I thought I’d go for one of the obvious choices in my own musical history and read some Blue Oyster Cult! I chose Cultosaurus Erectus, given that it’s considered the band’s greatest album by certain malcontents — that is to say, once upon a time, the fan club’s president wrote a piece that was basically “fight me, this underrated album is actually the best.” I can appreciate that. But the first track on this album is also the whole reason I got into the band at all. And the whole album is crazy.
I have a long-lasting love of Blue Oyster Cult. My dad, of all people, started it. He bought me a greatest hits compilation, mostly because it had “Godzilla” and “Don’t Fear the Reaper” on it. I listened to those songs a lot, and the album just a bit more. Then a track titled “Black Blade” came on one evening when I was just sitting at my computer. We’ll talk about it in detail below, but it turns out it’s about Michael Moorcock’s character Elric. I was, and still am, in love with those stories, too.
Given that I had not yet listened to Led Zeppelin (yes, seriously), this was the first time a band overtly referenced books I liked. So my small teenage mind was blown. I lost my shit. I hit up the internet and found that no, I had not read too much into it, and yes, it was about Elric. Hell, the lyrics are actually by Moorcock.
With that preamble out of the way, let’s get started. I’ve chosen the Alchemical Tarot this time, as alchemical symbolism was often important to the band. Or, at least, it was important to a few members of the band.
As always, my procedure works this way: I’ll write my first impressions of the piece. When you see the tarot card, that means I’ve flipped it over. I actually don’t know what’s coming during these posts until I am midway through them.
As I said above, this song is about the Eternal Champion, Elric. The song itself doesn’t really require you to know the story. The simple basic portion is that Elric is weak-bodied and must use magic to stay alive. In the course of his magical studies, he contacts a Chaos lord who directs him to a magical sword, Stormbringer. Elric gets the sword, which is intelligent, likes killing, and feeds on souls. It also feeds Elric. So when he kills he is strong, too. The sword, uh, does some very spoilery things that I won’t get into, because you should definitely go read these books. But Elric is not too happy with the thing; he can’t get rid of it, though.
The song is mostly a monologue; Elric narrates his plight and bemoans his inability to do without the sword. A scratchy, fuzzed voice cackles maniacally and plays the part of the sword itself. That’s basically it. It’s certainly a good first track.
Nine of Swords
This card depicts a man fleeing from a barrage of swords. Sort of. They’re tied up at the ceiling, and could presumably fall at any moment. I always react to this particular card by saying, “why doesn’t he just leave the room?” The card usually points to a bad situation, like a fight or an intellectual problem, that we should really just step back from for a minute. In Elric’s case he can’t, or believes he can’t. The strings attached to the swords remind me of the sword of Damocles, which hangs over someone’s head by a thin hair. Eventually the hair will break. In the same way, eventually Elric’s shit will get ruined. That seems like a match to me.
This is a hell of a song. It’s a more complete narrative, which goes this way: five people escape some situation, steal a ship, and head out into space. Four are men; the only woman, Pasha, is the ship’s navigator. All four men eventually want to have sex with Pasha. Meanwhile, relativity makes everyone age backwards, which is presumably good (I’m not sure that’s how relativity works).
Anyway, “Joe” begins a relationship with Pasha. The other men drug him, then gang-rape Pasha. Joe awakes, tries to shoot them off her, and kills her. They’re rapists and killers, and their navigator is dead with the “cruise control” on. Good luck out there, dipshits.
So, basically, we’re the real monsters. This is not a complex message, but it’s a pretty good song. It has a few tonal changes (that’s not a technical term, it just gets soft and loud and they kind of harmonize sometimes and not others). It always struck me as a portrait of all the studies that show people (and by that, we know now, the studies always meant socialized men) get violent as shit when in an enclosed space. I’m never sure if the song’s thesis is that this is natural and tragic, or if the characters are just assholes (as opposed to “they’re assholes but so is everybody).
Ten of Vessels (Cups)
The tens usually indicate fullness and the readiness for a new attempt at something. Cups indicate emotions and depths. The artist’s description is that this is the alchemical still, distilling vapors into reagents. The meaning, according to the artist, is connectedness and a network, like a family. He also mentions the internet, actually.
That card seems clear to me, too, as it relates to the song. The social network is broken with these people. They are “monsters” because they don’t have any means of socializing with one another, save for violence. The narrator cracks, once, that they’re fleeing “rules and regulations.” Well, they succeeded. The song posits, then, that without some kind of constraint, we all become monsters.
I’m not sure I agree, but that’s the story the song and the card tell. It’s pretty good.
This song is a little funkier and slower than the previous two. The best I can figure, the song is from the point of view of artists or, most likely, rock stars. Disaffected with the people who think they’re “Satanic,” they say, well, OK then. “If he really thinks we’re the devil, then let’s send him to Hell.” This is the second song with overt references to Christianity (“Monsters” asks God to help them on their search in space). I’m not sure what to do with that yet, but it’s true.
The song lists things they do in their situation, like trouble, drugs, cars, sex, and even prayer. Nothing works, it seems. The song seems to be a kind of nihilist view of that dead end where everyone expects something from you and you don’t expect anything of yourself.
Five of Coins
“Thy will be done,” the singer sings at one point, coming off a reference to “America, the Beautiful.” It makes me think of traveling the country, sneering at people giving their fates into a god’s hands, even as they do the same.
The card focuses on that kind of painful need. The figure is injured, perhaps disabled. They have a wooden leg that attaches to their knee. It’s certainly a jarring sight for those of us used to piratical “peg legs” that just look like the person is comfortable with it. This belted contraption does not look comfortable. The person is most likely poor (the Waite-Smith five of coins features two poor beggars fleeing bad weather outside a church), but coins litter the ground. How, though, can this person get them while alone?
Referring to the artist’s descriptions again, the coins on the ground are the four elements. They do have the traditional triangular signs. The coin in the sky, as the sun, is the spirit. The description says “something is missing.” In terms of the card, the beggar (for that’s what the artist calls the card) can’t reach something necessary because something is missing. That’s harsh, and maybe a little insensitive.
But if we consider it in context of the song then that comes clear too. It’s titled “Divine Wind,” after all. The speaker is missing something, and looks everywhere for it. He travels, sleeps around, and nothing works. He has a vision in his head, the “grace of God.” He can’t find it, and if he can’t, then why not do exactly the opposite?
That’s a good beginning. I said this album was kinda crazy.