November 16 marks the 30th anniversary of a bizarre album release by the band KISS. It was called Music From The Elder, and was initially confusing to the followers of the band. The album was based on a concept, a story focusing on The One who would be guided by a chap called Morpheus.
Wait a minute? Isn’t that the story of The Matrix?
Yes, it is. In fact, it is my contention that the Wachowski Brothers were influenced by the story behind KISS’ Music From The Elder — and contributed significantly to the character growth and plot of their saga.
It’s clear that the Wachowski’s were influenced by a vast number of elements in the creation of the franchise, such as William Gibson‘s Neuromancer, the Terminator series, the works of Philip K. Dick, and also Doctor Who. In point of fact, the concept of a Matrix was initially introduced in the Classic Doctor Who adventure The Deadly Assassin featuring Tom Baker, where the Doctor (like Neo) literally “plugs in” to a Matrix and finds himself in a virtual reality battling his enemies.
The Matrix was a revolutionary film for its time, and notable with its groundbreaking visual effects, but while it blew me away the first time I saw it (and still makes me yearn for further movies in the series), in many ways it was a mash-up of countless ideals, concepts, devices, and characterizations from a limitless amount of influential works spanning across all media.
In fact, the storylines of The Elder and The Matrix reflect each other so directly (though both set in different backdrops) that it surprises me nobody has written about this connection before. As a KISS fan, I may be biased, but it is my belief that the Wachowski’s were very influenced by a strange album by the band.
Let’s take a look at the connections:
The first, and most obvious, connection between The Elder and The Matrix are the two main characters and the roles they fulfill. Morpheus, in both tales, is tasked with finding “The Boy,” who is often referred to as either The One, or The Chosen One. The name Morpheus is used by both tales also, and is procured from Greek mythology — it is the name of the God of Dreams, acting as a gatekeeper to the dream world in a way. While it’s possible the Wachowski’s did use the Greek myth reference as well, being the predisposed KISS fan that I am, I’d like to think they lifted the name straight from the Elder — but the reality is that the name Morpheus has been used in numerous tales, but this connection does immediately tie the two together
The Boy / The One
The One is the unsuspecting boy-who-becomes-man on a hero’s journey, tasked with being the savior of a civilization. While the relative backgrounds of both stories are very different, the story of these two main characters is essentially the same. Both individuals are swept up in a new world of unbelievable scope, in which the knowledge that they are the selected heroes of this new civilization is thrust upon them. It is essentially a “fish out of water” or “stranger in a strange land” tale crossed with the above-mentioned Hero’s Journey. Essentially, it is a transformation saga. In The Elder, The Boy must become The One. In The Matrix, Neo must also become The One.
Additionally, like some hero’s journey tales, both The Elder and The Matrix rely upon in-universe prophecy, to set the tone for what is believed to be the destiny of the chosen one. Correspondingly, like The Elder, members of the council (referred to as the elders of the Order of the Rose in KISS’ album) and others express their doubts at Morpheus’ belief that in the One.
The One – From Disbelief To Belief
One of the key components in the original Matrix movie is the theme of knowing and believing in one’s self. Neo’s odyssey initially fills him with doubts on his destiny, and he finally disbelieves his role as the One when he meets The Oracle. It is only when he begins to believe in himself that he can truly see the world of the Matrix for what it is, and realize his destiny. This is exactly the same premise of the pathway of the Boy from The Elder, who in the song, “Just A Boy” – a situation that mirrors Neo confessing his disbelief to Morpheus after having visited the Oracle. The Boy is able to become The Chosen One in The Elder when he has full belief in himself, as portrayed in the songs “The Oath” and “I.” In fact, the key chorus lyric for “I” is ‘I believe in me and I believe in something more than you can understand’.
The song, “Only You,” similarly mirrors an aspect of The Matrix, which is some ways is damn near prophetic. The lyrics focus on two individuals focusing at each other, believing the other has the answers. In the context of The Elder, this is both The Boy and Morpheus. From the standpoint of The Boy, Morpheus has all the answers for him relating to this new world he finds himself in; where in reality, from Morpheus’ perspective, it is The Boy who will have all the messianic and heroic answers upon meeting his destiny. This concept is so eerily close to the vision of The Matrix that I find it difficult to believe the Wachowski’s weren’t influenced by the story behind this album. Recall the first film: Neo seeks out Morpheus for he truly believes this mysterious elder hacker has all the answers to the question, “What is the Matrix?” In reality, it has been Morpheus who has been searching for Neo, because he believes him to be The One, and consecutively the individual with all the answers for the future of the human race. In truth, neither one has the answers on the own – it is through being together that they can complete the journey.
For me, nothing more solidly makes the KISS connection to The Matrix legend than the inclusion and casting of Anthony Zerbe in the role of Councilor Hamaan. While movie fans might remember Zerbe from The Omega Man or Licence to Kill, KISS fans recall him portraying a very important (though gaudy) chapter in KISStory. Zerbe played the role of “the phantom” otherwise known as Abner Devereaux in the 1978 movie KISS Meets The Phantom Of The Park. The movie has since developed a cult status, predominantly amongst KISS fans; and including Zerbe in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions in my mind, is another hint to this connection between The Matrix and The Elder.
The Door on the Album Cover
The mysterious entrance to the Order of the Rose on the cover of Music From The Elder also makes a little bit of a cameo appearance in The Matrix Reloaded. In the palace of the Merovingian, during one of the most exciting fight scenes ever directed, Morpheus and Trinity escape with the Keymaker. After the fight, Neo attempts to catch up with his allies – but the doors of the Merovingian’s domain are hacked back doors in the Matrix and changeable. When one of the twins seals the door on Neo, he reopens it, only to find himself in a completely different location. Look closely at the door that he opens, compared to the album cover:
It’s almost the same as the door on the cover of The Elder, and I truly believe the Wachowski’s propelled that design in as a deliberate tip-of-the-hat to the concept album. These things are rarely designed haphazardly in films, and quite often have meaning behind the way they’re portrayed. Sets and designs are not so incidental; most are enriched with subtext, meaning, and homages. Some might think it is a bit of a stretch when pointing this out, but ask any KISS fan how iconic that album cover has become in their fandom. It’s immediately recognizable to them, and I daresay many fans spotted this in the movie too.
There is no doubt that the makers of The Matrix series took inspiration and influence from a variety of sources, so it would be unreasonable of me to suggest that this odd KISS album was the sole catalyst (though I am getting old and curmudgeonly, so can demand you allow me this biased delusion). Either way, in my mind, I’m convinced that the Wachowski Brothers were truly influenced by the concept album.
In some ways, there’s an irony in the connection. When Music From The Elder was first released, it was rejected by a vast majority of KISS fans, and was a low point for the band. As a matter of fact, it was the first album that the band did not go out on tour for due to its extremely poor sales. Fast forward several years to 1999, and a movie embracing several elements from the original concept created by Gene Simmons and Bob Ezrin became such a considerable smash internationally. Perhaps The Elder was ahead of its time?
Either way, I have heard many KISS fans mention over the years about how they would have loved to have seen what a movie of The Elder would have been like. I put it to you that there already IS an Elder film out there, and that you need look no further than The Matrix.
“Morpheus, you have been summoned here to offer your judgment of the boy. Do you still deem him worthy of the Fellowship?”
“I certainly do, my lord. As a matter of fact, I, I think you’re going to like this one. He’s got the light in his eyes and the look of a champion… a real champion…”