“Iconoclast” – Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “Tarkus”

Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s 20 minute long 1971 prog-rock work “Tarkus,” contains one instrumental part called “iconoclast,” which along with some of the words from the lyrical parts seems to hint at a theme of iconoclasm. One lyric says

“…are your ears full, you can’t hear anything at all”

This ending of this lyrical part seems to show that “idols” tend to render their “worshippers” deaf to learning truth apart from their idolatrous belief “system.” I have of late been reading a current book by a Christian theologian in which he assumes the role of an iconoclast of sorts against what he sees as misguided “self-assured ecclesiastical assumptions” that have become veritable idols. Several brief quotes from the book are are below, following a few definitions of “iconoclast.” The first one is from google:

i·con·o·clast/īˈkänəˌklast/
noun
a person who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions.
a destroyer of images used in religious worship, in particular.

The second one is from Ambrose Bierce, who along with Mark Twain was one of the main non-religious iconoclasts of that period.

Iconoclast, n. A breaker of idols, the worshipers whereof are imperfectly gratified by the performance, and most strenuously protest that he unbuildeth but doth not reëdify, that he pulleth down but pileth not up. For the poor things would have other idols in place of those he thwacketh upon the mazzard and dispelleth. But the iconoclast saith: “Ye shall have none at all, for ye need them not; and if the rebuilder fooleth round hereabout, behold I will depress the head of him and sit thereon till he squawk it.” (Ambrose Bierce, “The Devil’s Dictionary” 1906.)

Naturally and logically, an iconoclast would be “unemployed” if it were not for human idol factories. Here are several quotes about this:

From this we may gather that man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.

— John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion I:XI.8

In short, there is absolutely nothing that God can give us that we are incapable of turning into an idol… So it is no sacrilege to be “against the church.” God is the ultimate iconoclast, and God told His angels to begin at His sanctuary, and he told them to get in there and defile it. That he had a higher purpose in mind can be seen elsewhere in the book of the prophet (Ezekiel). (Douglas Wilson, “Against the Church” 2013.)

Jesus of Nazareth certainly took on the role of the ultimate iconoclast against the belief system of the religious establishment of his day. These religious leaders ironically epitomized the lyric in Tarkus with their ears so “full” of their religious system that they could not “hear anything at all” of the words of Jesus the “Word of God” (see John 1:1-14). Using a sight metaphor rather than a hearing metaphor, Jesus said this to them:

“For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains. (John 9:39-41; English Standard Version)

What the iconoclastic endeavors of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, have in common with Ambrose Bierce, Douglas Wilson, or Jesus of Nazareth is impossible to know, due to the obscurity of the lyrics. But it is interesting to wonder about their intentions as we listen to the song and hear the lyrics. It is also an interesting merely as a fairly epic early 70’s prog-rock song, complete with comic book style scenes of the adventures of “Tarkus.”

Tarkus2

I was reluctant to mix apocalyptic/comic book sci-fi fantasy/progessive-rock music, with such a serious subject as biblical/historical iconoclastic “battles.” But I couldn’t resist letting “Tarkus” be an interesting contact point between we “idol factory” humans and God who in love is our ultimate iconoclast.

I welcome any comments! Thanks…

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2014. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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