Turn it up to 11 (or maybe 666): when numerology and rock collide

Bon Iver joins the pantheon of music number nerds fascinated by figures and their occult connections, from Mozart and the Beatles to Led Zep and Wu Tang

Bon Iver

The new Bon Iver album, 22, A Million, wears the artists interest in numerology on its sleeve, but thats only the beginning of Justin Vernons fascination with the strange mystical powers sometimes associated with numbers. The album track listing is largely made up of figures and symbols, and internet gaming language leet: song titles include 715 CRKS and MN WATER, which resemble Mr Robots esoteric episode titles and Aphex Twins own brand of song titling. Then theres the single, 33 GOD, released 33 days before the album and which is 3 minutes and 33 seconds long 33 was the age Jesus died. The song 666 seems to be some sort of reference to Satan but what does it all mean? Vernon isnt saying much beyond revealing that the album title and opening track (deep breath) 22 (OVER SN) came about after he was feeling a bit low as you would, face with all those numerals and sang the line It might be over soon into a portable sampler. When he chopped the sample up, it sounded like two-two 22 his favourite number, which signifies his dual identity. Hes subsequently said that the rest of the numerology doesnt mean anything, but qualified that by suggesting he was lying, which makes 22, A Million pops own Rubiks cube.

The Beatles

Nine

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The Beatles song Revolution 9 and John Lennons 1974 solo hit #9 Dream are pretty well known, but this is only the tip of the iceberg of the Fabs and in particular their late guitarists obsession with the number 9. Lennon was born on the 9 October (1940) and lived at 9 Newcastle Road, Wavertree, Liverpool (three names containing nine letters, youll note). There, he penned One After 909 and would catch the number 72 (7+2=9) bus to art school. The number follows me around, Lennon once explained, and it certainly does seem a bit spooky that musical partner Paul McCartneys surname had nine letters and that the Beatles themselves lasted for nine years. Other instances of Beatle-related nines are too numerous to mention, but significantly, Lennon was shot dead in Manhattan (a name with nine letters) on 8 December 1980. The weirdness would end there, except time zone differences meant that in his birthplace Liverpool the date was the 9th. True to Lennons #9 dreams, the surviving Beatles released their digital remasters on 9 September 2009 09-09-09.

The Wu-Tang Clan

Numerology features regularly in hip-hop too, but few acts are quite as nuts about numbers as the Wu. Their classic debut, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) an invitation into the mystical lair of a mythological clan of musical visionaries, the Shaolin was released on 9 November 1993. This means it has the extremely powerful master 33 numerology (the date 11/9/1993 breaks down as 1+ 1+ 9+1+9+9+3 = 33). However, the RZA once explained that they were actually most fascinated with the number eight. The original Clan consisted of eight members; they called one album 8 Diagrams and another (Wu Tang Forever) featured the number prominently on its sleeve. Last year, they unveiled a figure 8 de rsistance when a sole copy of an album titled Once Upon A Time In Shaolin was auctioned on a website Paddle8site for several million dollars on the condition that the wealthy buyer didnt make the music commercially available for 88 years.

Mozart and Bach

Pops fascination with numbers stretches from pop balladeer Adele (whose three albums, 17, 21 and 25, are all titled after her age when she recorded them) to New Yorkshire math-rockers Forward, Russia!, whose singles had numerical titles. However, musicians have been crafting clandestine numerical codes for us mere mortals to decipher for centuries, and the practice was particularly rife among the great classical composers. Mozart, for example, was such a numerologist that he even used secret numerical codes in letters to his wife, and was another big fan of the number 3. (He was a freemason for his final seven years, and the figure is significant in Masonic practice.) Not to be outnumbered, Bachs family name spells out a sequence of musical notes: B flat, A, C, H [in German musical nomenclature, the note B natural is written as H]. Replacing each letter with its corresponding number in the alphabet, his name also translates as 2+1+3+8: his life and work are littered with the number 14. Wed love to ask him about this, but sadly his number came up in 1750.

Led Zeppelin and Marilyn Manson

Theres probably no deep and meaningful significance to the oft-quoted cinematic joke that Spinal Taps amps go up to 11, but in real life hard rock has a lot of number nuts, and some edge towards the dark terrain of occult symbolism. Led Zeppelins first four albums were each known by a number, and Led Zeppelin IV depicted the band members as four symbols chosen from what Aleister Crowley devotee Jimmy Page called standard occult works (his was a mysterious ZoSo squiggle). More recently, theres Antichrist Superstar Marilyn Manson, whose favourite number 15 is also the 15th sign of the Tarot, the devils card, and who was born (as the rather less Satanic-sounding Brian Warner) on January 5 (1-5) 1969 (1-5). The God of Fucks obsession with the number 15 peaked when 1998 album Mechanical Animals contained 15 tracks, spelled his name Mar1lyn Man5on and was released on the 15 September. Previously, the dark lord had found salvation in another number: three. His 1996 record AntiChrist Superstar, the first of a three album triptych, divided into three cycles and charted at but what number three.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/oct/14/bon-iver-numerology-music-beatles-wu-tang-clan

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