Music News

Mindcrime and Punishment

Even armed with an illustrated libretto, it's hard to divine most rock opera story lines. Before Ken Russell's film adaptation of Tommy revealed the importance of champagne, Marilyn Monroe, and baked beans to the plot, betcha just assumed it was about a deaf, dumb and blind kid pinball-messiah who gets crucified by a bunch of extreme sore losers, huh? And that KISS' Music from the Elder was about a boy who joins a monastery and is castrated by the elders in the hopes he can sing falsetto as well as Paul Stanley, right?

Similar confusion surrounds Queensrÿche's classic 1988 metal concept album, Operation: Mindcrime, which, to its credit, many enjoyed as straight-ahead '80s metal, believing the "Mindcrime" that singer Geoff Tate was suffering from to be tight spandex and a wicked case of the crabs.

Thank goodness for the Web page of San Diego computer programmer Russell Glaser, whose connection to the brain banditry of Amway made him uniquely qualified to map out the true story arc to this, his favorite album by "the greatest rock band that ever walked this Earth."

Mindcrime's protagonist is a guy named Nikki who's hooked on heroin, which will get really confusing when he also gets hooked on the heroine of our story. Mary is a prostitute rescued from life on the streets and ordained a nun by Father William, thus fulfilling the Madonna/whore requirement of every rock opera that has only one female character. "As payment for turning her life around, Father William demanded Mary's services," Glaser explains, quoting the lyric, "He takes her once a week on the altar like a sacrifice" (from "Revolution Calling"). Priests having sex with women? Aww, who's gonna believe that?

Nikki has problems with his father figure, Dr. X. Yes, of course, he's evil! Worse, he's a religious maniac who has politicians who don't follow his creed killed by his mind-scrabbled minions.

When Dr. X wants Father William and Mary whacked, he puts in a call to Nikki. Inspired by TV's Dallas, Queensrÿche left things open-ended with its "who shot Mary" finale. But the group's fans had to wait 18 seasons before the cliffhanger was finally resolved, on Operation: Mindcrime II and the just-released live two-DVD set from Rhino, Mindcrime at the Moore. Yes, it was Colonel Mustard. In the study. With a revolver.

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Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic