A Eulogy for The Mars Volta
The Mars Volta broke up. We got Patrick McGuire, who for whatever reason loved them in high school, and probably still does, to write them a farewell letter.
It’s absolutely not good news when the one band you really really loved in high school breaks up. These days, I spend arguably too much time thinking about, writing on, and submerging myself in the wonderfully absurd world of rap—but I’ve always had a very large spot in my heart for The Mars Volta. Last night their lead singer, and co-creator of At The Drive-In, Cedric Bixler-Zavala announced he was no longer a member of Mars Volta and therefore destroyed the band with the power of his afro-loving fist. I was always completely confused by the critical onslaught from outlets like Pitchfork who gave them a 2.0 rating, a rating that may or may not have led them to be covered in pee when they played in Seattle, but clearly these Mars Volta adversaries simply did not understand the overarching narratives that went into each and every Mars Volta masterwork. That said, to be completely fucking honest, I never understood any of their crazy fucking lyrics either. Apparently their debut, blessed by the frizzy haired genius of Rick Rubin, Deloused in the Comatorium, is about the death of their friend? The follow up album, Frances the Mute, is maybe about a mute named... Frances?
I thought I would revisit some of The Mars Volta bangers now, in light of the band’s passing on to the great band beyond, and perhaps now that I’m a bit older and wiser I can get to the bottom of what the hell these guys were going on about.
Let’s just go ahead and start with my favorite Mars Volta song, one of the biggest examples of audio heatrocks from the 20th century: “Take The Veil Cerpin Taxt.” I’m going to go ahead and admit I have no idea what Cerpin Taxt means. The first result on Google is the Urban Dictionary definition for the term, and that definition is completely derived from The Mars Volta’s fictional universe.
Cerpin Taxt: Protagonist of the story in the Mars Volta album, De-loused in the Comatorium. After overdosing on morphine, he enters a dream world where he is put through a series of trials by the tremulants, creatures from his own mind that inspire his art. In the end, he comes out of the coma and feels only fit for the dream world and attempts suicide again by jumping off of a bridge, this time succeeding.
Well, ok. In reality, tremulants are wind control devices on an organ... So this guy Cerpin Taxt is being tested by musical wind regulators who are also kind of his muse? That’s great! Although, I have absolutely no idea how anyone can derive that understanding from the lyrical content of the album itself.
Moving onto the song’s actual lyrics, my favorite non-rhyming, nonsensical, couplet of whacked out weirdness from the track has got to be this:
A mass of gallon sloth
As flies have walls for feet
In case you’re not up on your sloth species named after imperial units, there is no such thing as a “gallon sloth.” So, I’m picturing a sloth that has a stomach with a one-gallon capacity. However this isn’t just “a gallon sloth,” this is “a mass of gallon sloth.” I’m imagining that Cedric is probably referring to a heavy, mythical butcher shop order of ground up gallon sloth meat. Bloody, morphine soaked, and tender.
Then we’ve got giant flies with walls for feet. Perhaps the bottoms of their little fly toes are so sticky, that every time they land on a wall and attempt to fly away, they pull the fucking wall out of the foundation. And, not only are their feet covered in industrial strength adhesive, they are wildly energized by the power of The Mars Volta’s rockin’ tunes! Yeah, see, this band isn’t so hard to understand.
If you thought their Deloused in the Comatorium’s lyrics were complicated (and I am barely scratching the surface of bizarroness here) their second album Frances the Mute was so ridiculously complex that they released a bonus “Decoder” track that was meant to explain the meaning behind the rest of the album.
This song, which is a ten minute track that is predominantly guitar string plucking, radio static, and low pitched growling, features a concluding refrain that goes: “This never happened! But I saw her leave/and crawl into a bed of broken windows.” The weirdest part of the whole song, besides the fact that it’s all extremely confusing and does not “decode” anything, is the whispery part in the middle where Cedric taunts: “You’ll never find the body now, in a closet festered in secret air.”
What the fuck does any of this have to do with a mute named Frances? Frances the Mute itself has an eight part song, that is actually divided into eight different tracks on the album, called “Cassandra Geminni.” The song is 30+ minutes all told (you can listen to the whole thing here) and it’s generally just instrumental noodling. However it all comes together in one crescendo banger moment on part seven, which is without a doubt the best part seven of any prog-rock song to date.
As Cedric says on this glorious seventh chapter, “No, there’s no light in the darkest of your furthest reaches.” That is what I would like to call deep and emotionally stirring lyrical content. Even though that line is the realest of the real, it’s no match for the unexplained, slowed down spoken word moment near the beginning of Cassandra Gemini that goes: “She was a mink handjob in sarcophagus heels.”
Unfortunately for The Mars Volta’s still active and highly rabid fanbase, a fanbase I used to identify with a lot more than I do now, the news of The Mars Volta’s demise is not going over too well. On their popular Comatorium fanboard, people are experiencing all five stages of grief.
There’s denial: “This is not over, fuck it” writes user Joshipalooza. A poster who goes by Seattleite (could this person know about the infamous pee-throwing I mentioned earlier?) wrote: “RIP The Mars Volta. Someone give me a gun,” in what can aptly be described as a frightening display of anger. There’s a form of bargaining from patsyinclined who hopes there will be a seventh LP still to come in “2017,” a highly arbitrary projection. Then, lastly, depression. TheFleshofMidnight writes: “I’m crying. I’m fucking crying.”
In all honesty, I too am a bit bummed about the passing of The Mars Volta. I loved all the crazy bullshit in their lyrics and how they could spend seven minutes doing the musical equivalent of nothing, before throwing down for thirty seconds into an over-orchestrated and epic sounding crescendo, slathered in psychedelic lyrical absurdity. With the personal losses and band line-up changes they endured, it’s really cool they made it this far, and I hope no Mars Volta devotee hurts themselves or kills anyone as they buckle down and head towards a stage in their lives that is sure to test them, just as the tremulants tested Cerpin Taxt.
Follow Patrick on Twitter for tweets that probably won’t have much to do with The Mars Volta: @patrickmcguire