Rick Rubin Remembers The Toxicity Lyric That Could Have Ended System Of A Down
System frontman Serj Tankian shares why it matters where a tapeworm is removed from in the song "Needles"
System Of A Down’s 2001 album Toxicity was home to the song “Needles” and the somewhat controversial lyric “Pull the tapeworm out of your ass.”
Two decades later, Toxicity producer and music legend Rick Rubin remembers the epic fight that this caused. Reminiscing on his Broken Record podcast with System of A Down frontman Serj Tankian, they say that it was merely the pronoun used in the tapeworm lyric that caused the band to go nuts.
“Originally, the chorus was ‘Pull the tapeworm out of my ass.’ Daron [Malakian] and Shavo [Odadjian] didn’t like ‘my ass,’” Tankian tells Rubin.
Tankian argues that using “my” was supposed to be philosophical like the negativity was being extracted from him. However, that was a bit too vulnerable for his fellow bandmates.
“And all we had to do was change it to ‘your.’ ‘Pull the tapeworm out of your ass.’ ‘My’ became ‘your’ and then in the middle part where I’m singing nicely, ‘Pull the tapeworm out of me,’ they were okay with that. You probably thought, ‘These guys are fucking nuts,’” the singer told Rubin.
“It was so extreme, but it speaks to the passion in the band,” Tankian added. There’s real passion that’s amazing. The fact that a lyric, an insignificant… one word and arguably comical line is enough to potentially break up a band or discard a great song.”
Tankian admits, “I like showing vulnerability in our music. I don’t mind showing it, because I think, as an artist, you’re vulnerable either way. You either show it or you don’t. But the metal attitude is, ‘No way, dude. No way, we’re metal!’ I think that’s what it was more than anything else.”
Listen to Broken Record below.
Tankian has never had an issue mixing vulnerability with his metal side. He showed that on his latest solo EP, Elasticity. While the songs were originally written five or six years ago for System Of A Down, Tankian found that they “couldn’t see eye to eye creatively and philosophically to move forward with the idea of a record.” Read SPIN’s recent interview with Tankian here.
He also argues in an interview with NME that “a good band always has a lot of dynamics” and wouldn’t change a thing about System Of A Down.
Listen to “Needles” and the tapeworm lyric below.