This is my analysis of the musical and narrative genius of an album called Operation: Mindcrime by Queensrÿche, the greatest rock band that ever walked this earth. Comments are based on the complete lyrics sheet to the box set "Operation: Livecrime", and also on my own personal observations after having listened to the music very many times, as well as having seen the video and watched the band perform it all live in concert. This is my favorite album of all time and I want to introduce as many other people to it as I can.
Hey! Before you email me to ask about Operation: Mindcrime II, read the FAQ!
The music of Mindcrime is an incredible experience all by itself. Rock fans can listen to this album without a hint of the many layers underneath. I myself did not read the lyrics until several months after I bought the album. When I did, I was amazed at the depth of the Mindcrime experience. Mindcrime is more than good music; the songs on the album mesh together to form a very powerful story. This is a story about love, sex, death, power, religion, corruption, betrayal, greed, and madness. It concerns the life of a naive young man named Nikki, who was taken in by a crazy demagogue named Doctor X and eventually paid for his mistakes -- not with his life, but with his mind.
If you just clicked on a link from my Amway page and are confused about why you ended up here (aside from the fact that it was quoted at the top of the page), it's just because I see a few metaphoric similarities between Nikki in the story and a young Amway recruit. If you're not a fan of rock music, you can go back now.
SCENE: 6:00 P.M.
I REMEMBER NOW
page: "Dr. David, telephone please Dr. David, telephone please Dr. Blair, Dr. Blair, Dr. J. Hamilton, Dr. J. Hamilton" News Broadcast: "...the Soviets... In other news the bizarre murders of political and religious leaders that have shocked this city over the last month seemed to have ended as suddenly as they began. No terrorist groups ... responsibility for the slayings, but police have a suspect in custody under observation in a state hospital. His identity is being withheld pending further investigation. Sports and weather next..." Nurse: "It's ten minutes past curfew, why are you still up? Hello? Hello? Perhaps you need another shot. Ah, that should do it. Sweet Dreams, you bastard." Nikki: "I remember now, I remember how it started. I can't remember yesterday, I just remember doing what they told me..told me..told me..told me."
Our story begins at the end. Nikki is lying comatose in a hospital, unable to do anything but stare blankly at the ceiling while the television runs in the background. His nurse walks in to administer his basic survival needs, and reveals to us what she thinks about him as a person.
As this spoken introduction ends, Nikki slips into a flashback. He is replaying the memory of his life from the moment he met Doctor X to his present state. The theme of the flashback will be very important in this album. It takes the story beyond the level of a simple narrative to add some much more sinister overtones, but you'll have to wait until the end to understand exactly why. In the meantime, slip in your CD, fire up track 2, and enjoy the music.
Dr. X (background): "Do we have freedom? (NO!) Do we have equality? (NO!) This country's changing! (YEAH!) It is no longer for all of the people! (NO!) It is for some of the people! (YEAH!!!! General pandemonium)"
|This instrumental is sort of an overture for the whole piece. It sets the mood of chaos and anger. If you listen very carefully to the background, you can hear Doctor X giving an impassioned speech to an extremely riled mob.|
The following song, which is the first lyrical bit of music on the album, sets up the story for Nikki.
SONG: Revolution Calling
For a price I'd do about anything Except pull the trigger For that I'd need a pretty good cause Then I heard of Dr. X The man with the cure Just watch the television Yeah, you'll see there's something going on Got no love for politicians Or that crazy scene in D.C. It's just a power mad town But the time is ripe for changes There's a growing feeling That taking a chance on a new kind of vision is due I used to trust the media To tell me the truth, tell us the truth But now I've seen the payoffs Everywhere I look Who do you trust when everyone's a crook? Revolution calling Revolution calling Revolution calling you [There's a] Revolution calling Revolution calling Gotta make a change Gotta push, gotta push it on through I'm tired of all this bullshit They keep selling me on T.V. About the communist plan And all the shady preachers Begging for my cash Swiss bank accounts while giving their Secretaries the slam They're all in Penthouse now Or Playboy magazine, million dollar stories to tell I guess Warhol wasn't wrong Fame fifteen minutes long Everyone's using everybody, making the sale I used to think That only America's way, way was right But now the holy dollar rules everybody's lives Gotta make a million doesn't matter who dies Revolution calling Revolution calling Revolution calling you [There's a] Revolution calling Revolution calling Gotta make a change Gotta push, gotta push it on through I used to trust the media To tell me the truth, tell us the truth But now I've seen the payoffs Everywhere I look Who do you trust when everyone's a crook? Revolution calling Revolution calling Revolution calling you [There's a] Revolution calling Revolution calling Gotta make a change Gotta push, gotta push it on through
Nikki is an angry young man when he meets Doctor X. He has no skills, he's badly addicted to drugs, and he blames his environment. More importantly, the song sets the scene for the world that Nikki lives in. The world exists either in a dark but not too distant future, or an especially cynical present. Throughout the band's history, they have changed some aspect of the music or performance to mesh with the current time. For instance, on the Operation: Livecrime CD, the line in a later song, "While we pay for wars in South America" was changed to "Saudi Arabia." In "An Evening with Queensrÿche" (shortly before election 2004), the screen in back showed several images of George Bush, and some altered bumper stickers of both Bush and Kerry.
Politics are entirely dominated by corruption and ruthlessness; sex is considered a tradable commodity and no longer regarded as an intimate bond between lovers. In short, this world is very similar to the present, but all pretense of righteousness has been completely abandoned.
The music is loud and heavy in nature, and the cries of "Revolution calling" are done with a pronounced decrease in the level of instrumental accompaniment, as if to represent the unaccompanied shouting of a mob. It is worth noting at this point that Nikki is not necessarily an admirable character. Nikki is the protagonist, but not someone we are required to identify with completely. Although the subject of the song is anarchy and contempt for the government, this does not mean we are required to be sympathetic to the cause.
Having set the scene, we are now primed to learn about the mysterious workings of Doctor X and his followers.
SONG: Operation : Mindcrime
Nikki: "Hello?" Dr. X: "Mindcrime" It just takes a minute And you'll feel no pain Gotta make something of your life boy Give me one more vein You've come to see the doctor Cause I'll show you the cure I'm gonna take away the questions Yeah I'm gonna make you sure A hit man for the order When you couldn't go to school Had a skin job for a hair-do Yeah you looked pretty cool Had a habit doing mainline Watch the dragon burn No regrets, you've got no goals Nothing more to learn Now I know you won't refuse Because we've got so much to do And you've got nothing more to lose So take this number and welcome to Operation : Mindcrime We're an underground revolution Working overtime Operation : Mindcrime There's a job for you in The system boy, with nothing to sign Hey Nikki you know everything That there is to do Here's a gun take it home Wait by the phone We'll send someone over To bring you what you need You're a one man death machine Make this city bleed Now I know you won't refuse Because we've got so much to do And you've got nothing more to lose So take this number and welcome to Operation : Mindcrime We're an underground revolution Working overtime Operation : Mindcrime There's a job for you in The system boy, with nothing to sign Operation : Mindcrime We're an underground revolution Working overtime Operation : Mindcrime If you come to see the doctor Yeah he'll give you the cure Operation : Mindcrime Make something of your life boy Let me into your mind Operation : Mindcrime There's a job for you in the system boy With nothing to sign
Doctor X is a religious and political leader who has a very straightforward modus operandi: he kills people who oppose his cause. Doctor X has an elaborate network of spies and personal hitmen who do all his dirty work for him. Doctor X is about to invite Nikki to join his empire.
Nikki has a weakness. He loves the needle. Doctor X knows that Nikki can be easily controlled by his addiction, and also that his mind is weak. Doctor X hypnotizes Nikki to guarantee total submission. From this point forward, whenever Nikki hears the word "Mindcrime" spoken on the phone, he will be compelled to carry out whatever death sentence Doctor X has decreed for the day.
The next song is uninhibited metal at its finest. The guitar work that follows is exquisite in its speed and style.
"Hey, hey, listen to me!" They've given me a mission I don't really know the game yet I'm bent on submission Religion is to blame I'm the new messiah Death Angel with a gun Dangerous in my silence Deadly to my cause Speak to me the pain you feel Speak the word The word is all of us I've given my life to become what I am To preach the new beginning To make you understand To reach some point of order Utopia in mind, you've got to learn To sacrifice, to leave what's now behind Speak to me the pain you feel Speak the word The word is all of us Speak the word The word is all of us Seven years of power The corporation claw The rich control the government, the media the law To make some kind of difference Then everyone must know Eradicate the fascists, revolution will grow The system we learn says we're equal under law But the streets are reality, the weak and poor will fall Let's tip the power balance and tear down their crown Educate the masses, We'll burn the White House down Speak to me the pain you feel Speak to me the pain you feel Speak the word [Revolution] The word is all of us Speak the word [Revolution] The word is all of us Speak the word [The word is all of us Speak the Word The word is all of us SPEAK]
|Nikki, having worked as Doctor X's most esteemed "colleague" over a span of several months, is feeling extremely powerful; almost megalomaniacal. He believes he can single-handedly influence the world's political situation with the simple pull of a trigger. Nikki speaks disparagingly of the old government system and has nothing but praise for the future of Doctor X's cause. He likens himself to "the new messiah" and a "death angel." These religious references (which will soon become a new major theme of the piece) indicate how almighty and godlike he feels.|
The stage has been completely set in the last few songs; the background is in place. Finally, we prepare to receive the first real thread of the story. This song introduces the character of Sister Mary.
SONG: Spreading the Disease
She always brings me what I need Without I beg and sweat and bleed When we're alone at night Waiting for the call She feeds my skin Sixteen and on the run from home Found a job in Times Square Working Live S&M shows Twenty-five bucks a fuck And John's a happy man She wipes the filth away And it's back on the streets again Spreading the disease Everybody needs But no one wants to see Father William saved her from the streets She drank the lifeblood from the saviour's feet She's Sister Mary now, eyes as cold as ice He takes her once a week On the altar like a sacrifice Spreading the disease Everybody needs But no one wants to see
Mary was a street kid. After years of sexual abuse from her father, Mary ran away from home. She became a prostitute because that was all she knew how to do. The pattern of Mary's life is one of love and trust followed by betrayal. All the men in her life -- be they family, friends, or employers -- only want to use her for her body.
At the age of eighteen, Mary was discovered and "rescued" by a priest named Father William. William turned Mary away from her life of debauchery and ordained her as a nun. But then he revealed his true colors and became more like the men she had always known. As payment for turning her life around, Father William demanded Mary's services. Now "He takes her once a week on the altar like a sacrifice."
It turns out that Father William was a close friend and supporter of Doctor X. Doctor X offers his own "payment" for Nikki's loyalty: he offers Sister Mary's services to Nikki as a fringe benefit.
Religion and sex are powerplays Manipulate the people for the money they pay Selling skin, selling God The numbers look the same on their credit cards Politicians say no to drugs While we pay for wars in South America Fighting fire with empty words While the banks get fat And the poor stay poor And the rich get rich And the cops get paid To look away As the one percent rules America Spreading the disease Everybody needs But no one wants to see The way society (You and me) Keeps spreading the disease
These lines are spoken in a rhythmic chant, while Scott Rockenfield plays bongo drums heavily in the background. The effect is quite impressive; it embodies the sense of anger and frustration that Mary feels, trapped as she is in her life of sin. To Mary, religion is a joke, a facade of honor covering the same old sex and corruption that she has always known. Opening the chant with "religion and sex" together, as if the two were equivalent, is a perfect expression of the new primary theme.
Listen carefully to the last strains of the song fading out, and you will hear a faint whisper spoken with the beat: "Sex... sex... sex..."
SONG: The Mission
News Broadcast: "...informing Washington, a technical violation of the 1972 ABM Treaty..." Preacher: "...I'm asking for hands to be uplifted in just a moment. God the Holy Ghost is calling out to embrace you. I want you to reach deep into your hearts and your pocketbooks and take his hand. Nikki: "Bless me father for I have sinned." Preacher: "Some of you are in a state of rebellion right now, you're saying..." In the wooden chair Beside my window I wear a face born in the falling rain I talk to shadows from a lonely candle Recite the phrases from the wall I can't explain this Holy pain Six days ago my life had taken a tumble The orders came from high above they say A need to use me once again they've got my number Further the cause boy yes you know the game I'll wait here for days longer Till the sister comes to wash my sins away She is the lady that can ease my sorrow She brings the only friend That helps me find my way I search the past back to a time When I was younger A target for the new society Picked to displace the leaders Countering objectives Of this new underground reality Waiting for days longer Till sister comes to wash my sins away She is the lady who can ease my sorrow My love for her Will help me find my way They'll say my mission saved the world And I stood proud My mission changed the world It turned my life around I look around my room is filled with candles Each one a story but they end the same I'll hide away in here the law will never find me The walls will tell the story of my pain Waiting for days longer Till sister comes to wash my sins away She is the lady who can ease my sorrow She sets the pace for my delivery of pain They'll say my mission saved the world And I stood proud My mission changed the world The underground will rise and Save this world we'll all stand proud Our mission changed the world, we'll change the world We'll all stand proud
Many more months pass, and finally the blackness of his deeds has caught up with Nikki's conscience. Nikki's life's work has been murder and death for almost a year now. Losing the feeling of power and virility that it once gave him, Nikki now feels dehumanized and he slips into a deep depression. He shuts himself up in his room and lights candles for each of his victims, performing a bizarre ritual of atonement.
Nikki's last connection to his own humanity is the "rituals" that he performs with Sister Mary. Sex with Mary makes Nikki feel alive, makes him feel that he is still capable of human emotions. Nikki doesn't realize it yet, but he is gradually falling deeply in love with Mary. Mary still feels that sex is a painful duty which she must perform to stay alive; however, she cares for Nikki too, in her own way.
Before the song begins, Nikki sits in his room, surrounded by candles, flipping through channels on television. When he sees Father William preaching on TV, he becomes disgusted with his life and shoots the screen. He then sinks into another bout of depression.
The musical quality of this song is much lighter and more musical than anything that has come before. The tone is conducive to introspection and despair. I am particularly fond of the rising string chords which occur at the end of this song.
The following song opens with a chorus of latin chanting in the background. For the sake of academic interest, I've provided a partial translation of the latin chant. The following version is taken from the score of Giuseppe Verdi's Dies Irae Requiem.
| Dies irae, dies illa,
Solvet saeclum in favilla,
Teste David cum Sibylla.
| Day of wrath and doom impending,
David's word with Sibyl's blending!
Heaven and earth in ashes ending!
| Quantus tremor est futurus,
Quando judex est venturus,
Cuncta stricte discussurus!
| Oh, what fear man's bosom rendeth,
When from heaven the Judge descendeth,
On whose sentence all dependeth!
SONG: Suite Sister Mary
Dr. X: "Kill her. That's all you have to do." Nikki: Kill Mary?" Dr. X: "She's a risk. And get the priest as well." 10 P.M., I feel the rain coming down My face feels the wet, my mind the storm Flashing lights as people race to find shelter from the pour Moving silent, through the streets, they're mine, they're mine Midnight, she sings praises in the Hall To saintly faces hallowed be their names she can't recall Sister Mary, virgin Mary, silent with her sin Mary: "What are you doing out in the rain?" She feels me, I can taste her breath when she speaks Mary: "I've been waiting for you. Come in." Mary, Mary just a whore for the underground They made you pay in guilt for your salvation Thought you had them fooled? Now they've sent me for you You know too much for your own good Don't offer me faith, I've got all I need here My faith is growing, growing tight against the seam What we need is trust, to keep us both alive Help us make it through the night Mary: I've no more want of any faith Bind my arm and feed my mind The only peace I've ever known I'll close my eyes and you shoot No Mary, listen, you've got to pull your strength from my lips I pray I feed you well Your precious cross is gone, it made me wait so long For what you gave to everyone The priest is cold and dead on his knees he fed From my barrel of death, he turned the Holy water red As he died he said thank you I just watched him bleed Mary: I feel the flow, the blessed stain Sweating hands like fire, and flames Burn my thighs, spread in sacrificial rite The hallowed altar burns my flesh once more tonight Mary, sweet lady of pain Always alone Blind you search for the truth I see myself in you, parallel lives Winding at light-speed through time No time to rest yet We've got to stop his game Before madness has the final laugh Too much bloodshed We're being used and fed Like rats in experiments No final outcome here Only pain and fear It's followed us both all our lives There's one thing left to see Will it be him or me? There's one more candle left to light Mary: Don't turn your back on my disgrace The blood of Christ can't heal my wounds...so deep The sins of man are all I taste Can't spit the memory from my mind I can't cry anymore Mary, my lady of pain, always alone Blind you search for the truth I see myself in you, parallel lives Winding at light-speed through time, you're mine
Well, here's where something really hits the fan. Doctor X has decided, for his own personal reasons, that Sister Mary and the priest are a weak link in his plans, and they must be eliminated. As the Doctor's most trusted hitman, it naturally falls to Nikki to perform the execution.
Nikki is torn in two directions at once. He wants to obey Doctor X, who has been his father figure for nearly a year. But, as I noted prior to the previous song, Nikki is really in love with Mary. Whether he realizes that or not, he does know that his sessions with Sister Mary are the only remaining positive and pure things in his life.
Nikki tries to follow his orders. As he wanders through the rainy streets of the city, he even makes a feeble attempt to convince himself that he is still in control, that he holds all the power. "Moving silent through the streets, they're mine..." is a whispered refrain, as if Nikki does not really believe his own words. When Nikki sees Mary face to face, his resolve begins to falter. After a long inner struggle, he finally realizes that he cannot do the deed. He confesses to Mary the true purpose of his visit, and discovers to his surprise that Mary wants to die. Still, Nikki cannot kill her. He now knows for certain that he loves her, and they make love on the altar with a kind of passion that he has never experienced before.
(Note: it's possible that I am mistaken and Nikki and Mary have never consummated their relationship until now. For more discussion, see the reader comments at the end of this page.)
The paradox of this song is the way that neo-classical music (i.e., the latin chant) meshes with hard rock, just as the facade of virtue and sanctity are tainted with the reality of obscenity and abuse throughout the whole piece. Mary's life lies in the metaphor of the latin chanting that gives way to screaming and heavy guitar work in the second half of the song.
SONG: The Needle Lies
Nikki: "I've had enough and I WANT OUT!" Dr. X: "You can't walk away now." I looked back once And all I saw was his face Smiling, the needle crying Walking out of his room With mirrors, afraid I heard him scream You'll never get away Cold and shaking I crawled down alleys to try And scrape away the tracks that marked me Slammed my face into walls of concrete I stared, amazed at the words written on the wall Don't ever trust Don't ever trust the needle, it lies Don't ever trust Don't ever trust the needle when it cries, cries your name Wet and raving The needle keeps calling me back To bloody my hands forever Carved my cure with the blade That left me in scars Now every time I'm weak Words scream from my arm Don't ever trust Don't ever trust the needle, it lies Don't ever trust Don't ever trust the needle when it cries, cries your name Don't ever trust Don't ever trust the needle, it lies Don't ever trust Don't ever trust the needle when it cries, cries your name
I consider "Suite Sister Mary" to be the end of act 1. On the cassette version of this album, side one ends with the sound of the rain pouring down outside the church, while the muted sounds of lovemaking fade into silence. Unfortunately, here's where things get really complicated.
In the preceding song, Nikki said "There's one more candle left to light." He is referring to his final victim, Doctor X himself. Nikki resolves to kill his master and free his mind. Nikki knows that he loves Sister Mary, and hopes he can begin a new life with her. Still reeling from the ecstasies of their passion, Nikki grabs his gun and firmly goes to meet his fate.
For Sister Mary, it was a different experience. She thought she loved Nikki too. She thought he would rescue her from her shame. But when he laid her down on the altar, Mary had a vision of Nikki's face being replaced by that of Father William. (The video actually shows a brief flash of this vision, and the Livecrime booklet says so explicitly.) In that instant, she felt that Nikki had become the same as all the other men in her life: he used her only to satisfy his own needs. Nikki does not see her disgust and pensiveness when he exits the church.
Nikki goes to confront Doctor X. The Doctor, knowing Nikki's intention, plays his trump card. He reminds Nikki that he is the only source of drugs that Nikki has. Without Doctor X, Nikki would succumb to his addiction and die. Beaten and frustrated, Nikki speaks of the horrors of his addiction.
Musically, this song is unquestionably one the heaviest on the whole album, almost grating in its use of drums, bass, and guitar crunch. Nikki is trapped and he knows it.
For 16 years after release of Operation: Mindcrime, the circumstances of Sister Mary's death were shrouded in mystery. The synopsis in the Livecrime booklet is vague on this point; I think it was intentional. Mary had every reason to kill herself. Her life had been stripped of its last bastion of hope: Nikki's true love. But the Mindcrime video shows Doctor X walking up behind her, wielding a chain as if to choke her. This is a hint that Doctor X may have seen that Nikki was too weak to follow his instructions, and he decided to finish the job himself. Perhaps he sens another henchman to finish the job. I even conjured up a very scenario where Nikki actually killed Mary himself. In a drug-induced stupor, (and a little help from a telephone call... "MINDCRIME!") Nikki could have followed his own orders but not remembered killing her.
New information! But thanks to the "Evening with Queensrÿche" tour 2004, we now know what *really* happened. If you want to have the mystery answered once and for all, click here.
INSTRUMENTAL: Electric Requiem
Nikki: "Anybody home? Mary?" Even in death You still look sad Don't leave me Don't leave me...here I want what you feel, believe me Turn the current on
|Nikki stands over the body of Mary, staring in disbelief and watching his whole life crumble before him. Don't forget to read the spoilers at the end.|
This next song marks the beginning of Nikki's descent into insanity.
SONG: Breaking The Silence
They told me to run But just how far Can I go wearing the black mask of fear? The hate in my eyes always gives me away The tension building slowly Now I lost everything I had in you Nothing we shared means a thing Without you close to me I can't live without you Breaking the silence of the night Can't you hear me screaming? I look for your face in the neon light You never answer me There's no direction to my stare No more flame burning in my heart anymore Quiet, I keep it to myself Until the sun sets slowly I hear your voice in the evening rain calling Nothing will keep us apart No more lies and fear There's no end to our story Breaking the silence of the night Can't you hear me screaming? I look for your face in the neon light You never answer I could make all the wrong seem right If you were by my side I'd gather all the tears you cried And hide them deep underground Can't look back, it's just a waste of time Can't erase this hate from my eyes Breaking the silence of the night Through the streets I'm screaming Looking for you in the neon light Why don't you answer me? Breaking the silence with my cries Can't you hear me screaming? We could make all this wrong seem right But you never answer me
Unable to cope with the loss of Mary, Nikki runs through the streets in a frenzy, looking for some sign that she can still help him regain a purpose in life. Everything he sees triggers memories of her. This song is not very plot-oriented; it's more of a glimpse into the workings of Nikki's psyche.
There's some great harmony on the chorus line "Breaking the silence of the night." I think this was originally done by Chris DeGarmo, but during the 2004 tour it was done by Eddie.
The next song is one of Queensrÿche's most popular titles ever. Probably the reason it seated itself so firmly on the charts was that, even though it is still used within the frame of the Mindcrime story, the concept that it describes is universal.
People who don't know that the album has a plot listen to "I Don't Believe In Love" as a general commentary on the futility of love. I had a roommate once who said he listened to the song a lot after his girlfriend broke up with him. But for Nikki, the words mean much more than that. Love DID exist for him once, but the depth of his feelings only brought him pain when the inevitability of death came for Mary.
SONG: I Don't Believe In Love
Voices: "We know you did it, Why'd you do it?" Nikki: "no, No, NO!" I awoke on impact Under surveillance from the camera eye Searching high and low The criminal mind found at the scene of the crime Handcuffed and blind, I didn't do it She said she loved me I guess I never knew But do we ever, ever really know? She said she'd meet me on the other side But I knew right then, I'd never find her I don't believe in love I never have, I never will I don't believe in love It's never worth the pain that you feel No more nightmares, I've seen them all From the day I was born, they've haunted my every move Every open hand's there to push and shove No time for love it doesn't matter She made a difference I guess she had a way Of making every night seem bright as day Now I walk in shadows, never see the light She must have lied 'cause she never said goodbye I don't believe in love I never have, I never will I don't believe in love I'll just pretend she never was real I don't believe in love I need to forget her face, I see it still I don't believe in love It's never worth the pain that you feel No chance for contact There's no raison d'etre My only hope is one day I'll forget The pain of knowing what can never be With or without love it's all the same to me I don't believe in love I never have, I never will I don't believe in love I'll just pretend she never was real I don't believe in love I need to forget her face, I see it still I don't believe in love It's never worth the pain that you feel
Having burnt out his energy, Nikki trudges in blind despair back to the church to have a last look at the body. The near-catatonic state that was foreshadowed in the beginning is already starting to take hold of his mind. But when he arrives, he finds the place crawling with police. They immediately finger him for the murder of Mary, and then somehow connect him with the rash of political murders that have plagued the city. But here's the irony: although he is rightly arrested for all of his "death angel" killings, he is booked on charges of Mary's murder -- one crime which he (presumably) DIDN'T commit. As the police interrogate him, Nikki's mind is millions of miles away, brooding on the nature of love and trust.
The guitar work in this song is awesome. Listen to the solo bridge in the middle for DeGarmo's electric guitar and Wilton's acoustic guitar playing at the same time with a third note split between them. Massively cool.
The final chords of "I Don't Believe In Love" pave the way for a haunting guitar
duet. In the Promised Land concert, everybody left the stage except for Michael
Wilton on his acoustic guitar. A lone spotlight shone on him as he stood to
one side of the stage and played solo for about thirty seconds. Then, gradually,
a second spotlight rose on De Garmo as he slipped into the harmony. The effect
GUITAR DUET: Waiting For 22
Wilton's part is so simple that even I can play it on my guitar (and I'm a lousy guitarist!); but sometimes simplicity can be very powerful. I think this duet works well as a counterpoint to the complexity of the previous song.
By this time, Nikki has been booked and given a life sentence; but he has completely lost his mind now. He is declared non compos mentis and put in the care of a hospital's mental ward. This is where we met him before the flashback in the beginning.
SOLILOQUY: My Empty Room
Empty room today And here I sit Chalk outline upon the wall I remember tracing it A thousand times, the night she died. Why? [Why?] There's no sleep today, I can't pretend When all my dreams are crimes I can't stand facing them Now who will come To wash away my sins Clean my room, fix my meals Be my friend?
Nikki sits in his room, now spending his days lost between self-discovery and madness, trying to make some sense out of the tragedy that was his life. He projects his mind repeatedly back to his last moments of comprehension, sitting in the church looking at Mary's corpse, wondering what would become of him.
Here, at last, the piece will climax, as Nikki considers what he has become. He no longer recognizes his own reflection: he is a stranger to himself.
page: "Dr. David, telephone please. Dr. David Dr. Blair, Dr. Blair, Dr. J. Hamilton, Dr. J Hamilton" All alone now Except for the memories Of what we had and what we knew Everytime I try to leave it behind me I see something that reminds me of you Every night the dreams return to haunt me Your rosary wrapped around your throat I lie awake and sweat, afraid to fall asleep I see your face looking back at me And I raise my head and stare Into the eyes of a stranger I've always known that the mirror never lies People always turn away From the eyes of a stranger Afraid to know what Lies behind the stare Is this all that's left Of my life before me Straight jacket memories, sedative highs No happy ending like they've always promised There's got to be something left for me And I raise my head and stare Into the eyes of a stranger I've always known that the mirror never lies People always turn away From the eyes of a stranger Afraid to know what Lies behind the stare [Lies behind my stare] How many times must I live this tragedy How many more lies will they tell me All I want is the same as everyone Why am I here, and for how long And I raise my head and stare Into the eyes of a stranger I've always known that the mirror never lies People always turn away From the eyes of a stranger Afraid to know what Lies behind the stareHere comes the climax! The lyric sheet began with the legend "6:00 P.M.". It ends with "6:01 P.M.". Amazingly, all of these memories careened around in Nikki's brain within the span of ONE MINUTE. The images spin rapidly in and out of his mind at a blinding pace. This is simulated in the music as it speeds up and a crashing cacophany of sound fills the air. If you listen carefully, you can hear refrains from nearly every single track on the album... "Mindcrime!" "Speak!" "And welcome..." "Revolution calling!" "Do we have freedom? (NO!)" etc. All this replays faster and faster until, unable to cope with the blood flowing through his brain, Nikki passes out.
It is only now that the true horror of Nikki's plight is revealed to us. He is doomed, for the rest of his life, to have these memories replay in his mind, exactly the same every time, over and over again. After the music comes crashing to a halt, there is a moment of silence. Then, like a record playing on endless repeat, Nikki begins again on his first line...
"I remember now."
On October 17, 2004, I went to see Queensrÿche with my wife Ginny, my sister Keryn, and my childhood best friend Gil, who had flown into town especially for the occasion. Queensrÿche appeared at La Zona Rosa, a club in downtown Texas. No seats were available; it was standing room only, a crush of people from front to back.
The concert started at 8, and we tried to get there as early as possible. We arrived around 6:30 and there was already a pretty good size line stretching out; I would guess that between 50 and 100 people got there ahead of us. After about ten minutes, somebody came walking down the line announcing that we were all going to be frisked (of course) and "You need to form two lines, men and women in separate lines." Few people made a move. So Ginny and Keryn looked at each other, stepped out of line, and calmly marched straight to the front, forming their own line. Only five or so people were ahead of them. When Gil and I got inside, the girls were waving us over, leaning directly in front of the stage. We had to wade through four rows of other people to get to them, then we took up positions directly behind.
So thanks to some quick thinking, we were completely front row center, almost literally standing right under Geoff Tate and between Michael Wilton on our left, and Mike Stone (the new guitarist, replacing Chris DeGarmo and Kelly Gray from previous tours). Scott Rockenfield, the madman of the drums, was upstage behind Michael; and Eddie Jackson, the bassist, sort of drifted around throughout the performance. As Ginny put it, "It was close enough to see goosebumps on Geoff's arm."
Starting at 8:20, the first set was, of course, awesome, although shorter than I expected. Songs they played came from an assortment of past albums, with Empire more heavily represented than others. The sets included Empire, Take Hold of the Flame, When the Rain Comes, Jet City Woman, The Lady Wore Black; also several from the new album, Tribe, such as "Open"; and one song I didn't recognize called "Last Night in Paris". (Found out it comes from the soundtrack of Ford Fairlane, which I never watched because Andrew Dice Clay sucks.)
Throughout it all, Geoff Tate was strutting around being his usual cool self, and tossing out short monologues in between songs. Since we were front and center, the band acknowledged our presence quite a few times. At one point after I was shouting and waving, Geoff looks directly at me and says "You okay man? Are you sure? Cause you look like ya have a big question mark over your head." Frankly, I'm not sure what he meant, but it was still damn cool even if he was mocking me. Ginny says he gave her a look and a grin for a while, and Keryn said that both Scott and Mike had their eye on her all night. Near the end of the concert, Mike threw a guitar pick to her.
And now, the live performance of Operation: Mindcrime
Okay, so moving on to the second act, I'm sure that's what Mindcrime fans came here to read anyway.
During the second act, the stage had been arranged into a crude theatrical set. There was a set of stairs climbing up to a small platform with a chair and an end table with a phone on it, and then higher up to a platform. Another set of stairs went down behind the platform so characters could go out of sight.
The second act had a routine introduction by a local radio DJ, but as she was announcing the performance of Operation: Mindcrime, a haggard young man staggered out onto the stage and grabbed the microphone. He screamed something like "You're all being used, man! Fight the power!" It was a good performance, I know many people in the audience must have wondered if somebody was pulling a stunt. Then a guy dressed as a policeman stormed onto the stage and grabbed the kid, who was now obviously playing the role of Nikki. Nikki kicked and thrashed around. A doctor and a nurse ran up to assist. The nurse jabbed a needle into his arm, he was pulled off stage. Then the music started.
Geoff changed outfits several times during the performance. When Dr. X was introduced in the song "Operation: Mindcrime", Geoff walked out in gear reminiscent of "The Matrix", with a full length black leather trenchcoat and shades. He and the nurse character shoved Nikki back and forth between them. Sometimes he would appear on stage as Nikki himself, with a denim jacket that had a tri-ryche symbol on the back and the word BASTARD scrawled on it. I turned to Gil and said "I want that jacket!!!"
Mary was a middle aged woman. I think she may have been the same person who originally toured with the band during the Livecrime tour, but I'm not sure. However, during Mary's death scene, that woman was replaced by a younger, smaller woman. Our theory is that one of them was a good actor and one was a good singer, and they didn't want to leave the whole job up to one of them.
As I indicated during the song notes, it was unclear how Mary died from the album's release until 2004. It was finally explained in this concert. Due to spoilers, I moved the answer to another page. If you want to find out what happened, look here.
The story proceeds as normal, with I Don't Believe in Love (Geoff does his usual concert schtick, "Hey, does anyone here in Austin Texas believe in love? Cause I don't.") Weirdly, the singer who played Mary returned to the stage and kept singing. At first I thought there was some kind of symbolism in that, but again, I think they just liked her singing.
After "Eyes of a Stranger", the band left the stage and sadly, they did NOT do a proper encore. But a voiceover did announce the upcoming release of Operation Mindcrime II (yes, seriously) in 2005-2006. A single was played from the new album, called "Hostage". Unfortunately, the acoustics on the recording were not adjusted very well so I couldn't form much of an opinion on the song. What I heard seemed so-so to me, but then again, it's ALWAYS taken me a few listens to warm up to a new Queensrÿche album, and now I love them all.
After the concert
The four of us snuck around backstage hoping we could catch the band and bug them. :) Only about one or two dozen people had the same idea as us, so we hung around on the back lawn of the club and looked inside the limo buses and chatted and had fun. We talked to some of the hardcore fans, including one girl who'd hung out with the band in the past and been to tours in many different cities, but - and she took great pains to make sure we understood this - "I am not a groupie!!!"
We saw the actors who played Nikki and Mary come out at different times, and yelled to them appreciatively. After a while, some security guards came over and told us all to step away from the buses, but they said the band was doing a "Meet and Greet" and it would be another half hour before they came out. Apparently members of the Queensrÿche fan club get a random lottery drawing to obtain Meet and Greet passes. We didn't have any.
Ginny went and pulled the car around so we could stay close by. When the band came out, everyone hooted and yelled, especially for Geoff, who graciously turned and offered a grin and a wave and then hopped on the bus just as fast as he could. On the other hand, the new guitarist, Mike, seemed happy to hang out with the fans, which was better than nothing. Keryn chatted with him and he recognized her and asked if she got the pick he threw. Keryn wanted to stay and talk to Mike, who was going into a bar, but the bus that had the rest of the band was pulling away. We were curious to see where it was going, so we all got in the car and stalked them.
We drove behind the bus for a while, but when they got out of downtown and started heading on the freeway, we gave up and went home. We figure they slept on the bus as it went straight to their next stop in Houston.
Brent sent me this note on 8/26/03:
I really like your explanation of Queensrÿche's "Operation: Mindcrime" cd. I think you have it pretty well figured out. But I have to disagree with one of your assertions. You claim that after Nikki grows tired of killing, his "last connection to his own humanity is the 'rituals' that he performs with Sister Mary". You claim that "sex with Mary makes Nikki feel alive, makes him feel that he is still capable of human emotions", but I would posit that Nikki does not have sex with Mary until the night he is told to kill her. The lyrics even say so. In the song "Suite Sister Mary", Nikki says, "Your precious cross is gone, it made me wait so long for what you gave to everyone". What Mary gave to everyone was her body, her sex. She hadn't given it to Nikki until that night. This is why Mary sees a vision of Father William as Nikki and her have sex, because before she thought Nikki might be different, but now that he is having sex with her, she realizes (falsely) that he is just like all the other men in her life, and this is why "the hallowed altar burns [her] flesh once more" that night. To Nikki, the sex act is special because he loves Mary, and sex is his way of finally expressing this love.
May 4, 2006: Added a brand new FAQ.
October 18, 2004: