Chris Martin, Zen MaestroWhile I am not the greatest of musical snobs, I do have difficulty admitting that, yes, I like Coldplay’s latest album. And despite what some people may say, I like it more than their older albums, and if not for the music, at least for the meaning.

Viva la Vida: or Death and All His Friends may be the most pretentious album title in recent history, or it may touch on something profound, or perhaps pretension and profundity aren’t all that different. Honestly, I love paradoxes; and paradox that the life lived (“vida la vida”) will inevitably meet “death and all his friends” is resonates with the psyche. The cycle of birth and dying, natality and mortality is in every religion, and therefore makes this album lyrically strong. It could be a perfect mistake that Coldplay stumbled onto this, but it means something if only because it has meant something for all of human history.

The album deals with struggling opposites: pleasure and pain, time and eternity, life and death. Essentially, this album is a quest for meaning, as seen clearly in the song “42,” an allusion to the answer to life, the universe, and everything: “Time is so short and I’m sure/There must be something more.” What is the quest for meaning but the quest for heaven on earth? What is the French Revolution but precisely that— the naïve hope to realize parousia— the Second Coming— here and now.

There seems to be a substantial (or at least accidental) continuity to the album’s tracks:

“Life in Technicolor”: the vibrancy of life
“Cemeteries of London”: the shadow of life (death)
“Lost!”: the all-consuming cycle of competition
“42”: the meaning of life
“Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love”: man’s existential striving
“Yes”: the need for love
“Viva la Vida”: the futility of ruling the world and losing one’s soul
“Violet Hill: the need for certainty
“Strawberry Swing”: the value of every mutual moment
“Death and All His Friends”: the inevitability of death

Chris Martin didn’t find Jesus, but maybe he found Buddha. Coldplay to escape the cycle of life and death. He feels that “all time and circuitry is wrong.” Those who say this album means nothing, I think missed the point entirely. It opens with life, ends with death. It, precisely, is a microcosm of the cosmos, a revolution of the evolution of the universe, a recycle of the cycle of life and death. The interplay of opposites and their ultimate unity is, I hope, displayed here. This album is about the struggle of mankind for life, meaning, and heaven— if those are different things in the first place.

This quote from Rolling Stone touches on what I am getting at and (hopefully?) what Chris Martin is getting at:

“I went through a weird patch, starting when I was about sixteen to twenty-two, of getting God and religion and superstition and judgment all confused. I think a lot of our music comes out of that. I definitely believe in God. How can you look at anything and not be overwhelmed by the miraculousness of it?”

The most cogent statement of this sort of western Buddhist mentality is in the final song, “Death and All His Friends” : “No I don’t wanna battle from beginning to end / I don’t want a cycle of recycled revenge / I don’t wanna follow Death and all of his friends.”

As it is written in the Upanishads, the good is not the pleasant. Personally, I think the good should be pleasant, as the beautiful should be useful. Whether or not Chris Martin intended these songs to mean anything or for their order to mean anything, they have a coincidental sequence. If it is simply the projection of my Taoist soul, then I may end up appreciating the album more than another soul. But doesn’t all of life deal with the continuity of life and the inevitability of death? Comedy and tragedy? Love and hate?

If I’m projecting, and I’m completely open to that, it may be because I have a fuller view of the world than Chris Martin and can grant meaning to his meaningless album. If this is the case, then my whole world is full of meaning, full of heaven, full of God … and then so is the album.

There is a strong symbolic power in the contrast of opposites which resonate with the unconscious. It is precisely the apparent convolution which might actually be at the heart of this revolution (literally “turning back” ). Either it is on the threshold of the infinite (profound) or on the threshold of the void (absurd). Sometimes it is hard to say which something is, precisely because each is undefinable. But because we do know that life and death do exist, I believe this album touches on the fundamental human experience: life, death, and all his friends.

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