Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Aqualung Code



A Special Investigative Report by SCB News -- "Aequum et Libratum"
All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted as long as a link to the article is provided.

A 44 Year Old Secret

There is a 44-year-old secret that explains nearly everything we have seen in Pope Francis' pontificate. It has never been disclosed -- until now.

Jorge Bergoglio was ordained a priest in 1969. From 1970 to 1971, he completed the third probation at Alcala de Henares, Spain. He taught theology at the St. Joseph seminary of San Miguel from 1971 to 1973, when he was elected Provincial for Argentina.

In 1971 an event in England would prove electrifying to the rising Jorge Bergoglio. The English progressive rock band Jethro Tull released what many consider one of the greatest -- and certainly one of the most cerebral -- rock albums of all time: Aqualung.

Aqualung

Ian Anderson today.
Some speculation is required at this point. It seems likely that an English-speaking student drew Jorge Bergoglio's attention to the religiously significant lyrics of Aqualung. Clearly it was a profound experience for the 35-year-old priest. As we will show, the religious beliefs of the man now known as Pope Francis, the leader of over a billion Catholics around the world, are developments from themes explored in a 1971 rock album.

One source, who asked not to be identified (not surprisingly, no one would speak on the record), recalled the future pontiff's fascination with the album. "Father Bergoglio somehow obtained a translation of the lyrics into Spanish. He was rarely without them.  I saw them myself. They were hand written, each song on its own piece of paper. Often I saw Father Bergoglio reading them, almost as if he were meditating."

Father Bergoglio seldom shared his fascination with Aqualung, but it was no secret. "He didn't have a record player at first, of course," recalled our source. "But one day he surprised everyone by buying one. It was only some time later that he was able to obtain the actual album. It was not something easy to obtain! But he did it. It showed his faith, to buy the record player before the record."

This record player, which Fr. Bergoglio would later take to Argentina as one of his most treasured possessions, was described by an eyewitness as a "very humble portable device, German, I believe, without even a record changer." (A record changer allowed a stack of records to be played automatically, one after the other. It was common on phonographs at this time.) There are rumors that this very same record player is now in the Holy Father's quarters at Santa Marta. SCB News was unable to confirm this, however.

For the first time for Father Bergoglio, Ian Anderson's lyrics were married to his flute stylings and the pounding guitar of Martin Barre. He would listen to the album over and over. Yet even as "Locomotive Breath" boomed out of his room, he never spoke about the album at first. It was as if it were his private inspiration, even, as one interviewee put it, "obsession."

The Titular Character, Aqualung

The ragged, flawed and pitiable character of "Aqualung," as depicted on the album cover was based on photographs that band leader Ian Anderson's then-wife Jennie had taken of homeless people. Father Bergoglio viewed this homeless old man as a symbol of what he came to call "the periphery."

"Aqualung" seems an unlikely figure to inspire a new priest. He is introduced as "sitting on a park bench, eying little girls with bad intent." But when he had eventually absorbed the meaning of the lyrics, Father Bergoglio began to talk about them. Aqualung, he insisted, "is above all poor. He may be imperfect, but the poor are children of Heaven.

"And you must remember mercy," he would continue. "Mercy overcomes judgment. Because the narrator says, 'Aqualung my friend, don't you start away uneasy. You poor old sod, you see it's only me.' Think about who this narrator is. He is the friend of all, even though we do not recognize him. So we see that Aqualung does have a friend, and is worthy of love. This friend shows us the way. We must give Aqualung our unconditional love and acceptance."

Father Bergoglio was particularly touched by "an old man wandering lonely." "Ah," he would sigh, according to our sources, "the loneliness of the elderly is surely the greatest evil in the world!" He would recite the lyrics from memory on occasion, as if to underscore his statements.

As captivating as the title track was, songs on side two were equally influential.

The Origin of "Self-Absorbed Promethean Neo-Pelagianism"

The song "My God" featured prominently in Father Bergoglio's discussions, according to our sources. 

People what have you done?
Locked Him in his golden cage.
Made Him bend to your religion,
Him resurrected from the grave.

"We imprison the divine with doctrine!" Father Bergoglio would often say vehemently. "Yes, making Him bend to our religious rules instead of letting Him be free among the people! Where is the joy in this?"

Another part of the same song inspired a term he came up with one night while listening to "My God." Self-absorbed promethean neo-pelagians.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," our source recalled. "Father Bergoglio came to my room in an excited state and asked me to accompany him. We went to his room and he played some verses from a rock and roll song on a phonograph. As soon as they were finished, he would turn the record back and play them again. 'Listen!,' he said. His eyes were burning. 'This is telling me something. It's talking about... I don't know. About self-absorbed promethean neo-pelagianism!"

Our source continued. "At first I did not understand. Father Bergoglio turned off the record player and looked at me in silence for a moment. Then he repeated it slowly, almost as if he had had a revelation. Perhaps he had."

Here are the lyrics that so gripped the imagination of Father Bergoglio in 1971.

Confessing to the endless sins,
The endless whining sounds.
You'll be praying till next Thursday,
To all the gods that you can count.

To Father Bergoglio, these lyrics meant that people rely on their own religious efforts and correctness to save themselves. The lyrics also reminded him of excessive, repetitive, traditional prayers, which he began to call "rosary counting" after listening to the song repeatedly.

"Father Wind Up"

The final track, "Wind Up" was another explicitly religious song that deeply affected Father Bergoglio. The relevant lyrics go like this:

I don't believe you,
You had the whole damn thing all wrong.
He's not the kind you have to wind up on Sunday.

"Latin this, and kneel that. Press your hands together in church like you're on a holy card!," Father Bergoglio said more than once. "Don't they see? He's not the kind you have to wind up on Sunday!" Indeed, so frequently did he cite this song, he was called "Father Wind Up" behind his back.

Locomotive Breath

Although he seemed to enjoy the other tracks, they were unimportant to Father Bergoglio, or just puzzling.

The exception was "Locomotive Breath."

He wrestled with the lyrics of "Locomotive Breath," a dark song which features an out-of-control steam train. On at least one occasion, he floated a theory about the repeated lyrics, "Charlie stole the handle, and the train it won't stop going, no way to slow down."

"Charlie" was none other than Charles Darwin, who had forever changed man's view of his origin with his theory of evolution. This was the challenge of the modern world, and the Church could not ignore it.

Indeed, Father Bergoglio would point out a variation of that verse, "Oh he picks up Gideon's Bible, open at page one, but God, he stole the handle, and the train it won't stop going, no way to slow down." Of course, "page one" of the Bible starts with "In the beginning," and continues with the scriptural account of creation, thus confirming -- in Bergoglio's mind -- the link to Darwin's competing theory.

Darwin, he said, "made a mess." Yet we should welcome the mess, because, after all, God "stole the handle" too. Above all, Father Bergoglio found the image of the runaway locomotive exhilarating, not frightening.

As for the line, "he sees his children jumping off at stations one by one," these children were what Father Bergoglio termed "fundamentalists," who refused to adapt to new circumstances. "They want doctrinal security. They do not want the ride," he said. "What is the destination of the train? It is not important! Who may ride the train? First the poor, then everybody, without exception. All we know is it must go forward, into the future."

The Aqualung Code

By the time Father Bergoglio returned to Argentina, he carried with him a theology based largely on the rock album Aqualung. Did he take it with him when he became the 266th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church? 

There was a credible lead that Pope Francis had placed a call to Ian Anderson at his home in Wiltshire, England. (Anderson is still performing, although the band Jethro Tull -- which was always essentially Anderson -- has recently been retired). Anderson's publicist would neither confirm nor deny any contact with the pontiff. Anderson has described himself as "somewhere between a deist and a pantheist," but it is well known that Pope Francis welcomes conversation even with atheists. 

After returning to Argentina, evidence of Jorge Bergoglio's interest in Jethro Tull dries up. However, that does not mean it did not continue. 

Jethro Tull frontman Anderson's
1995 religious instrumental album.
Indeed, later Jethro Tull albums contain themes that are often found in Pope Francis' public utterances. Anderson has said that climate change is the theme of "Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day," written in 1972, but not released until 1974 on the album Warchild. (At that time science was warning of a coming ice age.) The same album deals with war, such as "For Queen and Country," as well as the title track. The environment is also featured, for example, in "North Sea Oil" from the 1979 album Stormwatch. And, of course, religious elements are scattered throughout the Tull oeuvre.

This article could be extended, if space permitted, by connecting Pope Francis' thoughts with many songs released by Jethro Tull over the decades.

There were seventeen Jethro Tull studio albums after Aqualung, not to mention solo releases by Anderson. It is hard to imagine that the future Pope would abandon his so-called "obsession" with Aqualung, and not continue to collect Jethro Tull releases. How, for instance, could he possibly resist the 1973 album A Passion Play, Tull's explicitly religious concept album?

But there is one final clue that proves that Pope Francis retains his love for religiously intriguing rock and roll albums.

He released one himself.

Wake Up. Go Forward.

On November 27, 2015, Pope Francis released "Wake Up!" on the Believe Digital label. Rolling Stone had previously released the heavy metal title track in September. Like Aqualung, it is a progressive rock album with overtly religious themes.

Its mixture of lush orchestral music, heavy metal guitar, chant, and spoken word are all taken directly from Jethro Tull's bag of tricks. Its prog rock roots are confirmed by Pope Francis' inclusion of Tony Pagliuca, of the Italian band Le Orme. (Don't let the heavy metal elements fool you: Jethro Tull beat out Metallica in the 1989 Grammys  for Best Heavy Metal Album with "Crest of a Knave.")

Rolling Stone gives it 3/5 stars, saying "progressive pontiff preaches peace on surprisingly proggy album."

The evidence is clear. The Aqualung Code is the key to deciphering the pontificate of Pope Francis. Rocker Ian Anderson, "somewhere between a deist and a pantheist," unwittingly charted the course for the Catholic Church of forty years later when he released a dour album with a cast of characters that included a dirty old man and a schoolgirl prostitute.

What can we learn from this? In the end, perhaps the runaway train in "Locomotive Breath" is most emblematic. Is it terrifying or exhilarating? That depends on your perspective. As Pope Francis urges in the title track of his own album: "Wake up! Go forward!" As long as the train is going forward, it doesn't matter if there's a handle or not. Your only choices are to hang on or jump off. 

This is St. Corbinian's Bear, for SCB News Special Report, "The Aqualung Code," saying, hang on.

33 comments:

  1. Outrageously brilliant, Bear!! :)

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    1. Thank you! The Bear feels this is by far his most significant achievement. All the research and interviews paid off beyond his wildest dreams.

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  2. And when JB stands before Our Lord and must give an account, he'll point to Anderson and say, "he made me do it!"

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    1. Ian Anderson was recently presented an award by Rick Wakeman: "Prog Rock God." The Bear is still considering the implications of this. His influence may extend beyond Pope Francis. He has written many songs about cats, and has even established a non-profit organization to care for strays. The Bear must ask, who else is known for a love of cats?

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  3. Jethro Tull's "Aqualung" simply happened to conform with Jorge Bergoglio's already well-formed view of the Church and the world. He was and is a Jesuit to the core. Read Malachi Martin's "The Jesuits," written in 1987. The Jesuits, at least since the 1960s, have led the movement to weaken the authority of the pope and destroy Church dogma and moral teachings. And now, with Pope Francis, S.J., they are in the catbird seat.

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    1. The Bear is sure there is some merit in your claim. Perhaps he was primed by his Jesuit background to find Aqualung so compelling. Yet the eyewitness accounts make it clear that at some point he was treating Aqualung as a kind of oracle. So many familiar themes and even phrases stem directly from lyrics contained in the 1971 prog rock album. The Aqualung Code cannot be discounted.

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  4. You have done it again Bear by giving us the key or a key to Pope Francis' prophetic, sometimes confusing and really quite astonishing post-Catholic thinking.

    Another interpretative source for his thinking, which might Bear looking into, is the novel, The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni which Pope Francis has read at least three times. A quick summary can be had a Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Betrothed_%28Manzoni_novel%29

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    1. Thank you, Mike. The Bear will definitely check that out.

      The Bear finds it comforting to finally know the origins of so much of Pope Francis' thinking. The Bear always comes back to the image of the runaway locomotive, though, hurtling toward an unknown destination, the engineer howling in exhilaration as terrified passengers face the choice of hanging on or jumping off at the stations. It is the perfect image of the Franciscan Church.

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  5. Wow! That's about all I can absorb so far. Getting in deep, here.

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    1. Deep indeed, but when you consider that Pope Francis released his own religiously themed rock album in November, it seems clear that the influence of Aqualung is still strong.

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  6. I thought this was a spoof or something at first but I can see you're not joking

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    1. The man who refers to himself as "The Bear" never jokes.

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    2. The Bear loves a good dry sense of humor.

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  7. I'll have to wait until Mark Shea tells me what I should think about this. Although I'm pretty sure it's reactionary and neocon and anathema. Whatever those words mean. But I'm certain it's more Catholic than the Pope (insert snide sarcasm here).

    Also, Mark Shea will tell me what "reactionary", "neocon", and "anathema" mean.... this week.

    Also, what does "snide sarcasm" mean?

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    1. The Bear is pretty sure Mark Shea has listened to his share of Jethro Tull. As for sarcasm, the Bear doesn't know the meaning of the word. Good clean parody, on the other hand, is his specialty.

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    2. Mark Shea? Bungle in the Jungle comes to mind.

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    3. Mark Shea... a track from side two of Stand Up comes to mind, but the Bear is better than that. (And also has no room to talk.)

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    4. Mr. Shea is the walrus.

      That aside, this is funny as hell, Bear, and is further evidence that trads have the most fun of all Catholics

      Thank you

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    5. Thank you, but the Bear is not a trad. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

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  8. Search Jethro tull

    http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/10/18/wake-up-pope-francis-has-a-new-album-coming1.html

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    1. "Many of the songs on “Wake Up!” were composed by Tony Pagliuca, the founder of the 1970s [prog rock] band Le Orme. His work back then featured Bach-inflected organ and pastoral piano, resembling contemporaries Genesis and Jethro Tull."

      Of course there are elements resembling Jethro Tull. Indeed, one might say Pagliuca is the Italian equivalent of Ian Anderson, with Le Orme even getting airplay in the U.S.

      Perhaps Pope Francis originally tried to enlist Ian Anderson's cooperation in the project, which would account for the attempted contact rumors. A Bergoglio-Anderson collaboration would have been a much better album. Anderson did come out with an updated Thick as a Brick II, so perhaps we may one day be enjoying a lyrical collaboration on an Aqualung II (see also Anderson's very latest album, Homo Erraticus, for lyrics that are much more erudite than anything else out there, with songs having titles like Puer Ferox Adventus ("There's a Wild Child Coming" [Christ]) and lyrics about the trivium and quadrivium). Perhaps Anderson could finish the job he started and bring discipline and order to the theology he created in 1971.

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  9. A compelling thesis, though it seems that the Holy Father is not terribly keen on Living in the Past.

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  10. No, truth be told, you took no notes during your interviews, ...in fact you did no interviews, correct?

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    1. In line with the best practices of current journalism, as demonstrated by e.g. Eugenio Scalfari, the Bear does not take notes during his interviews.

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  11. WOW! You inspired me to stick a random homily by Pope Francis into google translate and this came out:

    "Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'
    Into the future

    Feed the babies
    Who don't have enough to eat
    Shoe the children
    With no shoes on their feet
    House the people
    Livin' in the street
    Oh, oh, there's a solution

    I want to soar like a raptor
    To the ocean!"

    What do you make of that? There was also something like "tip top tip doo doo doodoo" in the audio version.

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  12. This is a sacrilege. I can't believe that you would smear Jethro Tull in an attempt to condemn Pope Francis. I'm appalled - Aqualung was genius - and to say it is Jesuit is an outrage.

    You are fairly amusing though>

    Do you not love Aqualung?!

    Why do you have to be so crazy against the Pope?

    Anyway.

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    1. It is known that people can obsess over rock lyrics, especially if they are not transparent. Is it "smearing" the Beatles to note the fact that Charles Manson was inspired by the White Album, particularly Helter Skelter? The difference is that Jorge Bergoglio's interpretations of Aqualung's lyrics were usually fairly reasonable. The Bear's research focused on the Aqualung years, however. He does not know if the future Pope already agreed with Anderson's religious sentiments or became convinced by them.

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    2. I was just kidding. It's a very snappy post - I don't think it's a sacrilege at all. You are an excellent writer.

      Merry Christmas!

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    3. Thanks. The Bear understands and did not take a scintilla of offense. Merry Christmas!

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  13. The runaway train is scattered all over the Catholic world. It's what happens when the handle comes off and the unstoppable train hits the buffers. A real mess indeed!

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  14. Finally, the truth can be known!

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