Musings

The Cult of Book Burners

Imaginary Places #1

A little while ago I read about a group that existed in ancient Greece known as the Cult of Book Burners.  They were a community of philosophers that lived in the Penteliko Mountains northeast of Athens, where they wrote on many different topics.  They’re best known for a strange ritual that occurred on every new moon, in which they would burn everything they had written up to that point.  They would then write again until the next new moon, when they would burn everything once again.  Because of this peculiar practice none of their work has survived, but we do know a little bit about them from the writing of others at the time.

The Pool of Thought

The Cult’s aim was an interesting one.  They spoke of a “pool of possibility”, a metaphor for the totality of possible thought.  Every time someone experienced an idea, they imagined a bit of that pool being emptied.  They believed that the goal of life was to drain that pool–they wanted to give life to every possible concept by thinking them, one at a time.

It’s difficult to comprehend the immensity of this task.  The Cult would have to think of every possible way to explain what is ‘right’, no matter how nonsensical or paradoxical; every idea of what happens to us after we die; every possible way of governing a society–or rather every possible way of governing every possible society.  Even these examples limit their aims to the fields of ethics, metaphysics and politics.  They not only wanted to experience every possible concept within a field, they wanted to experience every possible concept within every possible field, and then in every possible way of thinking that exists outside of ‘fields’.  They would have to reduce thought to its most pure and abstract level, for example, to think of every way for two things to be related: as opposites, as duplicates, as attractors, as repulsors, one as a container for the other, one as a metaphor of the other, one as the cause of the other, one as a future version of the other, and so on.  Even this task when completed would only be a tiny slice of the immense body of possible thought that they attempted to experience, bit by bit.¹

Book Burners

As incredible as this goal was, what strikes most people about their story is the burning ritual.  It’s important to note that this isn’t as nonsensical as it might seem at first.  They only wanted to have thought every concept, not to actually produce a record of each one.  The act of writing was probably only necessary in as far as it allowed them to explore these concepts and form them coherently.  Nevertheless such a bizarre ritual still begs an explanation.  Since none of their writing survives, any explanation would have to be pure speculation–and there is no shortage of that.

Some believe that the burning was symbolic: returning ideas to the pool of thought that they came from.  Others claim that it was for practical reasons: if they kept a record of every single concept they would have quickly run out of space.  Somehow neither of these seems satisfying.

Many people who hear about the Cult are quick to point out how seemingly counterproductive the burning ritual actually was.  How could they have hoped to experience every concept if they didn’t have a record of those they had already thought?   Wouldn’t they end up going around in circles?  Some suggest that this was actually their intent.  The Cult may have indeed begun with the goal of thinking every idea, but eventually became more interested in the journey than the destination.  Perhaps the burning was a way of ensuring that they never reached their goal and continued writing forever.

A final theory proposes that the ritual was to protect the Cult from a discovery that would have destroyed it.  Perhaps the burning was to avoid a member one day seeing a description of the Cult’s very philosophy–the slow draining of a pool of ideas–among the multiplicity of ideas produced.  Maybe it was to protect the members from the realization that the Cult’s supposed all encompassing philosophy was just another drop in their pool of ideas–to avoid their philosophy dying the death all ideas claiming to explain everything die when they are subjected to themselves.

Today

Today the Cult has been relegated to relative obscurity–only mentioned in the footnotes of a few history textbooks.²  However, it would be impossible for a story about mysterious cults and lost literature to have avoided the attention of conspiracy theorists.  Some of these people claim that the Cult is responsible for many, if not all, of the innovative ideas that the ancient Greeks developed.  The Cult would have been like a random number generator that eventually provides the password to a safe–eventually they would have produced an extremely useful idea.  These theorists attribute everything from Athenian democracy to Plato’s theory of forms, to the Cult.

Others go so far as to suggest that every original idea in the history of human thought is actually an idea produced by the Cult that somehow avoided destruction, and was discovered at some later date.  These people claim that Darwin’s theory of natural selection, Christian theology, Marxism, and so on, are all actually Cult ideas.³  As impossible as this seems, it is interesting to imagine every idea that mankind has ever developed, or will ever develop, having already been written and burned by a group of philosophers centuries ago.   Burned by a cult that didn’t see the value in any one particular idea over another, but saw them as equal drops in a pool of possible thought.

1 – One theory on how they might have approached this is known (by its critics) as ‘the tortoise theory’; it was put forth by Jules de Quincy in his book The Burners.  He proposes that they began with a concept, and then made the smallest possible change that would still result in a new concept.  They then repeated this until–at some theoretical point in the future–they had gone through every possible idea.  Perhaps in this way they stumbled onto ideas that minds would later spend years trying to get at deliberately.

Critics are quick to point out that it isn’t clear what defines a ‘new concept’, or what the ‘smallest possible change’ would be.  They hold that a change in a concept is an infinitely reducible quantity, so that if the Cult had taken this approach not only would they have never arrived at their goal, they would never have even arrived at a second concept.

What I find interesting about ‘the tortoise theory’ is that it imagines ideas as a homogenous field, without any boundaries between categories of thought.  Someone might being with a mathematic proposition that slowly morphs into a theory of music, which then slowly becomes a metaphor for life, which becomes a mathematical proposition once again, and so on.  It’s neat to think about developing ideas in this way–in a sense only being aware of their form and not their content.  Treating concepts like objects that you alter slowly without considering their meaning or their relation to the real world.

2 – Nevertheless we can see echoes of the Cult’s philosophy in various places.  One example is the musician Willie Solmners, who aimed to record every possible three seconds of music–every combination of notes that could be played in that time.  He died before completing this task, but his three hundred CD box set “Forever in Three Seconds” is popular in some music circles.

Another example is the musician John Frusciante who recorded hundreds of songs without ever intending to release them, simply for the sake of creating them.

3 – It’s interesting to consider if there is a limit to the ideas that the Cult could theoretically have produced.  Many agree with Marcelle Adams who, in his book Burning the Burners, claims that the field of possible ideas open to a society is necessarily limited by their advancement.  For example, it’s difficult to imagine the Cult developing ideas of software programming or genetic replication, which require scientific and technological knowledge that they didn’t have.  However others argue that even something like software programming can be, after a number of abstractions, reduced to a form where it exists as a series of abstract propositions.  Ideas in this form wouldn’t necessarily have been beyond the Cult.

…if they existed.

Twelve books I would love to read…

 

‘Abyz’ – Lewis B. Georges

This novel is written as a mirror of itself.  An event on page two (of one hundred) is mirrored on page ninety-nine; a birth on page thirty-seven is mirrored by a death on page sixty-two; a cathedral being built on page twelve is mirrored by a graveyard being dug on page eighty-seven.  The plot winds its way to the midpoint and then becomes its own reflection, as each event’s opposite occurs in reverse order, while still telling a story with a beginning, a middle and an end.

‘Now’ – Ionor Peters

Only one sentence in this novel is written in the present tense and it is located precisely at the book’s midpoint.  The half coming before that sentence is written in the past tense, and traces the events that lead up to that moment.  The half coming after is written in the future tense, and tells of the events that will follow.  According to the author this reflects the “microscopic and diaphanous nature of the present, a sliver of time encroached on by the endless past and future.”  Nevertheless he hopes to impart the importance of the present: “Though it is quite mundane, that sentence [in the present tense] becomes incredibly meaningful to the reader because everything else in the novel determines it and is determined by it.”

‘Loquela’ – April Waarden

This novel is presented as the journal of Richard Warif, a linguistics professor whose life falling apart.  We hear about events beyond his control that constantly do him harm.  After he loses his job he decides to regain control by taking command of what he sees as the most powerful thing in the world: language.  He begins making small changes to the rules of language and applying them in his daily life.  For example he decides that repeating the first syllable of a word at the end indicates that the word now means its opposite (happyha=unhappy).  What makes this such an interesting read is that every time he invents a new rule, the book (his diary) adopts it and follows it.  The changes take place slowly so that the reader can keep up, but by the end of the book the language is completely unrecognizable to someone that hasn’t been following the changes.  It’s a unique way to express–and let the reader experience–a person’s descent into madness.  As Dr. Warif becomes absorbed and isolated by this new language, he is eventually cut off from the world around him.

‘The Journey’ – John Bellington

This novel tells a continuous story from beginning to end, but changes genres every chapter.  It includes chapters done in typical–almost to the point of being caricaturish–film noire, fantasy, western, superhero styles, as well as many others.  It isn’t just the style that changes, everything from the setting to the characters changes with each chapter, while the plot continues in these different guises.  For example the medieval chapter ends as the hero is about to joust with his enemy.  The next chapter picks up the plot with the hero facing the enemy in a duel, ready to draw, thus beginning the wild west chapter.  All in all the novel gives the sense that plot exists in an abstract way, and takes on various accidental forms depending on the specific work.

‘Her Violet Flame’ – Henry Davidson and Paul White; Henry Davidson and Moe Walters; Henry Davidson and Sharon O’Connor

Henry Davidson died before completing this novel and it was finished independently by Paul White, Moe Walters and Sharon O’Connor, creating three different novels that diverge at the point where the original Davidson text ends.  What is interesting is how the portion that they all share–the beginning, written by Davidson, identical in all three–becomes different in each.  For example, a mysterious stranger whose identity was never revealed by Davidson is identified as three different characters in each version, retroactively making the Davidson portion different (though technically identical) in all three.  The three texts also differ wildly in terms of genre and style.  The Davidson portion seems to match when connected with all three and becomes coloured by them, in the same way that a series of three notes can take on different qualities based on the fourth.  In this way all three books are internally consistent, mutually exclusive worlds, despite having half of their texts in common.

‘Books I Would Love to Read’ – Michael Dishu

This novel tells the story of a book editor whose workdays are filled with reading that he doesn’t enjoy.  Ironically since he is so busy reading for work he doesn’t have the time to read for pleasure.  What is interesting about this book is that we get tiny glimpses of the books he edits: one about a planet whose culture revolves around the number three, another whose plot is a mirror of itself, even a book containing summaries of many other books, one of which is a book similar to Books I Would Love to Read.

‘Trzy” – Raqu Anami

This science fiction novel takes place on Trzy, a world similar to our own but with one major difference.  Instead of having a sun and moon traveling through their sky, they have three objects: a sun, a moon and a small planet caught in Trzy’s orbit.  These three bodies create three equal phases of the day instead of our two.  Because of this, their world didn’t develop concepts as binary oppositions like we did.  (The author assumes that this way of thinking on Earth can be traced back to ancient civilizations basing their mythologies on the duality of day and night, leading to distinctions such as good and evil, strong and weak etc.; a manner of thinking that has carried on until today.)  On this world every concept is anchored on three ends; instead of being situated on a spectrum between two extremes, their concepts can be visualized as a triangle with three extremes.  For example their world doesn’t have the concepts of good and evil; the closest  corollary would be their ent (roughly corresponding to someone who follows the law), ka (roughly someone who does things based on an action’s long term outcomes) and ip (roughly someone who does things based on how it makes them feel).

[I obviously haven’t read it, but from what I know these concepts become even more complicated.   People in this world can’t be ‘more’ or ‘less’ of a ka, for example, since more and less are ends of a spectrum of quantity.  Instead there is again a tripartite concept that describes how each end of a tripartite concept applies to a person or thing.]

‘Notes on the Underground’ – Bethany Nomo

There are two overlapping worlds in this novel.  The actual text tells the story of a curtain cleaner who reflects on, and meddles in, the lives of his customers.  But we also get a glimpse into the world of a fictional reader of this text, whose notes we see scrawled in the margins of the book (written while on the London underground).  Through his notes we can follow the events of his life, and also his interpretation of the novel.  This becomes especially interesting when he makes mistakes and misunderstands something in the text.  We get a glimpse of how these mistaken ideas enter his life, sometimes for good but more often for bad.

‘That Down Feeling’ – Willie H. Solmers

On the surface this short novel is simply about a man who loses the things around him and then finds peace with what he has left.  What makes this book interesting is that it aims to represent the musical movement of a chord progression by way of plot.  The book is made up of twenty-four chapters that reflect two cycles of a twelve bar blues progression.  So for example, issues resolve themselves and return to a stable state as the chapter corresponding to the ‘V’ chord ends and the one corresponding to the ‘I’ chord begins.

A Treatise on the Mental Creation of Objects’ – Remi le Marche

This is a bit different than the others on the list.  It’s one of those ‘lost books’, like Homer’s Margites or Plato’s Hemocrates, books from history that we have reason to believe existed, but of which no copies remain.  I wrote about Remi le Marche here, a philosopher turned reclusive monk, who dedicated himself to proving his theory of metaphysics by demonstration.  He spent years developing the mental focus needed to envision tiny points of light with such accuracy that they would necessarily have to exist.  Although he had stopped publishing by this point there are rumors that he wrote this book on the topic.

‘Our Oboros’ – William Stevehouse

This is essentially a book of short stories, with each story emerging from the preceding one.  For example, in one story we read about the protagonist’s experience at a party which reminds him of a walk he took some time in the past.  That walk is then narrated in the present tense in the next story, during which he recalls falling into a river which becomes the next story, and so on.  It’s a book of stories within stories within stories.  The cool part about this book is the ending.

SPOILER (highlight to read):  As I said, each story ends with a recollection of some previous event that becomes the next story.  The final story in the book ends with a recollection of the first.  This makes all of the stories into an endless loop of recollections with no beginning or end.

‘A Life in the Day of Walther Gil’ – Calvin Venicio

This novel recounts the unremarkable life of Walther Gil, from the moment he is born to the moment he dies.  What makes this book special is the changing prose, which matures along with the protagonist.  For example, during Walther’s first few months the story is told in bursts of words, without grammar or punctuation.  A nap is described as: ‘angry hurts       nononono   soft    dark    dream’.  This slowly develops through rudimentary sentences during his first few years before reaching an apex of complexity in adulthood.  It then gently descends through short, calm sentences when Walther reaches old age before returning to unstructured bursts of words during his last few moments.

 

…if they existed.

Syncing Season Five of The Simpsons with Kanye West’s ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’

(If you just want to read the interesting ways that these two things synced up, skip to where it says ‘Long story short‘.)

Most of you have probably heard about Dark Side of the Rainbow, the idea that The Wizard of Oz overlaps with The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd.  As cool as it is, it seems pretty unbelievable that the connections are in any way deliberate.  They’re more likely the result of two things: our need to find relationships in the world around us, and our tendency to remember when our expectations are supported while forgetting the times they aren’t.  (Blah and blah.)  That being said, of course there are going to be some pairings that produce more overlaps than others just based on random chance.  So not every movie/album pair is going to sync up as well as The Wizard of Oz and The Dark Side of the Moon, making that pairing special even if it wasn’t planned.  The same can be said about other popular pairings like: Alice in Wonderland with The Wall, or 2001: A Space Odyssey with the song Echoes.

To me the fact that these pairings aren’t the product of intent doesn’t make them any less interesting, just like you don’t need to believe in a divine will to find bizarre coincidences amazing.  This also means that you can pair up any random visual and audio to look for connections, without worrying about the plausbility of it being contrived.  It’s a lot fun to just present a random piece of music, and a random video to your mind and let it go to work finding connections between the two.

I think that the connections are of two sorts: content and mood.  Content is what I’ve been talking about up until now: lyrics/sounds from the audio coinciding with something going on visually.  It’s almost a challenge to actively look for these connections, thinking about ways of interpreting words so that they reflect what you’re seeing.  Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it takes creativity.  Although I wouldn’t agree with them, some people might use the fact that you can find these connections in a random pairing to take away from the interpretation of art in general.  I would say that just because we can find them at random doesn’t mean that artists don’t put them there intentionally when they control all parts of the final product.

By mood I mean the way that the audio affects the feel of the visuals, and vice versa.  Just like watching a music video might change how a song feels, or a soundtrack might change how a given moment in a movie feels.  The only difference here is that the pairing is random and it’s entirely up to the viewer to fit the two together (both actively and passively), creating a new third experience, different than the audio or visuals by themselves.  I find it very interesting to feel your mind making two things that were certainly not meant to go together fit with one another, creating one unified product out of two disparate things. (1)

Long story short I paired season five of The Simpsons with Kanye West’s fifth album ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ (2).  I hit ‘play all’ on the first DVD of season five as I hit play on the album.  I only went through the album once but in theory it would have been cool to go through the entire season with the album repeating.  However despite what some people may think after reading this I don’t have that much free time on my hands.  These are some of the cool content connections that I noticed between the audio of the album and the visuals of the episodes (which were on mute):

-The line “Don’t make me pull the toys out…” coincided with a shot of Lisa looking at a box of toys.

“Penitentiary chances, the devil dances…” coincided with a shot of Springfield Penitentiary.

“I thought I chose a field where they couldn’t sack me…” coincided with Wiggum getting fired from the Be Sharps.

“But God said I need a different approach…” coincided with a shot of Wiggum wearing a costume and trying to trick them into taking him back.

-“You blowing up, that’s good, fantastic…” coincided with them discovering that Barney could sing (and later getting him to join the group).  I’m hoping my friends won’t need this, but just in case

-“No more chances if you blow this…” coincided with their (the Be Sharp’s) agent talking to them outside of Moe’s.

-“Well, that’s a pretty bad way to start the conversation…” coincided with the Sea Captain stopping his fight with the giant squid and starting to talk to it.

-“I got the power to make your life so exciting…” coincided with Homer giving his Dad a new car.

-“Want you to see all of the lights…” coincided with a shot of Hollywood, with two searchlights moving around.

“Can’t see my daughter…” coincided with a scene of Homer being on tour, and Marge trying to fill his absence with this

-A scream in ‘Monster’ coincided with this shot.

-“Do the rap and track, triple double no assist…” coincided with Matt Groening’s name in the credits.  If you have to ask how that relates…

“She came up to me and said this the number 2…” coincided with the second episode starting.

“I smell a massacre…” coincided with this.

“Praises due to the most high, Allah…” coincided with a shot of an angel that Ned had trimmed out of a hedge.

“Fucking insane…” coincided with Sideshow Bob laughing manically, when you first learn that he’s the one sending Bart the bloody messages.

“So if you had her too, it don’t affect me in the slightest…” coincided with a shot of Selma testifying and everyone behind her in the courtroom raising their hands.

“The way you look should be a sin…” coincided with this.

-“We’ll have a big ass crib and a long yard…” coincided with a shot of a big ass crib and a long yard.

-Lastly, I’m not exaggerating when I say the credits of the third episode ended exactly when the album did.  It’s also cool that the last song ends with applause.

1- If this is true it brings up the interesting question of whether or not two things can really “go together well” in terms of mood.  We’ve all thought about a scene in a movie that was complemented perfectly by its score, but if any visual and audio can combine to create a third thing, how can any pairing be “more appropriate”?  Is it just a pairing that better fits what the creator intended?  Or fits in better with the rest of the project?  Do they view one (audio or visual) as being the primary component and the other one being secondary, slightly colouring the primary one instead of creating a third and altogether new thing?  Or maybe two things “go well together” when they create a third thing that isn’t fundamentally different than the two other things by themselves?

2 – They both have red covers!  The third season and his third album both have purple covers!  But sadly that’s where it ends.

Remi le Marche

As many of you know – since that’s all I’ve been talking about – I just finished reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. If any of you are looking for a book to read I would highly recommend it.  Even if you aren’t looking for a book, or you’re already reading a book, I would still highly recommend it. What really got me was how real the magic in Jonathan Strange seemed. It references an entire library of invented books on English magic, and it all seemed so authentic that I almost found myself googling some of them. When I finally accepted that as real as it seemed, the history of magic in Jonathan Strange was invented, I naturally became curious to see if any history of magic does exist.  The answer might seem obvious, but I was still so entangled in the world of Jonathan Strange that a small part of me expected to find at least a rumor of something plausible.

I found a lot of historical information regarding ‘magic’, but at first none of it was what I was hoping for. I came across a lot of magic mentioned in relation to the religious ceremonies of ancient civilizations and modern day indigenous populations, but none of it seemed convincing. There were medicine men and shamans that upon closer inspection seemed to only cast placebo effects.  I found modern figures like Alistair Crowley who’s name is usually  associated with magic, but who came across as more of an occult philosopher.  There were others like John Dee, who though they were fascinating, didn’t seem to have ever actually done anything supernatural.  Lastly I came to the new age crowd that inspires the same grimace in me as it probably does in you. Most, if not all, of their ‘magic’ seems to be vague and un-testable.  All in all the real history of magic seemed worlds apart from Jonathan Strange.  

Then I came across Remi LeMarche.

I was surprised that I’d never heard of him before, but from talking to some of you it sounds like I wasn’t alone in my ignorance.  Remi le March (1732-?) is one of only three people that are ‘considered by history’ to have performed magic.

le Marche was born in Paris on November 21st, 1732 to wealthy parents. His father had aspirations of priesthood for his son but le Marche instead chose to pursue philosophy. His privelidged upbringing helped him in this endeavor because he’d learned to read and write several languages as a kid.

He was drawn to idealism, especially the radical sort that said thoughts were all that existed. George Berkeley had reasoned that since we only ever experience matter indirectly, by way of our thoughts, we have no reason to assume that it exists at all (1).  But, if objects only existed as thoughts, how could they remain in existence when a mind wasn’t experiencing them?  In other words, does a tree you’re looking at actually cease to exist when you close your eyes?  Berkeley’s answer to this was that God was always experiencing everything, and thus everything was constantly being experienced.  It was also God that put the appropriate ideas in your head to correspond with the outside world, so that when you looked at a chair, you saw a chair.  This presented problems for le Marche who didn’t believe in the existence of God and was forced to develop his own theory of metaphysics.

le Marche believed, as Berkeley did, that the internal world of ideas was all that we ever experienced.  He also posited the existence of an external world that we experienced indirectly through those ideas.  However instead of a God, le Marche concluded that there was a natural and immutable law of reality that kept the internal and external worlds consistent.  You couldn’t see something that wasn’t there, and there couldn’t be something there without you being able to see it (2).

This is where his story gets interesting. He asked the question: what if you could force yourself to see something that wasn’t there? Would it necessarily have to exist?  What was ‘out there’ determined what you saw, but if the internal and external worlds were inextricably linked, then what you saw should be able to determine what was ‘out there’.  He was so convinced of his metaphysical theory that the validity of this seemed unquestionable.  This would become his life’s work, a way to provide tangible evidence for a theory about intangibles (3).

It wouldn’t be enough for him to imagine seeing something that wasn’t there, he would have to actually see it.  He reasonably stated that this was easy enough with one’s eyes closed. Everyone can imagine things with their eyes shut, and with a bit of focus can actually see them. It would just require an immense amount of concentration to be able to do that with one’s eyes open, while also experiencing the world. If he could do this, the imagined thing would have to exist along with everything else that was being seen because since the internal and external worlds had to remain consistent.  He expounded these ideas in the final article that he would ever publish in 1765.  Soon after this le Marche disappeared from the public eye and the academic world to cultivate the kind of mental focus that he needed.  Thus, for the next decade or so the record of his life becomes a bit foggier.

Beginning in 1766, in the records of a monastery in Tibet, there is mention of a ‘European who wished to see his thoughts’. Historians generally agree that this was le Marche and all we know of his efforts for the next eight years comes from these records. They talk about the European spending every moment of his time sitting in private focusing on his thoughts. From what happened later we can suppose that he started with something small and easy to visualize: a speck of light.  Every few weeks he would approach the monks and ask if they could see the bit of light that he was trying to picture, but for a long time they couldn’t. Then finally one day he managed to create what the monks called ‘a jewel of eternity’ – a speck of light out of nowhere. Over the next few years the bits of light that he conjured became larger and larger until they were the size of a small pebble (4).

Something to keep in mind is that he never saw any of this as an end in itself. He had been thoroughly frustrated by the lack of acceptance his theories received, and all of this was a way to prove them irrefutably. This is probably why he didn’t ride into France immediately to show off his newfound ability. Fame and fortune didn’t interest him in the least.  It seems like he waited patiently until his ability had become reliable and then returned to France some time around 1774.

We know of what happened next because it would be written about in many different philosophical publications over the next few years. On the 16th of July, 1774, le Marche appeared in Paris and succeeded in conjuring a small bit of light in the company of his critics. But instead of convincing them of le Marche’s theories (or amazing them), this just set off a series of articles arguing that the demonstration didn’t necessarily prove anything.  It wasn’t that they doubted the validity of what he’d done, they just didn’t agree that it proved any particular metaphysical theory to be true.  When this feat that he’d worked for years to accomplish failed to convince the philosophical world, le Marche became entirely disillusioned and retired for good (5).

What happened to Remi LeMarche after this is not known for certain. Most historians agree that he retreated to a quiet life, possibly back in Tibet, and lived out the rest of his days in the isolation he’d grown accustomed to. There is no further mention of him practicing ‘magic’, but that doesn’t rule it out entirely since there is hardly any further mention of him at all.

There are of course other theories out there. Some (for example…) believe that his power became too great and that it destroyed him.  Ideas on how this happened range from his nightmares devouring him to a giant hole in reality swallowing him up.  Exciting and romantic as these stories are they seem unlikely, especially since there is never any mention of him creating anything more than bits of light (6). Others say that he never died at all, and is waiting to return one day and usher in a new era for mankind. This also seems pretty unlikely, given that he would be over 200 years old today. Of course another popular but doubtful theory is that the Church, driven by fear that he would use his power to challenge them, had le Marche killed.

It’s sad to say, but Remi le Marche didn’t have much of an impact on the world at large. I don’t know that much about philosophy but it seems like for all of his effort he remains a small ripple in the history of metaphysics. As far as the ‘history of magic’ goes he’s had even less of an impact. There are a few reasons for this. To begin with he was never interested in fame, and knowledge of his ability never quite reached the masses in his time. News of his public feat in 1774 was only written about in esoteric philosophy articles that the public probably never read. Even when he is written about today it is usually as a footnote in the history of metaphysics. Of course he is popular with conspiracy theorists and a few within the new age movement, but they often exaggerate his story to the point of incredibility.  And even if his story were told accurately, it is a story of years and years of dreary isolation in order to achieve what might seem like minor miracles for academic purposes. He certainly isn’t what people think of when they hear the word ‘magician’ – a fact I’m sure he would be happy about. Nevertheless, the world became a little bit cooler when I read about Remi le Marche.

1- For example, when you look at a chair you aren’t really seeing the chair but only it’s representation in your mind. If you want to read more on this idea you’ll find it in Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous.

2 – This law was as eternal, fundamental and beyond debate as the law that makes ‘2 + 2 = 4’.  It was simply was the way the universe worked.  There is of course a lot more to his theory that I’ve left out both because I didn’t quite understand it and because I wanted to keep this short. There is a good summary of it in A History of French Metaphysics.

3 – le Marche also saw this as a challenge to the role of God in Berkeley’s theory.  Berkeley’s God put appropriate ideas in a person’s mind (i.e. seeing a chair when one looked at a chair) but didn’t allow things to work the other way around since he was the one control of all sensations, allowing people access to them when appropriate.  le Marche’s idea was a way to prove that some immutable law, and not a God, kept the internal and external worlds consistent.

4 – There is never any mention of him creating anything more visually complicated than this, ostensibly because it was too difficult to picture.  Some people argue that the monastery records actually say he was able to create small objects like pebbles, not light the size of a pebble, but most don’t agree with this translation.

5 – Most people agree that his critics were justified in not being convinced of le Marche’s theories based on this demonstration. It seems like le Marche had become so obsessed with achieving this feat that he didn’t realize how little water it held as an argument in and of itself.  It’s too bad that he didn’t publish his own articles arguing for the relationship between this demonstration and his theories.  There are rumors that he began writing a book entitled A Treatise on the Mental Creation of Objects, but that he didn’t get further than the introduction.  However no traces of it have ever been found.

6 – I’ve come across theories by some people who believe that he managed to not only create actual objects, but living things.  They say that the Church altered records and removed all mention of his creating life, but this seems dubious. It’s likely that if the Church actually had the opportunity to tamper with records of his abilities they would have simply destroyed them altogether. Or on the other hand they might have instead altered them to serve their own purposes. Historian Garth Edwards brought up a similar idea when he said he was “surprised that the Church hasn’t already canonized le Marche, and attempted to bring the miracles he was able to perform under their jurisdiction”. Of course the fact that le Marche was a lifelong atheist made this rather difficult.

John Lennon Influencing Drake?

(I’ve added two notes at the end since I originally wrote this.)

Drake does this thing when he’s rapping where he’ll say a line and then say a single, non-sequitur word* that is related to that line. For example:

“I can teach you how to speak my language. Rosetta Stone.”

“Swimming in the money come and find me. Nemo.”

Lil Wayne does it too, interestingly only after That Carter III. I’m curious who influenced who? Examples from WEEZY:

“Been running this shit. Blisters.”

“That’s that mob shit n*. Martin Scorsese.”

I’ve heard Nicki Minaj do it too. Neat that they’re all sort of in the same group and do a lot of songs together, I guess these things spread. Two examples from Nicki Minaj, within a few seconds of eachother:

“Hang it up. Flatscreen.
Plasma.
Hey Nicki hey Nicki. Asthma.”

I like this kind of style. Metaphors and similes are a major part of rap, but usually within the structure of sentences. This is almost like they’re too cool to bother with putting their metaphor/simile into a sentence. I think it comes across as cocky, which is cool. Actually sometimes they’re metaphors/similes, sometimes they’re metonyms. Metaphors/similes talk about the similarity between two things (e.g. I can teach you how to speak my language, I’m the Rosetta Stone/I can teach you how to speak a language like the Rosetta stone does).** Metonyms refer to something by way of another thing that is “intimately associated with that thing or concept” (Wikipedia). For example calling a credit cards ‘plastic’, calling a language a ‘tongue’ or referring to the mob by saying Martin Scorcese.

Now onto John Lennon! I wrote in another post that as far as I know John Lennon was the first singer to truly break the fourth wall in a song. The first person to talk to a specific audience, identified as himself. I also said that by doing this he made rap possible, mostly jokingly. Now I think that he might have been the first person to do this sort of thing that I’ve been talking about. In the song “It’s Only Love” he says:

“When you sigh my, my inside just flies, butterflies.”

Butterflies is a single non-sequitur word, related to the line that came before it. It’s a simile for the way he describes feeling, but without putting the simile into a sentence (i.e. my inside just flies as though I had butterflies in my stomach). I guess another way to look at it is he’s specifying what he meant when he said ‘flies’, again without doing it in a sentence.***

In reality it doesn’t quite matter exactly how it’s related. It’s a single word added after a sentence and related to it in some way, but without other words to make the relation explicit and grammatically correct. To me that makes it the same as the rap examples.

What’s my point here? In all seriousness I don’t actually think that this style in rap comes from “It’s Only Love”. But I think it’s very cool, and indicative of how creative he was, that John Lennon came up with this sort of thing decades ago. Maybe he himself got it from somewhere, I’d love to hear about it if you know of an earlier example.

* When I say non-sequitur I mean that it doesn’t follow grammatically. It comes out of nowhere in the same way that the rap examples did. Obviously it isn’t a non-sequitur in terms of meaning.

** Often it could be either a metaphor or a simile, depending on how you phrased the sentence around the extra word.

*** I suppose you could say that it’s part of the sentence, but tacked on and without any words to make it fit grammatically. Same thing really.

Note: A friend of mine pointed out that none of the examples I mentioned are true metonyms because the single word would never be used as a substitute for the idea it’s related to (e.g. you wouldn’t substitute “Scorsese” for “the mob”). So if the word doesn’t imply a metaphor or a simile, but is simply related to the sentence, I’m not sure if it technically qualifies as anything more than just that.

Note: I just read that this sort of style (apparently called “truncated similes”) was originated by Big Sean, especially in a song called “Supa Dupa”.  Here is Drake talking about it!

How to Actually Make the TTC the Kinder Way

I remembered how much I fucking hate the fucking TT-fucking-C today. I thought I’d write down some ideas before I realised that I’m just tired and cranky.

1. Make everyone that uses the TTC take a course on riding the bus. They could learn things like:

– How the back doors work. That way they wouldn’t have to yell “CAN YOU OPEN THE BACK DOORS” in people’s ears, as if the driver presses a big button labelled ‘Open Back Doors’ every time someone wants to get out.

– Not to stand at the front of the bus, with a bit shit-eating grin, talking to the bus driver like he or she is some kind of tour guide, cutting the amount of space people have to get on the bus in half.

– Not to wear THEIR FUCKING BACK PACKS on the bus. And anyone that’s taken the course and still wears a back pack on the bus should be thrown in jail. It would give those goofy TTC SHERIFS, or whatever the fuck they’re called, something to do.

– Explain to these jerks that they’re not doing you a favour when they move their legs to let you out, or let you into the window seat of those two-seaters.

2. Cut the bus in two and have those first six old-people-seats be a separate bus, and then have regular buses where you can sit anywhere and not have to get up at the next stop when anyone with a touch of grey gets on. Either that or make the old people call in to reserve a seat if they want one reserved for them. It’s not like they keep the best three tables in a restaurant empty for people that are really hungry. Let’s end this chronologically stratified public transit seating system. And while you’re at it, explain to these old people that seats on TTC buses aren’t the ornate pieces of furniture they think they are, and that it’s alright for young people to put their feet up on them.

3. Explain to the TTC people that three buses arriving together doesn’t equal ‘frequent service’ if there were no other buses for thirty minutes.

4. Somehow get bus drivers to understand that not everyone under the age of thirty is out to screw them. And if you want an intact transfer maybe you shouldn’t make it out of paper that’s so thin it melts in the rain. And get rid of child tickets if you’re not going to believe that a six foot ten year old that shaves isn’t a child.

5. Label the routes in a way other than pulling numbers out of a hat.

6. In the same way that there used to be smoking and non-smoking sections, there should be a loud troglodytic inane monosyllabic NO WAY phone conversation section, and a non-phone conversation section. Actually just have a separate bus for high school kids and have it always smell like Axe so they’ll feel right at home.

7. Let people know BEFORE THEY GET ON that this subway is going to be ‘going out of service’ at the next station.

The Chess Scene in The Wire

I find that in really well made movies or TV shows some of my favourite moments are the nadirs (GRE word count: 1), where nothing is happening and the characters are just talking. Sometimes it’s just because the clever and mellifluous (GRE word count: 2) dialogue is pleasing to listen to. It can be hilarious and enlightening, sometimes at the same time. Some of the greatest moments in Tarentino movies are the conversations about everyday topics. It also lets you get a feel for the characters by seeing how they act in regular situations and how they interact with others.  There is something so enjoyable about watching real characters act in a way that makes complete sense.  They might also reveal their feelings about something that happened earlier, or the entire conversation might metaphorically comment on some other aspect of the TV show or movie. One of my favourite scenes from The Wire was when D’Angelo taught Bodie and Wallace how to play chess.  Here it is.

“Y’all can’t be playing no checkers on no chess board yo.”

On a very basic level, the idea that they would use chess pieces to play checkers is brilliantly realistic. It makes perfect sense that no one would have taken the time to teach these kids how to play chess and that they would simply use chess pieces to play the simpler checkers.

On another level it also reflects the way that the drug dealers bring their own system to the chaos they are surrounded with. They create rules, hierarchies and order out of the turbulent disarray of the projects that they grow up in. They work out their own ‘game’, whether that be using chess pieces to play checkers because no one taught them how to play chess; or creating and living in the world of drugs because they weren’t provided with the means to operate in the ‘regular world’. Throughout the series drug dealing is constantly referred to as a game with rules, a system bigger than any of the people that play it.  The metaphor of a game can also be extended to the way the police go after the drug dealers.  They’re required to follow certain rules in order to legally ‘win’.  Actually the creators even thought about calling the show “The Game”.

The fact that it is D’Angelo that teaches them to properly play chess also serves as an augury (GRE word count: 3) to his teaching them how to properly play the drug game. Instead of playing the simple game of checkers which just involves killing the other person’s pieces, they learn new ways to think about what it is they do.

“The king stay the king.”

In comparing the king to Avon and the queen to Stringer, you really get an idea of what role either character plays. Avon is in charge, but he also “really ain’t gotta do shit”. He is the figurehead, and maintains order through his street rep. Other crews are afraid of who he is and what he can do. Stringer Bell is the one that really runs the organization, both in terms of strategy and economics.

You also can’t become the king. One overt theme in The Wire is that the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. There are systems in place that involve so many people and are so multifaceted that they can’t ever really be changed. The king stay the king.

“These are the pawns, they like the soldiers.”

The way D’Angelo explains how the pawns are used is a perfect example of realistic dialogue revealing something about a character. He says that they can move one step forward, “except when they fight”. That felicitous (GRE word count: 4) choice of words reveals the kind of environment he grew up in and his mindset. He doesn’t say they move diagonally to attack or capture, he says “to fight”.

The pawns are described as the soldiers: the low level, unimportant drug dealers. They’re there to protect the king, in the same way that the low level drug dealers handle the drugs and do the selling to insulate the higher ups from trouble with the law. They’re also the ones that are actually in harms way when it comes to rival dealers.

But D’Angelo explains that if the pawns make it to the end, they get to be the queen. If the low level players stick to it, they get moved up. But like D’Angelo says, the pawns “get capped quick”. The low level players might stay in the game with a chimera (GRE word count: 5) of power and money but in reality, they’re nothing more than canon fodder for the more powerful players.

Bodie says “if I make it to the other end, I win”. This reveals a lot about his mindset, and probably the mindset of others on his level. Victory or success for them is just about becoming “top dog”; the good of the rest of their organization doesn’t matter. If he gets to be queen he wins, who cares if you capture the other player’s king. This also reflects the mindset of many of the police officers on the show. All they care about is making rank and retiring with a better pension. Police officers that actually care about making a case are few and far between.

Ending with a quote seemed like a nice, trite (GRE word count: 6) and hackneyed (GRE word count: 7) approach.  “Life is a kind of Chess, with struggle, competition, good and ill events” – Benjamin Franklin.

Stadium Arcadium: Jupiter Instrumentals

(This article goes along with this video.)

Stadium Arcadium: The Chili Peppers’ latest album; and what looks like their last with John Frusciante contributing his transcendent six string poetry. I love the album for all of the reasons someone loves a double album: getting to hear a wide variety of songs you wouldn’t get if they’d chosen to trim it down to eighty minutes. The counter-argument is that with so many songs, there are bound to be some that aren’t top notch. I say that with the talent that these four have, I would’ve bought an album made up of twenty discs. Even if ten of them just had John talking about what kind of cereal he has in the morning.

The two discs are named after the Gods Jupiter and Mars. In astrology Jupiter represents the need to expand oneself and grow. It is associated with the urge for exploration and freedom. Mars on the other hand represents energy, sexuality and aggression. I remember reading something John wrote, saying that these two ideas were well represented on Stadium Arcadium. I think that is what makes Stadium such a fantastic album. It retains the underlying energy and libido that characterized their earlier crazy days filled with mayhem and socks filled with cocks. But here that energy underlies and is adorned with fantastic melodies and harmonies. There’s a real virility to these songs that are bursting with life, and at the same time exploring beautiful sonic landscapes.

What I’ve done here is taken bits from the instrumental versions of each song on the first disc. They’re bits that I didn’t fully appreciate when I heard them on the album in their complete forms. At the same time, when I did hear the complete songs again afterwards, it made me like them even more. By coming to appeciate how fantastic these parts were on thier own, I also came to appreciate how well they fit together with the drums and vocals. I picked most of the bits from each song based on the guitar, so that’s why all of the pictures are of John. That of course isn’t meant to take anything away from Flea and his funky funky self.

Dani California: Bridge (2:11 – 2:30) <- Where it is on the actual song
I never really noticed how cool and watery the guitar sounded here. According to John it was put through a modular synthesizer, "processed with the Doepfer's LFO (Low Frequency Oscillator) controlling its highpass filter, so that the filter opens and closes rhytmically". I wish I knew enough so that I could tell the difference between the sentence I just quoted – spoken by someone who knows what they're talking about – and this sentence that I'm just making up: "it was warped with a YLK, dubbed using the string oscillator, that vibrates on the low end atonally". One day David, one day. He also talked about how the drums during this section were filtered, and only played in one speaker to begin with, and then pan to the center while opening up. Pretty neat bridge!

Snow ((Hey Oh)): Pre-Chorus (1:32 – 1:46)
This sounds pretty simple at first, but if you listen really closely (or do what I did and look at the tab), you’ll see that he’s actually playing this:

|———————————|————————————|
|—9—9—9—9—9—9—9—9-|—9—9—9—9—9—11—11—12-|
|———————————|————————————|
|———————————|————————————|
|-7—7—7—7—7—7—7—7—|-7—7—7—7—7—7—-9—-9—-|
|———————————|————————————|

|————————————————-|
|—-12—-12—-12—-12—-12—-12—-12—-12-|
|————————————————-|
|————————————————-|
|-11—-11—-11—-11—-11—-11—-11—-11—-|
|————————————————-|

|———————————————|
|—-12—-12—-12—-16—-14—12—11—9-|
|———————————————|
|———————————————|
|-11—-11—-11—-11—-11—-x—-9—-x—|
|———————————————|

That style of alternating between low and high strings that he did a lot on Niandra, or the Scar Tissue riff, for example. But it’s done a lot quicker here, and is really hard to play.

Charlie: Chorus (0:47 – 1:07)
I just found this cool to hear without the vocals, because it follows a different path than they do, and is hard to hear with them. Anthony said that the instrumental track he got for Charlie was his favourite on the album, and it is pretty bad-ass. Wow I just noticed how taking the time to hyphenate the word ‘bad-ass’ really takes away from its bad-assness. Before this section during the verse John’s guitar is in a different time signature from the drums, here it settles back in for a while. I was pretty tempted to put the next section (“Your right, I’m wrong…”) which I guess would be the bridge? For a long time it was my favourite part of the album. I didn’t do thatbecause it’s easy enough to hear on the complete track.

Stadium Arcadium: Verse and Chorus (2:00 – 2:30)
A bit of a surprising choice for a title track in my opinion, but it’s got some neat things going for it. I don’t know what it is, but hearing John doing those backward guitar licks made me really sad that he’s not in the band any more. It was probably thinking about all of the experimental elements that he brought to the band, and how much meticulous love he put into every song. The fact that you could hold the Peppers up against other bands with interesting production quirks and experimentation because they had John in their ranks made me think about that giant hole that he’ll leave in their sound. It’s like losing an amazingly skilled player to free agency, you miss having him on your side. That all came to mind during this section, and I think the tone during the chorus is pretty great.

Hump de Bump: Interlude and Chorus (2:21 – 2:55)
This was cool because I never heard that little build up during the drum bonanza before. And that riff is so chucky (to borrow an adjective) and awesome. You can hear that the drum bled into the guitar or bass mics on this.

She’s Only 18: Chorus (1:45 – 2:18)
Again I chose this bit just because I never really heard it properly on the complete version. It really is a rockin’ riff. (Wow ‘rockin’ riff’ sounds about as un-rockin’ as possible.) It’s one of those big power-chordy choruses that they had on a few songs on Stadium. I gathered from interviews, but I might be wrong, that those sorts of parts comes from Chad and John. That’s true in this case, because Anthony said the chorus used to be a ‘hazy-phasey’, weird chord progression that John had come up with, before he (John) came up with the huge chorus that the final version has. I didn’t really appreciate how huge it was until I heard it on its own.

Slow Cheetah: Guitar Solo (3:33 – 4:03)
I love the sound of the chorus, sounds kind of like when you strum with a really thin pick. The guitar solo just fits in perfectly. Really uplifting and joyful. It also comes across, to me anyway, as sounding very relaxed and content. That fits in with Flea’s idea as to the meaning of the song, which is: enjoying life by living it at a slower pace. It’s really interesting how hearing the meaning of the words to a song, impacts the way you perceive the meaning of sound in that song. On a side note, this might be my favourite song on the album at the moment.

Torture Me: Intro and Verse (0:08 – 0:28)
To me that bass riff that opens the song is the most serious and grave sounding thing that they’ve ever recorded. It gives me the sense that what’s coming is something truly important. Now that I hear John’s guitar clearly I feel like it follows suit and also sounds very serious. I picture the band out of their usual colourful attire; dressed in black, with high collars, on a windy hill, in slow motion, deliberating over something that will affect the entire world. I wonder if I’m the only one to get that feeling? Anyway. I like the way John’s guitar sort of washes over the accented single notes that Flea is playing. It’s also cool how he switches chords just before the end of every bar instead of at the start of the next one.

Strip My Mind: Pre-Chorus and Chorus (3:32 – 4:00)
What gets me about this little snippet is the buildup in intensity of the rhythm guitar as it goes into the chorus. It’s also neat how the lead guitar sort of continues the same ‘sentence’ once the song does get into the chorus. I really really the change in tone of that lead guitar throughout this bit. I feel like those types of production elements defined a big part of the sound on the album, and did give it a pretty spacey aura. When a few of those sounds are layered, you get an album where each songs feels like a world you can stick your head into. Here’s an article where John explains the effects and production he used on each song.

Especially in Michigan: Verse (1:18 – 1:45)
Same sort of thing. Listen to how that tone morphs with the feedback, unreal.

Come on Girl: Pre-Chorus and Chorus (2:51 – 3:08)
Apparently the hardest bassline on the album. Also one made up by John. I guess it’s the same sort of idea for three songs in a row, but the mixture of all of those different sounds is mind-boggling to me. The interplay between the bass and guitar is also really cool here. Again another big chorus.

Wet Sand: Outro (4:00 – 4:22)
Sorry to cut it off right before the solo; you can actually probably get blue balls from that. This is a section that’s just overflowing with so much energy, building up towards that cathartic, explosive solo. I was sure that those arpeggios were from a harpsichord, but according to John that’s actually a guitar! “At the end of the song there’s an arpeggiated guitar part created by sloing the tape down and playing harmonies a third up, on the treble pickup, which made it sound exactly like a harpsichord. I’m convinced that’s what Hendrix did on ‘Burning of the Mignight Lamp.'” I never know how to end a quote that ends with a quote, those three apostrophes look strange. Are they still called apostrophes if they’re part of quotation marks? The word apostrophe comes from the roots ‘apo’ meaning from and ‘strophe’ meaning to turn away. Which makes sense when they’re replacing a letter like in ‘they’re’ but not if they’re around something, like in ‘they’re’. I wonder if anyone stuck around long enough to get that nugget of info? Great outro though; I’d never noticed that lick in the middle of it.

Hey: Bridge (3:40 – 4:14)
Probably some of Frusciante’s most beautiful guitar playing, and that is saying something. I loved being able to really hear it on the instrumental track. Can’t say much about something like that, just go ahead and listen to it a few times.

Thanks for reading! I wonder if this is what will finally bring in some readers via the youtube video, like an unsuspecting horde following a trail of donuts into a scientology meeting. But if you liked what you read, and would like to have more of the feeling of dopamine rushing into your nucleus accumbens check: this, this, this and/or (but preferably and) this out! Or check it all out! Or whatever, I’m just glad some of you got this far!

I’ll be doing one for Mars eventually. Hope you enjoyed this. Happy Holidays!

Glass Onion: Breaking the Fourth Wall

There’s a scene in The Empire Strikes Back (when C-3P0, Han, Leia and Chewie are escaping Hoth) where C-3P0 looks at the camera and says “how typical”. Who is he talking to? Certainly not the scruffy nerf herder (sorry) who just went into another room and closed the door (could have said: into the Hoth Echo Docking Bay but I didn’t) along with her worhipfulness and the walking carpet. Threepio is talking to us: the audience. Film aficionados call it ‘breaking the fourth wall’. The term originates from plays with three walled sets, with a fourth imaginary wall separating the audience from the characters. To ‘break the fourth wall’ is to talk to the audience directly. It allows the characters to draw attention to the fact that they are characters in a story, creating a ‘meta-fiction’. It seems to me that John Lennon breaks the fourth wall in “Glass Onion”, the earliest example I can think of this happening in a popular song. And what’s more, he breaks it speaking specifically as himself.

First lets take a look at “Glass Onion”, the third song on the wonderful carnival of quilted oddites that is The White Album.

I told you about strawberry fields,
You know the place where nothing is real
Well here’s another place you can go
Where everthing flows.
Looking through the bent backed tulips
To see how the other half lives
Looking through a glass onion.

I told you about the walrus and me-man
You know that we’re as close as can be-man.
Well here’s another clue for you all,
The walrus was Paul.
Standing on the cast iron shore-yeah,
Lady Madonna trying to make ends meet-yeah.
Looking through a glass onion.
Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah.
Looking through a glass onion.

I told you about the fool on the hill,
I tell you man he living there still.
Well here’s another place you can be,
Listen to me.

Fixing a hole in the ocean
Trying to make a dove-tail joint-yeah
Looking through a glass onion

In this song John Lennon addresses the person listening to the song directly when he says “I told you about strawberry fields”, and again at the beginning of each of the next two verses. This of course isn’t the first time a singer has said ‘I’ and ‘you’ in a song, but this is unique for two reasons.

i) The person saying ‘I’ is John Lennon the songwriter, not a character in the song. He establishes that it is him by referring to things that he, John Lennon, has done in the past. In other songs, when a singer uses the word ‘I’, it could be anyone really. For example:

“I give her all my love,
that’s all I do.”
The Beatles – And I Love Her

Here there is nothing about the ‘I’ that tells you it is specifically Paul McCartney; he doesn’t mention any characteristics that define him specifically. In Glass Onion John talks about songs that he himself has written. Even among other cases where the singer talks about things that are personal, Glass Onion stands apart. For example:

“Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields.”
The Beatles – Strawberry Fields

I would argue that Glass Onion is a different case because in it John is talking about specific and actual events that apply specifically to him. Other songs have obviously been in the first person, but here John explicitly defined the fact that the ‘I’ is him by listing qualities that apply only to him, not a vague narrator. This is helped by the fact that he and his history are so well known that he is able to refer to that history to define the narrator as himself.

ii) In other cases where bands have said ‘you’, they weren’t referring specifically to the person listening. They may have been referring to a character in the song. For example:

“You think you lost your love,
Well, I saw her yesterday.
It’s you she’s thinking of
And she told me what to say.”
The Beatles – She Loves You

Or they may have been referring to a general other, which the listener may interpret as being them. Again:

“Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields.”
The Beatles – Strawberry Fields

In Glass Onion John clearly identifies ‘you’ as the person listening to the song. He (again specifically John Lennon) mentions things that he’s done to you in the past. Having told you about strawberry fields, the walrus and the fool on the hill. He isn’t speaking to a ‘you’ in the song, or to a ‘you’ in general. It is very obvious that he is speaking to a ‘you’ completely removed from the world of the song. This ‘you’ is specifically defined as the people listening. (1)

So John is speaking directly to us, this allows him to break down other walls. He actually mentions other songs he’s written, in a song. In this way Glass Onion implies a reality that exists outside of it: both the reality of the songwriter above the song; and that of other songs horizontal to it. They all come to be present at the same time. The insular worlds of other Beatles songs are suddenly combined with that of Glass Onion. In this way all of those other songs also break through the walls separating them from us. The song is ‘aware’ that they are all songs in the Beatles canon, and attention is called to that fact. When this is done in comedy (like when Stewie says “I thought we had a clip there”), the result is called meta-comedy. It is part of the general concept of metafiction: fiction that calls attention to the fact that it is fiction. It exists on two levels, the fiction itself, and the worlds outside of it that it alludes to. Maybe this is called a meta-song? While here the song doesn’t explicitly comment on itself, it comments on other songs, and the songwriter’s world, which I would argue makes it just as ‘meta’. It breaks the song out the insulated world it would usually live in; existing on different levels of ‘real’. As far as I can tell this is the first song to ever do something like this; yet another boundary that The Beatles crossed. Literally ground breaking. (2)

It reflects John’s love of wordplay. He was a big fan of Lewis Carrol’s, who played with the boundaries of reality using words. It also exemplifies John’s tendency to write from a very personal and real place.

This sort of thing is quite rare even today in rock songs, I can’t think of any off the top of my head. But one genre that makes use of it very often is rap. In rap there is often no character in a song, there is only the rapper talking as themselves. The subject matter almost always makes reference to the rapper’s world and other songs/albums. The breakdown of boundaries between the real world and the song allows the rapper to boast about themselves specifically. For example:

“I drop that Black, Album then I back, out it,
As the best rapper alive ***** ask about me.”
Jay-Z ‘Dirt off Your Shoulder’

They’ll also sometimes speak directly to the listener:

“Look what you made me do, look what I made for you
Knew if I paid my dues, how will they pay you
When you first come in the game, they try to play you
Then you drop a couple of hits, look how they wave to you.”
Jay-Z – Encore (Interestingly enough…)

Sometimes they’ll comment on the current song itself;

“How u wanna do it? We can do it like we late ah wait dezzle let me get the 8 o 8
As I hit the kill switch
Now that’s how u let the beat build b*tch.”
Lil Wayne – Let the Beat Build

When you think about it, it’s impossible to picture a rap song not doing this. Most rap songs aren’t separate from the real world, they are usually the rapper talking as themselves, about themselves. The song exists in the rapper’s reality, and that allows them to brag, and do creative things like in the Lil Wayne example. Does this blending of song and reality trace its inspiration back to Glass Onion? Is Jay-Z talking about making “The Black Album” a result of John Lennon thinking freely enough to talk about making “Strawberry Fields”? We can’t establish a causal link, but it’s possible.

It also provides us with a glimpse of something I’ve always thought about. It’s a fundamental part of the genre for rappers to brag about their accomplishments, talent and innovation; imagine for a second what the Beatles would be able to brag if they had been so inclined.

We taught you how to backwards loop guitars,
And we introduced you motherfu*kers to sitars.
So you dropped a joint and it went platinum?
Check Sgt. Pepper’s, we invented the album.

Yikes, that didn’t come out as cool as I’d hoped, but you get the idea. Anyway my point is that hearing John coolly recollect that he told us about Strawberry Fields, may be the closest we’ll ever come to that. Maybe that’s for the better.

When you think about it, the approach taken in Glass Onion really is ground breaking, smashing the imaginary confines of reality a song usually lives in. No divide between the voice singing and the singer himself; talking directly to the listeners. The song not existing on its own in isolation, but aware of its membership, and commenting on other songs in the Beatle’s canon. Listen to it again, and hear John looking through the bent backed tulips.

Footnotes:
1 – So just to sum up. I argue that while this isn’t the first song in the first person to talk to another person, it is there first time where the first person character is specifically defined as being the real life singer of the song based on listing things that they’ve done in real life that only apply to them. (Not just saying I wrote you a song, but saying that he specifically wrote “Strawberry Fields”). And that this is the first time that has happened in conjunction with having an explicitly defined audience, by listing something he has done specifically to us in real life (previously telling us about Strawberry Fields).

2 – This probably wasn’t John’s ‘goal’ in writing this song, it may have been playful fodder for those trying to interpret The Beatle’s lyrics. But that concerns the content of the song. What we’re in interested in here is the form Lennon used to express that content.

What to Do When It’s Quarter to Five and You Can’t Sleep

This is really nothing more than a way to kill some time until I get some indication that I might be able to fall asleep soon.

I’m going to use a random word generator to generate seven random adjectives, and then come up with the song from my iPod that that word best fits. Not necessarily because that word describes that song, but that the impression I get when I hear that word fits what I get when I hear that song, usually not to do with the lyrics. Really something that I could do and write down on a scrap piece of paper but this makes it seem like it’s not a total waste of time. I’m not going to skip any random word. Unfortunately enough I started this last night and it’s still applicable tonight. : (

Random Adjective #1: Antique
What I see when I hear that word: an old photo in sepia of old objects in an attic.

Random Adjective #2: Living
What I see when I hear that word: a very green forest.

Random Adjective #3: Evil
What I see when I hear that word: dark, nauseatingly decrepit creatures.

Random Adjective #4: Done
What I see when I hear that word: a smooth edge.

Random Adjective #5: Alert
What I see when I hear that word: a red heart rate monitor going crazy.

Random Adjective #6: Attached
What I see when I hear that word: two old rusted pieces of metal that are frozen in a position gripping one another.

Random Adjective #7: Instructed
What I see when I hear that word: those toys that have a bunch of tiny pieces of metal that all stand up as you pass a big magnet over them.