April 22, 2017
A piece of onion flew past my head. This was a common occurrence when I argued with Erica while she was trying to cook. Today we were arguing about the lyrics of American Pie. She thought it was about rock n’ roll. I thought it was about Christian soteriology’s claim to supersede the Jewish conception of divine law.
The first stanza was clearly setting up a contrast between the twin poles of song and dance. Song represented divine goodness or mercy. Its first three letters were “son”, corresponding to the second person of the Christian Trinity, and there were the kabbalistic implications from UNSONG and Peter Singer to consider. Dance represented divine justice, because its first three letters were “dan”, and “dan” or “din” is Hebrew for “judgment”, like in the Beth Din or the name Daniel, “judgment of God”.
That wasn’t how I earned the onion, though. I’d earned the onion because of the chorus. He drove a Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry. Well, “shevet” was the Hebrew word for “tribe”, so a Chevy at the levee means the Tribe of Levi, ie the priesthood. John 7:24 says that “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” When the song says that the levee/Levites were dry, it’s pushing the standard Christian line that the Pharisee priests of Jesus’ day had become so obsessed with the Law that they had lost true faith.
Apparently Erica believed this interpretation merited an onion, even though in the very next line they refer to whiskey, which comes from the Irish uisce beatha, meaning “water of life”, which is practically an exact match for the John quote. I had a tough audience.
Bill Dodd walked in through the unlocked door, saw the table empty but for myself. “Am I early?” he asked.
“Everyone else is late, as usual,” said Erica. “Please, save me. Aaron was just trying to convince me that American Pie is about Christian soteriology.”
Then she had to explain the whole conversation thus far to Bill, and then Bill protested that it was obviously about the history of rock and roll, even though it clearly wasn’t. “Seriously!” I protested. “The very next stanza starts out with ‘Did you write the Book of Love / Do you have faith in God above / if the Bible tells you so?’ How do you not see that as an attempt to contrast the Old Testament – the Book of the Law – with the New Testament as the Book of Love, offering salvation by faith?”
“Book of Love is a famous rock n’ roll song,” said Bill, “and the very next line is ‘do you believe in rock n’ roll.”
“Exactly!” I told him. “Salvation by faith requires belief in Christ’s resurrection. The most obvious sign of which was that the rock blocking his tomb had been rolled away. Then ‘Can music save your mortal soul?’ Music = song = the Son, as I said before! It’s saying that Christ saves people’s souls! And then dancing real slow is the suspension of divine judgment!”
“I know that you’re in love with him, because I saw you dancing in the gym,” continued Erica. “Where in the New Testament does Christ dance in a gym?”
“Dancing means divine judgment!” I repeated. “And ‘gym’ is Greek for naked. There’s a perfectly clear part of the Bible that links nakedness to divine judgment, and that’s Genesis 3! The Garden of Eden narrative! We know that God is in love with humanity because even despite the justice of punishing original sin, He chooses not to do so.”
“You both kicked off your shoes,” protested Bill.
“Exodus 3:5,” I said. “And the LORD said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.”
Erica threw another onion slice at me. It missed by half an inch.
“Look,” said Bill. “You can fit individual pieces to relevant Bible verses. I’ll even give you that you mostly stuck to the Jesus theme. But the song as a whole only makes sense in the context of rock n’ roll. For example, just after the shoes part, it mentions a pink carnation, which was what young men traditionally wore to dance halls.”
“And which also contains ‘incarnation’ as a substring. You don’t think that an Incarnation could possibly have anything to do with…”
The door opened. Zoe Farr came in. “Hey guys. What are you yelling about? I could hear you all the way out in the driveway.”
“AARON IS TRYING TO SAY THAT AMERICAN PIE IS ABOUT JESUS,” yelled Erica. “HE IS SAYING THAT THE CHEVY AT THE LEVY IS THE TRIBE OF LEVITES AND THE PINK CARNATION IS THE INCARNATION. YOU NEED TO MAKE HIM STOP.”
“Calm down,” said Zoe. “That sounds kind of fun. Even though I think I read somewhere that American Pie is about the history of rock n’ roll. It even mentions the Rolling Stones at one point.”
“Okay,” I said. “Fine. You want to talk Rolling Stones? Let’s talk Rolling Stones. The relevant stanza begins ‘for ten years we’ve been on our own.’ In Bible prophecy, a day of God represents a year – this is why the seventy weeks of Daniel correspond to the 490 years after Daniel’s own time. So ten years by that conversion equals 3650 years. The Seder Olam Rabbah dates the creation of the world as 3761 BC, so in Biblical time the birth of Christ is about ten years and three months from Creation. That’s not a coincidence because nothing is ever a – ”
“And the Rolling Stones?” asked Bill.
“For the love of God, I already told you,” I said. “Resurrection of Christ. Matthew 28:2. ‘And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door.'”
“Wait…” said Zoe.
“No, you wait,” I said. “Let’s go over exactly what happens in the rest of that verse. The King is looking down – obvious reference to God entering the world, especially paired with the incarnation part earlier. Jester has clear phonetic resemblance to “Jesus”, sounds even better if you use the original “Yeshua”. He’s wearing a coat borrowed from James Dean. But we know the root ‘dan’ or ‘din’ means ‘justice’ in Hebrew. So ‘James Dean’ deciphers to ‘James the Just’, who is described in Acts as ‘the brother of Jesus’. Most commentators reconcile this with Jesus’ supposed heavenly descent by saying he was a half-brother from Mary. So James the Just represents Jesus’ human bloodline, which means the ‘coat borrowed from James Dean’ is the human form that He incarnates into, like a coat. So we have God coming down into the world and taking human form, and even having a human soul – a “voice that came from you and me”. Then he ‘steals a thorny crown’ – I hope I don’t have to explain that one to you. What happens then? ‘The courtroom is adjourned; no verdict is returned.’ The Law is supplanted; divine punishment is suspended. This would all be super obvious if you would just stop with your stupid rock n’ roll obsession.”
“The very next verse mentions John Lennon!” Erica protested.
“Lennon! Lennon is a Avgad cipher for Moses! Lamed – nun – nun, move all the letters one forward, mem – samech – samech spells ‘Moses’. And Marx. This was all in that article you rejected for the Standard. Marx means ‘man of war’, so it’s a reference to God. Moses is reading a book on God – the Torah. The whole thing is happening “while Lennon read a book on Marx”, ie along with it. Jesus comes not to supplant the law but to fulfill it. And then! A quartet is practicing in the park – that’s the Four Evangelists. Dirges in the dark the day the music died. The music is the song is Jesus. The day the music died is the day Jesus died. Mark 15:33, ‘And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.’ They’re singing dirges in the dark because Jesus just died and a supernatural darkness descended over the land.”
“What descended over the land?” asked Ally Hu. She had just come in. I had been so intent in correcting my friends’ misperceptions about American Pie that I hadn’t even noticed her.
“Supernatural darkness,” I said. “I’m explaining American Pie to these guys. We were at the part about singing dirges in the dark. It’s a reference to the supernatural darkness that covered the land after Jesus’ crucifixion.”
“I do not know so much about American culture,” said Ally, “but I thought that this song was about a history of rock n’ roll.”
“THAT’S WHAT WE’VE BEEN TRYING TO TELL HIM,” said Erica, at the same time I muttered “Et tu, Ally?”
“Exactly,” said Bill. “For example, the next verse references Helter-Skelter, Eight Miles High, and The Birds. Helter-Skelter is a Beatles song, the Byrds are a rock band, and Eight Miles High is a song by the Byrds.”
“The verse goes,” I said, “Helter-skelter, in the summer swelter, the birds flew off with a fallout shelter eight miles high and falling fast. Is there a rock band called ‘Fallout Shelter’? Is there a Grammy-award winning song by that name?”
“Not everything has to…”
“Everything has to!” I said. “Nothing is ever a coincidence. Look. The Bible contains a clear example of a fallout shelter related to divine judgment. Noah’s Ark. God decided to destroy the world for its wickedness, and Noah built something to survive the apocalypse. That’s a fallout shelter. It’s even eight miles high. The floodwaters covered the earth to a depth higher than the highest mountain. Everest is six miles high, the floodwaters had to be above that, leave a little margin of error, that’s eight miles. And falling fast, because after forty days and nights God opened the portals of the deep and the waters flowed back in. According to the story, Noah sent forth a raven and a dove to see if they could find dry land. In other words, the birds flew off, with the fallout shelter eight miles high and falling fast. The raven can’t find any dry land. But the dove can. It lands, fowl on the grass. The jester is Jesus is the Son is the Song is divine mercy, but it’s on the sidelines in a cast because at this point divine mercy has been suspended – even wounded – and divine judgment allowed to have free rein.”
“Oh wow,” said Zoe.
“You skipped the part about the players trying for a forward pass,” said Bill.
“The players are all the people and animals, trying to pass their genes forward to the next generation. The marching band which is trying to interfere – well, think about it. There are two interesting facets of a marching band. They play music. And they march. Who does that sound like? Right. The angels. The heavenly choirs and the heavenly hosts. So the players – created mortal beings – are trying to take the field. But the angels and nephilim refuse to yield – they’ve seized control of the earth. So ‘do you recall what was revealed’? How do you say ‘revealed’ in Greek? Right. ‘Apokalypsis’. The angels tried to control the earth and wouldn’t make room for humans, so God called down an apocalypse. That’s why this is in the verse that talks about Noah’s Ark.”
The doorbell rang. It was Eli Foss. “Hey,” he said. “Is dinner…”
“Okay,” I said. “Just so we don’t have to go over this yet again, and I don’t have to answer every one of your dumb complaints in order. The generation lost in space was the generation of the Exodus who were lost in the desert for forty years. The time we were all in one place was Sinai, where according to the rabbis all the souls of Jews past present and future were present for the revelation of the Ten Commandments. Jack is Jacob is Israel is the Israelites. The candlestick is the pillar of fire by night. The Devil is the Devil. A plain that climbs high into the night is a hill or mountain; it’s arguing that the theophany at Sinai naturally concluded on Golgotha. The sacrificial rite was the crucifixion. Satan is laughing with delight because Jesus just died. The girl who sang the blues is Mary Magdalene, who is sitting outside the tomb crying. They ask her for happy news because she’s the first to witness the Resurrection. She smiles and turns away as per Mark 16: “neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.” The sacred store where they had heard the music years before is the Temple, but the music wouldn’t play because the system of Temple sacrifices has been replaced by a direct relationship with God. In the streets the children are screaming and so on because Jesus is dead. The church bells are broken because Jesus is dead; kind of a heavy-handed metaphor, but whatever. The three men I admire most represent the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, exactly like he says. Do any of you have any other questions?”
“What are you talking about?” asked Eli. “Is that American Pie?”
Just then Ana came downstairs, radiant in her white dress.
“Ana!” said Erica. “You have to help us! Aaron is doing this incredibly annoying thing where he says that everything in American Pie is about the Christian version of Biblical history, and he says that the fallout shelter is Noah’s Ark and the pink carnation is the Incarnation and the Chevy at the levee is the tribe of Levi, and the Rolling Stones are the stone rolled away from Jesus tomb, and we keep telling him it’s about rock and roll and he won’t listen and you’re the only one who can ever make him see reason!”
“Erica,” said Ana calmly, “you’re going about this the wrong way. When Aaron is like this, you can’t argue against him. You have to beat him at his own game.”
“For example,” said Ana, “Aaron, I propose that the Chevy does not represent the Tribe of Levi, but rather the Tribe of Issachar.”
“Huh?” I asked. “Why?”
“Because,” she said, with an ethereally beautiful smile, “a Chevy is a car.”
“AAAAARGH!” I said. “AAARGH AAAAARGH AAAARRGH AA – ouch!”
Erica was throwing onions at both of us now, and one of them had hit me just below the eye.
“OKAY,” she shouted. “EVERYBODY IS GOING TO SIT DOWN AND EAT THEIR DAMN DINNER AND NO MORE TRIBE OF ISRAEL PUNS SO HELP ME GOD.”
I looked straight at Ana and I thought [Sit down and eat their Dan dinner]
She looked back at me and thought [So help me Gad]
I thought [We should Asher her that we’re not going to make any more puns]
Then we both broke down laughing helplessly.
“ARE YOU THINKING TRIBES OF ISRAEL PUNS AT EACH OTHER TELEPATHICALLY?” shouted Erica, and nobody else at the table even knew about the telepathic link so they thought she was making some kind of joke and started laughing awkwardly, and just as I had almost calmed down Ana thought at me [Our puns seem to be Reuben her the wrong way] and then I broke down laughing again, and it bled through the telepathic link and made Ana start laughing again, and both of us laughed like maniacs while the rest of our friends just stared at us.
I tell you this story as an apology. So that when we get to the part in the next chapter where I had to decide between dooming the world and dooming Ana, you understand why it was such a tough choice.
[A new author’s note is now up. Also, if you like this story, please vote for it on topwebfiction.]
This chapter was yet another self-indulgent exercise in coming up with obscure Kabbalistic interpretations of random things based on puns, wordplay, and incredibly loose Hebrew translations.
And it was frickin’ hilarious.
I do believe this entire story may fit that description
Shudder. So light and fluffy, and the last sentence hits you like a ton of bricks. Dark times are coming!
So presumably next chapter will end book 2…
Seems about right. What worried me is that he needs time to get both Aaron and Anna in trouble, but he seems to be implying that he’ll find a way to do both in one chapter.
Theory (p=0.15): Anna gets captured by the drug lord, who wants to use her knowledge of the vital name to give his people souls, so that they can use Names and become powerful. Aaron will get involved with The Other King somehow, and we’ll get to see something about the Other King/Drug Lord dynamic. Also, Samyazaz will pop up somewhere in this plot.
I thought the Republicans nominated Samyazaz for President.
Unsong is set in 2017, so that nominee might be the president by now.
Said president is of course Donald Clinton, while his VP Hillary Trump.
(And their Secretary of State is Gary Sanders.)
Actually the president is still the half P-zombie Barak Obama, because Unsong’s election calendar has been shifted one year forward. My mistake.
He’s going to build the best ziggurats, and the Other King will pay for them.
I support theory that the 2016 election is a competition between Gadiriel (the boring establishment) and Samyazaz (move fast and build things) over the control of the country, and the victorious one will depend on the result of the election in our universe.
Maybe, but given when Scott put finishing this as a completed goal it wasn’t at all clear what two candidates we would have.
Yes, you’re right. I don’t actually believe he would have one angel per possible nominee.
That seems to imply that Hillary Clinton has divinely-granted charisma.
Perhaps Bill is the one running instead, because this election has to be between a Clinton and a Trump for kabbalistic reasons.
You can tell Scott is just writing this story for the puns and kabalistic interpretations. Plot is a pleasant side effect
True! That’s why we need more Aaron :p
How the hell do you come up with these??? Like, do you go looking for weird connections or do they just jump out at you or?? God I LOVE this story
Fun fact: Don McLean, when asked what “American Pie” means, replied “It means I never have to work again.”
Obviously a reference to Revelation 7:16-17:
Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
I think that merits an onion.
No thanks, I’m allergic.
But wait, meriting an onion, what does that actually mean?
Look, the onions are being thrown to oppose kabbalistic puns and such. So the onions are opposing godliness. But onions have layers. You could think of the layers as nested “shells” almost.
Onions clearly symbolize here the klipot, being used to push against and limit the divine when it flows too freely.
And remember – onions are like ogres.
(they’re stinky and make you cry!)
Eliezer Yudkowsky recently commented about his deep dislike of onions on Facebook.
This is not a coincidence because nothing is ever a coincidence.
Man, I’ve found him aggravating before but this is just insane. Who the hell hates onions? And are we sure we can trust someone who hates onions to contribute to a project whose goal is creating values for an all-powerful superbeing?
However, God will wipe away the tears from their eyes – and onions are well-known for causing eyes to tear up, so God is opposing the onions/klipot, and winning. This clearly refers to the shattering of the vessels.
Additionally, the onions correspond to Enion; the implications are trivial and left as an exercise for the reader.
People are playfully attacked with scallions during Sephardic renditions of the passover seder, specifically the singing of Dayenu.
The structure of this chapter is very similar to the structure of the song Dayenu, which means “It would have been enough.” The song goes through each of the miracles that God performed for the Hebrew peoples in their connection with leaving Egypt. Similarly, if Aaron had simply given one explanation of American Pie as a Christian view of biblical history, it would have been enough. But he repeats step after step, leading people through the whole song.
This chapter is making me paranoid. It reads like a thinly-disguised transcript of cafeteria chats with my college buddies. And I doubt you even heard of the school I went to for undergrad! HOW DID YOU GET THOSE TAPES??!!
(For flavor, my best college friend and I spun a story of how Aristotle broke with Plato over a traumatic experience involving ducks. Yes, we made a full accounting for how that shaped the whole medieval/early modern European theological tradition.)
A friend and I had a comparable hobby bu our version was about conspiracy theories. I’ll trade you: what John Scalzi has to do with W. Mark Felt’s false claim to be Deep Throat, for the ducks.
Puns are nice, but why would a song about rock and roll *not* be about Christianity? It was only a rebellious folk movement popular among the dispossessed that (right around the time of this song) sold out to commercialist influences.
A similar anayalsis of the book of Esther
FWIW, Moses in Hebrew is M-S-H, so the M-S-S doesn’t work in Hebrew
Ah, but it’s transliterated as “Moses” in the KJV.
Note also that the King James Version is what Paul and Neil use to reveal the will of God in Chapter 23:
And Amoxiel in chapter 22 begins to sound increasingly like the KJV the closer he gets to God:
So it’s only logical that, according to Interlude ד, Aaron uses the KJV for Kabbalah rather than a more accesible version:
Let’s be honest: in a world where angels literally live on clouds, did you really think these good folks would be wrong about the good old King James Version?
The second letter is Shin, and it’s pronounced Moshe in Hebrew, so M-SH-H is more accurate.
Fun additional reading for anyone captivated by the kabbalistic offshoots of the story:
Basically, the article discusses the fact that the Hebrew gematria of Trump and Clinton are “the messiah son of David” and “an Amalekite woman” respectively.
They also concede later that alternate gematria for Trump include “a bad candidate” and “clown-demon”, and an alternate gematria for Clinton is “she will be queen”.
man, that’s… still not a good reading for Clinton
Unless you think about the kabbalistic interpretations…
Suppose that ‘Amalekite’ were broken down into its two constituent parts, ‘Amal’ and ‘a kite’. ‘Amal’ is kabbalistically tied to Amal Clooney, a widely renowned lawyer and human rights advocate who is nevertheless somewhat overshadowed by her more famous husband, George Clooney. This makes a ‘Amal’ a clear reference to Hilary Clinton, a widely renowned politician and law school graduate who is nevertheless somewhat overshadowed by her husband, Bill Clinton.
‘A kite’ could refer to the flying children’s toy, but a kite is also a hook-billed bird of prey from the taxonomical family Accipitridae, which also includes (you guessed it): the bald eagle, the bird most closely tied to the presidency of the United States.
So, with some kabbalistic license, “An Amalekite Woman” simply translates to “A Hilary-Clinton-President-Of-The-United-States Woman”.
I profess none of my own political leanings, but the kabbalah seldom lies.
I think it’s not doing gematria right unless you have several pages of connections and see a way to factor them all in to a person’s life, good and bad alike.
2322 (Sorry if it’s already been brought up, I didn’t realise how old the source was.)
Major kudos for this chapter.
I really appreciate how much Aaron loves Ana, despite myself rather disliking her.
Because even seeing things through Aaron’s eyes, Ana is a rather lackluster person, but the sheer humanity in their relationship, the way they just understand each other perfectly, even beyond their literal telepathic connection (which I suspect might be tampering with Aaron’s mind in ways he hasn’t considered because he’s kind of a moron, and not tampering as strongly with Ana’s mind because she was already married to Erica).
That said, I kind of hate both of the protagonists.
Aaron is pathetic, and Ana’s not nearly as clever or as righteous as she thinks she is.
That’s a little harsh, but the constant punning is extremely wearing. No wonder Erica seems to spend most of her time yelling at the top of her lungs (unless it is simply that she has no indoor voice).
But part of it is, I think, that all the people who congregate in this UU cell/safe house have something a bit wrong with them. They don’t quite fit in. They are too much in some ways and not enough in others. So Aaron and Ana’s compulsive punning which is a mental and verbal tic, and Erica’s conspiracy theorizing, Aaron’s obsessiveness with kabbalah which he cannot switch off at all, the traits of the rest of them – they’re all slightly off.
So what you dislike in them is probably the character flaws/non-neurotypical traits coming to the fore.
I agree Aaron can be astonishingly stupid for someone so smart, but that may be part of it – he’s extremely intelligent in one particular area but there probably are developmental problems going along with that. I’m not saying he’s autistic/Aspergers, but something in the area – extreme focus, extreme pattern-matching to the point of not being able to shut the hell up with the puns for ten seconds, huge ability to crunch data, a certain literal-mindedness, and lack of awareness of commonplace dangers or problems.
I imagine Ana may have something similar (the way they all leap -sometimes quite literally – into danger) as well as Erica; Erica in particular strikes me because she goes from being “everyone has the rights to the Names! No force should be used against citizens!” to running straight to what is a terrorist organization by now (whatever placebomancy may have been in the past) without blinking about “yes they’ve committed cold-blooded murders” – she is counting on their efficiency and deadliness as a protection, without seeming to have any moral qualms about joining up with a bunch of killers.
I, on the other hand, love the constant punning 🙂
My favorite chapters/interludes are by far those with Aaron in California (which are, naturally, oversaturated with puns). This is not surprising, as Scott seems to be writing them from first hand experience, which makes them stand out as particularly genuine.
I don’t think it’s psychological issues, except maybe for Aaron. It’s just that the characters are… caricatures, or parodies maybe. Not just these guys, the characters of the book in general. Like, Henry Kissinger wouldn’t really dismiss concern over the fate of his immortal soul, it’s for comic effect. And similarly, real people generally don’t think “American Pie” is about Jesus, Aaron is just an exaggeration of a certain type of person — an exaggeration made for comic effect, not to demonstrate a mental disorder.
That said, he is kind of a snot.
You remember that bit where Aaron said he was raised with his mother constantly telling him that he was better and smarter than everyone around him? I think that explains a lot about Aaron’s personality.
To be fair, Aaron acknowledges at one point that you have to cultivate an almost schizophrenic mindset in order to do Kabbalah successfully, doesn’t he?
Ana appears to be literally unable to refrain from making Bible puns, however, which is never explained.
I mean, this was set after the day the sky broke and the Devil showed up on the political stage; at this point not expecting Kabbalistic conceits – such as, in particular, literally everything being a reflection of literally everything else, and strange coincidences showing up because divine truth is hidden – is… uh, pretty silly, honestly.
I actually quite like the puns.
Every part of how the residents of Ithaca talk and interact makes me wish I lived there, because they seem like great fun at dinner parties. The immigrants stealing my Job joke still makes me laugh.
But I wouldn’t trust a single one of them with a potato gun.
Returning to what I was talking about earlier, from the way Aaron remembers and describes that night, you can see how he as the narrator absolutely loves Ana, but at the same time yourself not like Ana very much at all.
And I don’t.
To Aaron, Ana is a goddess descended from Empyrean, but if you strip away his delight in someone who truly understands him, you’re left with a woman who is A: stealing money from her parents B: tears into a guy for the horribly sin of trying to strike up a conversation C: isn’t nearly as bright as she thinks she is, and D: is a theodicist in a world in which Hell literally exists, and the Archangel who runs reality doesn’t even believe god is real.
And Aaron views himself as a smart, capable guy who has been screwed by a corrupt system and jerked around by a series of assholes (but for some reason he doesn’t count Ana on that list), but when you strip away his ego, you’re left with a man who A: found government agents assaulting his house and deciding that the smart thing to do was a frontal assault B: is letting Jane take him to freaking Vegas rather than just be honest with her, all because Jane is a little short with him about all the problems that rescuing him and keeping him alive has caused her. Seriously. He knows she’s on a secret mission of great important and can’t trust him, but if she wasn’t at least mostly good, she’d have shot him and dumped him in a ditch, so maybe but her a little bit of slack, okay? C: Still follows around Ana like a puppy dog despite knowing that she’s never going to feel the same way.
This is not a fault with the story, quite the opposite in fact.
I think we’ve all read stories about effective, competent people who have either bland personalities and token flaws, or who have deep-seated personality disorders that would make them terrible to deal with in real life. Think people like Gregory House, or most antiheros. They wouldn’t make good friends or roommates, and you wouldn’t lend them money, but if there was an apocalypse about to happen, you’d want them on your side.
But what about characters who are vibrant and amicable, who would make great friends, but who don’t handle apocalyptic responsibility well, because who would actually handle that well?
Even the larger than life characters like Sohu, Jalaketu, and Uriel are clearly just people who are trying their hardest in a really difficult situation.
Uriel is fighting literally the devil, who openly wants to see all humanity suffer, and yet people in power are routinely selling themselves to Thamiel for a little temporary advantage in the political scene, and Uriel, because his mind isn’t human and isn’t good at simulating human minds literally can’t understand why.
The Comet King is a little more human and a little less, but he still didn’t think to consult the Dividend Monks before implementing a plan to raise an army of thousands of superhumans, with no guarantee that they would be good people.
Sohu is my favorite of the lot, and she’s the most human by far. She’s brilliant, and sweet, and self-sacrificing, and she truly believes (or did) in her father and Uriel, and yet she’s also terrified of dying, and strangely forgiving of a mass murdering Archangel.
Probably the most fair analysis of Ana I’ve seen so far, so kudos for that.
I myself am not a fan of pretty much anybody in the Ithaca household except for the more bland characters, Pirinidiel, and Aaron himself. But the interactions are golden, so that makes these chapters highly worthwhile. The only thing I dislike about Aaron is his infatuation with Ana, which is mysterious. Maybe I just think Scott should establish the character traits of Aaron’s that makes punny women so hawt at least a little before they meet.
Eh, I don’t think it’s mysterious.
Literally every interaction between the two characters has demonstrated that Ana is the only person who really understands Aaron.
Keep in mind, all the Ithacans are unusual people (I won’t say neuroatypical, because none of them are clearly autistic, and I think the use of neuroatypical to describe people who are nerds is insulting both to nerds and to everyone else, since it implies a homogeneity in people who are fans of things like sports that doesn’t actually exist), but Ana and Aaron are the strangest of the bunch.
Aaron at best barely gets along with the rest of the Ithacans, and flat out doesn’t get along with anyone else.
So lets look at Ana, not from his eyes. She’s probably moderately attractive (since the rich guy hit on her instead of the ex-pop star), she’s smart and educated, and she shares his otherwise unique passion for puns.
Ana is probably the only person he’s ever met whom he can really talk to, for hours, without a stalled conservation due to a divergent interests. If she was a boy, (s)he’d probably be his best friend. But she’s not. She’s a pretty girl, and he’s a lonely boy.
It’s no surprise that he fixated so intensely on her that he ignores all her huge personality flaws (especially the ones they share), is no surprise at all.
Allow me to make myself a bit clearer, as I think wires may be crossing. The greater viability of an Aaron-Ana relationship isn’t the question. Aaron tumbles head-over-heels for Ana practically on sight, or on a first few exchanges of words. In those initial chapters Aaron has a wild and passionate reaction to Ana’s manner, independent of any specific stance she has towards himself. I don’t feel Scott really built that up so well.
Now that the two know each other, and we as an audience know them a bit better as well, Aaron’s futile obsession is better understood. But the introduction is a rare rickety part in the story, where I feel Scott expects us to read Aaron’s mind, or takes some part of his native incentives for granted.
See I feel like I am exactly the sort of person who would fall for someone like Ana very quickly and so that part made a bit more sense to me. 😛
A possibly-relevant quote:
“… if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.”—E. M. Forster
I would hope to have the guts to betray my friends, because putting “that little gang o’mine” first leads to the kind of banana republics where as long as you’re on the right side of El Presidente, law is only for the little people and the police are your own personal death squad.
If you wouldn’t choose your friend over the law if you knew your friend was a rapist or murderer, it doesn’t make it any better to dress it up in “I’d rather be a traitor than a stool-pigeon”.
(All depending, of course, on the case where the friend is in the wrong and you’re not facing an unjust or corrupt regime making a false appeal to patriotism and civic duty).
The decision that trumps friendship is a serious one. The phrases you used…in the wrong….false appeal to patriotism… they don’t mean the same things to everyone.
It isn’t remotely predictable, and its rarely symmetrical.
Well, to take the UNSONG universe, had I a friend like Dylan Alvarez (or a friend who was one of his “bomb squad”), you bet I’d be ringing the cops in ten seconds’ flat about “That terrorist you want is right here”, and never mind any appeals to “But we’re overthrowing the coercive power of the state!”
They’re murderers. Yes, even with Malia Ngo in charge of UNSONG. Blowing people to bits is still murder.
Granted, Dylan would probably murder me before I could pick up the phone, but that only makes the point stronger, I feel. I also feel Dylan would be very fond of sentimentally quoting that “if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country” in order to keep his acolytes in line; better not get any ideas about jumping ship or chickening out, it’s too late for you now… but hey, it’s not like I’m threatening you or forcing you to stay or anything, is it?
Have you ever been in a car where the driver went over the speed limit? If so, did you call the cops on them?
Friendship vs. law is nothing to depend on. It varies by the dude, by the day. Some people would rat every time. Some people would go silent to the gallows.
As you say, it all depends on the quality of the friends vs the quality of the country…
Choosing “country” over “individuals” also leads to that kind of outcome.
Do you believe in the rule of law or not, is what it comes down to for me. “The rules only apply to other people, you should forgive me for being a thief/murderer/swindler/love rat because I’m your bestest buddy!” appeal does not seem to me to be a good basis for making decisions.
If it comes to “betray my country/betray my friend”, I think it’s clear things must have reached a fair pitch of seriousness. It’s not like “are you really going to inform on me over a few parking tickets?” or the like. The friend here is being put in the position of someone who is potentially, if not actually, a traitor – so do you abet them by helping them in whatever manner, even if it’s just pretending you don’t know what they’re doing, or do you put the institutions of civil society first?
Suppose you know your friend is planning to blow up parliament. Maybe you don’t particularly like the present government, but do you keep quiet simply because “ah, he’s a mate, serves the bastards right”?
But most people, I think, interpret the Foster quote along the lines of “So what if Joe had a few joints in his possession, it shouldn’t be a crime, I’m no rat-fink stool pigeon” when it comes to choosing between friend versus country. They certainly don’t think of it as a really serious and difficult choice, it’s plainly always going to come down to “sure you pick your friends, they’re the guys who have your back, whereas who cares about petty regulations about parking on double yellow lines?”
The lesson here isn’t “always be loyal to the smallest group of which you’re a part”. Whether a decision is right or wrong depends on more than just the number of people it affects.
The issue is just that in cases where you might betray a friend, such a betrayal would probably have really bad consequences for them. On the other hand, almost nobody has the power to really seriously injure their entire country.
But that objection doesn’t apply in this case. It’s completely possible that Aaron’s decision will destroy his entire country, or even the world. Hence, it would indeed be better to bite the bullet and betray his friend.
I couldn’t sleep, and I had “American Pie” stuck in my head on repeat. I gave up and checked my RSS reader to see a new UNSONG interlude…
Needless to say, nothing is ever a coincidence.
How could a just and loving God allow such puns to exist?
It was probably Thamiel. After all, he did have that pun war with Uriel once.
The Punic wars were presumably about defeating Moloch, so they were a necessary evil.
Jeremiah 1:11-12 is a pun.
care to explain?
This is a pun in Hebrew, since the word for “working” is the same as the word for “almond”. So it would read “you see an almond tree, because I’m almond to make sure my word is fulfilled”. It’s God pulling a Neil Armstrong on Jeremiah, in the bible.
(Fun fact: I am, in real life, named after this passage. It’s very embarrassing.)
If you want “naked in a garden”, there’s this from the Gospel of Mark, a tiny incident not mentioned in the three other gospels, after the arrest of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane:
Rolling stones – the “stone cut out from the mountain” in the second chapter of the book of Daniel:
Matthew 21, referencing Psalm 118:
Haha, what a funny little interlude—
You linked to the wrong place on TopWebFiction. It says “your vote has been registered,” but that’s not exactly true for people who just clicked the link.
Link to the voting booth instead so that readers can actually click the button in order to vote, which will be counted.
I love it. The puns are great. The crazy is great. The dark and ominous foreshadowing is great.
Doom the world, Aaron. Doom it all!
Also, interesting switch to specifically describing Aaron as narrator and writing this all out. Had we been aware of that before?
Yeah, in Interlude ד, where Aaron (as narrator) talks about having had conversations with Ana.
From that interlude:
“Later, when she heard all of this explained in more detail, she realized it was the key to the whole mystery, that anyone who understood the Digrammaton would understand the Shem haMephorash too, and everything else beside. But that was still long in the future.”
Either that happens in the next chapter or Ana survived the “doom.”
The end of the world began in a cubicle …
That’s not quite what it says; it says the apocalypse began in a cubicle, which could mean that some great revelation started there.
On the other hand… when I try to figure out who arranged all those coincidences that led to Aaron discovering the Vital Name, Thamiel seems like the best fit.
As Scott has said numerous times in the past, he’s even *named* “Teller”.
Aaron’s parts have all been in first-person. I’m not sure if Ana’s parts are narrated by Aaron or a different unidentified narrator.
By Aaron (in retrospect after all the events in the book have happened). He even added his point of view in square brackets after Ana’s at some point.
Mmmm, problem is, I think Aaron is going to choose Ana. Maybe Scott will be tough-minded enough to make Aaron pick the sake of the world, but I don’t really feel convinced that Aaron can reject her (or if he does, it’s because he has a secret plan to save her and he’s not really condemning her, she may be slightly dead but she’ll get better).
Scott has perhaps done too good a job of demonstrating that Aaron really cares about Ana, so I don’t feel any suspense about the outcome 🙂 The other way round, I think that would genuinely be in doubt – would Ana pick Aaron over the entire world? I really don’t know!
I live for chapters like this. Beloved Scott, grace fiction evermore beyond the scope of Unsong.
Since I’d skip voting before I’d vote for Trump or Clinton, could anyone do gamatria readings on Gary Johnson and Jill Stein?
Also, while I never imagined one do it to the extent shown here, I thought the Christian symbolism in American Pie was obvious, and this is the first I’ve heard it framed as a history of Rock-and-roll. Though, maybe that’s just showing my ignorance on Musical history.
Here’s the site:
Share the ones you find most gripping.
The last two on the list, “God’s judgment of himself” and “Putin is the Joker” are standouts for me.
To assuage your curiosity about the conventional reading: yes, there’s Christian imagery in there, but in the service of the rock.
McLean dedicated it to Buddy Holly, who died in a plane crash with Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper in February of 1959. That’s what the first verse is clearly about. Beyond that he isn’t telling, but it’s pretty clear it’s a history of major events in the subsequent decade of rock and roll.
Verse two starts with wanting to be a musician and playing for a school dance crowd. The jester is Bob Dylan (and he did an album cover with a cost on very much like James Dean wore in “Rebel Without a Cause”); he’s in a cast because he had a motorcycle accident. The quartet is the Beatles, and the Sergeants are too. The birds are the Byrds, as mentioned in the interlude. The devil is Mick Jagger and the sacrificial right is Altamont, hence the “no angel born in hell” – literally about the failure of the Hell’s Angels to keep things under control. The girl who sang the blues is probably Janice Joplin dying of an overdose, and the holy trinity brings us back to the plane crash.
Many of the lines in between are callbacks to songs and song lyrics. Jack Flash sat on a candlestick, for instance, because of “Jumping Jack Flash”, and of course the chorus references “That’ll Be the Day” by Buddy Holly.
…so, uh, how does “The Saga Begins” fit in here? 😛
Because Anikin’s mother is the embodiment of Torah, the very axis of all creation. She is the one who bear a Sith.
Took me a second, have a plus one
It’s taking me a second, I’ll give you a plus one once I crack it.
(The book of Genesis is called “B’reshit” in Hebrew, pronounced Beh-reh-shit, or Bərēšīṯ if you find wikipedia’s phonetic spellings more helpful)
Oh. My understanding was a bit simpler. Who was Eve’s third son?
Well, in all honesty I could never have guessed that. Sounds like you could squeeze a Brexit joke into there.
Roman: Seth, which has troubling implications about the line of Noah. The sons of Cain were wicked, and Tubal-Cain boasted of his murders. Noah and his family were the spared remnant, but sin was not eradicated with them. The Ark of history bore the lineage of Sith, and once again the earth would become Darth.
LPSP: hence the Wikipedia link. I was trying to balance blatantly explaining my joke against giving more people a shot at getting it. 🙂
It’s comments like this that made me wish we had a voting system for comments here.
It’s the story of the Comet King (focusing on the first episode, him saving colorado), the modern reinterpretation of the older story, with swordfights and ships worked into it. It’s a song about two adults (Ellis and Vihaan) in a time of war finding a child with unprecedented power to save them from an invasion.
For example, “maybe Vader someday later” clearly predicts his fathering the cometspawn (recall that Vader means “father” in german). “do you see him hitting on the queen though he’s just nine and she’s fourteen” refers to his conference with Gadiriel – despite her age advantage (“fourteen” should actually be read “four tens”, the number of years since she was freed from Uriel’s machine), he gains the upper hand in their negotiations. (The older statesmen representing her in the capitol who is central to the story is not mentioned.)
So how does this all fit in with the fact that “The Saga Begins” is based on a reworking of an old Norse saga?
mumble mumble something adam kadmon mumble mumble nothing is ever a coincidence.
If dancing is the OT law and judgement, contrasting with music for the NT and mercy, why is Jesus the Lord of the Dance? (And that in turn is inspired by an earlier English hymn, “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day”, and by images of Shiva Nataraja.)
I guess one can be the Lord of something AND do everything to supress it. Power over X can be used to enable, supress or otherwise control X in any shape or form.
On a tangent, dancing is such a good metaphor for punishment. So many things refer to dancing to the devil’s beat, or making someone move at MY PACE as a wicked or controlling trait. Dancing is the hard, disciplinary part of experiencing the joy of music. And for the musicians, getting to see people dance to their tune is sort of the reward.
I’m trying to picture what UNDANCE as an organisation would do.
This is horrifically groan-worthy.
(Which is a compliment, coming from me.)
Unsong’s method of lyrical interpretation has led me to believe that the singer of Ocean Man by Ween is addressing the Antichrist of Revelation (“ocean man”), interrupting them on their evil mission (“the voyage to the corner of the globe” that “is a real trip”), earnestly attempting to convert them to Christianity (“the oberman”, or “the childlike man”), unaware or, less cynically, too good to acknowledge, that the Antichrist is fated to rebel to the end and cannot be redeemed. (He cannot, in fact, “see through the wonder of amazement”.) The singer trusts the Antichrist’s expertise in worldly matters (he refers to them as “the land that you understand”) as a missionary tactic to level with him. In the process, though, he ultimately contrasts the Antichrist with Christ and, by extension, the unsaved with the saved – the ocean man is left as “crust”, “imbibed by the sand”, facing death – actually true, spiritual death. Meanwhile the childlike man is merely “braised by the sand” and remains “a life form”. The ocean man “[soaks] up the thirst of the land” in the sense that he is left with all of the troubles and suffering of the Earth, while “the childlike man” soaks up the thirst of the land in the sense that he removes all of the troubles and suffering of the Earth. Ultimately, Ocean Man is a song of hopeful universalism, proselytizing even to the most obstinately evil that they may be saved in Christ.
By the same token, I’m pretty sure “Gotta Knock a Little Harder” is about the condemnation of the Holy Spirit. The door symbolizes the seperation of man from God. The chain represents his own guilt. The fire is the lake of the of fire. Like, it’s barely hidden at all, but no one buys it when I try to explain it to them.
An excellent analysis of American Pie, but I found the treatment of the first stanza to be lacking. The first stanza doesn’t even mention “song,” and it mentions “dance” only once and in a positive context, so I’m not sure where this twin-poles analysis is coming from. Let me suggest an alternative.
Aaron is correct to identify “song” as a key to American Pie’s meaning, but in the first stanza it appears as the closely related word “music”. Besides being a synonym for “song”, “music” is derived from the Greek Muses, goddesses who carry divine inspiration to humans, most notably for poetry. Thus “music” refers specifically to divine goodness and mercy expressed through inspired writing– in this case, the New Testament– and further expressed through the divine Word itself among humans, i.e. Jesus.
Similarly, “dance” does represent justice, but Aaron misses that it is not a negative concept: justice is supposed to follow from the “song” of God’s mercy, but for fallen humans it doesn’t (thus only “maybe they’d be happy for a while”, i.e. temporally, and later on “we all got up to dance, but we never got the chance”). So the Jewish conception of divine law is initially treated as positive. BUT… then “February made me shiver with every paper I’d deliver”. I parse this as follows: February is named for the ancient Roman ritual of ‘februa’, held on the 15th of the month; ‘februa’ is a ritual of purification that comes from the same root as febris = ‘fever’, a sense that’s strengthened by the mention of “shiver”. Thus February indicates a sickened spirituality focused on ritual purity and the letter of the written Law (“with every paper”).
But we are promised that “I’d deliver”, i.e. “I would rescue” this spirituality. It is the “bad news” that prevents us from engaging in true justice (as we “couldn’t take one more step” in the dance), which can be directly contrasted with the “good news” = Gospel. Not coincidentally, Feburary 15th is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent (using the traditional date of March 25th for Easter and assuming a leap year); thus the text clearly looks forward to Easter.
The remainder of the first stanza is quite directly talking about Good Friday, since it references “his widowed bride” (the New Testament consistently refers to the Church as the “bride of Christ”) and “the day the music died” (as explained above, “music” is a reference to Jesus). “Something touched me deep inside” states the central claim of American Pie: that in Christian soteriology the law is ‘written on the hearts’ of Christians, making true justice possible and superseding the old “letter of the law” understanding.
Good comment, the song is apparently about not feeling like things are as hopeful as they could be, the apathy creating “bad news” is clearly the answer to untangling all the hopeless, arbitrary references to rock bands.
“I knew if I had my chance”: chance is “chants” is song is mercy—that is, “if I had mercy”. The first person throughout this first section (and elsewhere) is Jesus or God (or God as Jesus or Jesus as God, or most likely God imagining Himself as Jesus before descending to Earth).
“That I could make those people dance”: Here we’re talking about making the people their own judges. Divine judgement is suspended, leaving laws in the hands of Man. It’s not saying that there is no right or wrong, but that it’s up to humans to determine it. (This goes with my comment below about “the last train for the coast”.)
I am sorry to have to inform you that it was the flames, not the “plain”, which climbed high into the night. Also, at one point the Byrds are misidentified as the Birds.
I just realized this chapter is structured as a verbal fugue.
The part about the incarnation goes “With a pink carnation and a pickup truck”. A pickup truck is a means of carrying a heavy burden. Such as the sins of the world.
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Some people know Hebrew and Greek… Backwards and forwards. Some have letters in letters. Some get offers due to their honors.
If I could talk the way they think, I’d talk a talk that wouldn’t stink. I’d rhyme and croon to make them swoon. I’d sing and rant the classic tune. I’d cant a round till they pull the lever. I’d dance and duck the soup-chop cleaver. If I could learn the things they know I’d really give the world a show. The time is late and ‘fore I go, a rhyme for now, then see-ya-later.
could the church bells all being broken be a reference to the temple veil being torn in two when Jesus died?
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I would literally pay for more silly “analyses” like that.
I love this and keep coming back to it. Here’s a little thought of my own… (I haven’t read all the comments but I have searched for some words the absence of which means this hasn’t been said yet.)
Aaron deals with the chevy and the levee (although I take slight issue with the way the concepts are strung together—”took my chevy to the levee” is clearly saying that the singer takes *his* tribe to the Levites), but I was wondering about the rest of the chorus.
“This’ll be the day that I die” has obvious implications for facing judgement (or facing the music if you prefer). The “good old boys” are those who lived their lives according to the old order. Again, Aaron/Scott has covered the whiskey equals life, but “drinking” here has obvious resonances with both “dreck” meaning “rubbish” and “trinket”, which is something which is prized above its external value; so “drinking whiskey” means “wasting/devaluing their lives”. “Rye” is a homophone for “wry”, which could mean “mocking or dry humour”—a potential response to finding they had wasted their lives—but “wry” can also mean “twisted” or “turned aside” (it’s where “awry” comes from in modern English)—here it clearly indicates both a life (whiskey) being “twisted” or misspent but also the “turning aside” of the judgement of a life by the new music.
So then to the first line of the chorus, and title. “Miss American Pie”. “Pie” is quite clearly “pi”, the shortening of “pious” popular in British English. “American” here refers to America’s epithet “Land of the Free, making “American”=”Free”. So a piety which was “Misamerican” would be one which had no freedom: one in which judgement was absolute. We’re saying “Bye bye” to that form of virtue because, as we know, judgement has been replaced by mercy.
Meanwhile, the title “American Pie” (no “bye bye”, no “mis[s]”) refers specifically to the new form of virtue, based on freedom from judgement. The title literally means “Virtue without Judgement”.
In order then, the chorus says:
The era of judgement-based virtue is over.
When I took my family to the priests, I found no true faith there;
The people who were considered virtuous under the old system were wasting their lives, and found a dark humour in the fact they’d lived by a set of rules which were getting turned aside—
Saying “I bet after all that time spent living according to the rules, I’ll die right now and go straight to the afterlife without getting a chance to enjoy the new way of living.”
It’s worth noting that “pie” is also “π”, and refers to everything turning around half a circle, what we would call “doing a 180” as judgement is replaced by mercy.
(I probably don’t have to point out that the “Pt. 1” in the full title of the song foreshadows the Second Coming.)
I haven’t time to go over everything else but I will mention that “Church Bells” *isn’t* a heavy handed metaphor for Jesus’ death specifically. It’s a reference to Alonzo Church (of, amongst other things, the Church-Turing thesis, which is part of the build-up to the proof of the existence of unanswerable questions) and John Stewart Bell (of Bell’s Theorem, a mathematical argument which uses an unanswerable question to prove the non-locality of quantum mechanics). It’s saying that even the laws of physics, mathematics, and logic are suspended to allow Jesus to rise from the dead (just as the divine law of judgement is also suspended).
“Not a Word was spoken” because the “Word” (Jesus, cf John 1:1) wasn’t re-spoken (made anew); Jesus was resurrected after spending time dead and returning.
The “last train for the coast” is the last teaching (training) before the long period of time when God will not interfere with the world (the “coast” where the world is running under its own power). In essence it’s saying “Jesus’ death is the last piece of the puzzle, there will be no more training after this.”
On the other hand, the people convinced that American Pie is about Buddy Holly aren’t completely stupid, since his name is also a reference to Jesus: the “Holly” is a well-trodden metaphor for God/Jesus (I know two slightly different versions of “Now the holly bears a berry…”, which make this explicit without even removing a second letter to complete the transition from Buddy Holly’s original name “Holley” through “Holly” to “Holy”). And a “Bud” is a living shoot of a plant. Finally, as Terry Pratchett has pointed out, “y” is used in Welsh to denote possessive. So “Buddy Holly” is “the Bud of Hol[l]y” is Jesus, the incarnated living God. (Metaphorically, of course.)
So so so late, but I was thrown out of the story a bit by “the standard Christian líne that the Pharisee priests of Jesus’ day had …”. The Pharisees weren’t priests! They were from the people who studied Torah separately (ha) from the priesthood, and were generally opposed to the priestly party. I think even a reasonable number of Christians know that, so I’m not sure this incongruity can be saved by putting “the standard Christian líne* in front of it.
Unless the point is that the Pharisee project was essentially to democratize the priesthood and pass its responsibilities to all Israel. Which might make sense … except that this is very poorly explained in the Gospels, and so isn’t part of the standard Christian line about the Pharisees. It’s really hard to make this make sense either way.
I guess you could just argue that Christians are fundamentally confused about Pharisees, which would be fair enough, but it feels like that needs at least one or two more words.