; he would have God take this cup from him, but according to God’s will, not Bob’s (Matthew 26:36-42).

Bob manages to get Nadine’s body out of the motel without suspicion, then buried safely. Now he must fulfill his part of the deal with God: give up the drugs.

On the 21-day methadone program in Portland, Bob stays in a hotel named, significantly, St. Francis. He explains to a member of the staff of a rehabilitation centre that a junkie uses dope “to relieve the pressures of their everyday life, like having to tie their shoes.” Yes, even something as simple as that can be too irritating to bear sometimes.

Of course, if we had a socialist system that relieved us of those everyday pressures, providing a social safety net, full employment, free healthcare and education, people wouldn’t need to resort to escaping through drugs or religion, because alienation would be a dwindling problem at worst. But I digress…

Bob soon meets a former priest named Tom (Burroughs), a man whose religion hadn’t provided a sufficient escape, so like Bob, Tom gave in to drug addiction, too. Again, in Tom we see one of the strongest links between drug abuse and religion in this film. Having junkie/author William S. Burroughs, of all people, to play Tom only drives the point home even harder.

Bob gets a job drilling holes that bolts fit into. This drilling of holes suggests the driving of nails through Christ’s hands and feet into the Cross. I’m reminded of how Mel Gibson had himself filmed driving a nail into Christ’s hand in The Passion of the Christ. The Christian convert tries to remind himself…tries, at least…to remind himself that he, though saved, is still a sinner.

So Bob now has an ordinary, boring, working-class job. How long can he go without feeling the itch to escape back into the world of getting high? He himself told the rehabilitation centre employee that no one can ever talk a junkie out of doing drugs.

Temptation arrives in the form of beautiful Dianne, who of course has no intention of ever stopping her drug habit. She gives him a package of drugs with which she hopes to lure him back into the life, but like Jesus in the wilderness, he refuses the Devil’s temptations (Luke 4:8). He’d like to have her back, but she doesn’t want to be straight.

It’s here that he tells her of his praying to God to save him from jail. He says that in his new, straight life, he has hopes of something good happening to him. No such luck with her.

He gives the package of drugs, which include some Dilaudid, to Tom, who says that Bob can get an indulgence for it. Somehow, that punk David gets wind of Bob getting the drugs; combine this knowledge with the anger David feels towards Bob for having helped a junkie kid get away without paying for drugs David gave him, and he has more than enough motivation to get revenge on Bob and steal that package of drugs from him.

Having hidden in Bob’s apartment and wearing masks, David and his punk accomplice assault Bob, kicking the shit out of him. They demand that he give them those drugs, which he of course no longer has. He’s done nothing wrong, as Pilate observed of Jesus (Matthew 27:23). Also like Jesus, Bob must go through his own violent ordeal.

David ends Bob’s ‘passion,’ if you will, by shooting him. The bullet hole is like the spear in Christ’s side (John 19:34). Bob is left for dead, but a neighbour calls for help in time, so he’s taken out on a stretcher into an ambulance, just where we found him smiling in that opening shot at the beginning of the film.

Gentry arrives, wondering if the one who shot Bob was the cop who got shot at by the angry neighbour for the ‘peeping Tom’ incident. Gentry has earlier warned Bob that this angry cop, now demoted to traffic duty, has been seeking revenge on Bob. Just as Christ made enemies among both the Roman and Jewish authorities, so has Bob made enemies among both the police and his fellow junkies.

Bob tells Gentry that “the hat” is what attacked him. Gentry thinks “The Hat” is the nickname of some dope fiend/criminal who had a falling-out with Bob, but what Bob means is that, having almost been killed, he’s been freed of the hex of the hat on the bed. Like Christ’s death on the Cross as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28), Bob’s shooting has saved him from his sins.

As an ‘imitator of Christ,’ Bob has just shared in Christ’s suffering (Philippians 3:10). He got an ‘indulgence’ from Tom, so Bob is free to do drugs again! I suspect that he hasn’t been mortally wounded, so with his soon-to-come return to the junkie life, he’s experienced a kind of death and resurrection. He’s also being taken to a hospital, where they’ll give him such drugs as morphine for his pain. He’s going to “the fattest pharmacy in town.”

He’s going to drug heaven, to sit at the right hand of God the Pharma.

Boats

The
small
boats
exclude, give
salvation
to few.

The
large
boats
are much more inclusive.
They will eventually
provide room for
all the world.

We
can
not
save only the
few, the rest
drowning.

We
can
not
rescue everyone, all
at one time, either,
with not enough
room onboard.

So
all
our
boat can do for
now is start
smaller,

and
grow
into
a bigger boat. One big
country of permanent
evolution, until the
whole world

is
one
all-
inclusive ark of dry
salvation for us all,
shielding us from
the big Flood.

Analysis of ‘Gesang der Jünglinge’

I: Introduction

Gesang der Jünglinge (“Song of the Youths”) is a 1955-1956 electronic music piece by avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. It was realized in the Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) studio in Cologne. The vocal parts were sung by then-12-year-old Josef Protschka. The piece is exactly 13 minutes, fourteen seconds long.

Ryan Simms called it “the first masterpiece of electronic music,” and Pascal Decroupet and Elena Ungeheuer called it “an opus, in the most emphatic sense of the term.” The work has influenced such musicians as the Beatles (“Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Revolution 9“; Stockhausen’s face is also seen on the Sgt. Pepper album) and Frank Zappa (check out his own electronic sound montage experimentation on We’re Only In It for the Money).

Gesang der Jünglinge is also an early example of the use of spatial effects in music; it was originally meant to be played in five-channel sound, but this was reduced to four, then mixed to mono and later to stereo for commercial recording release. Similarly, it was originally meant to have seven sections, but it was truncated to six due to time constraints.

Here is the composition (with Kontakte, from the record I bought in my late teens, introducing me to Stockhausen’s music), and here is the analysis of Gesang der Jünglinge by Samuel Andreyev, to whom I owe a huge debt for my own analysis of the work.

In 1954, Stockhausen wanted to compose a mass for electronic sounds and voices. He was hoping to have the piece played in the Cologne Cathedral, but his request for permission was refused on the grounds that having loudspeakers in a church would be inappropriate. So instead of composing the mass, Stockhausen created Gesang der Jünglinge.

II: Sound Continua and the Unity of Opposites

The three types of material used to make the electronic sounds are sine tones, impulses or “clicks” (i.e., short, staccato-like sounds), and filtered white noise. Paralleled to these electronically generated sounds are three kinds of sound made with the recorded voice of the boy soprano: vowels (corresponding with the sine tones), fricatives and sibilants (corresponding with the filtered noise), and plosives (corresponding with the impulses). Each of these goes on a continuum ranging from the purest or simplest to the most complex.

What’s particularly fascinating about Stockhausen’s meticulous manipulating of these sound continua (structured statistically) is how he managed to make seamless links between vocal and electronic sounds, as well as seamless links between, on the one hand, the electronic sounds–from sine tones to impulsions to filtered white noise–and, on the other hand, the vocal sounds–from vowels to fricatives/sibilants to plosive consonants.

Gesang der Jünglinge, therefore, demonstrates in musical form the unity between the opposing worlds of electronically generated sound and the sounds of the human voice (as recorded and manipulated in the manner of musique concrète). Added to this unity in diversity is Stockhausen’s total organization of all the other musical parameters, total serialism, which is an expansion of Arnold Schoenberg‘s twelve-tone technique (the serializing of the twelve semitones) to a formal ordering of such elements as frequencies, durations, timbres, etc. To hear such music, it might sound chaotic, but nothing could be more precisely organized; thus, through his use of total serialism, Stockhausen also achieved the paradoxical unity of “chaos” and order.

III: Catholic Mysticism

Now, a discussion of the unity of opposites as manifested in this composition can only meaningfully be approached through an acknowledging of Stockhausen’s sense of Catholic mysticism. This means addressing the text sung by young Protschka, which is derived from Song of the Three Children, verses 35-51, from the Apocrypha. In the Bible, the entire set of verses is meant to follow the Book of Daniel, chapter three, which tells the story of three young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who are thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to bow to a giant, golden idol of King Nebuchadnezzar; God saves them from the flames, so they sing praises to Him.

Original text in German: 

Preiset (Jubelt) den(m) Herrn, ihr Werke alle des Hernn—
lobt ihn und über alles erhebt ihn in Ewigkeit.

Preiset den Herrn, ihr Engel des Herrn—
preiset den Herrn, ihr Himmel droben.

Preiset den Herrn, ihr Wasser alle, die über den Himmeln sind—
preiset den Herrn, ihr Scharen alle des Herrn.

Preiset den Herrn, Sonne und Mond—
preiset den Herrn, des Himmels Sterne.

Preiset den Herrn, aller Regen und Tau—
preiset den Herrn, alle Winde.

Preiset den Herrn, Feuer und Sommersglut—
preiset den Herrn, Kälte und starrer Winter.

Preiset den Herrn, Tau und des Regens Fall—
preiset den Herrn, Eis und Frost.

Preiset den Herrn, Reif und Schnee—
preiset den Herrn, Nächte und Tage.

Preiset den Herrn, Licht und Dunkel—
preiset den Herrn, Blitze und Wolken.
Original text in English: 

O all ye works of the Lord—
praise (exalt) ye the Lord above all forever.

O ye angels of the Lord, praise ye the Lord—
O ye heavens, praise ye the Lord.

O all ye waters that are above heaven, praise ye the Lord—
O all ye hosts of the Lord, praise ye the Lord.

O ye sun and moon, praise ye the Lord—
O ye stars of heaven, praise ye the Lord.

O every shower and dew, praise ye the Lord—
O all ye winds, praise ye the Lord.

O ye fire and summer’s heat, praise ye the Lord—
O ye cold and hard winter, praise ye the Lord.

O ye dew and fall of rain, praise ye the Lord—
O ye ice and frost, praise ye the Lord.

O ye hoar frost and snow, praise ye the Lord—
O ye nights and days, praise ye the Lord.

O ye light and darkness, praise ye the Lord—
O ye lightning and clouds, praise ye the Lord.

IV: Garbled Words

Now, you wouldn’t know that this text was being sung (apart from the obvious refrain, Preiset den Herrn, or “Praise the Lord,” which is heard at least once in all six sections of the piece) to hear how it’s presented in the recording, with neither the printed text in front of you nor fluency in German. These varying levels of comprehensibility vs incomprehensibility–seven, to be exact, which range from the one extreme to the other– are due to Stockhausen’s having cut up the text into such fragments as scrambled words, scrambled syllables, and even scrambled phonemes.

His clever use of such permutations of vocal sounds was the result of his study of phonetics with Werner Meyer-Eppler at the University of Bonn. The vocal sound permutations, recall, have been placed on continua paralleling analogous electronic sounds, to get that seamless sense of transition from the former kinds of sounds to the latter, and vice versa. So in the juxtaposition of fragmented words, syllables, and phonemes with these seamless transitions between vocal and electronic sounds, we have yet another instance of the unity of opposites in Gesang der Jünglinge, here a unity of brokenness and smoothness.

V: The Unity of Opposites in the Biblical Story

To explore further this idea of the unity of opposites, let’s recall the story. The three youths have angered the king by refusing to bow before his idol, so he has them thrown into the fiery furnace to be burned alive. Their faith in God, however, saves them, and so though they’re engulfed in the flames, they are completely unscathed. They emerge praising God in the manner shown in the text above.

What’s interesting about them being thrown into a fiery furnace is how the image immediately invites comparison to being thrown into hell, into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 19:20, 20:10, 20:1415, and 21:8). Damnation by faith in God, or salvation by blaspheming, as it were, the Neo-Babylonian god-king? Deliverance from the flames while sitting among them? These paradoxes of heaven in hell, and of hell in heaven, are pregnant with meaning.

Connected with these paradoxes in the story is one manifested in the vocal harmony at one point in the first section of Gesang der Jünglinge. We hear the recordings of Protschka singing a dense chord of the word Ihn (“Him,” referring to God). This chord is sustained for a while, though some of the notes fade in and out, at the end with only two left in the interval of the tritone. Stockhausen would have known that the tritone is the diabolus in musica, the “devil in music,” and he therefore at least unconsciously had Ihn, for God, represented musically this way. Is God the Devil? I’m sure he never meant to blaspheme the object of his religious devotion, but my point is that, in this moment, Stockhausen the mystic was acknowledging, if only unconsciously, more spiritual paradoxes. Like heaven in hell, it’s more of the unity of opposites.

It shouldn’t be too shocking to speak of God having both good and evil sides. After all, Isaiah 45:7 says, “I form the light and create darkness: I make peace, and I create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” We can connect this verse with the last part of the text Stockhausen uses in Gesang der Jünglinge, which says, Preiset den Herrn, Licht und Dunkel, or “Praise the Lord, light and darkness.” In the text, the three youths sing of how everything God has created should praise Him. Such elements include the light and the dark…symbolically, good and evil.

VI: Resolving the Paradoxes

We must now try to make sense of these paradoxes, to sublate the dialectical contradictions of heaven and hell, God and Satan, salvation and damnation. To do this, we must be able to imagine the mental state of the three youths as they are being taken to the fiery furnace.

They may have righteousness and conviction of their belief in God, but none of this means that they’re going into the fiery furnace with smiles on their faces and relaxed heartbeats. We mustn’t assume they’re in a state of total blissful calm. They have faith in God…but is their faith sufficient to please Him? They have no way of being sure of this, and as Paul wrote, “he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23)

There’s always some doubt, even among the most faithful. Just as all of the sounds used in Gesang der Jünglinge are on continua, so are faith and doubt on a continuum. The three youths would have feared that any doubt in their minds, however small, might have been enough to cause God to abandon them in the flames. Contemplation of such a possibility must have been terrifying to them; such terror is part of the true test of faith.

This fear would have been their hell in the flames; and yet when they realized that God wasn’t letting the fire burn them, they’d experienced heaven in the metaphorical hell of the fiery furnace. Danna Nolan Fewell said, “we hoped for deliverance from the fire; we had not expected deliverance within the fire […] God doesn’t extinguish the fire but joins them in it.” (Danna Nolan Fewell) So in this moment, we have heaven in hell, salvation in damnation, and even God in Satan’s (metaphorical) dwelling. Recall that among the trio of singing youths is a fourth “like a son of God,” suggesting an angelic presence in that hellish dwelling.

VII: Stockhausen’s Suffering

Stockhausen was inspired by these Biblical texts because he found himself identifying with the three youths. Just as they suffered and prevailed, so had he, though of course in very different ways.

WWII under the Nazi regime was difficult for young Karlheinz in many ways. His mother, having suffered from mental health issues, was deemed a “useless eater” by the Nazis, and therefore forcibly euthanized by them through Aktion T4. Later, his father, as a soldier during the war, was killed. Perhaps most traumatic of all, as a youth during WWII young Karlheinz had to do work as a stretcher bearer in Bedburg; he found himself often in close contact with cadavers!

Apart from these trying experiences in the war, Stockhausen would later have to endure negative receptions of his experimental, and therefore challenging, music. Still, he grew from all of these difficulties and became a stronger man, in his estimation, because of them. In these ways, he could be said to have gone through his own fiery furnace, and since then his faith in God grew stronger, and he sang to God, in his own way, through not only Gesang der Jünglinge but also such other mystical musical works as his gargantuan opera cycle, Licht, of which a full performance requires no less than 29 hours.

VIII: Heaven in Hell

To get back to my point about the paradox of heaven in hell, one way we can interpret the meaning, or lack thereof, in Stockhausen’s cutting up of the text into fragments of words, syllables, and phonemes is to think of the resulting extents of incomprehensibility as showing the difficulty, or impossibility, of verbalizing a traumatic experience. As I said above, even though the three youths are physically unharmed, they are still terrified by the possibility of being so harmed.

This inability to put trauma into words is part of what Lacan was talking about in his conception of the Real. The psychology of the Real is an inexpressible experience of non-differentiation. Gesang der Jünglinge achieves, by means of those sound continua I described above, a fluid sense of unity, a sense of non-differentiation between vocal and electronic sound.

Now, as I’ve written elsewhere, the non-differentiated unity that Lacan called the Real is not necessarily all hellish and traumatic. Like Wilfred Bion‘s O, this unity can be a heavenly, blissful experience, depending on one’s attitude to it. The difference lies in whether or not one is capable of, or willing to accept, a giving up of one’s ego. The three youths, as I see it, could and would give up that attachment, and so they were saved.

Still, it was a terrifying experience for them, as Stockhausen’s experiences of WWII were for him, so even though the youths are singing God’s praises through the harmonized chorus of Protschka’s angelic, overdubbed voice, the voice of a child (recall Luke 18:17), the recent terror of the fire makes articulation of those praises next to impossible, save Preiset den Herrn.

IX: Heaven and Hell in the Music

Another way to sublate the thesis (heaven) with its negation (fiery furnace as metaphorical hell) is to consider a number of ascending and descending electronic motions in the piece, as well as combinations of such ascents and descents. Samuel Andreyev, in his analysis (link above in the introduction), mentions these at around 30:00-31:08 in his video.

These ascending/descending impulse complexes can be seen to symbolize movements up to heaven or descents to hell (literal or figurative). Section A of the piece, going from 0:00 to 1:10, begins with an ascending impulse complex, a swarm-like flurry of impulsions of varying pitches, but nonetheless moving in an upward path.

At the apex of this ascension, arriving at heaven, so to speak, we hear the angelic voice of the boy soprano singing jubelt (“exalt”), the two syllables sung in a descending perfect fourth. Immediately before this word, though, we hear two soft impulsions of an ascending tritone–again, the diabolus in musica juxtaposed with an angelic exalting of God.

Next comes a chorus of overdubs of the boy’s voice, quite unintelligible except for the word alles, and interrupted twice by electronic sounds. Then we hear jubelt Ihn (“exalt Him”), the syllables sung in an ascending minor third (or is it a microtone between that interval and a major second?) and a descending minor ninth. Section A ends with that dense chord in which the sustained Ihn is sung, as discussed above: such a complex chord with notes fading in and out, and ending with a soft fadeout of the aforementioned tritone. Ihn–God, that is–is a complex, mysterious being, requiring no less than an extremely complex mass of sound to represent Him.

Early in Section B, we clearly hear Preiset den Herrn (the singing of Herrn ending with a descending tritone…that diabolus again!). We can also make out the word Scharen (“hosts”). Preiset den Herrn is soon heard again, with the same notes as before…including that tritone, and bear in mind that obvious instances of repetition are rare in Gesang der Jünglinge.

X: Juxtaposed Opposites in the Text

Though it is uncertain if the apocryphal Biblical text, on which Stockhausen’s German translation is based, was originally composed in Hebrew or Aramaic, since what exists of it is only in Greek, Syriac, or Latin translations, it does nonetheless have the hallmarks of ancient Hebrew Biblical poetry, namely, its use of parallelism (e.g., the “praise ye the Lord” refrain; also, “sun and moon” with “stars of heaven,” “O every shower and dew” with “O all ye winds”; and parallels of opposition, such as “fire and summer’s heat” with “cold and hard winter,” “dew and fall of rain” with “ice and frost,” and “nights and days” with “light and darkness”). [See also Carmi, pages 58-59.]

These oppositions are of particular interest in how they support my interpretation of Gesang der Jünglinge as a musical, mystical unifying of opposites. Sometimes, such pairings of opposites can be deemed merisms, meant to express the idea of not only the two extremes, but also everything in between. Noteworthy Biblical examples of this are in the early chapters of Genesis (e.g., “God created the heaven and earth,” meaning He created the whole universe; or “the tree of knowledge of good and evil” meaning knowledge of everything, that is, from the best to the worst). It would thus be reasonable to assume that the text’s references to extreme winter and summer weather are merisms for all the seasons of the year, from hottest to coldest; and “light and darkness” includes all the tints and shades in between–unifying continua of opposites.

These unifying continua of opposites in the text are, of course, paralleled in those in the musical structure and in those ranging back and forth between vocal and electronic sound. For this reason, it’s logical to regard the pairs of opposites in the text as merisms.

XI: The Electronic Sounds as Fire

Now, if Protschka’s superimposed vocal recordings are meant to represent the three youths, then it’s reasonable to hear the electronic sounds as symbolic of the boys’ surroundings: remember that the four speakers playing the music surround the audience, making them feel as if they are with the three youths in the fiery furnace.

These surroundings that the electronic sounds represent include the metallic casing of the furnace (i.e., some of the electronic sounds suggest the resonant ringing of voices bouncing off the metal–see 2:28-2:32 of this recording for a brief example of what I mean). The resonance of the boys’ voices inside the furnace can also be heard through the use of reverb on Protschka’s voice from time to time. And, most importantly, the electronic sounds can represent the sound of the flames.

Now, the electronic sounds don’t generally imitate the crackling sound of fire; I’d say, instead, that they simply represent it. As for those ascending and descending impulse complexes, they do tend to have a bubbling sound, suggestive of boiling liquids, and therefore associative with scalding heat.

To bring out this association more clearly, recall how, in the middle of the piece (about 6:20-6:40 in this recording), Protschka’s voice, one voice alone, sings the disjointed syllables of Kälte und starer Winter (“cold and hard winter”), with largely no electronic accompaniment at all (especially from und onwards), suggesting the loneliness and desolation of winter. No heat.

XII: On the Unity of Opposites…Again

The opposites of Sonne und Mond (“sun and moon”) are heard clearly, as are those of aller Regen und Tau (“every shower and dew”). These are the opposite lights of nights and days (Nächte und Tage, heard later; and while the moon isn’t technically a light, back in Biblical times, it would have been regarded as a “lesser light“), and of great waters above (rain) and lesser waters below (dew).

We can also clearly hear the opposites of Feuer und Sommersglut (“fire and summer’s heat”), as against the above-mentioned Kälte und starer Winter. Tau und des Regens Fall (“dew and rainfall”), as opposing Eis und Frost (“ice and frost”), are also heard clearly; melted vs frozen water. I can make out Dunkel (“darkness”) but not Licht (“light”); still, in all of these opposites generally, we have plenty of their implied unity via juxtaposition.

Now, another point should be made about this unity of opposites, be it implied or explicit. Though Christianity is generally understood to be dualistic in nature (a more moderate dualism than that of Gnosticism or especially Manichaeism, but sufficiently so in a general sense), none of this precludes the possibility, at least, of unifying these dualities while remaining essentially Christian. Stockhausen’s Catholicism could allow this without him having to make any syncretist forays into, say, Eastern mysticism. There are the dualisms of God vs Satan, good vs evil, and the spirit vs the flesh, but as George K Haggett says in his blog post on Gesang der Jünglinge, “In Catholic theology, the soul–a person’s incorporeal essence–is not as dichotomized from the body as it might be in popular imagination.”

Recall that Christ came and died in the flesh; the more radically dualistic Gnostics and Manichaeans were the ones who could not accept His having been crucified, and so they followed an alternative tradition of someone else being substituted for Him on the Cross, a tradition that even appeared in the Koran (see also note 663 in Abdullah Yusuf Ali‘s translation). Furthermore, at Mass, one takes Communion, eating the transubstantiated body of Christ.

In the concluding paragraph of Haggett’s blog post, he says, “the body and the soul are a one-ness, the more-than-integrated sacred and profane; they are sanctified flesh and blood, both breathed into life and breathing through it.” Recall that God breathed a very physical breath into Adam, and he became a living soul. (Genesis 2:7)

XIII: Conclusion: What Can This Piece Mean for a Secular Audience?

The unity of body and soul can be extended to a unity of materialist and idealist dialectics, too. This leads our discussion in a new direction: the religious, spiritual meaning of Gesang der Jünglinge has been dealt with; but is there a way this piece of music can be relevant to a secular audience? I believe there is.

Now, before I go into my secular interpretation of the piece, it should be acknowledged that Stockhausen was essentially a liberal; he was no staunch leftist by any stretch of the imagination. His controversial remarks about 9/11 may have angered conservatives, but his quip that the attacks were “the greatest work of art that exists for the whole Cosmos” was misunderstood (as a work of art of Lucifer, he meant a great evil work of art). Still, his hostility to Nazi imperialism is enough, I think, to warrant the interpretation below; for even if he himself wasn’t an anti-imperialist in his life, this piece in itself can easily be seen as such.

If we consider Nebuchadnezzar and his idol as representative of imperialism, and the ancient Judaeans in the Babylonian captivity as being oppressed under that imperialism, then the three youths’ refusal to bow before the idol is an anti-imperialist, revolutionary act, rather like any country today that refuses to bow before US/NATO imperialism (e.g., Russia, China, Venezuela, Bolivia, etc.). Remember that the idol is golden, sixty cubits tall (Daniel 3:1); as such, it is a symbol not only of the imperialist authority of a king, but also of the wealth of the ruling class, be this class the ancient slave-masters of such civilizations as the Babylonian empire, or the subsequent feudal landlords of Europe, or the capitalist class of today.

Anyone who dares challenge the authority of imperial rule, be it past or present, will be put to the test, as the three young men are, and will suffer persecution. When they are put to this test, though, they must not lose their nerve. Though the three youths are afraid, as they’re tied up and thrown into the fiery furnace, they keep their faith in God, just as the anti-imperialist of today, regardless of his or her religious beliefs (or lack of them), must keep faith in the eventual achievement of the revolutionary cause.

Just as the religious may have doubts that God will intervene and save them, so do secular-minded revolutionaries have doubts that they’ll succeed in overthrowing the ruling class. When in doubt, they should recall Rosa Luxemburg‘s words: “Before a revolution happens, it is perceived as impossible; after it happens, it is seen as having been inevitable.”

So, just as the three youths sing their praises to God while surrounded in flames that don’t touch them, so were the Russian workers and peasants in 1917 thrilled to be rid of tsarist rule, and rid of continued involvement in WWI; so were the Cubans in 1959 rejoicing over having removed that butcher Batista from power; and so were the Vietnamese joyful over having ousted the French colonialists.

Of course, just as the rejoicing three boys continue to be surrounded in flames (and the Judaeans continue to be held in Babylonia), so did the RSFSR have to fight off the capitalist White Army during the Russian Civil War; so has Cuba had to endure the cruel US economic embargo; and so did the Vietnamese have to confront the US army. Still, all three prevailed in these struggles, and while times are particularly dark for anti-imperialism now, we can listen to Gesang der Jünglinge, and the recordings of that boy’s sweet, angelic voice, for inspiration as the flames of oppression draw closer.