The Berserker In Us All

Berserkers were fierce Norse warriors who were thought to be invincible. They were men who […]

Blake I. Collier / 4.28.14

ptgyALNwYptpqjc5hS9ChmVvo1_400Berserkers were fierce Norse warriors who were thought to be invincible. They were men who would battle with rage-induced fierceness and violence. Beings so mentally unstable they would cut down their enemies without a single thread of compassion. Frenzied. Crazed.

I am a bit surprised there wasn’t more commentary on the Internet about the most recent Queens of the Stone Age music video for their song, “Smooth Sailing.” Maybe it is because everyone is so accustomed to Josh Homme’s lyrics and antics both on and off the stage. The band, in their videos, have always delved into the darker parts of human experience, the almost surreal parts: cannibalism (“Sick, Sick, Sick”), burning witches à la Salem (“Burn The Witch”) and various dark, animated nightmare worlds (“Go With The Flow”, “My God The Sun”). But the video for “Smooth Sailing” takes all of their dark visualizations and grounds them in the reality of human nature. In one sense, this may be their darkest video yet, for it shows the progression of an unthreatening businessman to a crazed berserker in the course of one night out with fellow businessmen and Josh Homme himself.

Warning: contains language and elements of violence and substance abuse.


The video is visually striking for its descent into drug- and alcohol-induced depths of depravity. A group of businessmen are shown spending a night on the town, starting with a normal meal and drinks at a sushi joint. However, as the alcohol flows, the night turns to drunken karaoke, clubs, cocaine, acid, fights in parking garages and the final, climactic act of violence in a back alley with a golf club.

It’s that final act of the music video that brought to mind the mentally-imbalanced, frenzied violence of the berserker. The nameless businessman has cleared away all of the inhibitions that control and cover up the rage that lies inside. The drugs and alcohol make him relinquish any control he might have had and send him into a rage toward his perceived enemies, the busboys unlucky enough to come out of the restaurant at the wrong time. The trick of the video is showing these victims through the filter of their aggressor; they become dark, demonic entities–completely dehumanized–with light and smoke emanating from their eyes and mouths, something truly frightening and seemingly deserving of eradication.

But it’s all a trick of the mind, simply the visual progression of inner nature coming forward without a hitch. If the human will chooses what the heart desires and the mind justifies what the will then chooses, then drugs and alcohol make easy work of altering the filter of justification by the mind, and the result becomes a decision one wishes they could take back once the haze clears–as is alluded to at the dawn of the next day shown in the video.

140212-Josh-HommeBut Josh Homme, oh, Josh Homme, only emphasizes the story told in the video with the lyrics of the song itself:

It’s all smooth sailing
From here on out

I got bruises and hickies
Stitches and scars
Got my own theme music
It plays wherever I are

Fear is the hand
That pulls your strings
A useless toy
Pitiful plaything

I’m inflagranti
In every way

It’s all smooth sailing
From here on out
I’m gon’ do the damage
That needs gettin’ done

God only knows
Where love vacations
If reason is priceless
There’s no reason to pay for it…

…God only knows
So mind your behavior
Follow prescriptions
Of your lord and savior

Every temple is gold
Every hook is designed
Hell is but the temple
Of the closed mind
Closed mind
Closed mind
Closed mind

It’s all smooth sailing
From here on out

Shut up

The sense behind Homme’s lyrics is the battle between the empirical reality of life–simply put, the shit people do to each other and themselves–and the shallow cultural belief that everything is fine and that it is all “smooth sailing”–the Osteens and Winfreys of the world. It seems that Homme is catching out the lies that cover up the true person underneath the talk. Whether it be modern self-help and prosperity gospel or legalistic constructions of Christians (or any religion for that matter), Homme shows that what we all really want to do, deep down, is “do the damage, till the damage is done.” Homme may be the clearest doomsday preacher of human nature. No matter the white garments we cover ourselves in, we are all beserkers barely held back by the shallow grave of our justifications.