Guest post by Mick Frankel
Where do you start with the sign of Pisces? The last of the 12 signs of the Zodiac, Pisces is notoriously hard to pin down. It’s a water sign and water is constantly flowing without firm boundaries. Pisces is a mutable sign so it’s comfortable with changing circumstances and doesn’t like to stay still.
So we’re dealing with the sign of Mutable Water, whose symbol is two fish tied together but swimming in opposite directions. There’s a dual nature here like Gemini another mutable sign that featured in my most recent article. And like Gemini, the sign of the Twins, Pisces can seem like two people in one.
My first article was about the intense sign of Scorpio, Fixed Water. Pisces is another Water sign so we can expect something of the similar emotional quality. If Pisces lacks the magnetic intensity of Scorpio, it has an other-worldly quality not found, to the same extent, in any other sign.
Pisces has a reputation for being dreamy and idealistic. Sensitive to other people’s feelings, someone with Pisces strongly emphasised in their chart can instantly pick up other people’s moods without a word being said. More than sympathy, Pisces has empathy, the ability to feel what another person is feeling.
A challenge for Pisces is to work out which feelings belong to them and which belong to other people. In fact, in all respects, the sign of Pisces is characterised by having no boundaries.
Pisces is like a fish in several ways. Firstly, it is slippery and elusive. “Pisces answers a question with a question” says one of my Astrology teachers. Pisces doesn’t want to be categorised and predictable. It has its own style and unique approach.
This makes Pisces quite tricky to talk about so here’s a question to get us started discussing the music that suits the sign of Pisces: which one of The Beatles fits best with the sign of Pisces? Which is the dreamy, other-worldly one?
Well, Paul McCartney has no planets in Pisces. He seems to fit well with the quick-witted sign of Gemini.
Despite “Imagine” and “Give Peace A Chance”, John Lennon similarly has no planets in Pisces.
Down-to-Earth drummer Ringo Starr has Pisces Rising which maybe gives him something of an elusive, if not reclusive, quality. But once again there are no planets in Pisces in his chart.
So that leaves guitarist George Harrison. Born on Feb 24th, George Harrison has the Sun and Venus in Pisces. “The quiet Beatle” played tender-hearted guitar and wrote some lovely songs. “Something” describes the elusive attractive quality in another person that you can feel but not define. How’s that for Pisces?
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” what a title! The water element is there along with the heart-on-my-sleeve sensitivity of Pisces. But it also introduces another key Piscean quality – sadness and self-sacrifice.
Perhaps because of the basic inability to set firm boundaries, the sign of Pisces is linked to addiction. Alcohol and drugs often attract the sign of Pisces, offering some kind of escape from the suffering of the world. Tragically, if Pisces moves too far down this path, there is no return.
So Pisces has a reputation for being their own worst enemy. Self-sacrificing and, at worst, self-destructive, Pisces can be a martyr to the cause. Worse still, a martyr to no cause at all.
George Harrison connected very strongly with meditation and Indian mysticism. Perhaps this was his form of escape from the day-to-day mundane world? “My Sweet Lord” is one of the most spiritual songs ever to reach Number One in the pop charts. “Within You, Without You” on “Sgt. Pepper” is an amazing union of East and West.
Never comfortable taking centre-stage, George Harrison didn’t have a big voice but it’s recognisable and has an emotional quality. Similarly, he was hardly the classic “guitar hero” posturing figure but he was a great guitarist with a highly distinctive, personal sound.
Pisces is elusive and hard to pin down but I think that George Harrison gives us a way into the sign.
If there was one genre of music that is mostly dominated by the sign of Pisces, it is Grunge music from the 1990s. Two of the main figures in Grunge were Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) and Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins). Both Cobain and Corgan have the Sun and Mercury in Pisces in their birth charts. Cobain also had Venus and Saturn in Pisces.
You’ll find a most tragic embodiment of the self-destructive quality of the sign of Pisces in the life and death of Kurt Cobain. Swimming in an emotional world like the baby on the famous Nirvana cover, you get the impression that Kurt Cobain couldn’t handle life. Cobain killed himself.
Nirvana’s music spoke to an entire generation, he touched the hearts of millions of young people. Of all the signs of the Zodiac, Pisces is the one that moves beyond the personal and connects with the universal.
Billy Corgan and his band appeared in an episode of The Simpsons at a music festival. His character says a wonderfully perceptive line, something like, “Making teenagers feel miserable is like shooting fish in a barrel.”
Grunge music has to be played loud. It’s over-powering and all-enveloping. Hyper-sensitive lyrics sung to heavy-duty music. The guitar playing of Cobain and Corgan spoke directly to people. But, unlike Kurt Cobain, Billy Corgan has found a way through his troubles and, now in his forties, continues to work towards a late style.
If there’s a classic Piscean look, I’d say it was dark, liquid eyes, a full, sensuous mouth and a round face. Charlotte Church who has the Sun, Mercury, Venus and Jupiter all in Pisces definitely has that look.
Blessed with a beautiful singing voice, Charlotte Church has struggled with alcohol problems and she has also adapted her style over time. These are classic Piscean traits: natural gifts and adaptability but a tendency towards self-destruction.
This hard-to-pin-down quality can be expressed in a hostile way. Nina Simone who had the Sun and Mercury in Pisces was a notoriously difficult person. But hers is another Piscean voice that manages to speak straight to the heart. So many people have been touched by the stunning voice and magnificent piano playing of Nina Simone.
She could completely inhabit a sad song and make it her own. Check out her versions of Randy Newman’s “Baltimore” or Jimmy Webb’s “Do What You Gotta Do” to hear Pisces connecting with the full depth of human feeling.
There seems to be a theme of having to deal with adversity in the lives of these Piscean musicians. Sometimes self-inflicted addictions to alcohol or drugs but sometimes external circumstances conspire to challenge the sign of Pisces.
Take, for example, Fats Domino who also has the Sun and Mercury in Pisces. With his open, smiling face, Antoine “Fats” Domino has a Piscean look about him.
The sleeve notes on my copy of the excellent Fats Domino double album in the Legendary Masters Series say: “… he went to work while barely in his teens at a bedspring factory to help support the family. But he still sat in after hours at local joints and when trumpeter Dave Bartholomew gave him the chance to play piano in a roadhouse, Fats jumped at it. Working both days and nights was rough, but he kept at it because money was scarce and he didn’t want to give up music. Then one day at the factory a large pile of bedsprings fell on him and his hands were seriously injured. The doctors said he’d never play piano again.”
Extraordinary. Fats Domino has the Moon in Taurus and Mars in Capricorn so perhaps these down-to-Earth placements helped to give him the will to overcome adversity. Two years later he was back at the piano alongside Dave Bartholomew playing a major part in the real birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll back in the 1940s.
Despite their wonderful, upbeat, New Orleans sound, some of Fats Domino’s compositions have familiar Piscean themes. Self-pity: “Ain’t That A Shame”, “Poor Me”, Self-destruction: “Goin’ To The River”, Over-indulgence: “Blue Monday”.
Pisces is different from the crowd. It’s a sign of genius. Piscean musicians like George Harrison seem to be able to merge different styles to create something new. But the tendency toward self-sacrifice and self-destruction can be too much for some as in the tragic life of Kurt Cobain.
But to exemplify the Piscean look, the genius of Pisces and its potentially self-destructive side, I’d like to look at the life of cornet player and composer Leon Bismarck Beiderbecke known as “Bix”.
Bix Beiderbecke was born on March 10th 1903.
Both the Sun and Jupiter, the traditional ruler of the sign, are in Pisces. Neptune is the modern ruler of Pisces and in Beiderbecke’s chart, Neptune is another Water sign, Cancer the Crab, forming a trine to Jupiter in Pisces. The innovative, genius planet Uranus is tightly placed by the Ascendant in free-wheeling Sagittarius.
Stern Saturn is powerfully placed also in its traditional rulership of the unemotional sign of Aquarius. Directly opposite Saturn, Beiderbecke has the Moon in the Sun-ruled sign of Leo.
Beautiful Venus is in the Mars-ruled sign of Aries directly opposite Mars in the Venus-ruled sign of Libra which is right by the mid-heaven. Add in a wide Grand Trine between Mercury, Pluto and Mars in Air signs and this is a fascinating chart.
Notice that Bix Beiderbecke has no planets or angles in Earth signs. This is in contrast to Fats Domino’s earthbound Moon and Mars. Fats Domino overcame adversity in his life but, in the end, Bix Beiderbecke did not.
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It’s hard for us to imagine a world with no Jazz heritage and history but Bix Beiderbecke grew up in the era when Jazz was taking over from Ragtime as the music of the day. He was a naturally musical child and could play tunes on the piano before he’d had any lessons. But when he did have lessons, all he wanted to do was improvise so he wasn’t able to play in the predictable, consistent way that his teacher wanted.
In his sleevenotes to “Bix Beiderbecke The Ultimate Collection”, Tony Watts writes, “Once he heard some early jazz on the family gramophone he quickly abandoned the piano in favour of the cornet. This was the music he really wanted to play.”
Bix Beiderbecke’s playing is different from that of Louis Armstrong, the other great horn player of the day. Armstrong’s playing is much more muscular, out-going and extravagant. Louis Armstrong was born with the Sun in Leo trine to the Moon in Aries. Uranus in Sagittarius completes the Grand Fire Trine. Louis Armstrong has no planets or angles in Pisces. What a contrast to Bix Beiderbecke’s chart!
Whereas Armstrong takes centre-stage with astonishing technical mastery reaching impossible heights, his playing bursting with love of life, Beiderbecke’s playing is very different: tender and beautiful but always flowing and moving forward.
At the time of Bix Beiderbecke’s 1927 recordings, there was no popular hero from the past for jazz players to try to emulate in their improvisation. The music that we now recognise as vintage jazz was living and breathing all around them as the popular music of the day. Beiderbecke helped to create the music that defines an era.
But Bix Beiderbecke had health problems. Tony Watts continues, “He had developed a serious drink problem which affected his work. He also suffered from a severe bout of pneumonia which, exacerbated by his habit, weakened him considerably.” The biography on Allmusic.com says that by 1927 he was already an alcoholic. And during the prohibition era as well! Who knows what the quality of the illegal stuff he was drinking must have been like. Remember, this is a man in his mid-twenties, just like Kurt Cobain entering his final downward spiral.
Bix Beiderbecke made some amazing recordings in 1927 and 1928 but his health was irreparably damaged and he was unable to escape from his path of self-destruction. He continued to drink heavily and Beiderbecke died of pneumonia in August 1931 before Saturn could make the landmark return to its placement in his natal chart.
Bix Beiderbecke has a naturally gifted genius. Grainy black and white pictures show an unimposing, gentle-looking fellow. However elegantly dressed he is and in whatever surroundings he is found, he seems to have a lost quality about him. He looks out at us from a different place. I think that there’s a great sadness in his eyes.
His playing is lyrical, touching, inventive and distinctive. Those 1927 recordings by Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang or Frankie Trumbauer and His Orchestra seem to come to us from another world. Some of tunes like “Since My Best Gal Turned Me Down” have extraordinary, trademark, changes of tempo in them. From double-time excitement, they suddenly dip to a lilting mid-tempo and then just as suddenly lift back up again and then dip and rise again and again. Mutable water at work in the recording studio.
My own favourite is the Fletcher Henderson tune “Goose Pimples” which moves along sweetly but uneventfully until the final chorus when Bix Beiderbecke roars in over the top of the arrangement playing like someone who knows he’s not got long left in this world.
And check his own piano composition “In A Mist” an appropriate title for a Water sign. This is very beautiful, dreamy music with all the quirky, uniqueness of the elusive sign of Pisces.
The tender spirituality of George Harrison, the angelic voice of the young Charlotte Church, the depth of Nina Simone, the overwhelming, wrenching sound of Kurt Cobain’s band Nirvana and the lyrical playing of Bix Beiderbecke help to define the un-definable and pin down the un-pindownable, mysterious sign of Pisces.
Be sure to visit Mick’s excellent website for Tarot, I-Ching, Astrology and Dream Interpretation services and articles.