What does the image on the back of this jumpsuit mean?
August 18, 2007 9:39 AM   Subscribe

SymbolFilter: I have been at a few concerts of my favorite band, The Flaming Lips, over the summer, and several members of their crew have been wearing new red jumpsuits sporting this symbol. I'm hoping the hive mind can help me decipher it.

As near as I can tell, the image of the seven headed cobra, or naga, is Sri Lankan, and was adopted by the Symbionese Liberation Army, as pictured
in this famous photo.
According to my reading on the symbol, the heads stand for seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative production, purpose, creativity and faith. I haven't had much luck with piecing together the rest of the symbols or figuring out the ultimate meaning of the image. The cobra also appears on their video setup screen during the soundcheck, if that has any significance. Thank you in advance for anyone who can help point me in the right direction to deciphering the jumpsuit!
posted by after_hours to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think the middle part is the Oklahoma Indian peace pipe symbol from the Oklahoma flag.

posted by fishmasta at 10:31 AM on August 18, 2007

Yeah - and they are from Oklahoma.
posted by Kloryne at 10:39 AM on August 18, 2007

Is it possible that it's imagery from one of their songs?

I tried looking up the left character in my Chinese dictionary (the right character is kind of hidden), but I came up empty. Possibly because it's Japanese, and possibly because my dictionary isn't all that great.
posted by gemmy at 11:10 AM on August 18, 2007

Best as I can tell, both of those Chinese characters are made up, although they look like real characters (all the strokes and radicals are "well-formed"); the two characters together are suggestive of the word 楽器 ("gakki" in Japanese), which means "musical instrument" and seems fitting. The 7-headed cobra may be Shesha, a Hindu deity.

In short, I think it's a mishmash of stuff the Flaming Lips thought was neat.
posted by adamrice at 11:32 AM on August 18, 2007

The triangle appears to be "wise man's sulphur" According to symbols. com, but I don't know what that means or who else uses that symbol from whom they might have borrowed it. Maybe they didn't mean it to refer to wise man's sulphur at all. It seems to me that they have created a personal mandala that represents the band, so maybe the triangle and the three arrows are supposed to refer to the three key members.
posted by team lowkey at 12:58 PM on August 18, 2007

The 8 headed naga in the middle of the triangle was famously the symbol of the SLA
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:43 PM on August 18, 2007

D'oh. Forgot to read the rest of the post.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:43 PM on August 18, 2007

And to count the heads. I'll show myself out, thanks.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:44 PM on August 18, 2007

That is the Chinese for "musical instrument," as adamrice says. They're not made up, they're proper full form (not your cod Japanese nonsense :p)
posted by Abiezer at 2:20 PM on August 18, 2007

I disagree with the "musical instrument" translation for the Chinese. the left character is definitely le4 ("happy"). the right one is "double happiness" (xi3 reduplicated).
posted by dropkick queen at 3:19 PM on August 18, 2007

dropkick queen - "le" and "yue" are the same character - check your dictionary! Though you may well have a point about the one on the right on a closer look. We need a flat image of that.
posted by Abiezer at 4:30 PM on August 18, 2007

the one on the left is definitely "gaku" of the japanese "ongaku" or music. ongaku essentially translates to pleasurable sound, so the "gaku" is the pleasurable/enjoyable portion of that word.
posted by zennoshinjou at 5:45 PM on August 18, 2007

the one being of the two kanji
posted by zennoshinjou at 5:46 PM on August 18, 2007

樂 (music or pleasure) and 喜喜 (double happiness). Definitely.

It could be a (visual) pun intended to suggest 樂器, too. Or it could just mean "our music + smoking the peace pipe = double your happiness".
posted by No-sword at 8:00 PM on August 18, 2007

Abiezer - yeah, sorry, I forgot to mention that the character refers to both yue4 and le4. but in the context, since the right character is clearly double happiness (my Chinese is bad, but not *that* bad! anyone who's been to a Chinese wedding, celebrated Chinese New Year, etc., should recognize it), I do think it's le4, rather than yue4. I also don't think they're meant to be interpreted as a phrase since there are distinct arrows pointing to each character.

No-sword might be right that it's a visual pun, though it wouldn't be one meaningful to a Chinese speaker, since the characters in question don't actually have common elements.
posted by dropkick queen at 10:00 PM on August 18, 2007

"Wise Man's Sulphur" doesn't seem to be the preferred translation. Philosopher's Sulphur — straight from soufre des philosophes, and in keeping with "Philosopher's Stone" — gets a lot of google hits. This describes it in chemical terms, and this (sorry, French) describes it in metaphorical ones.

The gist of it seems to be that soufre des philosophes was either the element sulphur, which showed up along with mercury in some ores, or some hypothetical super-pure sulphur that, along with super-pure mercury, would let you turn base metals into gold, or the masculine, active energy that combined with feminine, receptive energy (symbolized by mercury again) to effect personal transformation.

I'm guessing they're going for the last of those meanings. You can find a lot of pagans and New Agers who are interested in alchemy as a metaphor for personal transformation these days, but not many people anywhere who are interested in the literal, physical details.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:21 AM on August 19, 2007

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