Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"H." as a struggle for self

This is a throw-back to times past, when, shortly after reading The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand in 2003, Tool's song, "H.," randomly began playing on my treasured playlist. The fortuitous timing of the song's appearance on my playlist provided me the opportunity to listen to the song with new ears, having the spirit of The Fountainhead in my head--that spirit of stubborn defiance to any force that would alter one's own self-definition. Like many, I used to believe that "H." (which is likely my single favorite song...well...ever) was very basically about being close to someone who is hurting you, but not being able to pull yourself away. In a way, this still holds some truth for me, but not in the same fashion as before. If you don't mind reading a little, feel free to take a look at my interpretion of "H." as a testimony to the effects of allowing others to define who you are--to define your "self." Recognizing that putting more than a cursory glance into the meaning of a song may be somewhat high school-esque, I believe that Tool is one of the very few bands whose lyrics actually merit more legitimate thought and interpretation. I apologize for breaking up the continuity of the lyrics; please, if nothing else, read the lyrics straight through to enjoy the song for yourself.

What's coming through is alive.
What's holding up is a mirror.
But what's singing songs is a snake
Looking to turn my piss to wine.

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The narrator begins to reflect on who he is, seeing himself for his true self, in his true light. The “snake” however, has other plans for what the figure should be. The “snake” sings songs of grandeur, planting images of a great someone-else that the figure should become. As soon as the narrator embraces these versions of a person he could be, any convictions of self that the figure formerly held are lost and forgotten.
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They're both totally void of hate,
But killing me just the same.

------
Neither his own thoughts of change nor the thoughts proposed by the “snake” are vicious in intent, but both are killing him. They take away his conviction of self that leads to the absence of his true self—its murder—and the creation of a false one suggested by his surroundings; suggested by the “snake.”
------

The snake behind me hisses
What my damage could have been.
My blood before me begs me
Open up my heart again.

------
He has made the change; the “snake” is now behind him, telling him how wise of choice he has made to make the change. However, the self’s instinct--his blood--begs him to open up his heart again in order to see the truth.
------

And I feel this coming over like a storm again,
Considerately.

------
He realizes the futility in this grand change he has made. He has only become another person with whom he is unhappy, no different than the situation he faced before. This is not who is to be. The emotions, the frustration and confusion, build up within him like a mounting storm.
------

Venomous voice tempts me,
Drains me, bleeds me,
Leaves me cracked and empty;
Drags me down like some sweet gravity.

------
Again the lies of the “snake” promising a better self break down any convictions of self that the figure may have had. He is left cracked and empty, nothing but a shell to be filled by others’ versions of what he should be. These versions presented to him seem to be so promising and good, though; he doesn’t mind accepting them.
------

The snake behind me hisses
What my damage could have been.
My blood before me begs me
Open up my heart again.
And I feel this coming over like a storm again.

------
Again he makes the suggested change. He becomes the version of a person the “snake” wanted him to become, and again his heart begs him to open up and see the truth. This is not any better. This is not right. The desperation builds within him.
------

I am too connected to you
To slip away, to fade away.
Days away I still feel you
Touching me, changing me,
And considerately killing me.

------
The narrator is far too connected, too reliant, too dependent on those around him. This built up dependence doesn’t allow him to sever his connection and define his person on his own. Rather, his surroundings continue to dictate who he is, and kill who he should be.
------

Without the skin,
Beneath the storm,
Under these tears
The walls came down.

------
It is in this time, when the “storm” of emotions overtakes him, that he becomes vulnerable. His walls--his defences--are torn down.
------

And the snake is drowned, and
As I look in his eyes,
My fear begins to fade
Recalling all of those times.
I could have cried then.
I should have cried then.

------
It was after his heart opened up and he saw what he had become for the falsehood that it was that he felt he had conquered the “snake” that had in essence created it. Recognizing a lie destroys it, right? His fear subsides and he looks back on what had happened time after time. He laments his gullibility and shared culpability.
------

And as the walls come down, and
As I look in your eyes
My fear begins to fade
Recalling all of the times
I have died and will die.
It's all right,
I don't mind. I don’t mind. I don’t mind!

------
The emotional climax of the song witnesses the conquering narrator feeling the strength in his revelation. His walls down, he welcomes his surroundings without malice, finding comfort in them as they approach him without malice, perhaps even soothing and congratulatory for his conquest. His fear fades; he feels at peace. However, he is only encountering another “snake,” just like all the others. In his vulnerability, with his walls down, the “snake” surreptitiously imposes on him who he should become, just as has been happening cyclically in the figure’s past. He comes to realize that it has happened and will likely happen again. Resigning himself to this sentiment through forced self-persuasion (“I don’t mind. I don’t mind. I don’t mind!”), he accepts it and becomes indifferent towards it. In so doing, he has ultimately sacrificed his self completely.
------

I am too connected to you
To slip away, to fade away.
Days away I still feel you
Touching me, changing me,
And considerately killing me.

------
Returning to the sad cycle of reliance and allowing his surroundings to define his self, he continues to die time and time again, a new person emerging each time but with no real conviction. His surroundings, those around him, perhaps had no malicious intent and could have even been sincere in their suggestions, but ultimately, determining who another is to become is murder, killing the person he should be and should discover on his own. The “snake” is anyone who suggests or imposes such versions of self that the figure becomes enticed to accept and become. There are many “snakes” one faces, and this symbolism is apt since the snake is commonly associated with deceit, tracing back to the serpent in the Garden of Eden. This is appropriate, as any concept of whom a person should become presented by an outsider is inherently deceitful. Only the individual can determine who he is to truly be. Anything accepted by the individual aside from his own conception is an act and a lie, and cannot be held with conviction.

A testimony to the destructive effects of accepting another’s image of who someone should be or become, the song serves as motivation to dispel the “snakes” one faces in life and embrace the self that one can and has created for oneself. This, and only this, is who a person is meant to be; this, and only this, can anyone hold with any conviction and live to any effect. However, the choice is yours to be made.

Finally, it must be mentioned that Maynard James Keenan, the lyricist/singer, has made at least two explicit references to the meaning (or hints of a meaning) of the song. One I referenced in the opening paragraph, the other is in reference to his son, whose middle initial is H. Neither is what I elucidated above. I recognize this, yet the explanation I offered is the significance I am able to extract from the song. Of course, you can make your own decision as to its meaning--afterall, thinking for yourself is one of the key tenets to the point I believe the song is making.

Currently listening to: "H." by Tool
Previous activity: Renewing my driver's license
Next thing on the agenda: Perhaps some reading

1 comment:

Disgustipated said...

Check this link out,

http://disgustipatedtool.blogspot.com/2007/02/who-wants-to-see-tool-do-h-this-tour.html

My fave song is H too.

Peace