by Lynn Bell
This article was first published in the Apr./May 2014 issue of The Mountain Astrologer and is reprinted here with permission.
The Sun and the 5th house — the house of its joy — are connected to the making of music, to dance, to pleasure. Music in this sense brings us to life; it enlivens and electrifies. Our feet tap, our bodies move; we may be silly, sexy, inspired. At a concert with thousands, we may roar and dance to frenzy and, with or without the help of mind-altering substances, enter the Dionysian dimension of music carried by Neptune and the other outer planets. Yet, there is another piece to the experience of music, the music that stirs our inner tides for weeks, months, or a lifetime. Some songs are played again and again. Some music is listened to for what it touches in the listener, and in this sense, music is connected to the Moon.
Our moods and feelings all link to the Moon in the birth chart. The Moon makes memories as well. A song that gets everyone up and dancing at a party, decades after its release, will also have this lunar dimension. As we dance, we remember dancing another time. We remember another self and the feelings of that time. Not long ago, I was at a party in Dali in southwestern China. As the night wore on, we gathered on the rooftop around a musician who began to play, and as he sang, the others listened and then began to join in. The music wove me into the feelings of the group, even without understanding the words. It strengthened my emotional connection to that place and its people.
Musical memory is one of the last faculties to be extinguished in patients who have lost everything else, and some researchers believe that it works on a unique circuit in the brain. (1) The mind has elements of Mercury, the rational and logical, but is also a lunar terrain of images, dreams, reflections. The Moon helps to connect the work of a performing artist with both the hearts and minds of the listeners and, in this way, may be the key to popularity. It is also a planet of the inner life. So, how does this dual nature of the lunar archetype, the personal and the public, express itself in the charts of musicians?
The All-Embracing Pisces Moon
Certain singers become synonymous with the spirit of their age and remain popular for a lifetime. For the generation that fought in World War II, the “Voice” was Frank Sinatra. With Jupiter-ruled signs holding the luminaries, and an angular Neptune on the Midheaven (MC), Sinatra’s talent and reach are clear, especially given a generous 5th-house Jupiter in its own sign of Pisces (see chart). The Moon in Pisces near the cusp of that 5th (Placidus) house adds an intimacy, a longing that reaches inside the listener and evokes a response. One writer describes his voice this way: “the intangible, mystical alchemy of sound, technique, and emotion that fused when the skinny young Sinatra murmured tender endearments into a microphone.” (2)
From 1941, Sinatra was the idol of teenage women who screamed and fainted at his concerts. A Dionysian wave ran through his mostly female audiences. When a psychiatrist was asked to explain the phenomenon at the time, he said the music was “a sort of melodic striptease in which he lays bare his soul.” (3) This laying bare of the soul is a deeply Piscean quality. It feels intensely personal, while not being personal at all.
Pisces is a boundless sign, and a Pisces Moon reaches right inside us, rolls past individual boundaries, awakening feelings we didn’t know we had. Perhaps that explains why the three biggest-selling solo artists of all time — Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and Michael Jackson — all had the Moon in this sign. These men got under the skin of their listeners, whether it was to swoon, to dance, or to twist. The sensual Elvis Presley of 1955–56 thrilled his listeners when transiting Uranus conjoined his natal Pluto, activating Pluto’s opposition to his personal trio of the Sun, Mercury, and Venus in Capricorn. Michael Jackson’s charismatic dancing and sound and his innovative videos captured millions of fans from the late 1970s into the ’90s.
These artists imprinted a long arc of popular culture. Even after their deaths, the Pisces Moon lingers on. Elvis was rumored to still be alive after his untimely passing at age 42, and sightings were regularly reported. Sinatra’s voice still haunts bars and restaurants around the world. Michael Jackson became a ghost in his own lifetime, slipping between worlds on propofol. The vulnerability of a Pisces Moon, its inability to stay shielded from the exaltation and descent of fame, probably contributed to the unfortunate deaths of both Presley and Jackson — the phantasmagoria, the drugs and alcohol. Both men also had powerful Sun–Pluto aspects — a conjunction for Jackson and the opposition in Presley’s chart — which drove the downward spiral. The very gifts that a Pisces Moon may gather through its sensitivity can turn corrosive if there is no way to find an inner skin, a personal boundary.
Individuals with a Pisces Moon often have a fragile romanticism, a lost poet’s flair for impossible causes. This is clear in another Pisces Moon singer and poet, whose career stretches over many decades: Leonard Cohen. His long search for spiritual direction spills into his lyrics and music. For those drawn to his particular gravitas, his music awakens great longing. Cohen songs are reflections, enigmas, celebrations. Poems lodged in the heart. Piscean themes of loss and heartbreak, of sacrifice and redemption. His raspy septuagenarian voice roughens the lyrics, gravely expressive of exquisite remembrance.
Joni Mitchell, Water Child
The Pisces longing for transcendence, its embrace and recognition of pain, can be uncomfortable for many. At the same time, it is very difficult to ignore. In a recent piece for The New Yorker, the young British novelist Zadie Smith (born October 25, 1975) wrote about her antipathy to Joni Mitchell (Moon in Pisces), saying, “The first time I heard her, I didn’t hear her at all.” (4) Immersed in the joyous rhythms of black music, Smith found that she disliked what she didn’t even recognize as music. Even a decade later, driving across the British countryside, she recalls the sense of annoyance this music brought up in her: “… I focused in on it and realized it was that bloody piping again, ranging over octaves, ignoring the natural divisions between musical bars, and generally annoying the hell out of me, like a bee caught in a wing mirror.” (5)
Joni Mitchell has just turned 70, and while her voice is now a smoky alto, her creative genius remains vibrant through painting, her first love. In the early days, her singing ranged over three octaves, and the silvery heights of her voice, her idiosyncratic phrasing, and an intensely personal vision penetrated the mind/feeling barrier of the listener. Mitchell’s Moon is at 24° Pisces on her MC and opposing an out-of-sign conjunction of Venus and Neptune. (See her chart.) Here, we have an almost pure Pisces Moon, an artist who was willing to offer her inner life and feelings in a way that had not been done before in popular music. When Kris Kristofferson first heard her 1971 album Blue, he said, “Jeez, Joni, save something for yourself.”
Later, after Zadie Smith began listening to Mitchell’s music, she wrote:
This is the effect that listening to Joni Mitchell has on me these days: uncontrollable tears. An emotional overcoming, disconcertingly distant from happiness, more like joy — if joy is the recognition of an almost intolerable beauty. It’s not a very civilized emotion. I can’t listen to Joni Mitchell in a room with other people, or on an iPod, walking the streets. Too risky. I can never guarantee that I’m going to be able to get through the song without being made transparent — to anybody and everything, to the whole world. A mortifying sense of porousness. Although it’s comforting to learn that the feeling I have listening to these songs is the same feeling the artist had while creating them: “At that period of my life, I had no personal defenses. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes.” That’s Mitchell, speaking of the fruitful years … when her classic album Blue was released. (6)
The powerful emotions of Mitchell’s music are reflected in the primary signature of her chart: Scorpio Sun, Pisces Moon, and Cancer rising. They were also sourced in a series of painful events. Her unusual open guitar tunings came from the adaptation of a weak left hand, a sequela of her childhood polio. She has a difficult conjunction of Mars and Saturn in Gemini in the 12th house as the apex in a tight t-square to the Moon and Venus–Neptune. Planets in the 12th, the house of the unfortunate daimon, often bring testing experiences of a physical or psychological nature. This t-square describes a pattern of difficulty followed by intense creative output as a composer, songwriter, and painter. By the time Mitchell made her first album, she had already composed more songs than many artists would write in an entire career.
In 1995, it was revealed that Joni Mitchell had had a child out of wedlock — a child eventually given up for adoption, and one of the reasons she dropped out of art school. She has said that she began writing songs because she was so unhappy. Like many individuals with a difficult daimon, she was directed to a path through a series of difficult experiences: her early polio; a brief, painful marriage to Chuck Mitchell, who dashed her hope that he would help raise her child and, instead, pushed her to perform with him — all these led her away from the painting she’d always wanted to do.
Even in small ways, the daimon can be seen at work. She missed the Woodstock festival and stayed in New York City for the Dick Cavett Show on her manager’s advice. Learning of the concert on the news, she composed the song that has been associated with the event ever since. David Crosby said that her song “Woodstock” did more to give people the feeling of what had happened there than anything else. Mitchell was able to transform the frustration of Mars–Saturn into artistry, a gift for the listener.
Singing a Powerful Self
Musicians with other lunar signatures may touch their audience through a very different conduit. A quick glance at three fire Sun women — Madonna (Leo), Lady Gaga (Aries), and Miley Cyrus (Sagittarius) — reveals the power of a Moon–Pluto conjunction.
Madonna is fourth in the number of records sold by a solo artist, right after Michael Jackson. The most successful woman in music entertainment, she took the icons of religious culture, turned them upside down, and made them her own. Her influence, both artistic and archetypal, is huge. It is no wonder that young women born in the 1970s cite her as a powerful role model. Madonna’s chart is well known: Her Moon is on the Ascendant conjunct a 12th-house Mercury–Pluto in Virgo, with the Sun in Leo just behind. Madonna owns the stage and uses it in highly personal ways. More than any other female artist, she stepped into her power, offering fans an archetype for self-transformation. Her material girl, the sexy dominant dancer, still sells well into her fifties.
Lady Gaga’s true birth time is in question, but there is a good chance that she has a Moon–Pluto conjunction in Scorpio trine Jupiter in Pisces. Her experiments with identity and her excesses in self-presentation have amassed millions of ardent fans. Lady Gaga changes wigs and fashions almost as fast as a Chinese mask dancer. Both Madonna and Lady Gaga break out of conventional images of the feminine; they are not afraid of being labeled bad girls. They offer their fans the possibility of self-transmutation.
Miley Cyrus is the latest to claim the bad girl crown. With a waning Moon conjunct Pluto in Scorpio in the 6th house, it may be that she has work to do around her representations of sexuality. (See Chart 2, at right.) There was a great outcry after her graphic sexual mime on stage at the VMA awards. Shorn of her luxuriant brown locks, bent over like an animal in rut, poking Robin Thicke’s genitals with a foam finger, tongue lolling out, Miley provoked almost everyone. Naturally, her songs have sold extremely well as a result.
It is probably too soon to tell whether Miley is “being abused” by the music industry or is simply “making history,” as she claimed was her intention. Her videos are overtly sexual, playful, highly eroticized. It’s interesting that she has the same grouping of four planets as Madonna — Sun, Moon, Mercury, Pluto — but in the opposite part of the chart. While Miley has a waning Moon, Madonna, who represented something entirely new for a female artist, was born under a waxing New Moon. Miley, born in the dark of the Moon, might be identified with a different kind of archetypal energy, embodying the extremes of the Pluto in Scorpio generation. In the same way, Gaga, under Saturn transits to her Moon–Pluto, had a hip injury and surgery in early 2013, which may suggest that she has taken on something greater than she can handle.
Miley Cyrus became one of the wealthiest teen stars ever, thanks to her role in Disney’s Hannah Montana. In the series, she lived a double life: ordinary, dark-haired Miley and the blondewigged rock star Hannah. It seems that Miley felt compelled to kill off her own alter ego. Her Sun square Black Moon Lilith is also a significant aspect in her chart. (7) Just as Lilith turned her back on paradise and was then demonized, so Miley chose to walk away from the Disney paradise. Her talent is clear on songs like “We Can’t Stop,” and the video manages to be erotic and tonguein- cheek at the same time. Her videos portray her less as a powerful woman than a naughty girl grabbing the freedom to break all the rules (in keeping with her natal Venus–Uranus conjunction). Perhaps this is a step towards claiming her power. Moon–Pluto plays on both sides of the power spectrum; it can also be overpowered, enslaved, captive. It will be interesting to see how Miley evolves, whether Moon–Pluto controls her or whether she is the one who directs its energy.
Our own Moon affects the field of others, just as the Earth’s Moon creates the waves in the sea. In a musician’s chart, the watery Moons, and those ruled by Venus and Jupiter, seem to have the greatest impact on others, along with aspects to Jupiter and the outer planets. In the chart of a musician, the Moon draws people to the music; it affects the tide of popular feeling. Perhaps a musician’s popularity is linked to this ability to enter into our inner landscape, to move currents both individual and collective, whether in revolt, affirmation, joy, or longing.
References and Notes
(All URLs were accessed in December 2013.)
- 1. www.huffingtonpost.com/rita-altman-rn/music-and-memory_b_3639805.html
- 2. www.nytimes.com/2010/11/29/arts/music/29sinatra.html
- 3. Thomas M. Pryor, "Rise, Fall, and Rise of Sinatra," in The New York Times Magazine, February 10, 1957.
- 4. Zadie Smith, “Some Notes on Attunement: A Voyage around Joni Mitchell,” in The New Yorker, December 17, 2012, reproduced at http://jonimitchell.com/library/view.cfm?id=2543
- 5. Ibid.
- 6. Ibid.
- 7. Note that Joni Mitchell also has the Sun square Black Moon Lilith. She walked away from Laurel Canyon and Graham Nash’s proposal of marriage, as she did from her first husband, then walked away from the folk style she had originated.
© 2015 Lynn Bell – all rights reserved. Do not copy or reprint without written permission from the author.