Monday, August 06, 2007

Malignant Narcissism

Track 12: Malignant Narcissism


The third and final instrumental on the album, this is probably the best one, short and sweet, with a nice groove focused on bass and drums. From the first couple of times I heard it, I felt that it was a perfect “launch” song for Neil’s traditional concert drum solo, and indeed, it is the song Rush is using on tour this year to segue into the seven- or eight-minute solo.

According to Neil, the song was conceived in the studio one day when Geddy was fooling around on a fretless bass. Not being a bass guitarist, I’m not sure exactly what makes a fretless bass more special than a standard bass, but I assume it gives it a richer sound, more in line with an upright double bass (which, like all classical string instruments, is also fretless). Anyway, Geddy was grooving along, just making it up as he went, and somebody heard it and thought it sounded fantastic, and so Malignant Narcissism was born. It’s aptly titled, as the song is an exercise in self-indulgence, displaying particularly Geddy’s virtuosity on bass and Neil’s prolific percussion ability. Rush is one of the few bands I know of who can write a rock song for guitar, bass, and drums, and have the guitar be the background, accompanying instrument. Despite that, the guitar in this song is just perfect, backing up the more prominent bass and drums exquisitely.

Now, for a bit of philosophizing, a few definitions:

Ma-lig-nant – adj. 1: evil in nature, influence or effect: injurious. 2: tending to produce death or deterioration, esp: tending to infiltrate, metastasize, and terminate fatally.

Nar-cis-sism – n. 1. egoism or egocentrism. 2: love of or sexual desire for one’s own body.

By the very definition of the words, the phrase “malignant narcissism” is redundant. Egoism, by its very nature, grows, infiltrates, and metastasizes, resulting in the fatal termination of goodness, compassion, and human usefulness.

When we think of a malignancy, we think of cancer, and when we think of a narcissist, we think of someone who believes themselves to be unsurpassingly beautiful, intelligent, and self-reliant, and who looks on others as being unworthy, incapable, and weak. Psychologists define Narcissism as a largely irreversible mental problem. That may or may not be true, but I think we’ve probably all known people in our lives who had narcissistic tendencies. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we all have these tendencies, and, if not controlled, they can eat us away like cancer.

Buddhist meditative practices are geared toward nurturing compassion within ourselves – compassion not only for ourselves, but for others. I find meditation to be a very practical and effective tool for learning to have compassion. And compassion, of course, is what combats narcissistic and self-centered tendencies. I can’t recommend enough the practice of meditation to nurture compassion. It is very enlightening.

Without the practice of compassion, we are left to care only for ourselves, and if a few more people would lose some of their malignant narcissistic tendencies, and nurture compassion instead, imagine how much better our world could be. Rene Descartes said “Cogito, ergo sum” – “I think, therefore I am.” I’ll take that phrase one step further: I am what I think. In the words of that renowned Buddhist philosopher MCA (a.k.a. Adam Yauch) of the Beastie Boys:

“Like a bird floating down on a New York breeze, every thought in the mind is a planted seed. So watch the mind, or the thoughts will stack. Before you know it, they’re boomeranging on back.”*

How we believe affects how we think, and how we think affects how we behave, and it’s how we behave that matters.

I’ll say that again, because it bears repeating: How we believe affects how we think, and how we think affects how we behave, and it’s how we behave that matters.

*MCA’s cerebral and intellectual partner, Adrock, follows up this wonderful Buddhist-inspired stanza with the thought-provoking phrase, “I’m the king of Boggle, there is none higher, I gets 11 points off the word quagmire.” So sublime.

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