It took an exploration of the meaning behind Tool’s “Forty Six & 2” to bring Chris Hicke out of the shadow into the glory of perfect imperfection.
Tool has always been an interesting band. Progressive rock or metal, depending on who you ask, the band has found considerable mainstream success, especially for a genre that is not known for radio friendly elements like intelligent lyrics and odd time signatures. While not terribly complex compared to other progressive music, their songs provide a good challenge to learn, as each member of the band is a genius on their respective instrument, and their cohesion in songwriting is arguably among the best in decades. While I highly recommend their discography as a study in musicianship, there are a few songs that stand above the rest. One of them, for me, is “Forty Six & 2,” off of the 1996 album “Ænima.”
This song is based off of the works of psychologist Carl. As stated in the video, the song references Jung’s idea of the “shadow” as our subconscious desires and inhibitions which, when denied and held at arm’s length, prevent us from reaching our true potential. The shadow is everything about us that we deny. This can mean traits we refuse (or perhaps fail) to acknowledge, desires we deny ourselves, our every insecurity and self-perceived failing, and whatever other aspects of “us” that we keep hidden away for one reason or another. The idea behind the shadow is that, while it is a part of who we are, we hold it as being separate from us, as though the unpleasant or unacknowledged aspects of us belong to someone else, or perhaps we’d rather they just go away. Jung theorized that, in failing to accept these parts of ourselves, therefore essentially failing to accept us as we are, we are holding ourselves back from being who we truly are.
This is not to say that the shadow is the embodiment of every “negative” trait we perceive ourselves to possess. Yes, it does mean that if you’re prone to periods of lust, avarice, or rage (who isn’t?) that you must accept them as a natural part of your being. It also means that we must learn to stop being so insecure, and recognize when we are being too hard on ourselves. Perhaps you’re not happy with your physical appearance, or you don’t like the way you write. Maybe you wish you were a bit less awkward in certain social situations. It’s possible that these are legitimate (though subjective) issues. But, it is just as, if not more likely, that these insecurities are all in your head, exaggerated to the point of meaninglessness.
Instead of allowing your insecurities to eat away at you, essentially holding the shadow at arm’s length, examine your insecurities and realize that, if nothing else, they are things that can be improved upon. Perhaps you will even discover that your insecurities are just that, and that your through your own reservations, maybe even fear of your ego, you are holding yourself back from being the best “you” you can possibly be.
To give a personal example, I have generally been rather harsh on myself for my musical abilities. There was a time when every missed note on my guitar or bass, and especially my early forays into singing, would be met with internal (sometimes external) swearing at myself for the mistake, and any compliments or comments to the contrary were extremely uncomfortable. It became a habit that took years and, incidentally, listening to and analyzing this song, to begin to break. While the habit of musical self doubt and criticism isn’t completely gone, missed or wrong notes have gone from unacceptable error to opportunity, leading to a new and sometimes more interesting riff/chord/melody line than the one being practiced. Compliments are easier to appreciate and be thankful for. Even my singing, dubious though it still is (I’ve only been practicing for a few months), has been noticeably improving, with missed notes being accepted instead of cursed. The point is, while accepting this aspect of my shadow is not complete, accepting that it exists has made living with it much easier, even beneficial.
We all have parts of ourselves that we have little confidence in, or traits and behaviors that we wish didn’t show as much as they do. While they can sometimes be detrimental, it is ultimately more harmful for us not to accept who we truly are, for how can we address a problem, even an imagined one, if we continue to pretend it doesn’t exist?