Saturday, September 17, 2011

By special request, Ram It Down

The title of Judas Priest's 1988 release achieves a singular, overarching clarity perhaps unequaled by any other rock album title. "Ram It Down" captures in just three words the entirety, every part and the whole, of the band circa 1988 and its music. The three words *are* the album and *are* the band as it existed at the time. This obviates the need to even hear the album or have seen the band on that year's tour; it is only necessary to know that Judas Priest made an album called Ram It Down in 1988. And unlike with any other band and its album, that fact can be known a priori. I mean, what else could that collection of music be named, and who else both could and would have made it?

Readers here may recall that I have talked in other contexts about the idea of rerunning a person's life as a simulation with millions of iterations. Parallel universes, Markov chains, that sort of thing. No matter what parameters one could possibly set for such an exercise, it is clear that Judas Priest, with that exact lineup of members, would have made an album called Ram It Down in 1988 in every single one of them. Just try to conceive of a world where that didn't happen, and you'll quickly see that you cannot. Philosophers talk about free will, but in this case the band had not only no choice, but no decision to make - had they not recorded Ram It Down in 1988, it would have constituted a contradiction of the nature of their existence across every theoretically definable universe, a cosmic fabric-rending eternal separation between "is" and "does", the uprooting of the very idea of definition itself. There is no such thing as a Judas Priest that does not ram it down, given any nonzero quantity of it, the existence of any means of ramming, and downward space relative to any conceivable perspective in any conceivable universe. It is at its heart the same question as the age-old one about whether an all-powerful god can build a rock so large that he cannot lift it, or shall we say, use His Fist to ram it downward as the cover art depicts.

What does this mean for us as listeners? It means that Judas Priest in 1988 - unconsciously, remember - managed to do away with the chasm that separates art from artist, not by building a bridge between the two, but by forcibly merging the two banks of the river into one in Mind. This is alluded to in the opening couplet of the third song, "Love Zone": "Been awake all night, can't get no sleep/I need a steel blue heart walkin' down the street". This signifies not merely the desire for a fundamental change in the nature of matter and its attributes - steel blue hearts, wherever they might exist, do not now possess the capability of walking down streets - but the presence of both the volition (awake all night by choice: there's Great Work to be done!) and the power to define a heretofore undefined zone where that change is made real. And the listener then represents a coplanar third instance: we do not travel *to* the love zone (nach Hause), but rather are already by definition localized *in* that zone (zu Hause). Even when - nay, especially when - you and your friend Dean are playing the drinking game of trying to read the lyrics aloud without laughing. Trust me, it's not easy.

Also worth noting: the album came out in 1988. The year divided by 4 (the number of the great cross) is 497. The running time of the album is 49 minutes and 32 seconds, and the leader length on a standard cassette is perhaps five seconds at each end, bringing the total click-to-click time to 49:42 - exactly one-tenth of 497. The year is thus divided into forty (forty days, forty nights; Wild Nights, Hot and Crazy Days had appeared two years earlier.)

Some may focus on the "it" in Ram It Down, the object. Is it a possession, an abstract quality - or rather, is "ram it" being used as an indivisible phrasal verb? That last theory might easily be dismissed, except for this:

But I think the simpler theory is the sounder one: Watch the JP video "Hot Rockin' " from seven years before and I trust you'll see what I mean without me having to explain.

What you just saw is the "it". Not any one element in the video, but rather the essence, its DNA if you will, its many fractions reduced as far as they can be. The concepts "ram", "it" and "down" (Father, Son, Holy Spirit; Clotho, Lachesis, Atropos; yin, yang, velocity/orientation/event space) are everywhere present and already have their permanent angular relationship to each other. I think you'll agree that IT could have been no other way.

Eh, Ram It Down mostly sucks by Priest standards. Blood Red Skies and the title track are okay. And Johnny B. Goode, WTF?

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