the Bible

#666: 666

GETTING MORE TALE #666: 666

“Here is Wisdom, Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast.”

Ye metal fans!  You have all heard of the number of the Beast, but do you actually know what it is?  Iron Maiden mined the Bible for lyrical ideas in the early days.  The Book of Revelation was a favourite of theirs.  Of the Beast, it tells us that we can identify him by his number.  This is not Satan himself, but the first Beast of the apocalypse, the end of the world.  The Beast, it says, comes from the sea.  There are many interpretations of the Revelations.  Three main schools of thought are that these are prophecies of events that already occurred, will occur in the future, or are happening now in the present day.

The Beast will “rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. (Revelation 13:1)”  Scholars say the seven heads represent seven kings.  The 10 crowns are 10 more kings that have yet to be crowned.  With an appearance like that, why do we need a number to identify the Beast?

Relevation is a symbolic book of the Bible and no one really claims to understand it all. The apocalyptic writings say that the Beast and the false prophet will muster the armies of the world against the man on the “white horse”.  When they lose, they are tossed into a “lake of fire”.  Some theologians believe the number 666 symbolizes the nations of the Earth that are in conflict with God.  In the 1980s, some thought that 666 represented President Reagan, whose full name, Ronald Wilson Reagan, is three names of six letters each – 666.  Indeed, Reagan changed his Bel-Air address from 666 St. Cloud Road to 668.

With the imagery and mystery inside, the Book of Revelation is great source material for heavy metal lyrics.  The Bible has always been a source for popular music.  Pete Seeger wrote “Turn! Turn! Turn!” around the Book of Ecclesiastes, but Revelations is great for darker themes. Iron Maiden (and even Anvil) made the number of the Beast famous to the secular community.  Every metal head knows the number of the Beast. Or do they?

It turns out, the number may have been wrong all along.  Older and older fragments of the Bible are constantly being unearthed.  The oldest manuscript of Revelation chapter 13 (Papyrus 115) found to date is 1700 years old. This ancient fragment gives the number of the Beast as 616.

Scholars today are split.  Many think 616 is the original number of the Beast, later changed to the more interesting 666 for aesthetic reasons.  Try this trick with a calculator or spreadsheet:  The sum of the numbers 1 through 36 is 666.

If this is true, Iron Maiden has a lot to revise, and metal fans may have some tattoos to fix!

REVIEW: Johnny Cash – American VI: Ain’t No Grave (2010)

JOHNNY CASH – American VI: Ain’t No Grave (2010 American Recordings)

Seven years after Johnny Cash passed, Rick Rubin released American VI: Ain’t No Grave. It is billed as the “final Johnny Cash studio album”. Listening to it is simply an awesome experience. It’s one of the finest of Johnny’s American Recordings.  I think my favourite is American IV: The Man Comes Around, but American VI is a contender.

Beginning with the dark, powerful “Ain’t No Grave”, Johnny is defiant. He does not fear death. “Ain’t No Grave” has more accompaniment than most of the tracks on this album, which are adorned only by the odd piano keys, steel guitar, or rhythm. Johnny’s voice is weak, yet that baritone is still so defiantly powerful. Even in illness, Johnny refused to stop making music, his aching voice a shadow of what it once was. Yet even that aching voice stirs powerful emotions through the music. Only Johnny could sing these songs the way he did.

Mortality is a common theme.  Other highlights for this listener included:

  • “Redemption Day”, a track written by Sheryl Crow and an upbeat number.
  • Kris Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times”, lush with acoustic guitars.
  • “I Corinthians 15:55”, Johnny’s sole writing credit, taken from the Bible. Truly an inspiration. Johnny’s faith kept him going in those last days.
  • “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream”, a song about a dream of world peace. Maybe Johnny was also imagining the place he thought he’d be after death took him.
  • “Aloha Oe”, an upbeat Hawiian melody, ending the album with the haunting words, “Someday, we’ll meet again”.

I know Rick Rubin lovingly produced these final six Johnny Cash albums, befriending the man and earning his trust. Knowing that, I trust that Rubin finished these songs the way that Johnny would have wanted them to sound.  Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench from the Heartbreakers are among the musicians involved.

IMG_00000581I do love what Rubin did with the packaging. A picture of Johnny as a boy on the front, a ghostly Johnny gazing through a window on the back, no song list on the cover. Inside is a booklet with a copy of Johnny’s handwritten lyrics to “I Corinthians 15:55”, a really cool touch. No liner notes. Rubin lets the music speak for itself.

All of the American recordings (which also included the fine box set Cash Unearthed, and 1998’s live VH1 Storytellers with Willie Nelson) will go down in history as some of the most important country recordings of our lifetimes. Personally I cannot think of another artist in any genre who was so prolific in his or her last days. The fact that these final recordings are so diverse, so strong, and so powerful are a testament to the Man in Black.

5/5 stars. Rest in peace Johnny.