Fibonacci’s golden spiral … will not feature prominently in this particular recap.

Spiral Out: Practical Wisdom in Tool’s Lateralus

James Ryan Leonard
Dec 31, 2018 · 5 min read

I’ve always appreciated music most when I’m able to witness a band or artist grow and evolve over time.

Lateralus strikes me as one of those rare moments where an already great band makes a giant leap forward. With this album, Tool went from seething and bitter to focused and even optimistic — both musically and lyrically — seemingly in the blink of an eye.

For an album that features time signatures (and maybe more) inspired by the Fibonacci sequence, Lateralus also includes a surprisingly consistent strain of practical wisdom that seems to lean toward stoicism. The album reads like an individual’s journey through and around adversity—through their frustration and their growth and their ultimate serenity.

The stoic ideas of living within the moment and letting go of things you can’t control feature prominently in the album, as do the struggles we encounter while trying to live a good life — things like betrayal, selfishness and strained relationships — and the potential we can find in seeking continual growth and “riding the spiral” to the end.

Rather than dig yet another Tool-related rabbit hole, I thought I’d cut to the chase with this line of thought. Rather than over-thinking or over-analyzing (which separate the body from the mind, as the title track reminds us), I wrote about the album in real time, isolating whatever takeaways I could find by the end of each song. What you see below is the extent of what I was able to convey about each song, within the duration of the track.

Disclaimer: This is not intended to be any sort of comprehensive academic analysis, nor does it try to suss out what Maynard James Keenan or the band had in mind when they made Lateralus (and, sadly, it includes no Fibonacci references). This is simply an attempt to glean some the practical wisdom that I’ve felt in this album for nearly two decades now, but have never articulated.

So, with very minor edits, I present my real-time, track-by-track, slightly stoic reading of Tool’s Lateralus. Your mileage may vary.


The Grudge

You’ve been wronged by circumstances out of your control, by people who would wish you ill.

You wear your grudge like a crown, and you wear their claims like a scarlet letter, and your pride won’t allow otherwise. If you die clinging to this grudge, what kind of life will you have had?

You’re unable to forgive. You’re sinking, ever deeper, with the weight of a lead stone — your grudge.

It will drown you. Or, you could just let it go.

Be generous. Give away the stone. And watch — the lead of your grudge, once released, turns to gold.

Let go.

Eon Blue Apocalypse [Instrumental]

As prelude to The Patient: Perhaps, the descent into ultimate boredom and apathy.

The Patient

Boredom. You’re bored of their incessant fear and neuroticism. It sucks the life from you.

But you’re still here. You’re still working. You’re still putting in the effort. Why?

If you’re being honest with yourself, you don’t have an answer. If you didn’t get paid for this, or if you didn’t love this person so much, you would have bailed a long time ago.

But you’re still here.

Maybe it will get better. If you just wait long enough, your luck might change. Be patient. Wait it out. It will get better.

But what if it doesn’t?

Mantra [Instrumental]

As prelude to Schism: The moment when you realize it’s not going to work. You’re a bad fit for the job. You’re not compatible with your partner. You’re wandering, searching for something, but mostly for yourself.

Schism

There was once a genuine connection. With a colleague or a partner or a boss.

You were both so passionate, and you were a great fit. But something went wrong.

You don’t blame them for the situation, but you also don’t absolve them. And in the silence that follows, your relationship withers.

You could do something, but you let the silence continue. Why?

Parabol

The comfort and the serenity of contentment. You are young and safe and free of pain.

This is a dangerous parable — a story we tell ourselves.

Parabola

When you die, you will leave this body for whatever comes next. We don’t know what that will be, so there’s not really any point worrying about it.

Your body, the source of all the momentary ecstasy and pain that enters and exits your life, is a constant reminder that most of the future will exist without you, and most of the past will exist without you.

The pain you feel right now is trivial. It is a creation of your mind, and it will pass. Try to enjoy the infinitesimal duration of existence you’ve been granted.

Ticks and Leeches

You tried to be generous. You’ve given all you can. But still, they take more.

They drain the life from you with their pettiness and their grievances.

They don’t deserve your generosity. You could care less if your own work suffers or your own happiness is diminished — if they are also diminished, you’re happier for it.

Your happiness in that, however, does feel a little forced.

Lateralus

That thing you were so upset about the other day? All those things you’ve been so strident and clear-minded about since adolescence? None of it is as simple as you once thought. The complexity of humanity and complexity of society are incomprehensible and overwhelming.

You must commit yourself to growth. Simplify your life, and focus on areas in which you can have influence and create the growth you need, both for yourself and for those you care about most.

Prepare yourself so that when the moment arises, you will be there waiting, ready to take your next leap. Continue on this path, and your growth will become exponential. There will be nothing you can’t accomplish.

Disposition

You’ve lived a good life, and practiced hard to attain wisdom. Yet still, after all these years, you find yourself slipping back into your old habits and your default reactions.

When you see this happening, stop and take a moment to look up to the clouds. They are moving through the sky, as is their nature, regardless of you and your petty emotions. Accept that things change — in yourself and in others and in the world.

Reflection

Even at your weakest, even at the end, remember:

Like the moon, we are only reflectors. When we receive light, we provide light to others who might otherwise be lost in the dark of night. If we receive only darkness, we can cast no such light.

Become, then, a source of light. Give your light to those who will reflect it to others. And do it now, while you’re still able.

Triad [Instrumental]

It’s not going to get easier. It’s not going to be smoother. Did you think it would?

Thing is, you can handle it. Whatever the storm, you can weather it.

Faaip de Oiad [Recording]

Bonus takeaway? Your service to the greater good is to be encouraged, but consider the effects it has on you and your life, in relation to your ability to actually create change. This, too, is important.


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James Leonard is a purveyor of positive intent, the creator of STOIC @ WORK, and the author of Tokens, a daily blog of rigorous generosity and unwavering curiosity.

A Philosopher’s Stone

A place for a discussion of the ideas all around us in society, culture, philosophy, and more.

James Ryan Leonard

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Author and leadership coach. Public relations professional. Purveyor of positive intent.

A Philosopher’s Stone

A place for a discussion of the ideas all around us in society, culture, philosophy, and more.

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