Music From The Elder, composed in 1981 by the KISS Band, presents a storyline that shows elements of the Heroes Journey expanded on by Joseph Campbell in The Hero With a Thousand Faces, authored by Dave Whomsely. The hero’s journey, as explained in Whomsely’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, includes three key sections that are essential in the analysis of Music From the Elder. The parts include a hero’s departure, a hero’s trials, and a hero’s return. The stages include subparts that clarify the journey of a hero, which can be applied when assessing different songs in Music From the Elder.
The first part of the hero’s journey, according to Campbell, is the departure phase. Campbell, when explaining the nature of this phase, states that the hero’s journey into the fantastic lands is a purposed journey into a psychic situation (Whomsley 187). The journey of the hero is presented as an illusion rather than reality. Campbell portrays the start of the hero’s journey as a path of self-discovery that happens inwardly, camouflaged in an adventurous ordeal that has a moral lesson. Campbell adds that one hero’s journey may not be similar to another hero’s journey. The hero described in Music From The Elder by KISS presents nuances mirroring the departure phase of the hero’s journey as described by Campbell. The call to adventure in the departure phase is evident in Music From The Elder. The hero’s journey is described as one that is voluntary, accidental, may go unnoticed, and appears forced (Whomsley 187). Most of those who eventually become heroes are not likely to be willing and ready to take part in the hero’s journey, and others may not even realize they are in the hero’s journey. The song ”Fanfare” in Music From the Elder starts with a slow and subtle beat leading to an adventure. The slow start does not reflect the start of a glorious hero’s story. The start of the song resembles the illusion of the individual that does not reflect reality when considering the impact this part has on the audience. The relaxing feel of the slow rhythm does not hint at the momentous hero’s journey. In addition, the slow soundtrack that starts the hero’s journey shows that the character who becomes a hero is calm and does not know the hardships, turmoil and triumphs that lie ahead.
The song “Just a Boy” in the album suggests that as eyes are searching for a person to guide them, some are staring at the hero. The boy, in this case, is starting the hero’s journey. The statement emphasizes the unprepared and clueless start of the hero, as described by Campbell. The boy looks confused as he appears not to know why others would stare at him for guidance. The journey also appears forced, one of the salient features of a hero’s journey. He does not request to be looked at by others and is somehow surprised, thus emphasizing that the path of a hero is not his will.
Campbell further explains that the hero comes across answers to his greats after retreating into the unconscious realm from the real world. The journey of the hero chiefly entails addressing a hero’s fears. After addressing the fears, the hero is able to go to the next step. In the album Music From the Elder, the people need guidance, and the hero shows confusion as others look at him. The point represents the start of the journey, where the hero also has fears that he has to address before leading those who look at him.
Another important text in the context of the hero’s journey suggests that due to the internal nature of the adventure that shows the level of readiness of the hero, characters depend on the hero being ready so that they can pursue a certain adventure (Whomsley 188). The hero has to be ready to take the journey or accept to take the journey. “Odyssey” in Music From The Elder says that the main character is being summoned from a galaxy far away. The line written in first person point of view suggests that the main character acknowledges the call to a journey they should pursue. In the “Odyssey”, the looming adventure becomes more vivid as it is represented by a vivid description of the natural environment and the main character’s destiny.
The whale’s bell is an important part of the departure phase in the hero’s journey, as described by Campbell. Whomsley (188) indicates that the hero is likely to disappear, experience a magical transformation, or in some cases, die. It is from such an experience that the hero develops awareness of his or her quest. The whale’s ball follows the step where the hero acknowledges the call. In “Just a Boy”, the lyricist states that his future is being unveiled, and he fears failing. The main character in the song develops a fear after acknowledging the call, akin to the tumultuous path of the hero at the beginning, as described by Campbell. The fear that the hero develops reflects the likely crises described in the section of the whale’s bale in a hero’s journey, which usually follows the acceptance of the call.
According to Campbell, there must be a return. Whomsley writes that the hero returns after facing numerous trials so he can educate others on what he has learned about a renewed life so he can have an impact in the day-to-day world. During the hero’s journey, the hero becomes a man according to society’s standards and resolves a range of internal conflicts. In Music From the Elder, the song “Escape the Island” encompasses a fast-paced number leading to the final part of the journey. The song’s title includes the word ‘escape’, which is synonymous with the return referred to by Campbell. The purpose of the hero’s journey as one of resolution and becoming a man is emphasized at the start of the album when the lyricist states that the people are waiting for Morpheus’ word on whether the main character is prepared for a holy rite of incorporation into the Order of the Rose and the annunciation of the hero’s holy role in society. The holy rite implies the rite of passage, referring to the journey which serves as a passage to becoming a man, as reiterated in Campbell’s theory of the hero’s journey. Manhood is represented by the Order of the Rose in the music album and represents the ultimate aim of the journey of the hero.
One of the tropes explained in the hero’s journey is the discovery of his purpose, leading to the end of the journey. In “I”, one can hear the lyrics suggesting that the hero realizes he just needed to start having self-beliefs. “I” is among the concluding songs in the legendary album. The hero’s self-doubt would not have helped him in the internal battle leading to his positive development. “The Oath” suggests that the boy’s ancient burns go inside, and out comes a man. The hero in the album triumphed over his tribulations and became a man, in line with the observations by Campbell regarding the hero’s journey.
The approach of structuralism described by Claude Levi-Strauss has had a massive impact on anthropology. The aim of structuralism, as described by Claude Levi-Strauss, was to find patterns of production of thought by different cultures (McGee and Warms 321). The concept of binary positions is among the essential creations of Levi-Strauss, and it implies states situations with elements where one can only exist when the other is present. An example is water and metal. If something is said to be water, it cannot be metal or show the properties of metal, such as hardness and opaqueness. The illustration shows a double opposition that reflects the idea of binary positions. An assessment of the hero’s journey shows a number of binary positions. One of the statements suggests that elders were not on their own at the beginning. The statement implies the beginning of the earth when everything was young. The elders who are being referred to should be the elders based on their reference as ‘elders’. However, the elders not being alone at the beginning of the earth presents a binary position as elders should be the oldest. If one were to think who else would have been there from the beginning apart from the elders, it would be difficult to find another name to refer to the beings other than ‘Elders’. Another instance showing binary positions is the song titled “Dark Light”. The song includes lyrics mentioning a dark light. It is impossible for light to be dark or light to be dark simultaneously. Another illogical binary position is evident in the song “I”. In the song, the character ‘I’ sings about a lightning bolt hitting his head, causing him to see. When someone is hit by lightning, he will most likely die. Logically, a lightning bolt cannot cure blindness.
KISS. Music From the Elder, Casablanca, 1981.
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. “Four Winnebago Myths: A Structural Sketch.” Anthropological Theory: An Introductory History. 5th ed., McGraw Hill, 2012.
McGee, R. Jon, and Richard L. Warms. Anthropological Theory: An Introductory History. 5th ed., McGraw Hill, 2012.
Whomsley, Dave. “Theory: Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” Introduction to Mythology: Contemporary Approaches to Classical and World Myths. 3rd ed., Thury, Eva M. and Margaret K Devinney, Oxford, 2013.