Location, Location, Location:

A Study in Triple Rhythm





Philip Robert Liebson


Chicago Literary Club


March 2, 2007


Ó2007   by Philip R. Liebson














                         Location, Location, Location


    When I was assigned this topic, I was in somewhat of a quandary. I am not in real estate and cannot give testimony to what sells. Perhaps I could discuss some of my favorite vacation spots, but no, conveyance of one’s ideal locations is sometimes met with amazement or boredom by others. On the other hand, it is possible that I could go back in time and discuss past scenes that might evoke memories in others, such as Henrici’s or the old Federal Building, or the old West Side Park. Unfortunately, I was not there to see them.

     Then I got to thinking, why “Location, Location, Location”, why not “Location, Location”, or “Location, Location, Location, Location”. That got me on a quest to search the internet literature on signs of the 3 [Arthur Conan Doyle missed by one]., Of course, there are the four horsemen of the apocalypse but Alexandre Dumas got it right when he left D’Artagnan out of the four musketeers for his title. In oratory, what has been called the rhythmic triple is well known: The pithy “veni, vidi, vici,” or “of the people, by the people, for the people”.  In more elaborate style Churchill orated: “…Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few”. In more prosaic terms, Governor Mark Schwieker of Pennsylvania in 2002 used this device in demanding a safety explanation after a mining company disaster:” The company owed an explanation “…to the miners, to their families, and to me”. Or in another case, two groups of three words, a triple meter: “Read my lips, no new taxes”.

     Of course, the ideal example of triple meter is the Gertrude Stein motto: “Rose is a rose is a rose”. According to Time magazine Sept 11, 1933, when a Cleveland reader asked Ms. Stein to explain its meaning, a reply was received from Alice B. Toklas as follows: “The device rose is a rose is a rose means just that. Miss Stein trusts that you will eventually come to understand that each and every word that she writes means exactly what she says, for she says exactly what she means, and really nothing more, but of course nothing less”.

    The use of triple rhythm, triplets, and three of a kind has a long history in American folklore and superstition, and in the history of religions. Take American culture: Frequently, popular old songs have a 3 fold use of a phrase: “John Brown’s body lies a moulderin’ in the grave….”; “Polly put the kettle on…(we’ll all have tea)”. Lost my partner what’ll I do… (skip to my Lou, my darling).”   Nursery rhymes and songs use a thrice repeated phrase frequently: “Mary had a little lamb”, “London bridge is falling down”, “Do you know the muffin man”, and “Here we go round the mulberry bush”.

     American superstition uses the number three prominently: “Three times a bridesmaid, never a bride” “No three on a match” are examples. Presumably the latter has been attributed to American doughboys during the First World War.  Other evidence attributes the expression to the British during the Crimean War, who learned from captured Russian soldiers that the sacred rule of the Orthodox Church was that 3 tapers on a candle were not to be lit from a single taper. Or possibly that during the Boer War, when three cigarettes were lighted from the same match, the Boer sniper had time to spot the light, take aim and fire, killing the third man.

      Ah, the third man! The third man theme both in music and cinema has been quite popular- of course we are talking about the 1949 movie with Orson Welles playing a nefarious black marketeer in post-war Europe. This classic film noir was produced by a British studio but needed the financing and some of the actors from the United States to provide star status. Enter David O. Selznick, the Hollywood producer. He thought the idea for the film was great but despised the title “The Third Man”: “Who the hell is going to see a movie called ‘The Third Man’?” Graham Greene, the screenwriter replied: “Well, it’s a simple title, easily remembered”. Selznick recommended a title like “A Night in Venice”. Unfortunately, the film site was Vienna.    

     Getting back to basics, the number 3 itself seems to have mystic powers. Atomic number 3, lithium, is used as an explosive material in the hydrogen bomb and may eventually be the fuel for controlled nuclear reactors. There are the three primary colors, the three ages of man, and the three kingdoms: animal, vegetable, mineral. The three persons in grammar include all the relationships of mankind. The limits of human capability are thought, word, and deed. The surface of the earth is 1/3 earth, 2/3 water. The three great divisions of time are past present and future. Of course, our planet Earth is third from the sun, and there are until recently 3x3 or 9 planets before the Plutonian expulsion, but perhaps the Asteroids can be surrogates to keep the number stable. In exploring space, 3 stages of a rocket are necessary to achieve orbit. In earlier aeronautics, when Lindbergh soloed over the Atlantic to Paris in 1927, the Lone Eagle’s flight lasted – 33 1/3 hours!

        It took baseball 50 years of experimentation before it was decided that 3 strikes were out. Jokes usually require 3 action sequences, and frequently involve 3 characters. The simplest proposition usually requires a subject, predicate and object. To complete the simplest form of a formal argument, 3 conditions are required: a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion.

        In riddles, there are usually 3 chances to answer a question before you’re out or beheaded, as in the opera Turandot. Other expressions give further resonance to the number: Three sheets to the wind, three wise men, what I tell you three times is true [this should not be applied to politics], two’s company, three’s a crowd, the third degree, the English summer: three fine days and a thunderstorm, the eternal triangle, and “When shall we three meet again? …”

      The powers of 3 can be seen in such a simple organism as the bee. In 3 days the egg of the queen is hatched, it is fed in nine days (3x3), reaches maturity in 15 days (3x5), is at work 3 days after leaving its cell, and the drone matures in 24 days (3x8). The bee itself is composed of 3 sections, a head and two stomachs. It has 6 legs (3x2) each composed of 3 sections. The sting has 9 barbs on each side (3x3). The antennae consist of 9 sections (again 3x3).

    In traditional games, tic, tac, toe involves three in a row to win, there are 3 face cards, and in the game of hearts, 3 cards are passed to your neighbor.

    I can also apply the rule of 3 to my observations in the practice of preventive cardiology: I note that it is recommended that the diet should contain 30% fat, distributed 1/3 each of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats- with a diet of 300 mgm cholesterol. In fact, the Golden Mean itself includes the ratio 1/3 and 2/3. Of course, there are three major nutrients, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.

    In music, the triple pulse appears to stand out clearly, common in formal dance styles, the minuet or waltz or mazurka. In the 17th and 18th century, the Sarabande became a section of the baroque suite, a slow triple meter derived from a fast Spanish dance. This form has been revived in the 20th century by Debussy, Satie, Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten.

     The third movement of symphonies is classically triple metered, earlier in scherzo form.  National anthems are usually in double meter save for the British National Anthem – God Save the Queen , and America the Beautiful, which tend to be more lyrical, compared with the usually more martial double-metered national anthems such as the Marseillaise.

    In line with this lyricism, some of the most beautiful classical songs are in triple meter such as Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”. Franz Schubert’s lieder were usually in triple time. The lyricism of triple time is much less frequently used nowadays in contemporary songs but note the Beatles’ 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and “She’s Leaving Home”.

       Since antiquity, the sacredness the triad has permeated religious beliefs and superstitions. In many older concepts, the trinity signified the unity of mind, body and spirit. The symbol of the trident was used in the earliest known runic alphabet. In pictures from the Middle Ages, the sign was used to signify the spears of the devils or of Satan to torment sinners. Poseidon, the holder of the trident in ancient Greek lore, got his spear from the 3 sons of Uranus, whom the trident may signify. In Greece also one encounters the three fates, three furies and three graces.

     In mathematics, 3 lines are minimal to form a plane and 3 dimensions to form a solid. A most important significant plane is the triangle.  The triangle was important in ancient lore, associated with the holy, divine number 3. The Hittites used the symbol to signify well, good, and healthy. The ancient Greeks, in the words of Xenocrates in the 4th century BC, held the triangle to be the symbol of the Divinity. In Christianity, it is the symbol of the Holy Trinity. In the Middle Ages, upright or inverted triangles with various superimposed bars signified variously, the four elements, earth, air, fire and water. Currently, an inverted triangle is used in meteorology as indicating rain showers. An upright triangle is seen as a traffic sign indicating danger.

     Interlaced triangles constitute the star of David and in India the seal of Vishnu. These interlaced triangles in the form of a 6 pointed star have variously signified a sort of yin and yang, the polarity of nature, or male and female. The upward pointed triangle has represented spirit, consciousness and concealed wisdom, and in some cases has been depicted in white representing the light spirits of nature. The downward pointed triangle, has represented matter, space or revealed wisdom and depicted in black, the dark spirits.  

       In religion God’s attributes are three: omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence.

     The ancient Celts saw themselves in three different worlds, the past, the present, and the future, and gained knowledge from three entities, the faeries, the dead, and those yet to be born. In Celtic stories, male heroes travel in groups of three, each completing 1/3 of a task. In Celtic art, figures are grouped in clusters of three.   

     In Hinduism, three deities rule the world. Brahma is the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Siva the destroyer. Is it possible that Siva may represent the black hole destroying endless galaxies? Siva has 3 eyes representing the three worlds, sun, moon and earth, the three paths of liberation and the triple nature of creation. Three circles in an encompassing circle represents Chintamani, a sign of  happiness- the symbol  is also found in the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, in the Three Treasures of Tibet, on the breast of Christ in a Memling painting, on the shields of the crusaders and on the coat of arms of the Knights Templars. It is also seen on the swords of Japanese nobility. In modern times, the firm Mitsubishi means three diamonds.

      In Judeo-Christianity, in Genesis, the earth was caused to rise up out of the water on the third day, just as Jesus arose from the dead on the third day. Man’s greatest enemies are three,  the World, the Flesh, and the Devil.

     In the Old Testament, in Genesis, (18:2) when Jehovah appears before Abraham, he addresses the Deity as one or three persons. In God’s covenant to Abraham, the divine seal is seen in the choice of three animals, each three years old.

     There were three things Moses asked of God, that the Sakinah [calmness, tranquility and reassurance] might rest on Israel, that it might rest on none but Israel, and that God’s ways might be known to him. The communications between God and Israel were carried out by three, Moses, Aaron and Miriam. The Torah is divided into three parts, the Pentateuch, Prophets, and the Hagiographa. Oral law includes the Midrash, Halaka and Haggadah. The ancient Temple of Israel had the Court, the Holy Place and the Sanctuary. Ancient Israel itself was divided into three divisions, Priests, Levites and laymen. More recently France was divided into the Three Estates: aristocracy, the priesthood, and the masses – journalists excluded of course! Still more recently, we have the upper, middle and lower classes, at least for the present.

       The sign of the three is pervasive in Christianity. The Trinity of course, are three persons in one Godhead. In John 2:16, the threefold nature of temptation is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. The divinely perfect witnesses to the Grace of God on Earth include the Spirit, the water and the blood (John 5:7). The inscriptions on the cross were of three languages showing completeness of Jesus’s rejection by Man. The perfection of Jesus’ offices is shown in His being Prophet, Priest and King. He is the Good Shepherd in death, resurrection and glory. In both Judaism and Christianity, the Divinity is addressed as Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God almighty. In more recent times during the New Deal in the Roosevelt Brain Trust, political insiders changed this to Moley, Moley, Moley, after the supreme brain truster, Raymond Moley.

     So, there is every precedent for the term “location, location, location”. I will conclude with the formal ending of one of the most influential modern poems, the Waste Land, taken from the Upanishad- 

       Shantih, Shantih, Shantih – The Peace which passeth understanding- and I wish you all peace-three times!