Today, we're sharing an essay by one of our rock stars! This example of outstanding student work was written by Noah S., a homeschooled teenager from California. Noah recently finished the Essay Rock Star full semester program, and this is one of the essays he wrote for the course. It's a textual analysis -- an analytical review -- of a song called "Lateralus" by his favorite band Tool. This essay stands out for the depth and complexity of its analysis.
Textual Analysis of "Lateralus" by Tool
by Noah S.
“Lateralus” is a song by the rock band Tool from their third full length studio album. The song describes life using the metaphor of a spiral. Life is a continuing series of events that have unforeseen consequences. A person has to go through each circumstance no matter where it takes them. The song encourages people to live life without preset boundaries of what they think will happen. Hence, to move towards lateral thinking-a more freeing thought process of going with the flow of life changes. But how do the lyrics take us to interpret this meaning? Through looking at Tool’s use of color, sequencing of syllables and the use of poetic phrases, a better understanding of these lyrics will be achieved.
The song uses various colors to describe lateral thinking. Lateral thinking, as defined by Oxford Dictionaries, is “the solving of problems by an indirect or creative approach, typically through viewing the problem in a new and unusual light” (2016). The lyrics refer to the colors black and white as a metaphor for straight-forward or linear thinking-a one dimensional approach to dealing with difficult situations. The lyrics then say “Red and yellow then came to be” (Chancellor, 2001). This is another metaphor to describe the ability to see problem solving from different perspectives. An example of this can be found in old, black and white cinema versus color cinema. When color was added to movies, it shined a new and different light on the same subject matter, providing more detail and perspective. The same analogy can be said of this Tool song. As color is added to life, varying possibilities emerge.
“Lateralus” also uses a particular pattern of syllables forming what is known as the Fibonacci sequence. The Fibonacci sequence is a mathematical term used to describe the pattern in a series of numbers where the next number in the sequence is found by adding up the two numbers before it (Pierce, 2015). The sequence of numbers looks like this: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, and so on. When the sequence is graphed, it creates a spiral (Pierce, 2015). How does this all apply to “Lateralus”? The song uses the following pattern of syllables in the lyrics:
White are (2)
All I see (3)
In my infancy (5)
Red and yellow then came to be (8)
Reaching out to me (5)
Let’s me see (3)
These lyrics show a Fibonacci sequence. The syllables add together from each line and then decrease back down the sequence after eight syllables. As stated previously, the lyrics are a metaphor for life. The writer is encouraging listeners to go where each circumstance in life leads, with an open perspective. Just as in the Fibonacci sequence, each life event builds on a previous life event. Living life on a spiral can be freeing.
Finally, Tool uses poetic phrases to make their point about living life without preset boundaries. One example from the lyrics is in the words: “There is so much more that beckons me to look through these infinite possibilities…” (Chancellor, 2001). The term “infinite possibilities” refers to the many angles one can view a situation. There are more ways to approach a life event than at first glance. Another phrase, “I embrace my desire to….to swing on the spiral,” further emphasizes the idea of taking an open-minded approach to life (Chancellor, 2001). “Swing on the spiral” is a reference to the Fibonacci sequence and being willing to go where life leads. According to an interview in Aggro Active (Sorrels, 2001), one of the band members, Maynard James Keenan, made the point of the lyrics best by saying, “Lateralus is more about lateral thinking and how the only way to really evolve as an artist- or as a human….is to start trying to think outside of the lines and push your boundaries. Kind of take yourself where you haven’t been and put yourself in different shoes,” (pg. 30).
“Lateralus” uses extremely complex lyrics to make the point of “pushing boundaries” in one’s thinking. This could have been done in a more straightforward way. However, the thinking would then be less “lateral” and might not drive home the point that life is complex so we need to just go with where it takes us.
Chancellor, J. (2001). "Lateralus" [Recorded by Tool]. Los Angeles, California, United States of America.
"Lateral thinking" (Def. 1). Oxford Dictionaries Online. In Oxford Dictionary. Retrieved April 28, 2016 from www.oxforddictionaries.com.
Pierce, R. (2015, November 17). "Fibonacci Squence". Retrieved from Math is Fun: www.mathisfun.com/numbers/fibonacci-sequence.html
Sorrels, G. (2001, May 11). "The Tool Shed". Aggro Active, p. 30. Retrieved from Aggro Active.