|Arjen Anthony Lucassen is more epic than you,|
as this green screen clearly shows.
Ayreon is as much a story as it is music. I'll spare the reader most of the details, as the plot is highly complex with a large cast of characters and many suplots, each told out through five operas, all but one of them double-albums. At its root, there is a race of aliens, called Forever, who have become so dependent and indistinguishable from their technology that they have ceased to feel, grow, evolve, and change, and are forever frozen in a permanent state of eternal waking stasis, unable to feel either pleasure or pain. Their home planet is called Y, and is purported to be in the Andromeda galaxy, though in the final opera 01011001 it is claimed they are capable of sending a comet to Earth in a reasonable length of time, so perhaps Planet Y is instead located in the Milky Way. Mankind is their experiment, designed to help them relearn how to think freely and feel. Over the millenia, they have conducted various experiments on selected humans to help further this aim. These experiments form the rock opera INTO THE ELECTRIC CASTLE.
Separately, on Earth, another plot unfolds regarding the demise of man in a nuclear war in the year 2084, which is witnessed by the last surviving human: a colonist on Mars (which forms the two albums THE DREAM SEQUENCER and FLIGHT OF THE MIGRATOR). Before the war, a group of scientists attempted to warn the past of impending disaster due to global warming, environmental degredation, disease, and chronic conflict by sending messages into the past. However, the warning, instead of going where intended, finds itself in the hands of a blind mistrel in Dark Ages England named Ayreon (which forms the basis of the first opera, THE FINAL EXPERIMENT, as well as one of the main plots of the last opera, 01011001). In addition, one of the Forever uses a device called the Dream Sequencer to complete their experiments and fulfill mankind's intended purpose, which forms the basis of the remaining album THE HUMAN EQUATION.
Why am I telling you all of this? Admittedly, I am a huge fan. But it is significant for another, far more important reason. To explain this, I am going to have to explain a little bit about how my psychosis and my dissociations worked.
Before there was Jennifer, Emma, AK, and Haley, there was a world. This world took many forms, but it always possessed the same properties: it was utopian to those who had power, dystopian to those who didn't, and in it I forced the will of my beliefs onto its form and shape. I'm not entirely sure how long it's existed for me. It seems like it's been a part of me for as long as I can remember. It started out simplistically, sure -- often the result of an imagined encounter with a djinn. What I wanted was power. I was bullied in school, both a scapegoat and target, and my relationship with my parents growing up was both complicated and ambiguous in a way that didn't exactly engender a positive worldview. I dreamed of escaping it all, and slowly those daydreams coalesced into something living and breathing. As I grew older, I began to explore the flip-side of all that power, and the dynamic contained therein, and so was born the world. It was my own private alternate universe, one very few ever got to see. The world of THE ACADEMY is very loosely based on it, as are a number of my short stories, but the purest expressions of it I never showed to anyone. Its four prophets were Jennifer, Emma, AK, and Haley, who came to embody the narrative of the world and how it changed, grew, evolved, and eventually was redeemed.
I would not exactly hallucinate when I lost touch with reality. The only description I can provide would be for you to try to imagine having two realities superimposed onto each other. There was me, and my apartment in Portsmouth, and my fiancee, Prescott Park, and the hospital where my psychiatrist works. There was also Jennifer and her machine world, Emma and her life, AK and his campaign of terror, and Haley and her kingdom. It was possible for any of them, or me, to slide back and forth between these worlds. But sliding was just about all I could do, for the most part, unless something else could help me penetrate the barrier between them.
Enter Ayreon, and in particular the opera 01011001. There were many things that could breach the fantasy world, but 01011001 was always the most effective. Jennifer identified with the Forever. Emma liked the theme. AK identified with the apocalyptic aspects of it, and Haley understood what it meant to me. 01011001 was playing on my headphones on probably at least three-fourths of my meditations. I could even see myself in there, as Arjen Lucassen's autobiographical hippie character and would-be prophet, by the time of this story now aged and in a mental hospital, his prophecy ignored in one of my favorite songs "The Truth is in Here." Other things -- songs, people, stories, characters -- could penetrate the world. Ayreon tied it all together, and grounded me in this world. It was to Arjen Lucassen's operas that I fought my demons, and slowly began to come to terms with my illness and get it under control.
To that end, as I later learned, 01011001 was written at a time of personal distress for Arjen Lucassen. My favorite music always seems to be produced during times of great trauma, stress, and pain for the artist that writes it. As a writer, I can certainly attest to the power of putting yourself into your art. It's that element of the artist's personal struggle that makes their art so great to me, like I can feel and experience their own pain and suffering in some small way. 01011001 oozes with pain, guilt, regret, and frustration. Arjen even took it to another level shortly after he concluded the Ayreon saga by creating a side project specifically to address those feelings, Guilt Machine, the year after 01011001 was released. There are things that I think and things that I feel, and music is something that I feel. My favorite musicians are all like me: artists for whom the emotion of the music always shows through regardless of the content. Which is why 01011001 feels as personal to me as one of Neal Morse's TESTIMONY albums: Lucassen's pain is palpable throughout. When I'm feeling sad or depressed or low, I don't want to be cheered up. I just don't want to feel alone. Listened to, really. 01011001 hears those prayers and delivers a resounding response: "I understand." So I listen, and I feel better.
Some people are like this; some aren't. Maybe ten years ago I would have felt like there was a right way or a wrong way to appreciate music, but I don't anymore. What I've come to appreciate the most about people over the past year is just how different our needs can be. Kari, my fiancee (her real name, used because it would be nearly impossible to conceal her identity), takes quite a different approach. Her favorite band is The Flower Kings, who she listens to specifically because it cheers her up. This is not just true of music, either, as I've written about in previous posts. When I read a story or listen to music, I want something that will break that barrier between me and it, and the barriers within me as well. To that end, Arjen Lucassen is the master, and I'd be hard-pressed not to like anything he produces.