S-Tier Songs, Vol. 16

Time for another S-Tier song, and the second part of a mini-series started awhile ago. For a list of previous S-Tier songs and an explanation for how it all works, head here.

So I last left off with A Perfect Circle and their hit single Judith. The song was an attack on the deep faith Maynard James Keenan’s mother felt despite an injury that left her debilitated for nearly 30 years. It wasn’t the first time Keenan had used his mother’s malady as lyrical inspiration – the Tool song Jimmy from 1996’s Aenima was about his experiences being 11 years old after his mother’s injury.

And it wouldn’t be the last time Tool would visit with Judith for song inspiration. Judith died in 2003, and in 2006 Tool would release the 10,000 Days album. While the album title pays homage to Saturn’s 29 year long cycle of moons in orbit, two songs on the album serve as eulogy to Judith Marie.

Tool – 10,000 Days (Wings Pt. 2)

10,000 Days the song is preceded by Wings For Marie, a more intro-like song that sets the stage for the epic rollout to come. And while Wings For Marie is its own track, it’s very difficult to assess it in isolation, as it is clearly a companion to 10,000 Days.

The song 10,000 Days itself begins with a rolling, quiet intro that is clearly building to something and also features the sound of storms in it. The payoff will come, but this 11 minute long song isn’t in a hurry to get to its point.

As the bass and the storm rolls along, Maynard begins singing about the end of his mother’s mortal journey. He takes a shot at the hypocrites who surrounded her after her health issues, but then deliberately writes them off and focuses the rest of the song on Judith.

The lyrics accompany Judith as she ascends to Heaven. Rather than be a humble servant, Maynard says Judith should arrive at the gates proudly and demand her wings. She is truly “the light and the way they only read about” and is the main event at the pearly gates.

The song ends with a quiet reflection from Maynard offering further suggestion for what Judith should say as she enters the afterlife. Everything is a bit of a roller coaster in the 11-minute long surge of music and movements, but the quiet ending sums everything up perfectly.

The rest of the band is up to some real atmosphere generation on 10,000 Days. This isn’t a long song that just goes from point A to point B with a few riffs and fills – no, there are plenty of movements and changes to keep everything fresh and also flowing along with the varying intensity of the lyrics. Tool never was much of a straightforward band anyway, and they up the ante on this song with arrangements and progressions that stand apart from a lot of popular fare of the time.

10,000 Days was not released as a single. It was played live during the album’s tour cycle, but met with some resistance from a portion of fans. The popular cuts from the record were the singles like Jambi and The Pot, and in some instances people at concerts were screaming for those while the band was playing 10,000 Days.

The fan backlash, however strong it may have really been, coupled with the extremely personal nature of the song, led Maynard James Keenan to feel a bit burned by doing the song. He said this about it in a May 2022 interview with Loudwire:

“I think probably the stupidest thing I could have done on 10,000 Days was put myself out there as much as I did with the tracks ‘Wings for Marie (Part 1)’ and ‘10,000 Days (Wings Part 2),’ Keenan said in an interview to promote the album. “I’ll never make that mistake again. It just took too much out of me – too much emotionally, mentally, physically – all those manifestations. Those songs were exploited and misconstrued, people were flippant and dismissive. I won’t be doing that anymore. And technically, ‘Wings’ is very difficult to pull off. If any one of us is off, it falls apart and makes that thing tragic, and that’s not a good song for me to have fall apart. It’s just too personal.”

It is a shame that the song was shrugged off by some, but I know me and many others found it to be a masterwork. The majestic instrumentation along with the powerful lyrics that could only come from such a harrowing place were the perfect song combination. Tool no longer performs the song, though in part that might be due to a whole other album full of 10-minute long songs that eat up a fair chunk of a set list.

Why is this an S-Tier song?

10,000 Days is a triumphant movement, wrapping the emotionally-charged death of Maynard’s mother Judith into a masterful piece of music. It’s a movement that goes beyond our regular notions of music enjoyment and enters a kind of space reserved for the more transcendent of songs. It is a long build up for a payoff only paid if you have any amount of patience within you.

This is the type of song to be enjoyed over a course of time, and to be appreciated for the scope of what is being communicated. A “fan” looking for immediate payoff won’t be welcome here. This is for the more discerning ear, preconceived notions about Tool be damned.

4 thoughts on “S-Tier Songs, Vol. 16

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