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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Karn Evil 9: Load Your Program, I Am Yourself

I was driving home today (bought Scott Pilgrim vs. The World! Finally out on Blueray!) and I had the classic rock station blasting. Now I have no love of the radio let me tell you. I can't describe how infuriating it is to have to listen to the same recycled crap. I mean, don't get me wrong. The songs they play on the radio are popular for a reason, they're good, but there's just a lot of music that they don't play that's not 'main stream'. But that's business I suppose. Any who, in a rare act of divine good will, the station I'm listening to decides to play the entire Karn Evil 9 song! The entire 30 minute epic! I was thrilled beyond belief. Not only does this song never get played, its near impossible to hear it in its entirety! The song by the bombastic and often pompous band "Emerson, Lake and Palmer" or ELP. The song is my favorite prog rock song and perhaps one of my favorite songs of all time period. The 30 minute suite is split up into 3 parts or "impressions". With the first impression being further split up into 2 parts. The 2nd part of the first impression, is probably most familiar with you, if that. The reason why I'm even talking about this, is because of what the song is about. If you haven't heard of this song, (I can assume most of you have) go check it out, its really wild piece of work.
Anyway the song Karn Evil 9, is a dark, sinister, and dystopian view of the future. Greg Lake who wrote the lyrics for this, really hits the nail on the head with some of this. Basically the human race, in this twisted future, is turned into a side show. At least all of our more human aspects. Nature, free will, religion, all abandoned to side show acts. Even human emotions, like anger and misery are something to be gawked at.

"If you follow me there's a speciality
Some tears for you to see
Misery, misery"

One of my favorite lines from the song, very eerie.

"Right before your eyes, we pull laughter from the skies
And he laughs until he cries, then he dies, then he dies"

The 1st impression has a very carnivalesque sound to it, to give that impression of a bizarre world filled with vaudeville shows about what used to be humanity. And here's something that I've been thinking about with this song. When I first heard this song, in its entirety, I always assumed that it was the humans giving the "side show". That somehow human nature had just become very cold, and non emotional,and everyone was very distant from each other. But now that I hear it again, I'm wondering if its some sort of computer sentient life that's looking at humanity in a side show. If you listen to the 3rd part of this song, this analogy makes a lot more sense. It just seems more fitting if it were a new type of beings, that were created by humans, but superior to us now, that would be looking back on all these things, like a "Real blade of grass", and "A Bomb inside a car".

The 2nd impression is a piano solo that's not exactly my favorite part of the song. I will admit, the middle of the solo, which is much darker, and more somber is very pretty, I wish the entire song would have been like that. But, it doesn't last long before the speed picks up again, and is back to a jazzy upbeat tempo. If they wanted to do an instrumental solo, I wish they would have chosen another instrument, something more fitting. The light carefree piano playing doesn't really fit the mood.

The 3rd impression is the crux of the entire song. It describes a vast battle for humanity, in the far future, determining the fate of the human race. Its the Computers and Machines versus Humanity. In a terminator esque battle, the creators and the created clash. I've listened to this part many times and its hard to determine who's the over all victor. I suppose its written by Lake like that on purpose. But the very last paragraph leads me to believe that it is indeed the machines who dominate over humanity:

Humans: But I gave you life
Humans: To do what was right
Computers: I'M PERFECT! ARE YOU?

I was elated hearing the whole piece on the radio. So much so, I arrived back at my house in the middle of it, but sat in my car until the whole thing played through.
The last impression ends in a bit of binary code sounding piece. This song to me seems like it's an almost eerie foreshadowing of the future. The carnival side show image gets me every time, thinking about human traits, being reduced to mere attractions! To wrap it all up, the album that this song is on "Brain Salad Surgery" is in side a piece of artwork from H.R Giger. He's my favorite artist, and you all should be obliged to look at his work. the album cover features a skull that opens up featuring a woman's face underneath. Thats on the vinyl at least. H.R Giger's paintings are superb. They feature, biomechanical, and very grotesque creatures. Much of his work is mixed with sexual, themes, and machinary, and distorted gaunt twisted but yet utterly beautiful creatures. Definitely look into him, and the album Splendid, original piece, if you haven't heard it, check it out guys. You're thoughts? or Similar suggested songs?


  1. I love Emerson, Lake and Palmer, although it isn't always the easiest thing to listen to.

    They were very progressive for their time...I think to really appreciate it, you should give it a listen on a LP album...with a nice buzz of your choosing to go with it.

  2. Nice post. I reached the same conclusion about the sideshow host. And I wonder whether the lyrics of 3rd Impression (which were written mostly by Pete Sinfield, btw) are also a metaphor for the infamous Keith vs. Greg feud. ("I'm perfect. Are you?" could have come from either one ...) ;-)

  3. First of all, Greg Lake did not write the lyrics. Peter Sinfield (who wrote many of King Crimson's lyrics) did. Conceivably Lake HELPED, or edited, but it should be stipulated that Lake and Sinfield had worked together with Robert Fripp in King Crimson.

    Second, anyone who looks at this as merely a piece of science fiction or a dystopia is sadly obtuse. It is, whether Lake or Sinfield or ELP care to admit it, a work of prophesy for our present age. A "KarnEvil"? Really? The machines "in some science fiction future" taking over? Really? Keep in mind, this is 1973 and there is no internet. "Load Your Program/I am Yourself?"


    "Avatars", anyone? Take a trip to a site called "Red Light Center," and all of a sudden these lyrics OUGHT to send a CHILL DOWN YOUR SPINE ... if you have a spine.

    "Cold and misty morning, I heard a warning borne in the air/about an age of power, where no-one had an hour to spare/where the seeds had withered, silent children shivered in the cold/now their faces captured in the lenses of the jackals for gold?"


    Anybody hear about these things called "contraception" or "abortion"?????

    Oh, maybe I'm just taking it all too seriously. I mean, the machines couldn't really take over, now ... could they?