“How Epoch Might Have Informed the de facto Emotional Authenticity of ‘Jambi’”

There’s a classic knock against Fiona Apple that she’ll take any little relationship hookup and blow it up into an astronomical disaster, provided it makes good copy in her lyrics. Well, as a TOOL fan, I’d be hypocritical to accuse her of that and forgive the penchant of Maynard James Keenan of treating a “Beastie tee, nipple ring, new tattoo” like a bona fide moral pestilence. 

It is of course pretty impossible, along these lines of tautologically derived (or genuinely manifest, depending on the track) anger, to imagine TOOL ever writing a ballad. “Jambi”; anyway, for its part, track two on the precocious 2006 LP from the band 10,000 Days, probably comes the closest the balladry of any track the band ever did, handling a homosexual lover rendered in titular form as its primary focus. 

And the funny thing is it somehow manages to work, the unstoppable force of TOOL’s unflaggingly bellicose musical disposition meeting the immovable object of Keenan’s strident, cosmic love and appreciation for his subject. The song is buoyed, not in the least part, by an excellent sort of coda segment in the second half of Keenan proclaiming “Shine on forever / Shine on benevolent sun / Shine on forever / Shine on ’til two become one”. It’s tempting, in light of the incredible poignancy of this song, this segment and this set of lyrics, to posit that Keenan is scared of a fictional loveless abyss forming, and is exacting this amorousness as a sort of fight-or-flight response. In reality, though, he doesn’t strike me as the scared type, and there’s probably pretty much no chance of a lover ever leaving him, as iconic of a figure as he is. 

So “Jambi” works as an angry song and it works as a love song too. The combination is absolutely stupefying, to the point where it’s not surprising that it wasn’t an act Keenan ever repeated. Fear Inoculum ended up being nowhere near as angry, or really captivating, in any way, as 10,000 Days

Anyway, if “Jambi” seems a little more natural than, say, a love song from Rage against the Machine, it could have to do with, for one thing, the former’s willingness to adhere to epoch. During the ’90s, we were “raging against a machine” that was in the process of overseeing a five-fold increase in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, an astonishing level of success and bounty, all done without the help of a war of any sort. When George W. Bush launched a fatal attack on Iraq in the 2000s, and, it seemed, not much good was coming from it other than a lot of rap songs about booty, the world was primed for a scourging caterwaul of noise from TOOL. 

Now, as is the practice of many and even most artists, TOOL doesn’t get specifically political in their lyrics, and, in this way, probably stands, for 10,000 Days, as markedly less insufferable than the culture-coddling American Idiot and all its bite-sized portions of transcendent dissent. Their maneuver, on the whole, on 10,000 Days, is instead to get distant, abstract and fantastical, usually not letting us have any idea what the He** they mean with their half-focused tirades, but still, strangely, taking us to a cathartic, musical place that was comforting during a time of extreme atrocity. 

In like fashion, “Jambi” siphons from the same pool of human frustration that the rest of this essential album does, the frustration itself stemming from America’s imperial mania. It works as an angry song and a love song because the love factor is debased, almost comedically, by the song’s vitriolic “metal” disposition. It’s like trying to sell someone a vacuum cleaner at their door while holding a weasel that’s biting you on the arm and giving you rabies. Keenan’s like, “Hey, this is really great! Haha! Yeah, that’s it!” Maybe it’s the case that, with his typically ornery, confrontational metal delivery, he’s combatting the sorts of demons that, he thinks, could turn him into the sort of war-mongering buffoon he’s seeing around him, both at the top and within the larger populace. His love, to him, sometimes, seems doomed for reasons that are abnormal, and hence, an abnormal stylistic disposition is necessary to neutralize them. In the song’s glorious denouement, then, the second-half coda featuring the “benevolent sun” line, Keenan is singing to his lover, with, I think, the double meaning of being directed at a larger deity, to, observing that everybody in this proverbial “boat” needs some help sometimes. “Jambi”; for its own right, while perhaps not matching the glory of “Rosetta Stoned”; is a singular achievement within the TOOL catalogue for its ability to incorporate romance, the unorthodox way in which it does this shaping it as more like an uplifting comedic satyr than a false front or sham. 


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