Merciful Chest Fever: Did The Aliens Influence Some Important Lyricists? By Sean Casteel
Monday, December 16, 2013
One of the best-received articles posted on my website, SeanCasteel.com, is a speculative piece I wrote about the possible influence of alien abduction on the lyrical genius of Bob Dylan, the undisputed poet laureate of rock music. Dylan’s name is kicked around periodically to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, so we know he’s no slouch with words. The idea that his poetry stems partly from UFO contact may sound laughable to some, but it’s a concept I take very seriously.
Nevertheless, Dylan is not the only rock music luminary to show signs of abduction and UFO contact in his lyrics. A similar strong case can be made for Canadian poet/songwriter Leonard Cohen. Like Dylan, Cohen comes from a Jewish background, but unlike Dylan, Cohen also studied for years with Buddhist masters. The same fiber of spiritual backbone runs through the lives of both artists.
One of Cohen’s songs, “Sisters of Mercy,” seems particularly suited to this kind of analysis. The song begins: “Oh, the Sisters of Mercy, They are not departed or gone. They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can’t go on. And they brought me their comfort and later they brought me their song. O, I hope you run into them, You who’ve been traveling so long.”
It is more than apparent that some kind of visitation is talking place here, from which the poet draws comfort at a moment of desperation. For some abductees, a bond of affection develops which they direct toward the aliens, with a few even voicing the complaint that they miss the aliens when they’re gone. The singer is saying that they’re never really gone in that protective sense of their presence.
“Yes, you who must leave everything that you cannot control,” the song goes on. “It begins with your family but soon it comes round to your soul.”
This again speaks of abduction, specifically the way the experience runs along family lines to serve what is believed to be the aliens’ interest in genetic experimentation. The fact that it “comes round to your soul” seems to address the idea of the mortal’s soul being part of the mix, a component of mankind that the aliens take as seriously as they do the physical body.
“They lay down beside me, I made my confession to them. They touched both my eyes and I touched the dew on their hem. If your life is a leaf that the seasons tear off and condemn, They will bind you with love that is graceful and green as a stem.”
There is a sexual component to these lines that has led some interpreters to believe that the “Sisters of Mercy” are prostitutes, but it is more likely a reference to the bond of affection mentioned earlier, which, given that the visitation is from alien females, may still describe a sexual experience that is another aspect of the aliens’ genetic and medical procedures.
The fourth and final verse nails it.
“When I left they were sleeping, I hope you run into them soon. Don’t turn on the lights, You can read their address by the moon.”
The first two lines here look like an attempt at self-empowerment. Cohen says “they were sleeping,” but it’s more typical for the aliens to leave behind their abductee sleeping in his bed when the experience is over. The part about reading “their address by the moon” plays on the moon as a feminine archetype and there is even a loose association with the notion of the Sisters of Mercy coming from outer space.
“And you won’t make me jealous if I hear that they sweetened your night. We weren’t lovers like that and besides it would still be all right.”
This and other lines in the song seem to express an idea of “the more the merrier,” a kind of longing to share the experience with others, a belief that the experience is positive, loving and uplifting and that everyone should have it. Granted, that’s not how every abductee feels about what’s happening to him or her. But to abductees of a certain stripe, again, there are feelings of love being shared between them and the aliens.
Some abduction researchers compare those loving feelings to what happened to Patty Hearst in 1975. You may recall that the heiress was kidnapped by left-wing radicals and over time began to identify with her captors and even boasted of having joined them in robbing a bank. In Leonard Cohen’s case, however, the lyrics seem to imply a mature and genuine bond.
Yet another song from the 1960s seems extremely relevant and again deals with the notion of a nocturnal female visitor and her overwhelming effects on the songwriter. “Chest Fever,” by the group The Band, is generally credited to guitarist Robbie Robertson, though there are various versions among the group of just who wrote what.
“I know she’s a tracker,” the song begins. “They say she’s a chooser, but I just can’t refuse her.”
From the outset, the female is called “a chooser” that the singer can’t refuse. Often during an abduction experience, the gray alien will tell the abductee that he or she is a “Chosen One,” which has been interpreted in many ways and does not always come as a comforting thought to abductees. The fact that the singer can’t “refuse her” is an expression of helplessness, a total absence of will on the part of the singer. Just as an abductee will sometimes discover that he or she is paralyzed and cannot command even their own body, choice has been eliminated for the singer as well.
The repeated refrain of “Chest Fever” goes like this: “And as my mind unweaves, I feel the freeze down in my knees, But just before she leaves, she receives.”
The singer expresses a total and complete mental disorientation as well as repeating the idea of physical helplessness. What the female “receives” before she leaves is an open question, perhaps inserted just for the need of another rhyme?
In the song’s bridge, the lyrics are “It’s long, long when she’s gone, I get weary holding on, Now I’m coldly fading fast, I don’t think I’m going to last very much longer.”
In spite of the terror and paralysis, the singer complains of missing the alien female when she’s gone, as with Leonard Cohen’s “Sisters of Mercy.” Again, the bond of love and affection developed over time as part of the experience seems stronger than the fearful, traumatic aspects.
“I’m like a viper in shock,” the lyric continues, “with my eyes on the clock.”
The theme of disorientation and shock recurs, and the “eyes on the clock” line seems to imply that the singer is experiencing the visitation consciously to a certain extent and can see parts of the bedroom in a waking state, such as a clock on the nightstand.
When I chose to write about “Chest Fever,” I decided I needed to verify the lyrics, since they’re not totally intelligible on the original recording. So I did a little surfing with Google and discovered there are varying versions of the lyrics, which told me that others also had a hard time understanding the exact words in certain places. (For the sake of this article, I have relied on parts of the lyrics that are agreed upon from source to source.)
In a Wikipedia entry about the song, lyricist Robbie Robertson is quoted as saying that the lyrics to “Chest Fever” were “nonsensical,” and had originally been intended to fill up space while the musical tracks were being recorded.
“I’m not sure that I know the words to ‘Chest Fever,’” he said. “I’m not even so sure there ARE words to ‘Chest Fever.’”
Is this foggy-minded forgetfulness another example of the “merciful amnesia” thought to be imposed by the aliens themselves, to spare the abductee from traumatic memories? Does Robertson feel some kind of need to bury the experience or experiences that inspired “Chest Fever” into some locked vault hidden in his brain?
I was reminded of Whitley Strieber’s title for his first book on his abduction experiences, “Communion,” which he said he received from a gray alien who seemed to have overheard what Strieber originally intended to call his book, which was “Body Pain.” We should all be grateful a cooler and more poetic head prevailed.
In any case, there is an obvious correlation between “Chest Fever” and “Body Pain,” both three-syllable expressions of extreme, even debilitating physical stress. But the contrasts between light and dark in alien abduction and the emotional ambivalence that so often accompanies the experiencer’s attempts to make sense of what has happened go far beyond simple discomforts of the body. There is a spiritual depth to abduction, a brief glimpse into a literal Technicolor Oz that we have not even begun to explore and which stands far outside our proverbial black and white Kansas home.
Admittedly, you’d likely have to be born sometime within the borders of the Baby Boom to have a real interest in Leonard Cohen and The Band. Although it is said that artists from that timeframe of the 1960s and ‘70s still attract new fans all the time, this article will most likely be more relevant to people who can remember that era of rock and roll firsthand and without needing a parent to guide them to it.
However, I’m sure this tendency of UFO contact to inspire musical artists continues to this day, and that younger readers can find their own lyrical connections in the more current crop of rock stars, though I doubt you would find much on the subject in hip hop or death metal lyrics. But that could just be my old fogy prejudice rearing its ugly head, right?
Just as the skilled use of hypnotic regression pulls up abduction memories from the unconscious mind, it is that same unconscious mind that is the probable source of lyrical inspiration, especially for the higher level of lyrical poetry written by the artists discussed in this article. Could a select group of lyricists somehow be “channeling” for an alien muse? Is the human mind a kind of “medium” for alien “artists” to work in?
It is of course impossible to know any of that for certain, but at least we’re being entertained while we wait for the final truth of the UFO phenomenon to emerge.
[Sean Casteel's website is SeanCasteel.com. His many articles and his books are available there.