It’s time to finish reading Cultosaurus Erectus. Here’s the previous entry. We only have three songs to go!
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.
The religious imagery is all over the place in this album, isn’t it?
The basic point of the song is that the speaker fell in love with a woman who left him. Apparently this was awful enough that the speaker compares himself to Lucifer, who fell from heaven and will now rise up in hatred and rebellion. I guess we’re supposed to sympathize with the guy? For some reason?
If you squeak by the motivation, which is a little shitty, the song is a good rendition of that feeling of spite we all get from time to time. I once spent an entire semester writing the weirdest poems I could because, in the first workshop of a class, someone said my poem about Norse mythology was “too obscure.” I felt the way this song feels, driving home.
But we can’t actually ignore the motivation, can we? It’s just too creepy. The song doesn’t indicate what the jackhole speaker will do, but it can’t be good. The song sounds like a threat. We could just try to handwave it away and say it was the 70s and early 80s, but, uh. No. BOC is a great band, I love them, but they often wrote songs about women that were just a little uncomfortable. It’s a little too often to just be a character pose.
The Emperor is usually a depiction of male authority outside the realms of spirituality. He’s a ruler. That does not always mean he’s good at it, or at anything. I’ll always remember the reading I did for a student who was anxious just before the 2016 presidential election. I got the Emperor, and neither me nor the student could fathom that it could indicate the Great Windbag would be awarded the presidency. So the Emperor can definitely indicate a shitty ruler, an evil or violent despot.
The speaker in the song certainly qualifies. He’s the “emperor of Hell,” in that he’s comparing himself to Lucifer. That highlights the fallacy at the core of the song: why is the speaker electing to be more miserable because of a breakup? He’s obsessing and creating this one small, petty space he can rule. That’s why. “Better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.” I think that’s from Milton (it’s been a while, be nice to me). The speaker lost something central to his perception of himself, so he’s creating a violent, repugnant identity because it allows him to feel in control again.
If you think about it, a ton of the songs on this album are about losing control and trying, in desperate and shitty ways, to get it back.
Lips in the Hills
This is BOC at their best, creating vaguely Lovecraftian, weird, B-movie horrors that are just creepy for some reason. The song does open by saying the speaker is gripped by a mysterious something, continuing that imagery of losing control.
The narrative here is that he’s out in the hills and encounters some kind of awful horror. He can only describe it as “lips.” It’s possible the whole thing is illusory, too, since the speaker says he fell and questions what he sees. It’s that classic horror story, basically, very The Hills Have Eyes or something.
Three of Coins
This is an odd one. I usually think of the three of coins, particularly this version, as contemplation and practice of a craft. The artist sits quietly, drawing a self-portrait. He is practicing the craftsmanship of his trade, improving his skills. The windows reveal hills and water, showing how grounded the figure is. Those two landscapes indicate that this card has to do with emotional states as well — specifically, it indicates placidity. When we’re calm we can practice. When we’re agitated we may perform well up on stage, but we need to chill out in the garage as we learn the new chords, right?
The artist also adds “observation” to this card’s meanings. That may provide the key we need. The song is all about observing something, but in a state of panic. Even the memory causes the speaker to panic, and that’s why we have no idea what he really saw. The use of “lips” brings in a little body horror, too. So I suppose we’d read the card as “reversed.” It indicates the need for calm observation and groundedness. The speaker has none of those things.
Here’s a good one. The final song on the album, “Unknown Tongue” is one of the BOC songs that gets a lot of attention because of the scandal it caused.
Basically, this song is about a young girl masturbating for the first time and simultaneously cutting herself because it feels good.
This song came out in 1980, keep in mind. The fact that the song highlights how young the woman is did not help. That’s, you know, when people usually start experimenting, but ok.
The chorus is the really good part, because it adds the symbolic layer into what’s happening:
Speak to me in many voices
Make them all sound like one
Let me see your sacred mysteries
Reveal to me the unknown tongue
The cutting and blood and the sex all add up into a kind of sacrament. It’s as though the experience gives her knowledge of occult forces — she demands the “unknown tongue,” which can be read as the language of God.
Note, too, that the previous song was about lips. Now we have an image of a tongue.
Knight of Staffs
The knight of staffs is often reckless. You can see that here because a knight in full armor, with a flaming staff, has wandered into a desert with very few plants (really, there’s just the one at his feet; the tree in the background is dead). The card can indicate a kind of “wasteland,” depicting as it does a dry, arid, rocky place. There’s a lot of glory here: the knight has a fabulous plume that’s standing even in the heat. But there’s not a lot of common sense, we might say.
That jives with the song perfectly. Margaret has discovered a “divine” sensation, but she ties it immediately to damage (note that I didn’t say “pain.” That can be fine psychologically, but damage will eventually fuck you up). She was impulsive and discovered something, but is probably too young to understand how to temper her finding with her own life.
That ends our album reading! I wrapped that card reading early to say this: the album has tons of songs about men angry and bitter with women, or mad and directly violent with them. But the album ends with an image of a young woman sexually gratifying herself and merging with the divine on some level. The cutting, then, almost takes on a layer of self-flagellation. It’s still not healthy, as things go, but it’s possibly better than gang-raping and murdering someone, or killing people because they’re late, or swearing to become the devil. This album is about some fucked up shit, I tell you what.