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Bring on the new messiah

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Scene in the video for Echo & The Bunnymen's "Bring On the Dancing Horses."
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OKLAHOMA CITY – It happens fairly regularly now. I sense that a certain song will be coming on the radio and sure enough, it comes on.

This happened just yesterday involving a song I had been dwelling on most of the day – Echo & The Bunnymen’s 1985 single “Bring On the Dancing Horses,” a song specifically recorded for and included in the film and soundtrack of John Hughes’ Pretty In Pink.

I sensed I would be hearing this song. I was quite confident of this. I parked my car. Ran inside to do a few tasks and returned …

And the line at the end of “Bring On The Dancing Horses” that I was needing to hear – “Bring on the new messiah / Wherever he may roam …” came on just as I got back in the car.

This nearly-30 year old psychedelic pop song has that almost hypnotic, swirling, hazy feel about it with synth layers, echo-y guitar lines and reverb and heavenly harp sweeps that add to the transcendental sensation one can experience when listening to it.

Now, I’ve brought up Echo & The Bunnymen before. They were a group that made one of the best singles of the 1980’s – “The Killing Moon” – a sync-heavy song that I’ve referenced more than once here at Dust Devil Dreams. That line “Fate, up against your will,” reportedly came to singer Ian McCulloch in a dream …

And then there was my review of that book on The KLF, the band that ritualistically burned 1 million pounds in a Scottish boathouse in 1994. In that review, band member Bill Drummond tried to perform a ritual over a manhole on Mathew Street in Liverpool (Carl Jung dreamed about this same spot) involving Echo & The Bunnymen, who were performing in Reykjavik, Iceland that day. Drummond, in his pre-KLF days managed the Bunnymen and another group The Teardrop Explodes – two bands he felt were “alchemical opposites.”

In fact, in the chapter of John Higgs’ fascinating book called “Sirius and Synchronicity,” Drummond admits being obsessed with a giant rabbit – Echo, of course, that appeared on album sleeves … or so he thought …

Please take notes …

But the big single “Bring On the Dancing Horses,” was a bit different, not steeped in esoteric goth/gloom like 84’s “The Killing Moon.” This song had a bittersweet tone about it that makes perfect sense finding company with tracks from New Wave kingpins The Smiths and New Order (and the soundtracks mega hit from OMD – “If You Leave”). In fact, the soundtrack is outstanding!

But this song stands alone, in my opinion. And it came to me a few nights ago with reading a book called White Lama, about an American named Theos Bernard who, due to his appreciation and expertise in Tantric Yoga and love of Tibetan Buddhism, was allowed, in the 1930’s, into Lhasa, Tibet to study and learn more about this mysterious place where Westerners were usually not allowed.

In one chapter, where he is being greeted by the Tibetan monks and a celebration is taking place horses are performing – perhaps even “dancing”? I read the line and it stuck in my mind (although I’ve been looking for that line again and can’t recall the page) and brought to mind “Bring On The Dancing Horses,” a song that had been slowly burrowing into my brain.

Now, there have been a multitude of interpretations of this song over the years, including comments from McCulloch and the band themselves and how it’s a Russian phrase of when things fall apart, might as well have a bit of the circus in there as well.

And in the context of the Hughes film, where Molly Ringwald’s character is being pursued by a cool rich guy (“Blane” – Andrew McCarthy) and a nerd ("Duckie" – Jon Cryer), while dealing with her issues regarding not coming from a wealthy family, well she’s experiencing pangs of love and angst all at once. Dancing horses would be a distraction from the pain.

And while I was thinking about all these interpretations, I sensed there was something deeper. Ian McCulloch – for all his boozing and drugging during Echo’s Eighties heyday – was a pretty deep guy on a certain level.

I began researching background on “Bring On The Dancing Horses” and came across a website called The Age of Transitions. Run by a guy names Aaron Franz, this writer posted an alchemical analysis of this Echo & The Bunnymen song back in December 2011.

This is a prime example of a song that makes absolutely no sense if taken literally. Dancing horses? Charlie Clown? Shaking while I'm breaking? What in the world are these bunny fellows talking about?” writes Franz.

Well, Franz confidently jumps right to it, offering his fascinating interpretation: “This song is about the alchemical process. It is alluding to the present phase of the Great Work, which is an ages long process of human progress/evolution. We are now living through an alchemical phase which has actually been referred to as an age of transitions. It is an era of rapid change, and our present place in time is actually a period of alchemical dissolution. This means that the world as we know it is beginning to break apart. In the eyes of the Master Alchemists such destruction is viewed as a good thing, because it makes way for an entirely new world to be christened.”

In the chorus, McCulloch sings: “First I’m gonna make it / Then I’m gonna break it / Till it falls apart.” Is this about a relationship among teenagers? Or is it far deeper. Franz offers this:

These words are used in the chorus, and so they are repeated over and over again throughout the song. As such, they are the most important lines to be understood. So what exactly is it that is being made only to be broken?

This song is being presented from the point of view of the Alchemist. It is he who creates only to later destroy his own creation. This is all part of his alchemical process of perfection. It is something that works in cycles and stages. The first creation is never perfect. That is why it must be broken down, and rebuilt time and again. This point can be understood on many different levels. It is helpful to think of these alchemical stages in the context of the development of mankind. There is Man's creation and his subsequent evolution. It is through evolution that Man ultimately brings about the expansion of his own creative power. This represents apotheosis, aka Man's Rise to Godhood. Time has a very important role in this process. It is what brings both the creator and the creation together in the end. This is the end goal of alchemy: Union with God. 

The gods of alchemy both create and destroy. They create systems of human organization (governments/societies) to attain certain goals, and then proceed to destroy those very same systems after they have served their purpose or outlived their usefulness. The Apocalypse has to be brought back every so often to cleanse the Earth of its old ways, and to ring in the new. The Dancing Horses lyric actually refers to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The Alchemist welcomes these riders because they harken the ritual that is Armageddon. That's right, the Apocalypse is actually symbolic of a ritual. It is a death and rebirth ritual on a mass scale. The death of an old world and the birth of a new one. This is actually very basic symbolism within the Mystery Tradition, but when viewed from a macrocosmic perspective the meaning of the alchemical process becomes more significant.”

The character of “Jimmy Brown” is interpreted as a “man of the earth” trapped in a state of cognitive dissonance. Being “made of stone” (or “ashlar”), Jimmy Brown is being sculpted by the Philosopher and over time realizes what he has been told is not the truth (“hating all the faking / and shaking while I’m breaking …”).

And then the line – the line that always gets me for its sheer boldness: “Bring on the new messiah / Wherever he may roam.”

This line, at the end of the song, is one that Franz and I can agree on. It has a haunting feel about it. A longing. Is the singer taking a more cynical approach or is he welcoming the new era as the Great Work implies? I suspect the latter, if McCulloch's prior activity is any indication.

And while some artists deliberately insert ideas or beliefs into their songs, sometimes the machinations involved in the creative process aren't always as easy to discern.

In the comment section with Franz's post, that there is "some intangible transcendent aspect of the creative process (that) brings forth a depth of meaning that goes beyond what conscious intent could hope to produce." Did Ian McCulloch and the band write a song with an overt meaning or was it hidden, amidst lyrics that if taken literally don't have quite the impact?

Of course 2014 was the Year of the Horse and we have now entered the horned Year of the Goat. In the video for "Bring On the Dancing Horses," McCulloch interacts with a man wearing a horse head - or is it a unicorn, since it has a single horn? In 2014, Echo & The Bunnymen released a new album - Meteorites - in the Year of the Horse. Something to consider. 

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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