Our minds on media.

Musings on the effects of media on cognition.

Are Artists Prescient?

I’ve often mentioned to friends that I think artists can be uncannily prescient. I don’t think this has anything do with psychic ability mind you—I think there may be a very rational explanation found in the fact that artists are by nature observers and that they may simply glean patterns from symbols derived from the chaos of life. Sometimes these symbols become highly important. I was listening to the reissue of This Monkey’s Gone to Heaven [iTunes link] on Frank Black Francis and it struck me that whether Frank Black intended to or not, he managed to talk about global warming and the hole in the ozone. Here are the lyrics that caught my attention:

“there was a guy an under water guy who controlled the sea got killed by ten million pounds of sludge from new york and new jersey this monkey’s gone to heaven the creature in the sky got sucked in a hole now there’s a hole in the sky and if the ground’s not cold everything is gonna burn we’ll all take turns”

A hole in the sky that will make everyone burn sounds to me like an explicit environmental reference. But how old was Frank Black when he wrote the song? I found one copyright that indicated that the song was written in 1989. I suspect he may have written it earlier than that but even then, the hole in the ozone was not a big topic of conversation in ’89—not the conversation that it has become today.

In my experience, most people who listen to music (as oppose to just consume it) are familiar with “This Monkey’s Gone to Heaven” and often name it as one of their Pixies favorites. It resonates with most people but I don’t think most people think it’s about man going extinct because of his treatment of the environment.

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