Tool – ”Parabola” Lyrics Meaning

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Written By Brendan Briggs

Brendan is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer. In 2022, he released his first album "Dive" under the name "Arctotherium".

“Parabola” is about embracing our human form, accepting that the present moment is all we have, and celebrating the fact that our time in these lives is finite. The lyrics emphasize the importance of touching other human lives on our journey and portray life as a gift.

Tool has been characterized as one of the “most press-elusive” rock bands, and members have shed little light on their songwriting process. What can be known is that, during the making of Lateralus, lyrics for tracks came from the hyper-focused thematic vision of Maynard James Keenan. The recording process for this album included a lot of interpersonal conflict within the band, but this gave it a textured sound.

In this article, we’ll perform an analysis of these philosophical lyrics to discover their hidden meaning. We’ll also take a look at the songwriting story and the broader themes that give the song its depth. Without further ado, let’s get started!

“Parabola” Lyrics Meaning

The opening verse kicks off by telling the human story in simple language. Keenan confesses for humanity that we know little of  “what came before this precious moment.” The past fades quickly, and we have no experience of anything before our birth. Nonetheless, “we are choosing to be here right now.” Basically, existing is worthwhile.

The pre-chorus describes life as a “holy reality,” meaning it should be respected. Keenan makes it more specific in the chorus when he emphasizes “this body” as the key to our experience. Keenan then speaks to the listener, asking us to be his “reminder” that he is “not alone” in human form.

The last line of the chorus asserts that “we are eternal; all this pain is an illusion.” This is not meant to imply some kind of afterlife – it’s more of an Eastern sentiment. We are all part of a universe that engulfs us, and we will return to it when our current form disappears. Pain only comes when we desire illusions.

The bridge of the song is even more complicated and includes some wordplay. The title of the song is “Parabola,” the prelude to it is called “Parabol,” and the lyrics talk about a “parable.” This is not by accident. Keenan talks about “Twirling round with this familiar parable” to draw attention to his message. He’s saying that the parabola is an illustration (a parable) of what he’s trying to say.

How so? What is the meaning behind the parabola? This is highly debatable, but I think it has to do with being receptive. A parabola is a curved line that opens up to one side. By being open to our present experience instead of being rigid (like a straight line), we will be able to see what he’s saying.

It also has to do with how the parabola changes direction, much like our lives. Keenan describes “spinning” through “each new experience” as a happy thing, not a burden. He wants us to “celebrate this chance to be alive and breathing.” This is in contrast to religion, which Keenan is a vocal critic of. Keenan has confirmed this interpretation in one hard-to-find philosophical interview.

In the outro, Keenan makes his message crystal clear: “Embrace this moment.” Even though the song is hard-rock and the music video is a tad creepy, the message is meant to be optimistic.

To sum up, “Parabola” is about saying yes to life, death and all, and enjoying the present by ignoring the “illusion” of pain. These lyrics have driven Tool fans wild for years, which probably doesn’t hurt the number of plays the song has earned over time.

The Story Behind “Parabola”

When the members of Tool started recording Lateralus, the album “Parabola” is on, things got off to a rocky start. According to one interview, the first day of recording produced no progress at all. Why? Apparently, the reason was interpersonal conflict and creative frustration.

This probably wasn’t helped by the fact that Maynard James Keenan’s lyrical process is very demanding. He writes intuitively and has to go with his gut. This can cause a scramble for the other members as they try to conform the instrumentation to his vision.

Keenan was also involved with another band, A Perfect Circle, while Lateralus was being created. While this frustrated the other members of Tool at first, it actually ended up providing everyone with the space they needed.

At the end of the day, a highly successful album was produced. “Parabola” was one of the older ideas on Lateralus, and you can see Keenan’s fingerprints all over the lyrics. “Parabola” reached a position of #10 on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart and has been heard by millions of ears. Imagery in the music video has also been used in several meme formats – a testament to its artistic appeal.

The next time you play this hard-hitter, let these pieces of music history make it even more special!