Jared Loughner's cryptic video rantings make little sense, but if you are looking on his YouTube channel for patterns, one stands out: His lone "favorite" video is a homemade clip that prominently features the Drowning Pool song "Bodies," whose grim history includes being played at Guantánamo to torture prisoners. The video Loughner posted is a spare, creepy sequence in which a hooded figure, dressed like the Grim Reaper with a trash bag draped around his lower body, lights a tattered American flag on fire while the Drowning Pool song throbs in the background. The clip would be fairly typical adolescent anarchy, if it were not connected to such tragedy, and if the song itself didn't have such a troubled past.
Drowning Pool is a Dallas-based heavy metal band who shot to fame in 2001, at a time when bands like Slipknot and Linkin Park ruled the charts. Their debut song was an eight ball of rage called "Bodies," though it's perhaps more commonly referred to by the full line of that title, whispered ominously at the song's outset and then hurled repeatedly at the listener: "Let the bodies hit the floor."
Gruesome as that phrase sounds, the band's then-frontman Dave Williams told the Fuse TV show "Uranium" in 2001 that the song derived from the sweaty brotherhood of the mosh pit: "You have to have respect for the others in the pit. If you push them down, you have to pick them back up," he said. "I'm not going to get behind the violence thing. It is violent, but there is a certain amount of respect and a code."
But as any artist from Mozart to Marilyn Manson can tell you, it's impossible to control just how your song gets interpreted. (As the band rose in popularity it also suffered a major loss when Williams died of heart failure at age 30 in 2002.) Like most songs of the Ozzfest phylum, "Bodies" is like two middle fingers blasted at authority: "Push me again / This is the end." The popular video was set in an insane asylum, a metaphor for alienated youth about as subtle as the song's chugging guitar.
As the decade wore on, the song became emblematic of a different kind of aggression. In his 2004 documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11," Michael Moore claims it was the troops' favorite to blast as their tanks rolled into battle. Reports later surfaced that the song was used at Guantánamo, played over a 10-day period during the questioning of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Mauritanian citizen who believed music is forbidden.
In a December 2006 Spin article about how music was used to torture, David Peisner writes: "If the military had its own People's Choice Awards, Drowning Pool would win top honors. Nearly every interrogator and soldier I spoke to mentioned the agro-metal outfit's 2001 hit 'Bodies' -- with its wild-eyed chorus, 'Let the bodies hit the floor!' -- as a favorite for both psyching up U.S. soldiers and psyching out enemies and captives."
While musicians like Trent Reznor and Pearl Jam protested the use of their songs at Gitmo, Drowning Pool bassist Stevie Benton poured gasoline on the controversy by telling Peisner in Spin, "People assume we should be offended that somebody in the military thinks our song is annoying enough that, played over and over, it can psychologically break someone down," he says. "I take it as an honor to think that perhaps our song be used to quell another 9/11 attack or something like that."
The inevitable backlash and MySpace apology ensued. (Wrote Benton, "My remarks were an emotional reaction to the band's personal experiences [performing in Baghdad and visiting injured soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital.]")
But all of this transformed "Bodies" from yet another chugging anti-authoritarian anthem into a theme song for American military macho. (It's worth noting that Loughner applied to the Army but was rejected.) Wartime films like "Generation Kill" and "Stop Loss" showcased the song. In "Generation Kill," young, ruddy-faced men roll along the desert in a tank, chanting, "Let the hadjis hit the floor!" Meanwhile, the song was used in domestic displays of fist-pumping: at UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) and WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) events, in the hugely popular video game "Call of Duty," in the trailers for the Vin Diesel action movie "xXx," the horror film "Jason X" and the TV spot for the 2008 version of "Rambo."
It's a sign of the shifting culture wars that little attention has been paid to Drowning Pool since the Arizona shooting on Saturday. There was a time when any senseless act of violence that overlapped with the names Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails or Metallica (or, before them, Twisted Sister, Mötley Crüe, Iron Maiden) thrust those artists onto the front page to answer for their influence. (Ditto video games like "Grand Theft Auto" or, God forbid, "Dungeons & Dragons.") Instead, the discussion has largely focused on heated political rhetoric, especially that of Sarah Palin.
Of course, it's early yet. There's still a chance that Drowning Pool's song -- or Loughner's gaming habits, or his obsession with grammar, or the books he read, or his attitude toward our country's military -- will still become headline fodder in the desperate attempt to sift meaning out of the tragic and senseless loss of lives.