Why Tool’s Rosetta Stoned Is The Greatest Rock Song Of All Time

Why Tool's Rosetta Stoned Is The Greatest Rock Song Of All Time

Tool’s Rosetta Stoned has always seemed the most striking track from 10,000 days. It’s a rock song that hit me on a different level when I first heard it. It was physical. It was cerebral. It was heartfelt. For the longest time I wanted to write my entire thoughts on this. All the thoughts that I’m unable to express when simply jamming and enjoying it with a friend. Rosetta Stoned was one of the first Tool songs I attempted to learn after plucking around and figuring it out on guitar. Tool is the reason why I picked up a guitar. I had to learn the words to it. Rosetta Stoned is a track I felt an instant affinity for and at the same time consistently felt like I was getting more understanding and feeling it better as 10 years have passed. Now, that it has been a little while since I last played Rosetta Stoned on guitar, I’ve begun reflecting on why it’s such a great track. It’s the best rock song ever. An enormous feat if you are not a Tool fan to deduce but stick with me. I’ve wanted to write this for a while. There’s so much to digest and unpack from Rosetta Stoned. I believe this song qualifies for best rock song under a number of qualities and values that I will express forthright. These qualities are reasons which should be applied to discovering best rock songs. I consider RS to be a modern Epic, in the literal sense of the word. A Comedy and A Tragedy in the traditional sense. However, the narrative is of an ordinary man. I will reflect on this further. The elements of RS which I shall dissect and explore are Themes, Rosetta Stoned as Tragic Comedy, Complexity/Technical Proficiency, Creativity, Emotional Range/Climax, Visual Range, Allusions/Metaphor and it’s overall implicit and explicit message.

RS is delivered in the first person narrative of a man who has consumed psychoactive drugs. From the get-go our narrator can be unreliable. Some people consider Lost Keys (Blame Hoffman) part of RS but for sake of time it will be mentioned only briefly. We find our narrator in Lost Keys (Blame Hoffman) which is an allusion to Albert Hofmann, known as the father of LSD. The Narrator is at a hospital, he is coming down from his drug escapade and the doctor and nurse ask for his name as he is unresponsive and in state of shock. The doctor and nurse want to know what has happened and he begins to tell them the story that is RS. It is a slow, sustained ambient track with no drums, a dramatic scene that sets up the pending chaos that is RS.

Tragedy is a fantastic theme and element of RS. I thought about this every time I thought about the character. Our narrator is a Tragic Hero. Since our narrator has taken psychoactive compounds and had believed he communicated with aliens and they “Made him out to be a hero.” But he later comes to the sobering realization that the transference was flat and it was his hallucination. This structure has elements of Tragedy. It follows the scheme, a pattern. However, there is no catharsis by the end of this tale, there is only what Aristotle of Ancient Greece called Anagnorisis, this is the point of making a monumental discovery that affects the entire plot. Aristotle concept of tragedy goes as follows:

A perfect tragedy should, as we have seen, be arranged not on the simple but on the complex plan. It should, moreover, imitate actions which excite pity and fear, this being the distinctive mark of tragic imitation. It follows plainly, in the first place, that the change of fortune presented must not be the spectacle of a virtuous man brought from prosperity to adversity: for this moves neither pity nor fear; it merely shocks us. Nor, again, that of a bad man passing from adversity to prosperity: for nothing can be more alien to the spirit of Tragedy; it possesses no single tragic quality; it neither satisfies the moral sense nor calls forth pity or fear or, again, should the downfall of the utter villain be exhibited. A plot of this kind would, doubtless, satisfy the moral sense, but it would inspire neither pity nor fear; for pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves. Such an event, therefore, will be neither pitiful nor terrible. There remains, then, the character between these two extremes- that of a man who is not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty. (Poetics by Aristotle)

It’s a great tool (no pun intended) for the structure of this tale. Another tragic device is Peripetia, which is similar to Anagnorisis . Peripetia is the change and evolution of our narrator as he becomes selected as the “chosen one.” Since our narrator often feels like a plain ordinary man – evidence of this is understood, when he tells us that things like this never happen to him and how he did not graduate high school. We see his circumstances changing as he meets the aliens with “Somniferous almond eyes.” We can see how the plot makes the story a Heroic Tragedy. He feels the weight of being chosen and to let everyone know his findings but he completely loses it and he has no pen or anything to affirm his recollection. It all becomes a blur in the mind of the narrator. One of the great aspects of having a Tragic hero in this song is that it gives the narrator with a message that the aliens make him feel like he has an ultimate, larger purpose. I think it works well to have a character on psychoactive compounds as a tragic hero. Perhaps the narrator did not have a good set/setting and head-space while consuming these psychoactive drugs. The tragic hero is typically flawed. We realize the hero is a human. That’s one of the beautiful things about people that relay their psychoactive experiences. It’s common to have an Ego death. It’s a correction of seeing past these flaws and one’s identity. But the tragedy is that he does not come to any new insights, nor does he keep his composure. This is a tragic epic that allows us to realize we are human and flawed in our capacities.  We have the capacity to experience the highest highs, the lowest lows and everything in between. Furthermore, we may believe we my have a larger purpose or not but we must take this in humbly. For we never know what kind of events the universe string together out of the Ether. We must be composed and humble.

This is a story of epic proportions. It’s a journey, an experience. If you impose the timeline of Joseph Campbell’s pointers on creating a story you can see how it begins, with a call to adventure through supernatural aid, (in this case drugs) then there are threshold guardians that adjust the situation (This can be the Aliens as well, Uncle Martin or Bob that he screams out later in the story – These can be the mentor and helper, as well as the Doctor and Nurse.) The challenges and temptations arise when he is in disbelief and he doesn’t conform to the Aliens demands but he is later calmed down my “fetal spooning and orange slices.” He begins to have this revelation that he is chosen. He begins to alter his mood and how he responds to the “ET’s” There is Atonement and arriving to the hospital which leads to his tragic outcome of being unable to recall all of what they had said to him. Another way of understanding RS is by superimposing the elements of what a Mythological Story achieves according to Campbell.

 Campbell‘s functions of mythology are as follows: “The First must be to open the mind of everybody in society to that mystery dimension that cannot be analyzed[…]The Second function of a mythology is to present an image of the universe that connects the transcendent to the world of everyday experience[…]The Third function is to present a social order by which people be coordinated to the mystery[…]Finally, the Fourth function of the mythology is to carry the individual through the course of life.” (This is found in Campbell’s Myth’s of Light :Birth of Brahman.) Many of these standards are met in RS. While RS is not a mythical tale in the traditional sense. It does attempt to open people’s minds to the possibility of other realms, universes which are not immediately visible to the naked eye. RS hints that this other world is connecting with the narrator through physical and or mental means. The final two are more vague in RS to interpret for the tale ends abruptly as a tragedy. However, Lost Keys – Blame Hofmann allows one to see that the narrator was highly affected about this experience and was attempting to relay his experience to the Doctor and Nurse. Therefore, we not only have a tragic hero that we realize is human and flawed, but it also allows us to realize that we may be human but it reminds us to open our eyes for possibilities and other worlds that can unfold around us when we least expect. It allows us to wonder.

I’ve explained that RS is a story of tragedy and elements of mythical mystery and wonder. Thematically the story circulates between Aliens, Alienation, Abandonment, Drugs and Loss. I’m  not familiar of any rock song that has dealt with Aliens within a drug experience to wind up with a tragic hero through a well crafted, detailed mini-story clocking in at 11 minutes. Most songs like this are songs from the hippie generation rather than a progressive/alternative rock with attitude and punch. There are also themes of faith versus doubt. Our protagonist is first experiencing immense awe in his experience while he must take a leap of faith with these beings. The song finds him taking a turn to believing them. Facing reality is another theme. Heroism and perception of heroism. These themes are appealing. But there are several more one can dissect thoroughly. With all these themes of interest found in the tale we can arrive at determining the emotions and impact of this on the narrator and on Maynard.

I believe that RS is fantastic because it does cycle through so many emotions via the character but it also tests Maynard’s talents as well. We begin the story early in the morning outside of Area 51 and there is seemingly a spaceship that comes down and our narrator is yelping “Holy fucking shit!” he is in complete wonderment and awe of what he just saw, he is in disbelief. As he is in disbelief he becomes disillusioned and perhaps embarrassed, because he doesn’t want his uncle to notice he pissed himself in the situation. He becomes enraged and fearful and continues in his disbelief. Until finally he is assuaged. The beings comfort him. The aliens do not harm him but tell him that he will give a message of hope. He is surprised and becomes excited. This situation never happens to him so he is puzzled, and his heart is racing. He can’t breathe.

He’s terrified by the situation and he doesn’t want to be alone – he is scared. He’s becomes excited – it’s his lucky day. He becomes frustrated and aggravated screaming his tale knowing nobody would believe a thing he says. The moment he feels as if he’s strapped down, he feels as though he is going crazy, he is becoming hysterical in the situation.  When he proclaimed to be in his bed, I felt that was a jump in time as he is in the hospital trying to remember again. As the song continues, he proclaims he is getting “Higher.” Then we arrive at the breakdown and the solo. After this part, emotions of turmoil, bliss, stress and regret as he arrives to the conclusion which Maynard brilliant belts out. This is the rising action of the song. An overloaded feeling of emotion. The Climax.

“Overwhelmed as one would be, placed in my position. Such a heavy burden now to be the one. Born to bear and read to all The details of our ending. To write it down for all the world to see. But I forgot my pen, Shit the bed again, Typical.”

As the song continues you feel desperation in the voice and the narrator wishing to remember what was said. He can’t find help with Bob. He is desperate for answers but he can’t recall a thing. There’s a flood of emotion from beginning to end. With every part of the lyrical content, there are layers peeled from our narrators emotions and his humanity. Maynard does an incredible job at feeling this emotion given the content and context. So we have themes, story, emotional content wrapped up in this track. Some things that appeal to me are the imagery Maynard uses that I just find comical or prominent in unraveling the story.

Many people are visual learners. I find the elements that Maynard uses become vivid in my mind when he tells the tale. The metaphors and allusions are brilliant. They are seemingly random images but work in the story in a way that almost feels stream of consciousness. The best example of this is when he commences the story. My favourite lines include:

“Yogi DMT, and a box of Krispy Kremes” “Need to know pose” “Area 51.” “Cutting right angle donuts on a dime and stopping right at my Birkenstocks” “The X-Files being, looking like some kind of blue-green Jackie Chan with Isabella Rossellini lips and breath that reeked of vanilla Chig Champa. Did a slow-mo Matrix descent out of the butt end of the banana vessel and hovered above my bug-eyes, my gaping jaw, and my sweaty L. Ron Hubbard upper lip” “Y’all sound like Peanuts Parents”

These are comical descriptors and visuals that are expressed in an hysteric flow, I have never heard anything like this. Maynard sets the scene up. The hysterics let us jump in on the action and scene quickly.

 RS on guitar has a lot of mid-tone range. Adam Jones uses Drop D and in a Pentatonic scale as in many of their songs. I’ve always appreciated Adam Jones guitar tone, even his earlier work. RS begins with an intro with a lot of ringing out. There’s a lot repetitive fills. There are motifs with palm muted triplets and chugging along as Maynard begins the monologue. A lot of the guitar is mimicked and is complimented with Danny Carrey’s drumming. There’s even some subtle mutant bass synthesizer sounds mixed behind the group briefly. With many Tom-Tom fills and Cymbals smashing with accents on the riff and Maynard and Justin Chancellor in unison. On open breaks without guitar the Tom-Toms and Basslines come in and all instruments are brought back with Carrey’s ride cymbals. It all happens in a way where it feels they are working complimentary while other times they contrast, with a call and answer on their playing. Very playful. Jones moves to power-chords on the main chorus lines. The guitar riff is 5/8 and jumps back and forth to 4/4 which is an excellent example of Tool’s different time signatures – which is common in Progressive rock and Tool’s music. In the midsection before the chorus and break, Carrey becomes an octopus and speeds up his Tom tom playing. Justin briefly has some wah-wah action on the bass. In part two of RS it changes the feeling from chugging to more arpeggiated, legato feeling as the mood shifts with the narrator and Aliens and wanting to give feelings of comfort. Justin Chancellor’s bass riff on the break was tremendous mixed with Danny Carrey. Coordinating together they make a paced, driving feeling. There is some kind of percussive instrument – that sounds wooden (If anyone can tell me the name I’d appreciate it.) And there is a kind of clapping that begins to build and pick-up in the background – it feels quite tribal. My instant sensation was that I was in some kind of jungle fending for my life. Adam Jones does a kind of arpeggiation to bring us to the climax. Adam Jones doesn’t typically go too ornamental for solo’s which I appreciate. He is a master of subtlety but great emotion especially with the solo he uses on RS. The final Chugging of the Riff is in 7/8 and Danny masterfully brings back the wooden percussion and Tom Tom fills. It rides together and it all ends abruptly. There are a lot of parts to RS and it requires amazing technique. The whole band works with one another in different time signatures to arrive at a landing strip for Maynard to offer his voice. It’s a very complex, long and atypical song.

One thing I appreciate about Tool is that they don’t take themselves too seriously. But they are serious about their material – if that makes any sense. There have been many instances and discoveries about 10,000 days that are still being unlocked, whether intentional or not. The title Rosetta Stoned is comical in of itself alluding to the Rosetta Stone and being inebriated with drugs. Moreover, the fact that this track ends at 11:11 to me is like a little wink and nudge to the listener. Often people have instances where they see these repeated numbers on a clock. In New Age circles, it’s suggested to have a spiritual connotation – that there are angels, gods, spirits activated around you. Depending on who you ask one can consider it as a glitch in the matrix, an error in The Simulation as perpetuated by our narrator’s tragic story. It’s a kind of Déja Vu. Some people will just believe it’s just rigmarole. A kind of Déja Vu. But their have always been allusions to Spiritualism with Tool especially with their later work. I just find the time code on the Album comical. It wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t Intensional.

Tool has played a significant role in my life and in many other people’s lives I know. I feel their music is truly magic and a great piece of art to vibrate off the walls and enter our lugholes. Indeed, many people do use it for more than that. RS while seemingly comical can be dissected and uncover so many layers that there will always be something to analyze and interpret in the future. It hits my gut, heart and brain. This was definitely a standout track to me. As I’ve said, it’s comical but it’s tragic comedy with real themes that are explored by giving way to ideas of possibility and hope. The imagery that Maynard produces are hysterical. The narrator of RS reminds us that we are human with flaws and inconsistencies and that we should remain humble in the face of what awaits us, however glorious or inglorious. The emotional impact is unparalleled. RS cycles through many emotions as if it was trying on new clothes. There’s an immense amount of depth. The technicality and proficiency of the instrumentation is second to none. The song structure has an excellent, build, climax and end. There is no question to me that this is the greatest rock song of all time. But I am bias. If you don’t think it is please tell me what you think is the best. I want to know what planet you are from. I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface with this track but I’m sure there are more people out there with thoughts and feelings to add about this track. If you’re a Tool fan pop in to the comments. Let me know your thoughts.

You should check out my YouTube channel because Tool. I’ve also uploaded my music and a Tool remix there too.


Why Tool's Rosetta Stoned Is The Greatest Rock Song Of All Time

7 thoughts on “Why Tool’s Rosetta Stoned Is The Greatest Rock Song Of All Time

  1. The “Uncle Martin” is a nod to the old show, ‘My Favorite Martian.’ If you didn’t know. Great analysis, great read. I’ve always thought this song is one of their masterpieces along with Third Eye. Of course, everything they produce is a masterpiece in my eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When I first heard it 10 years ago it actually moved me to tears because it shares an uncanny amount of similarities to something I had been writing (and am still writing) for years and it felt like we were on the same synchronized wavelength.
    I also believe the “Bob” he talks about is Bob Frissell of ‘Nothing in this Book is True but it’s Exactly How Things Are’.
    But I don’t believe the narrator came to the realization that it was all a hallucination. I think all the chaos and frustration at the end comes from being mentally stuck between the 3rd dimension and the 4th dimension.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You are indeed correct .. it is the greatest song of our time . I’ve thought this for about 5 years .. it simply has it all… from the start to the finish every single chord, sound, drum beat, vocal, lyric… it’s absolutely perfect.. there are no song this complex that can do this. It’s the whisper of god.. and I’m not even religious.


  4. This is pretty much the only standout track from “10,000 Days.” That’s probably their weakest album and a major reason they took 13 years making sure the next one was better. Having said that, this song grabbed me the first time I heard it – you’re just kind of like, “oooh – what the hell is THIS?!” right out of the gate. And I haven’t gotten over it since. Although if you read up too much, it does kind of ruin the mystique. Apparently a lot of this actually (allegedly?) happened to the main dude from Green Jelly, a band Maynard was in briefly before Tool. Hence the strange yet specific lyrics which would be extremely difficult to invent out of thin air. For many years I actually thought it was about Maynard’s mom dying (The “10,000 Days” title I’ve heard is something to do with how long she was bed-ridden) and in some respects that still makes more sense…even after you read the actual lyrics about aliens. One interesting thing about Tool is that, similar to Frank Zappa, they are intelligent dudes who play complex music and yet at times have a sillier sense of humor than you might expect. But I still love this song, one of their top 3 in my book. Good piece!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I believe that I interpret one part differently than you, when the song turns a bit more tragic and into “then he looked right thru me, with somniferous almond eyes” he is referring to the doctor. This is when he starts to realize that he is being seen as crazy rather than conveying his story. Good write up!!


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