… and I said hello Satan I believe it’s time to go
He does get all the best tunes y’know… quite possibly the most iconic image in modern music belongs to him, the ambitious blues player kneeling at the crossroads waiting for the black carriage to roll past and the bony finger to beckon from the half-open window. Robert Johnson was a bad guitar player, everyone said so, then he disappeared for several months and came back a God (I like the way Holy Greil Marcus writes about Johnson but that’s another matter)… Son House and Willy Brown watched the kid they’d seen play harmonica and mangle a guitar borrow a chair and play better than either of them… everyone knew there’s only one place talent like that comes from, and it isn’t hard work and prayer.
So the devil is to blame for Rock n Roll, both in that everyone from Clapton to Page and every permed prima-donna in between worshipped at Robert’s black altar, but also if anything more tangibly because they indulged every sexual license, every drunked collapse, every finger-raising conflagration of talent conceived by their progenitor… they took the full course of bad medicine, got drunk on the wicked cough syrup and blazed the message across the radio, across countless ball-parks previously consecrated to a family game, to honest working class pursuits. They even tried to kill each other in public, kill themselves in private (a few succeeded after many moons)… They were long suicides, but make no mistake, even if you labour a lifetime over it, it’s still viewed as a sin.
Jesus, they were even writing songs about it… who knows maybe they aren’t allegorical, maybe I’ve missed the point. Maybe Robert Johnson did hear Satan knocking at his door one morning, and then go and beat his woman because the Devil had pussy-whipped him for his soul. I’ve travelled Greyhound, there’s no escape there – if the devil needs transportation that’s how he travels, with the freshly released ex-convicts, the unemployed, the soul-less, the curious tourist.
I’m not scared… the compact disc has denied me the opportunity to spin songs backwards, I have no idea if the drum solo from ‘In–a–gadda–da–vida’ opens up a portal to hell if you reverse it (it’s Rock and a-roll as the Rev. Lovejoy says)… those kids who shot each other after listening to Judas Priest I can understand, I feel the need to take my life once I get within a mile of the outskirts of Birmingham, so to have that chewy accent infringe on the crepuscular American desert must have been a shock… that’s what happens when you get shocked with a loaded weapon in your hand. So there he was again, dancing around the campfire, wishing that the Brummie acolytes weren’t quite so ugly (if I was the Lord of the Flies and Master of the Underworld, I might bemoan the fact that less than 10% of girls look good in their chosen uniform of black PVC and netting – attitude isn’t enough, not for this Prince of Darkness).
Even in Moscow the devil should have brought a song – that’s the only problem with Bulgakov’s account, there isn’t enough singing. The Cat should have been providing filthy arias on the trams, whiskers whisked around the city, trailing dirty lyrics as he went. That’s how it works, God gets everything else; poetry, prose, worship – the devil gets song and dance. Fred Astaire once butchered a girl to ensure he nailed a scene next day – or so I heard. Everywhere you have to be on your guard, the advance of Christian rock has been mighty, the ark is paraded around the city walls every day, and soon they might fall: to the concept of the Song, which seemed exhausted, they added the complexities of evil and misfortune.
Chief exorcist of Rome, Fr. Gabriel Amorth, in his 1992 book Nuovi racconti di un esorcista (published in English under the somewhat ambiguous title ‘An Exorcist – More stories’) has much to teach us. The place of the Big Black in music today is fourfold:
“Beat – The first important item is the rhythm, called ‘beat’ which mimics the sexual act. Abruptly, the listeners are caught up in a frenzy designed to produce a sort of hysteria. It is the result of the sexual instinct, which is aroused through the use of the beat.
Volume intensity – The volume is deliberately set to at least 7 decibels above the tolerance level of our nervous system… We become victims of a well-devised and calculated strategy to bypass the nervous system and achieve a precise goal: to bring the audiences into a state of disorder and frenzy. At this point the listeners, in a frenzy to actualise the beat, the rhythm they have heard all evening risk being lured as new recruits into the ranks of Satan’s apprentices, and then the songwriters will have realised their ultimate goal.
Subliminal Signal – Subliminal signals are transmitted at such a high pitch that we are unable to hear them. The brain produces a natural drug as a result of the stimuli it receives… This strange feeling induces us to seek real drugs and causes drug addicts to increase their intake.
Ritual consecration during a Black Mass – Before each record is released on the market, it is consecrated to Satan through a ritual that is a true black mass.”
So be careful out there, the pitfalls are clearly more than anyone had any right to anticipate. Shaking your hips in the wrong direction may lead to the loss of your immortal soul (if you haven’t signed it away already when you filled in the credit card slip for your purchase of ‘Justified’…