SMiLE (14/14) Symphony of the Stars

Recently, I decided to take the concept of astrology and look further into SMiLE for connections. I’ll confess outright that it probably wasn’t Brian’s intention that every track embody an astrological sign. I have no doubt he meant to create something representing Aquarian ideals but I doubt he was consciously thinking “I need a song to represent Virgo…oh gosh, if I cut the Elements I won’t have an Aries anymore!” This is just for fun…because off the wall SMiLE theories are my idea of fun. The signs are all printed on the back cover and Brian opted for 12 tracks even with at least 2-4 (Look, Holidays, Dada, He Gives Speeches) tracks in the works at the time the list was submitted. So while definitely a stretch, I don’t think it’s a completely unwarranted exercise either.

Anyway, I tried to match each of the 12 tracks on the Capitol tracklist to an astrological sign. I’ll go in order of how certain I am to where I’m more or less guessing.

Aquarius–Surf’s Up. This is the song that summarizes the Aquarian age values–monolithic institutions are breaking down (culumnated ruins domino), creative expression is celebrated (canvas the town and brush the backdrop)/(the music hall a costly bow, the music all is lost for now), and it ends on the promise of the individual and children as opposed to blind faith in larger entities like nations or churches. Aquarians are said to be progressive, creative, independent and uncompromising. Despite being an air sign, their constellation is based on Ganymede, the water-bearer (water…surf…)

Pisces–Old Master Painter. This is the song that represents the passage of the Age of Pisces. Pisces is said to embody faith, selflessness and monotheism. The old standard Old Master Painter is unambiguously a song about God, represented by a singular, reclusive painter. Pairing it with another old standard “You Are My Sunshine” sung in the past tense means saying goodbye to religious conformity and the age of Pisces as a whole. Pisceans are said to be compassionate, artistic and musical. They like spirituality and hate cruelty or the past coming back to bite.

^Those are the two I’m unflinchingly certain of.

Aries–Do You Like Worms. While Pisces is seen as embodied by Jesus’ passivity and self-sacrifice, Aries is associated with Moses, the exodus of the Hebrews from religious persecution, a sacred covenant on Mount Sinai and casting out the false god of the golden calf. Worms is about the pilgrims fleeing religious persecution, forming a sacred “city upon a hill” in Plymouth Rock, and casting out the perceived false gods of the Native Americans (…just see what you’ve done, done to the church of the American Indian.) The traits associated with the age of Aries are said to be courage, adventure and war. All of these describe the early settlers and the consequences of their actions towards the Indians. Aries is also the first sign, and there is some compelling evidence (including its placement on the Capitol list) that Worms was the first track on SMiLE and the beginning of the Americana story.

Gemini–Heroes and Villains. Gemini are the twins, and thus represent a dualistic nature (like the opposite existences of heroes and villains.) They’re said to always be searching for their “other half” (like Margarita who was gunned down in the street perhaps?) And are said to be associated with communication and the passage of ideas (my children were raised […] healthy wealthy and wise.) Geminis are also said to be restless, and I think the song itself with all the crazy twists and turns embodies this well.

Virgo–Wonderful.
 The virgin. Said to be analytical, hardworking and a lover of nature. Wonderful’s lyrics are perhaps the most oblique in all of SMiLE, requiring a good bit of analysis to comprehend. (she knew how to gather the forest) seems to embody the latter two traits. Virgo is associated with the disappointed goddess, a woman bound to no man, seeking the good in humankind, but often left disappointed at our corrupted state. This ties into how the woman in the song is mistreated.

Taurus–Cabin Essence. The two myths I’ve seen associated with Taurus are the transformed lover of Zeus whom Hera cursed to wander aimlessly for all time, always bothered by a fly, and the Cretan Bull whom the wife of Minos was cursed to fall in love with and gave birth to the minotaur. Both stories represent a destructive love affair, just as Cabin Essence is about our love for the Western Wilderness paradoxically destroying it at the same time. We invented trains to be able to explore the West further but they pollute the beauty we sought to enjoy in the first place. While bulls aren’t mentioned in the lyrics Iron Horses and reindeer are, and we tend to associate the west with buffalo. It’s close…give me that at least. The age of Taurus is said to have brought the Northern and Southern halves of Egypt together, just as Cabin Essence is about the merging of the Western and Eastern halves of America. Negative traits of Taurus are excessive materialism, stubbornness, possessiveness, and nearsightedness. All of these could be applied to the Western expansion.

^Those are the four I’m very certain of.

Cancer–Wind Chimes. Cancers are prone to strong but fleeting emotions, sentimentality, seclusion and “internal mysteries.” When I hear the lyrics (now and then a tear rolls off my cheek) in response to some wind chimes, “cancer” was the first thing I thought of. The Age of Cancer is said to coincide with people transitioning from a nomadic lifestyle to permanent dwellings. The speaker of this song spends the entire time enjoying the sanctity of their home. According to mythology, the crab Karkinos was sent to distract Hercules during his battle with the Hydra, and you could say the narrator in this song is distracted by his simple wind chimes.

Leo–The Elements. The Age of Leo is the one which made human settlement across the world possible, as the elements predate the other concepts or subjects in SMiLE. It’s marked by the melting of the glaciers due to the changing climate, freeing greater tracts of land to be settled by humanity. This motif of change is present in the mythology of Leo as the Nemean Lion. According to myth, the Nemean Lion would change form to a beautiful woman to lure warriors in, then change back to a lion and eat them. Its fur was said to be impervious to the elements and damage. This was the first of the twelve labors of Hercules…and the elements is said to have a fitness component to it.

^Those are the two I’m fairly certain of.

Scorpio–Child is Father of the Man. Scorpio is associated with three different forms–the scorpion, the bird and the serpent. And I’ll admit that makes up the bulk of my reasoning for the connection to CIFOTM. While Scorpio is a feminine sign, it’s said to be ruled by Mars (or Pluto) which is as masculine of a god as it gets (the symbol of Mars doubles as our symbol of masculinity in fact.) I chose to interpret this contradiction as the act of nurturing young is typically seen as a feminine act yet this song (presumably) is about a father and child’s relationship with each other. According to my sources, Pluto is the planet of transformation and regeneration, which could be seen as a child becoming a man.

Sagittarius–Vega-Tables. Sagittarius is associated with the centaur Chiron, a practitioner of botany and herbology. According to speculative astrology, in the coming age of Sagittarius humanity will be at peace with the Earth, vegetarians by choice, and the only arguments will be petty feuds between individuals as opposed to the destructive wars between tribes or nation states we suffered in our earlier existence. Could this be the meaning of the Vegetable Arguments? Maybe…it’s a huge stretch but if not it’s still a fun coincidence for sure. One of the strengths of Sagittarians are their great sense of humor, and VT is undeniably one of if not the most overtly humorous tracks on the album. One of the weaknesses of Sagittarians are their tactlessness and impatience, which I do think are displayed in the Veggie Arguments.

Capricorn–I’m in Great Shape. Capricorn will be the astrological age after Aquarius, where we will find a new stability and routine after two thousand years of unpredictable individuality, technology and creativity challenging every sense of conformity or commonality we had previously had. It is often depicted as a half-goat, half fish in the style of the Sumerian god Enki. In Greek mythology it is often associated with Amalthea, the goat that suckled Zeus as a child, whose broken horn became the cornucopia, or symbol of plenty. If we assume IIGS includes Barnyard, this would be a fitting association with the agricultural themes of the song. Admittedly, VT is the one with an actual lyrical connection to a cornucopia…but that lyric was also inexplicably removed…perhaps to prevent conflict with IIGS as the representative of Capricorn?? (I know, that’s a huge stretch.) Capricorns are said to embody discipline and responsibility. They appreciate family, tradition and quality craftsmanship. This could certainly be found in the country lifestyle that IIGS/Barnyard evoke.

Libra–Good Vibrations. Libra is the constellation of balancing scales, and is the only sign represented by an inanimate object, mirroring perhaps how GV is a bit out of step with the themes of the rest of the album. The scales in turn are often associated with Themis, the Titaness of Good Counsel, personification of custom, natural order and fairness. Because of her ability to sense future events, she became an oracle of Delphi. Most importantly for our purposes here, she also presided over the proper relations between man and woman. Libras are said to be diplomatic, cooperative and graceful. Their ruling planet is Venus, so they make great lovers. They are said to desire harmony and gentleness. They hate being alone. The past Age of Libra is said to be associated with the mythical Golden Age, where humans and animals lived in peace and man created an egalitarian society. I guess you could say, there was a lot of good vibes to go around. 

^These are the four I’m not quite sure about. I’ll admit these came about mostly thru process of elimination after the more obvious songs were paired with their respective signs. That said, I was surprised that there was still some interesting connections to be found at this level.

Possible Sequences and Groupings Based on These Assumptions:

Probably nothing. We cannot know how much of this is coincidental and how much was intentional. I’d say probably 50/50. I think to pretend it was totally one or the other is selling Brian short or giving him too much credit, respectively. But we know he was big into astrology at this time. We know from Vosse and Anderle he tried to work in all of his intellectual and philosophical pursuits into the album in some capacity. So to some degree, there was astrological themes or references in this album. As someone who’s familiar with the Astrological Ages I definitely see a lot of clues that Brian/VDP were hinting at the end of Pisces and beginning of Aquarius at the very least.

Just for fun, let’s pretend that every track had a clear astrological connection and they just happened to fit the pattern I’ve laid out above. That means if we put the songs in order of the zodiac, they would go:

NORTHERN SIGNS

Aries–Do You Like Worms

Taurus–Cabin Essence

Gemini–Heroes and Villains

Cancer–Wind Chimes

Leo–The Elements

Virgo–Wonderful

SOUTHERN SIGNS

Libra–Good Vibrations

Scorpio–Child is Father of the Man

Sagittarius–Vega-Tables

Capricorn–Im in Great Shape

Aquarius–Surf’s Up

Pisces–Old Master Painter

Interesting running order. Certainly not what I’ve been advocating for (two clear distinct groupings built around Heroes/Veggies/Worms/Cabin and Wonderful/CIFOTM/Surf/Wind with the remaining four tracks less certain in terms of placement.) That said I think it’s interesting how the three Western/Expansion tracks, three tracks about relationships between two clearly defined individuals, two tracks about agriculture/farm life and finally the two that are undeniably about the current and future astrological ages are all nicely grouped together with this sequence. Also, with the notable exception of GV and Wonderful, the tracks roughly correspond to their groupings/columns on the original back cover with this order.

Here are some other fun ways we can group them, just for completion’s sake. If you wanted to go with a 3-suite structure that’s still very distinct from the BWPS/Boxset format, you could try:

CARDINAL SIGNS: Do You Like Worms, Wind Chimes, Good Vibrations, I’m in Great Shape

FIXED SIGNS: Cabin Essence, The Elements, Child is Father of the Man, Surf’s Up

MUTABLE SINGS: Heroes and Villains, Wonderful, Vega-Tables, Old Master Painter

I’m kinda stumped on trying to find a meaningful relationship to the cardinal signs. I do think the Fixed signs have some interesting parallels going on though. Elements and Surf’s Up are about the larger than life forces of physical space/nature and spirituality/time respectively. Then CE and CIFOTM explore some microcosms of those larger than life themes as they relate to human history/lifetimes. The mutable signs then present us with the two happiest, carefree tracks as well as the two saddest but otherwise don’t seem to present a meaningful internal narrative or thematic cohesion.

And here’s a 4-suite/alternate 2-sided structure for ya:

POSITIVE/MASCULINE SIGNS

FIRE: Worms, Elements, Vega-Tables

AIR: Heroes, Good Vibes, Surf’s Up

NEGATIVE/FEMININE SIGNS

EARTH: Cabin Essence, Wonderful, I’m in Great Shape

WATER: Wind Chimes, Child is Father of the Man, Old Master Painter

The Fire signs are like a microcosm of the album as a whole–the American story, elements and humor.

The Air signs are the three biggest, most important tracks of the Album, Brian’s biggest success, his biggest disappointment and the greatest single that never was.

The Earth signs tell the story story of Westward expansion in three vastly different ways.

The Water signs are the most overlooked, underappreciated tracks in the SMiLE canon. They also tell vastly different intervals of time, from a day slipping by to a generation to an Age.

Finally, we’ll add another dimension to the equation, the rulings planets and essential dignities of each sign, and see what possible sequences that opens up.

RULING PLANETS

Aries (Worms) — Mars

Taurus (CE) — Venus/(Earth)

Gemini (Heroes) — Mercury

Cancer (Chimes) — Moon

Leo (Elements) — Sun

Virgo (Wonderful) — Mercury/(Ceres)

Libra (GV) — Venus

Scorpio (CIFOTM) — Mars/(Pluto)

Sagittarius (Veggies) — Jupiter

Capricorn (IIGS) — Saturn

Aquarius (Surf) — Saturn/(Uranus)

Pisces (OMP) — Jupiter/(Neptune)

NOTE — Celestial objects in parentheses are the rulers in modern astrology, after the planets beyond Saturn were discovered.

Let’s play around with these. Let’s order the tracks from a Heliocentric POV based on their ruling planet:

Elements

Heroes (Wonderful)

GV (CE)

Chimes (CE) <–Depending on whether you put the Moon or Earth first

CE (Chimes) <–Depending on whether you put the Moon or Earth first

Worms (CIFOTM)

Wonderful

Veggies (OMP)

IIGS (Surf)

Surf

OMP

CIFOTM

NOTE — Songs in parentheses are those that could fit in that respective slot depending on whether you use their ancient rulers as opposed to their modern counterparts.

And now for shits and giggles, a geocentric model:

CE

Chimes

Heroes (Wonderful)

GV

Elements

Worms (CIFOTM)

(Wonderful) <—Ceres isn’t mapped in a geocentric model

Veggies (OMP)

IIGS (Surf)

Surf

OMP

CIFOTM

NOTE — Songs in parentheses are those that could fit in that respective slot depending on whether you use their ancient rulers as opposed to their modern counterparts.

Honestly I’m not a big fan of either sequence. Too messy. But…it was worth looking into.

Bonus

Check out the Houses of each sign and their respective meanings. I think most of them fit the associated tracks very well. And if you don’t, you might have fun assigning new astrological connections to the tracks based on these attributes:

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