|1||Beloved infidel, where are you hiding now?|
|2||Will you return to me once you've been disavowed?|
The title and the first line of this song seem to address someone, some person separate from the speaker. The lines that follow reinforce this view, until we reach the tenth line, 'And still you hide away inside a fool such as I.' If we catch the word 'inside,' we must then make a quick adjustment in perception. The person addressed is within the speaker. Is this a 'fading memory' of someone dear to him, as line four might imply ("Now your memory fades like a photograph")?
That he speaks to a 'beloved' memory of another person is a possibility, but how can one call for the actual appearance of a lost love from a memory? Does he call for the driving spirit of the memory of this person for inspiration? The speaker states in line six, "I am lost in meditation and awaiting your return." While a person could meditate to conjure the memory of someone else's enthusiasm and support, he admits he already remembers, albeit dimly, and a better word to describe this process would be 'reflection' or perhaps, 'remembering.' Meditation is an activity usually undertaken to put one in touch with those parts of self that are normally in the background of waking consciousness. The keyword here is 'self.' So the speaker's plea is to something deeply internal, but who or what does he 'await?' Who is the 'beloved infidel', and where, indeed, is s/he hiding?
'Beloved' means 'dearly loved,' although its application in this song does not appear to be so simple. "Love,' as we all know, carries many meanings. Some of these are: deep, tender, ineffable feeling of affection and solicitude; intense desire and attraction; sexual passion; intense emotional attachment; a strong predilection or enthusiasm, or the object of such.
The word 'infidel' is defined as '1. an unbeliever with respect to a particular religion, especially Christianity or Islam. 2. One who has no religious beliefs. 3. One who doubts or rejects a particular doctrine, system, or principle'. The use of 'infidel' along with the biblical references of lines five and nine would suggest that definition one or two above applies here. It would follow that since the speaker is meditating to find something within himself, the infidel to whom he calls is himself, or rather, a self he once was, and rejection or disbelief of religion (or a culture based on religion) is involved.
'Beloved infidel' could be a feeling of love for himself as he once was, but it more likely refers to an 'intense emotional attachment; a strong predilection or enthusiasm' for an ideal, a belief. These lyrics, then, would appear to be an inward search for not only once held views, but especially for the passion with which he held them. "Beloved Infidel" is the speaker's beautifully quintessential name for a lost part of himself, which, in his memory, seemed to be so vital once and yet so distant now that he addresses it as a separate entity. The speaker wants to evoke this disassociated, formerly passionate self, but even though he sees reasons for such a resurrection, he wonders about his ability to do so.
The doubt ('Will you return to me once you've been disavowed?') of line two can be better understood, I think, by paraphrasing it thus: can I ever summon the rebel in me again if I have completely disassociated myself from strength of conviction? Lines three and four explain the reason for the speaker's doubt:
|3||All the many battles you fought on my behalf|
|4||Now your memory fades like a photograph|
When one stands firm in opposition to popular opinion, many arguments, or, as it sometimes seems because of their intensity, 'battles,' ensue. Slightly bewildered, the speaker sees the irony of his search. How could the vivid vitality he once had as he defended his beliefs become just a flat, colorless, fading memory difficult to remember? He is attempting to use memory to trigger the feelings he experienced at the time. But the speaker has become so disassociated from this former fiery self that the experience has become a posed and unfocused tableau within his memory.
|5||False gods they will erect offerings they will burn|
|6||I am lost in meditation and awaiting your return|
Movement from a simile in line four, 'like a photograph,' to a familiar biblical metaphor in line five gives us the reason for the speaker's meditative search. This line is metaphoric in the sense that 'they' probably have not physically manufactured a graven image and killed an animal to burn in front of it as offering. Instead, the speaker sees 'their' beliefs as being as false as biblical Jews felt were the beliefs as those who worshipped the golden calf. But who are 'they' and why does the speaker need to conjure his former passions? The next four lines bring us deeper into the problem the speaker faces.
|7||Beloved infidel, do I beseech in vain?|
|8||Since you departed here, the pendulum swings again|
|9||Now the weak are vilified and the wicked glorified|
|10||And still you hide away inside a fool such as I|
In line seven, he wonders if his meditation will be successful--if any of his former passion can be dredged from within. Line eight both explains why he feels the attempt might be in vain and why he seeks his once deep passion in rebellion. The pendulum imagery here might be a key to understanding this song. A pendulum executes simple harmonic motion:
The two general physical quantities that must be present for harmonic motion to occur are inertia, which is the tendency of a system to continue doing what it is currently doing, and a restoring force that tries to return the system to its equilibrium or natural rest position. The strength of the restoring force is directly proportional to the displacement from equilibrium; that is, the greater the displacement, the greater the restoring force.
An example of periodic motion is that of a simple pendulum--a weight swinging on the end of an inextensible, massless string. Gravity provides the restoring force, but because the path of the weight is an arc, the force is not directly proportional to the displacement, and therefore the motion is not exactly harmonic. (Grolier's 1996 Electronic Encyclopedia)
Line eight ("Since you departed here, the pendulum swings again") suggests that the infidel departed because of the pendulum's swing in the first place, the word 'again' being the indicator. This suggests that the speaker became comfortable with life and did not feel a need to be an "infidel." His current inertia (or, tendency of a system to continue doing what it is currently doing), has been halted by some realization and he must again reverse directions to restore his equilibrium.
The speaker states his realization clearly in line nine: "Now the weak are vilified and the wicked glorified." This biblical line, so seemingly cryptic in its inclusion here, is not so vague when one considers some of today's religions factions. An excellent example is the rise of Christian television preachers, some of whom are charlatans who would suck the last dime from a starving grandmother in exchange for a piece of rag called a 'prayer cloth' and the promise that it will get her a better life. Another pointer to this interpretation is TR's inclusion of the 'reverend' Tilton in his "Cast The First Stone" game [although one cannot fail to see the rather interesting conflict raised in casting stones at the not-so-good reverend and others while the song admonishes "let the righteous among you cast the first stone"].
Islam has its dark side, as well, in its militant factions, who are quick to kill at the command of their leaders. There is also the example of writer Ahmed Salman Rushdie who was forced to go into hiding to escape Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini's multimillion-dollar contract for the author's assassination. Rushdie's book, "The Satanic Verses," contains passages describing the birth of a religion resembling Islam which are seen as blasphemous by Muslims. Perhaps examples like these brought about the speaker's recogniton of such wrongs, as evinced by the word 'now' that begins line nine.
With the implications of line nine in mind, the following line is particularly poignant: "And still you hide away inside a fool such as I." Even with the knowledge of wrongs that would have inflamed him in the past, the speaker cannot yet rekindle the same passion. He calls himself a 'fool'-- one who is deficient in judgment or, one who has acted unwisely on a given occasion. Clearly, he regrets letting go of the infidel in him.
|11||And it is money that they worship and|
|12||Lies are what they sell|
|13||And fear is their obsession|
|14||Ring the liberation bell, beloved infidel|
In lines eleven through thirteen, the speaker, with, I think, a run-together numbness than can accompany a sudden slap of reality, lists more reasons for summoning his former passion. That he no longer uses biblical metaphor to list his objections hints at the speaker's movement away from identifying with religion, or a culture that is deeply rooted in it. In line fourteen (Ring the liberation bell, beloved infidel), he again pleads for that which he once was to reactivate and liberate him--to rid himself of complaisancy and supply him once again with the vitality he now lacks.
TR uses the bell metaphor in several songs: "Initiation" (Initiation), Secret Society" (POV), "All The Children Sing" (Hermit), "I Saw The Light" (S/A) and "Fever Broke" (NWO). In these songs, a ringing bell represents seminal realization of some kind. In "Beloved Infidel" the speaker remembers the exalted feelings and fortitude such realization brings. In his case, his current realizations may have rung the bell, but did not light his fire.
This song strikes a chord in anyone who ever felt disillusioned by some ideal in which s/he had accepted over time. It is a common reaction to try to re-erect some familiar emotional barrier in defense, or to swing in the opposite direction in an attempt to escape the letdown of disillusionment. In TR's "Beloved Infidel" we are treated to the thoughts of a person at the moment he has reached the peak of the arc that begins pendulum's return swing. There is no passion yet--only reasons for the need of it. The speaker tries to summon sufficient gravity to cause a return swing..
But "because the path of the weight is an arc, the force is not directly proportional to the displacement, and therefore the motion is not exactly harmonic." We seldom walk life in a straight line, so it is difficult, if not impossible, to return to an exact replica of what we once were. The harmony we remember can never be recaptured because of the experience we have encountered since. We see only the speaker's attempt, not his success or failure.
The uncanny beauty of TR's melody and heartbeat rhythm make the song as intimate as thought. His soft, gentle voice puts the listener in the center of the speaker's meditation. His unvarying pace and delivery becomes a litany--a prayer to one's soul for answers and deliverance. He shares with us a moment in present time as the speaker searches for something he discarded in the past. "Beloved Infidel" also shares a wistful, moving, very heartfelt and very private moment of regret.