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Theta Waves and HWAP Badges: Post #5 of the Tool Fan Ethnography Project

In this post we talk Theta waves, dancing madly, and touch on some of the less-savory Tool fans deserving of HWAP badges.

That magnificently sweet, clear, and other-dimensional state we inhabit between sleep and awake is when our human brains are producing Theta waves. They occur during light stages of sleeping like when we are just falling asleep or just waking up, the hypnagogic and hypnopompic states, respectively, and activate when we “are being insightful” or when we are in “highly creative states.”

This state—regardless of its epistemically scientific label—is familiar to serious practitioners of shamanic traditions, to consumers of hallucinogenics who receive guidance from trip-sitters or their internal shamanic self, to clairvoyants, dream-walkers, hardcore meditators (an oxymoron?), and perhaps to the lucky, sensitive (or exploitative?) weirdos who got to participate in the US government’s Remote Viewing programs of the 1990’s. Fellow academics such as those from UCSB’s Cognitive Science REM Lab are also familiar through their research with Theta waves and the states that induce them.

It is a powerful brain mode that has been called the “healing” mode. MindBodyGreen talked to neurologist Ilene Ruhoy, who described, “This state is where our true authenticity lies and where we can find our connection to the universe and know the core of who we are, what we want, and what we need to be.” Tool fans will be delighted to know that doing inner work will also help you get into the Theta-producing state as well.

Footage of me waking up and reaching for my ticket

And it was in this state—despite the background “thought” that I had not slept as long as I planned—that I was quite lucidly aroused to full waking, to check on whether or not any new tickets had been released. I sensed there had—but not because I’m psychic, I’ve just been told repeatedly that tickets get released on the same day of the concerts.

And there it was, folks: the seat of my dreams. Center floor, in the first row of a rear floor section. Here, you can dance. Here, you can see the full, jaw-dropping visuals. Here, the lasers for this show fan out wide and the confetti is abundant. The women flock like the salmon of Capistrano… Oops, wrong cultural reference, sorry.

Here, the views of the crowds are 360.
And here, you get a sound mix forged in heaven by the gods themselves—or at least by the ridiculously hard-working mix folks on Tool’s roster.

It was a little over my price-point, but anything that comes to me in the Theta Zone I take very seriously, so I pulled the trigger!

…And got a failure-to-feed. Or at least the internet equivalent of one. Because just then, like many a Tool-fan and concertgoer before me, TicketMaster screwed me.

Every time I went to check out and secure my seat, an unnamed “error” kept the transaction from completing. I tried again and again. I cleared my cache. I restarted my phone. I even risked it all and jumped on local public Wi-Fi. But every. single. time. At checkout, TicketMaster booted my Theta-going butt out. Twenty minutes after a most peaceful awakening, the frenzy to find a ticket reignited to a new level of chaos and anxiety.

Finally, about 20 minutes after doors-open, I lucked out and found a social media reseller and together we rebelled; we bucked the third-party resale fees, and did a straight transaction, directly human-to-human—are we revolutionaries or counter-revolutionaries?, I don’t know. With the new ticket, I would be up in the nosebleeds, caressing the back wall of the arena, but I would be inside the arena, and I was currently outside the arena.

You Haven’t Seen Tool Enough

I am of the belief that there is always a silver lining to be found, no matter the sh*tstorm one finds oneself in. In this case, Tool’s visual artists make that lining long and wide—about 50 feet long and 50 feet wide to be roughly quantitative about it, not counting the reach of the lasers and lights. And at that size, no way could I have fully appreciated the entirety of the visuals and their three-dimensional interactions with the venue and crowd without at least once being up in the nosebleeds. This is because their lights, lasers, smoke, and confetti, literally reach to the upper crevices of the spaces they are limited by. It was best to get this vantage point early on in my research tour—which in the end expanded to nine shows up from the original planned four—because it had an enriching impact on my ability to fully soak in the other shows I got to slip in for.

…the band comprised of fallible and creative humans…

After seeing the band—and the FI Tour in particular—the several times I have now, I share the following unsolicited advice:

See Tool.
See Tool live.
See Tool live multiple times.
See Tool live multiple times from multiple angles.
See Tool live multiple times, from multiple angles, at multiple distances from the stage.

And, if you’ve been doing it intoxicated, go sober. “Dangit!” you say, “they’ve just finished their FI tour!” No friend, they’ve only finished the US leg of it. They will be onto Europe in about a month. And I’m not telling you to sell all your belongings so you can afford the airfare, I’m just telling you: if you haven’t seen them from multiple angles at multiple distances, you are missing out on some of the performance.

Not only is the band comprised of fallible and creative humans who generate unique performances each time, but the visuals are so gargantuan, complex, quick-changing, and stunningly beautiful, it is nearly guaranteed you will see and hear new things each time you go, especially if you follow this advice to the fullest. What’s more — after I drafted this, I attended a few more shows, and the visuals have been altered to incorporate more detail. Go get you some.

At nosebleed distance, slightly off-center, I was about to see an entirely different Tool, and I could not have been more excited.

They did not disappoint, and I got some of my first very solid mid-show ethnographic interactions and observations in, sitting next to a late-teens/early-20’s mixed couple—where mixed here refers to one existing Tool fan and one non-fan—and an intergenerational trio of dudes, one of whose son would be hearing Tool for the very first time, live at this Footprint Center show. The conversations we had (thank you, my dudes) sparked some of my earliest excitement about the themes I would decide to pursue for the first couple of academic proposals I submitted.

As had happened in Tacoma, I rocked out so hard—by which I mean head-banged full-body 90’s style—that I was sore for three days after. I am toying with the possibility of discussing the shows in comparison to one another in a separate post, but suffice to say here that the crowd was pretty much en fuego, in large part because of Maynard’s residence in the state. He called the venue and its present tranche of weirdos “home,” a show of verbal sentiment the singer did not apply to his actual home state, by at least first birth: Ohio.

I remind you this series is not about reviewing the shows, and instead I turn to a set of Tool-fan observations sharable with you before the other research is made public: the subject of rolling solo as a female to see Tool live. I struggled a long time before deciding to make this post–I don’t want to berate the fanbase, but I also don’t want to gloss over the icky sh*t, either.

That’s right, at just my second Tool show ever, and my first purposeful fieldwork excursion to study Tool fans, one male member of the Tool fam spiked my drink without my knowledge or consent.

A Poisoned Cup (APC)

Rolling solo as a female to rock concerts can be a surprisingly challenging task despite all of the groundwork laid to give women fair shots at life—and this is the case regardless of the band. Although Tool fans are ultimately demographically somewhat diverse, the fanbase is nonetheless largely comprised of white males. Don’t worry, this is not a post about why the world should hate white males—I believe no one should hate a group of people based on their uncontrollable human features; even better, no one should hate, full stop. But, it might be a post that helps to explain why some people hate white males—though I repeat I do not condone or participate in this sentiment.

Once you learn about certain dark underbellies of the world, it is hard if not impossible to unsee or un-know them. By random ways of professional and educational experiences, I happen to know a little bit about “drugging culture,” that is, how, where, when, why and in what ways humans purposefully drug other humans without their consent or knowledge. I have just enough knowledge to help keep myself and others safe, to know what the signs are, and what to keep an eye out for in terms of behavior from others. In a future post, I will teach you, too.

In Phoenix, as I rocked out, delightfully head banging myself halfway into a concussive state, I realized I was experiencing the initial effects of having been drugged. That’s right, at just my second Tool show ever, and my first purposeful fieldwork excursion to study Tool fans, one male member of the Tool fam spiked my drink without my knowledge or consent.

In a follow-up post I will go into the details of this sick slice of our species and give fellow Vagabond’ers some personal security tips, but for now we are highlighting here how having this experience at only the second Tool show for this series when I had several more to go definitely affected my sense of safety for the rest of the field research. It was, in any case, disappointing. I was bummed to come across this truly insufferable feature of Tool fans so early on, and first-hand at that.

Thankfully armed with real-world “education” earned in several rounds of field studies as a young anthropologist, I was able to respond quickly, to keep myself safe the remainder of the night, and to (mostly) enjoy the rest of the show. It only took about 30 minutes to get confirmation that the drugging effects weren’t getting any worse once I stopped drinking the poisoned cup, and that was a relief.

But to the Tool fan who did it: f*ck you, buddy. You deserve an HWAP badge.

A Beer Dowry (ABD)

When attempts at drugging me weren’t underway, inappropriately aggressive attempts to pick me up were, and when those attempts were rebuffed, this subset of Tool fans got disappointingly ugly. Do not misconstrue my words: people can and should feel free to engage in exploratory flirtation with others in order to test the pheremonial (see what I did there?) waters for potential further mating rituals and rites. People should not feel free to disrespect personal boundaries and denigrate others who set them.

The man continued throughout the night to offer to buy me a drink, a behavior that, regardless of all other human sexual dynamics, was ruining my Tool-listening experience. Why (and how?!) do people talk in the middle of Tool concerts?

For the Orlando show, I got seats near a few also-solo concert-goers who all happened to be males ranging from 18 up to about 60. In striking up conversations with the guys, it became apparent that one was interested in flirting with me more than friendly Tool chat, and I politely, repeatedly, discontinued the conversation by letting it die. But he insisted on continuing to chat me up, and then took his efforts further by offering to get me a drink. He did this repeatedly, and I repeatedly rejected with a mild, “Oh, no, but thanks so much! That’s very generous of you!” adding a word of kindness in there lest I agitate him at my own peril. The gendered interaction taking place here is routine—but I won’t launch into a tirade about it, and in any case this is not my field of expertise.

The man continued throughout the night to offer to buy me a drink, a behavior that, regardless of all other human sexual dynamics, was ruining my Tool-listening experience. Why (and how?!) do people talk in the middle of Tool concerts? I said “no,” every single time he offered, in direct and illustrative ways: I showed him my existing drink, said, “I’m good, thanks,” gesturing to it over and over. “No, thanks, I don’t really drink much,” and “No, I might not even finish this one, but thank you.”

Nonetheless, before I ever finished my beer, the man left in the middle of a song and came back with two beers, one for himself and—I shit you not—one for me. He walked back up to me, into my row—which was not his row—initiating a drink handoff at me, to which I raised my eyebrows and my hands up in air-defense as if to say, “Did you not hear me or are you just an asshole?” But again, I do not say this out loud, because one cannot safely assert thusly to a man who has already shown that he does not respond to “no,” very well. Instead, I say “no, no really, no thank you! I meant it. But thank you!”

At that point he rolled all two of his eyes like this:

—or like a reverse of the visuals during the Grudge, as the man is clearly not letting it go—and stood for a brief moment non-verbally expressing his apparent surprise while moving forward to his own row. Trying to hand the drink to his new acquaintance there, he shrugs and gestures in dramatic disgust and confusion that the woman behind him did not accept the escalation of his advances even after not accepting his most basic ones. Shocker!

For my fellow femme readers, this is all quite humdrum and common—is this really worth writing about? We come across these fools pretty regularly. But next is when it got interesting enough to take notes and share them.

During the intermission, I bounced quickly and did surgeon’s work getting in and out of the bathroom and back to my seat before the 12 minutes was up, when Mr. “You Must Accept My Beer Dowry” did not realize I had returned to my seat behind him, and I caught the tail-end of his rant:
“I mean…. At that age… Unmarried? Pretty? Really? You know there’s gotta be something… Something, right? I mean, she’s gotta be like, a lesbian… or on drugs or something, right?”
“Yeah,” his new acquaintance scoffs, who has interacted with me even less than the fermented-yeast dowry pusher has, “totally,” he shakes his head in agreeing disapproval of the shared-delusion they have crafted of me.

Here’s your HWAP badge too, buddy.

These accusations … I took to be a depressing commentary on the unacceptability in the modern American milieu of truly letting oneself go in bodily-expressive ways.

I was, in fact, accused or suspected of partaking in drugs multiple times at the shows. I never did, and turned them down frequently (Tool fans actually are a warmly generous lot): I am strictly clean, having lost multiple loved ones, including my brother Alex, to drugs, and currently holding a job I cherish that also requires me to be drug-free. These assumptions and sometimes accusations from other insufferables I took to be a depressing commentary on the unacceptability in the modern American milieu of truly letting oneself go in bodily-expressive ways.

The Body is a Prison and a Vessel

Modernity requires a lot of physical self-denial, even down to the bottom-most rung of our basic human needs. We skip meals to keep working or to care for others; we delay going to the bathroom for the same. We force ourselves to sit for hours on end with our hands propped in front of us at the computer. There is a lot our bodies have to be mad about; and if you are spiritually inclined, it can be annoyance that “we are spirit bound to this flesh,” but it is also a blessing. The body is both a prison and a vessel, and having done intensive somatic therapy—which I highly recommend—I was personally using my time at Tool concerts to do some somatic releasing, expressing, and joyful loving of my body’s incredible capabilities. No, I was not on drugs: I was using the Tool concert as a tool to exercise this body as a tool for enjoying existence, you tools.

But to outsiders, this looks a bit like:

And to our conditioned eyes, with lenses of leftover Victorian propriety, rocking out like a one-woman mosh pit equates to, “she’s on drugs.” I will not process here the multiple layers of yuck at having the word “lesbian” tossed at me like an insult in the same sentence as “something’s wrong with her.” But I invite readers to comment on these dynamics below.

No, I was not on drugs: I was using the Tool concert as a tool to exercise this body as a tool for enjoying existence, you tools.

Another man tried to join me in my dancing at one point, coming from the lower bowl down to the rear area where we were, closing the distance between us frighteningly quickly, and as I backed off from him for self-protection, he was spotted by security and booted from the floor. As he was escorted out he shouted at me, “f*ckin groupie!”

At the end of the night, I offered some of the people around me a ride to wherever they were going—I had a car and would only be sleeping four hours that night anyway. As I ran to grab some of the leftover confetti on the floor, one of them cautioned, “I’m pretty sure she’s on drugs dude, I don’t know if I would ride with her… Look at her.” To be fair, when he said that, I was dancing, alone, to “Dancing Queen” as 80% of the crowd was out the door, while simultaneously smilingly collecting beer-soaked pieces of paper off the floor.

To be fair, when he said that, I was dancing, alone, to “Dancing Queen” as 80% of the crowd was out the door, while simultaneously smilingly collecting beer-soaked pieces of paper off the floor.

Why can’t we not be sober?

Because society tells us something is off about us when we “let go” without leaning on intoxicants as the excuse to do so.

Just how much was I letting go? Well, in one of the next posts, I will have some graphs of my peripheral heart-rate, “step-count”, and respiratory rate during two of the concerts, so we can geek out on some quantitative data about the physiological trajectory of a Fear Inoculum set. For any other fit-watch-wearers, I invite you to share your own data or observations to compare notes.

We’re not all insufferable, but some of us are distinguishably so. And those are the ones deserve HWAP badges.

And, more fitting and representative of the ethnographic consultants I came across during this research, we’ll dive into some of the meaningful, generous, and beautiful interactions I had during this research tour—including indirectly trip-sitting next to a life-trapped soul who gave me a free floor ticket in exchange for my company, the numerous parent-child pairs and groups at each show, and the repeated displays of respect for diversity of thought proffered by this Tool fam across the board.

We’re not all insufferable, but some of us are distinguishably so. And those are the ones who deserve HWAP badges.

With love,

The Anthropologist

Filed under: Anthropology, Art and Music

About the Author:

Julia McClenon is an award-winning anthropologist and writer trained in a diverse set of field methods and interview techniques. She has a Master of Arts in Religious Studies with a focus on cognitive science. Everywhere she travels she observes the humans around her with the aim of facilitating understanding across deep divides. Once in a while, she can be found riding a motorcycle in the backcountry. has written 5 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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