Is Tool a New Age band?

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Posted by Four Degreez at 12:14pm Jan 20 '05
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This is sort of continuing from my comments on New Age under ConfuciusSay's thread, so I thought it would go better on this board than on Music. Sorry that it's lengthy, but I had a lot to say!

First let me say, I'm not claiming Tool makes New Age music, which is a genre unto itself. I'm claiming that Tool makes music from a New Age philosophical perspective and that the band members probably fall under this umbrella religion.

One has to look to Tool's third album, Aenima, to find the first hints of New Ageism. The concept of 46&2, which is to be willing to explore anything in one's quest for personal evolution, strongly hints at NA (I'm going to be using that abbreviation from now on). But we don't get clear confirmation until the end of the album, with Third Eye. The concept of the "third eye" has its roots in Hindu mysticism, which NA draws from. Your third eye gives you input beyond the physical, representing your "sixth sense" so to speak, and allowing you to see and understand the universe in new ways. Opening your third eye could be a metaphore for experiencing a higher, more spiritual level of reality. The song opens with a Bill Hicks quote, saying, "Today a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness experiencing it's self subjectively, that there is no such thing as death and life is merely a dream." The idea of expanding your level of understanding and achieving spiritual development through the use of drugs is a very NA concept. The live version of Third Eye on the Salival CD replaces the Bill Hicks quote with one from Timothy Leary, telling us that, "Throughout human history, as our species has faced the frightening, terrorizing fact that we do not know who we are or where we are going in this ocean of chaos, it has been the authorities--the political, the religious, the educational authorities--who attempted to comfort us by giving us order, rules, regulations, informing, forming in our minds their view of reality." Leary advises us that we must think for ourselves and question authority. This particularly jives with a certain piece of verse in the song:

So good to see you once again.
I thought that you were hiding.
And you thought that I had run away.
Chasing the tail of dogma.

I opened my eye and there we were.

So good to see you once again
I thought that you were hiding from me.
And you thought that I had run away.
Chasing a trail of smoke and reason.

Prying open my third eye.

Note the repetition, but in the first part "you" thought the singer was "chasing the tail of dogma" and in the second part "you" thought the singer was "chasing a trail of smoke and reason." In my interpretation, "you" is the singer's spiritual essense, from which he had been separated for a long time but who he can again now see after opening his third eye. I interpret "chasing the tail of dogma" to be the following of an organized religion or belief system handed down by religious authorities (who we must question!). I interpret "chasing a trail of smoke and reason" to represent the opposite, the blind rejection of spirituality in pursuit of cold science. The Bishop John Spong, who I find personally influential, discusses this dichotomy and the failure of modern Christianity to address it. As society evolves, religion clamps down ever more firmly in its out-dated, literalist understanding of our existence. Modern people see a false dichotomy: One must either accept religion as it is presented to us by the authorities, or one must reject it in favor of atheistic science. What many people don't understand, but New Agers do, is that there is a third way. Even Albert Einstein realized this, when he said, "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." So to sum up, this song represents the first real revelation by the band that spirituality must be sought out and pursued, and that there is a third way between "dogma" and "smoke and reason"--a path toward spiritual enlightenment outside of both science and organized religion.

Tool's next album release was Lateralus. On the song Lateralus, the intellect and reason are heavily called into question once more:

As below, so above and beyond, I imagine
drawn beyond the lines of reason.
Push the envelope. Watch it bend.
Over thinking, over analyzing separates the body from the mind.
Withering my intuition, missing opportunities and I must
Feed my will to feel my moment drawing way outside the lines.

In NA belief, the trinity so to speak consists of the mind, body, and spirit. This song is saying that over-thinking and over-analysing and generally being too intellectual-minded is disrupting this trinity and interrupting the singer's spiritual quest. It causes him to lose his intuition, his extra-logical senses (think back to what I said about the third eye) causing him to miss opportunities for further spiritual development. To pursue spiritual development, the mind, body, and spirit must be in sync and in harmony. More lyrics, same song:

I embrace my desire to
feel the rhythm, to feel connected
enough to step aside and weep like a widow
to feel inspired, to fathom the power,
to witness the beauty, to bathe in the fountain,
to swing on the spiral
of our divinity and still be a human.

We'll ride the spiral to the end and may just go where no one's been.
Spiral out. Keep going.

He's talking about a very NA spiritual journey, "to feel connected" (many NAs believe we are all connected as part of one universal and holy consciousness, with which we can become in tune), "to feel inspired, to fathom the power, to witness the beauty, to bathe in the fountain" --that is all pretty straightforward. "Weep like a widow" I can explain if you like. "To swing on the spiral of our own divinity and still be a human...we may just go where no one's been" -- again, very NA stuff, the idea that we are all connected, that God is in every one of us, that each of us represents a piece of divinity and that through spiritual enlightenment we can get closer to experiencing this divinity.

The song that really blew me away on this ablum though is Parabol/Parabola. It is the most spiritual hard rock song I've ever heard. Some lyrics:

So familiar and overwhelmingly warm
This one, this form I hold now.
Embracing you, this reality here,
This one, this form I hold now, so
Wide eyed and hopeful.

Some background: NA draws heavily from Eastern religions. The concept of an enduring soul or enduring consciousness that survives death is common, often through reincarnation. These lyrics strongly suggest a belief in reincarnation or some form of enduring soul, as the singer talks about "this form I hold familiar and warm." He is "so wide-eyed and hopeful" like a child reborn, in awe of the reality that surrounds him and it's "infinite possibilities" (to reference Lateralus). More on the form he holds now:

This body. This body holding me. Be my reminder here that I am not alone in
This body, this body holding me, feeling eternal
All this pain is an illusion.

"Feeling eternal", again suggesting that the soul is not limited by the body...the body is simply the form the singer exists in at this moment. "All this pain is an illusion", the pain of everyday life, it's a state of mind that can be transcended. Again, very Eastern religion-influenced.

In this holy reality, in this holy experience.

Recognize this as a holy gift and celebrate this chance to be alive and breathing.

Note these lyrics coming from the man who, in another song, snarls, "Fuck your God, your lord, your Christ." The singer passionately rejects Christianity and the tyranny of the mind that it imposes. He hates and despises it. And as we've seen, the singer also rejects atheistic science and pursuit of the intellect at the expense of the spiritual. Understand again that there is a third way. The lyrics above are not talking about the Christian God giving us life. The lyrics are talking about NA spirituality, a celebration of our existence and the belief that there is a higher power, a higher state of consciousness, a higher level of understanding our reality. The song is challenging us to see things in this way, calling on us to expand our minds and share the singer's awe of our existence and the universe around us.

The rejection of organized religion doesn't have to mean the rejection of faith. And the faithless pursuit of science fails to fill a spiritual void. NA represents a spirituality for the modern times, as organized religion and science alone both fail us. We must pursue enlightenment, we must seek to transcend the boundaries that we percieve around us, we must seek to understand our existence and indeed to celebrate it. To me, Tool is clearly an NA-influenced band. If you are new to the ideas of NA, you can even allow some of their music to influence/inspire you if you are interested in pursuing NA thoughts and concepts--Use the music as a "tool" if you will, and that's not a pun but actually the reason behind the name.

I hope if you read this far, you've found all this interesting.

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