"nema" is a song by American progressive rock band Tool, released in 1996 as one of the tracks from the band's highly successful album, nima. Before I say anything about the song, familiarize yourself with the lyrics. While it is not completely necessary to have previously heard the song, doing so does help to place the lyrics within a familiar musical context (one that highlights the emotional "gist" of the lyrics).
nema, by Maynard James Keenan of Tool:
Some say the end is near.
Some say we'll see Armageddon soon.
I certainly hope we will;
I sure could use a vacation from this
Bull shit three ring circus sideshow of
Freaks here in this hopeless fucking hole we call LA.
The only way to fix it is to flush it all away -
Any fucking time, any fucking day;
Learn to swim, I'll see you down in Arizona bay.
Fret for your figure and fret for your latte and
Fret for your hairpiece and fret for your lawsuit and
Fret for your Prozac and fret for your pilot and
Fret for your contract and fret for your car.
Some say a comet will fall from the sky,
Followed by meteor showers and tidal waves,
Followed by fault lines that cannot sit still,
Followed by millions of dumbfounded dipshits.
One great big festering neon distraction,
I've a suggestion to keep you all occupied -
Learn to swim.
Mom's gonna fix it all soon.
Mom's coming round to put it back the way it ought to be.
Learn to swim.
Fuck all those gun-toting hip gangster wannabes,
Fuck retro anything; fuck your tattoos,
Fuck all you junkies and fuck your short memory,
Fuck smiley glad-hands with hidden agendas,
Fuck these dysfunctional, insecure actresses
Cause I'm praying for rain;
I'm praying for tidal waves.
I want to see the ground give way;
I want to watch it all go down.
Mom please flush it all away;
I want to watch it go right in and down.
I want to watch it go right in;
Watch you flush it all away.
Time to bring it down again;
Don't just call me pessimist.
Try and read between the lines.
I can't imagine why you wouldn't
Welcome any change, my friend.
I want to see it all come down.
Suck it down.
Flush it down.
Maynard James Keenan's nema is, at its heart, a caustic work of social criticism directed explicitly at those who center their lives on the trivial matters of life. The word nema is a combination of the Latin term anima (soul) and enema (anal cleansing). Thus, nema is essentially a cleansing of the soul. The lyrics of the song acutely reflect this idea, for Keenan refers to the idea of California sinking into the Pacific Ocean after the San Andreas fault breaks. Whereas most would see this as a terrible state-wide Armageddon, Maynard instead presents the optimistic view of this natural disaster as a cleansing akin to the Biblical Great Flood.
The primary target of this scathing song is the city of Los Angeles - a place Maynard disgustedly refers to as a three ring circus of freaks. Essentially, he sees L.A. as a cesspool for all the trivialities of the modern Western world. He sarcastically welcomes the targeted people of this song to fret for their figures (superficial aesthetics), their lattes (symbols of modern pseudo-intellectuality), their hairpieces (more tools of superficial aesthetics), their lawsuits (driven by selfish monetary greed), their Prozac (drugs used to treat those who are depressed with life), their pilots (possibly referring to Palm Pilots, which are symbols of business-driven materialism), their contracts (meaningless business deals), and their cars (often seen as the epitome of materialism).
Likewise, Maynard also directly attacks numerous groups associated with falsehood. L. Ron Hubbard is the founder of the Church of Scientology, and he is known for the many false embellishments of his own life story, as well as the idea that he created a religion solely to scam others for financial gain. Maynard noticeably refers to Hubbard's followers as clones, suggesting an ignorant, mindless role on their behalf. Additionally, Maynard disparages gun-toting hip gangster wannabes, thus revealing his aversion for their inherent nature of fraudulence. Meanwhile, he also belittles those who place anything retro on an unfaultable pedestal of divinity, those who get tattoos simply for the sake of being cool, the whole culture of junkies, and emotionally weak people who truly have little to worry about compared to the rest of the world (rich whiney kids).
Thus, Maynard compares this hole we call LA to a toilet bowl full of fecal matter, and appropriately he prays for Mother Earth to flush it all away. This imagery of referring to a city as a bowl full of feces is a nauseating, but effective form of expression.
Despite the scornful nature of these lyrics, however, Maynard still manages to approach this topic with a considerable amount of humor. His line, I'll see you down in Arizona Bay, is an amusing assurance inspired by a comedy routine of the controversial Bill Hicks, a stand-up comedian known for his satire and social criticism.
Above all, however, this song's dominant message lies in the lyrics, Learn to swim. Although simple, this line is a stern, cautionary warning to deal with it. If God truly was to flood the world again, there would be two groups of people - those who learned to swim, and those who were flushed down.