Mezmerize / Hypnotize

System of a Down album covers
On the left Mezmerize by System of a Down; on the right Hypnotize by System of a Down.

I imagine that you, like me, have two hands — apologies and commiserations if you don’t — and that you probably favour one more than the other. By that I mean you use one hand more than the other, for writing for example, or opening doors; I don’t mean that you buy your right hand little treats or take it out for outings while leaving your left hand at home. That would just be ludicrous!

We each have two hands and no matter how much we usually favour one of them we actually prefer the fact that we have the two, and most jobs are made the more easy when you use them both.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been listening to the two System of a Down albums: Mesmerize and Hypnotize which are a bit like that. The two albums are part of a package (and they literally are: you slide the packaging of one into the other to create a unique double album cover) and no matter how much the might prefer Mezmerize, which was released first and stands on its own as a more cohesive collection of songs, it actually makes much more sense when the two albums are played together, back to back.

I first discovered System of a Down (SOAD) in the Pear Tree House pub in Edinburgh one night while I was there with some Joinees. They weren’t there, of course, one of their songs was playing on the stereo (I think it was “I-E-A-I-A-I-O” from Steal This Album).

What I really like about them is that their music is heavy, but wonderfully creative and … odd. What I really like about them is their attitude is refreshingly European/Middle-Eastern for a group of Americans (two of them were born in Lebanon, one in Armenia and another in Hollywood). What I really like about them is their grittiness, and their willingness to criticize the system and ask uncomfortable, social questions.

As well as holding a catchy tune the song “Sad Statue” has this chorus:

What is in us that turns a deaf ear to the cries of human suffering
Suffering, suffering now

You and me
We’ll all go down in history
With a sad Statue of Liberty
And a generation that didn’t agree

Such subtlety and strength of expression wrapped up in so few words. And not just a criticism of the governments but of the rest of us too. Why do we turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to all the hurt that is going on in the world? And why is it that it’s musicians that are reminding us of this, and not the Church? (Maybe we’re deaf to the church’s voice too.)

And where has all the public support for Make Poverty History gone? Why have we forgotten so quickly? (I speak to myself, as much as to anyone else.)

We watch all this stuff on the news. But it’s entertainment! It’s not real. Is it?

Hypnotize
Why don’t you ask the kids at Tiananmen Square
Was fashion the reason why they were there
They disguise it hypnotize it
Television made you buy it

I’m just sitting in my car
And waiting for my …

She’s scared that I will take her away from there
Her dreams and her country left with no one there
Mezmerize the simple minded
Propaganda leaves us blinded

I love bands like System of a Down, not just because of the music (which is great, inventive, inspiring), not just because of the lyrics (which are acidic, intelligent, compelling) but also because they remind me that I do have two hands, and that sometimes we’re called to use them to make this beautiful but at times deeply troubled world a better place.