By The Landlord
“We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell.” – Oscar Wilde
“Gossip is the devil's radio.” – George Harrison
“Don't you know there ain't no devil, it's just God when he's drunk.” – Tom Waits
“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.” – William Shakespeare
“Who are you then?"
"I am part of that power which eternally wills evil and eternally works good.” ― Goethe, Faust.
“Why should the devil have all the best tunes?” – George Whitfield
“I don't give the devil credit for creating nothing.” – Little Richard
Some years ago, in the 1990s, I attended the wedding of an old work colleague in a village in rural Suffolk. I hardly knew anyone there except one particular friend. But a good time was had by all, and such was the idyllic beauty of the area, some people had booked an extra night at a pub hotel. The next night, after the main event, the merriment generally continued, and chatting to a few locals in the pub, word went round that there was a fabulous big party in a large house a couple of miles down the road. Sure enough a few people jumped in a car, and we arrived. It was indeed a fantastic looking event - a big house, Victorian or older, a large iron gate, with a large lawn and various box hedges in the shapes of animals, a gravel path, a big oak door and a huge hall with a massive chandelier, and large living room with a open fire, some candles, everything slightly ramshackle, large windows, red velvet curtains, packed with people, drinking, dancing, flirting.
Single at the time, I had particularly noticed one woman who had glanced at me a couple of times, and was keen to explore the possibilities of what might happen. We exchanged a few words, the dancing continued, with some of it more than convivial. It felt like one of those frenzied adventures where you’d entered a parallel world where everyone clicked, where all was harmonious, drunken, ecstatic, a whirlwind of easy spontaneity. But then a couple of hours later something changed. The atmosphere suddenly seemed odd. It was still very busy, and although everybody still seemed normal and perfectly friendly, it just didn’t feel right.
I don’t know whether I had drunk or taken something that didn’t agree with me, or if it was the lighting, or the temperature, but then coming out of the toilet, I bumped into my friend and he said he felt it too. Then in that corridor, we noticed that on one of the tables was a the skull of a bull with a candle inside it. On the wall were some disturbing pictures that I couldn’t quite work out in the shadowy corridor. They seemed to depict scenes of, well, unspecific violence and death. Entering the hallway, a rug had been pulled back, and something strange was on the floor. I laughed at first, because it looked like such a cliche - a five-point triangular sigil. But then as we went back into the party room, it was suddenly very dark, and I could see that people were moving in a particular way, more in a circle. I started to edge towards the door. Then my friend found a light switch. And suddenly, in that moment of illumination, we saw that almost everyone in the room was wearing animal masks, the majority with goats’ skulls. I nearly shat myself.
We turned and ran, screams and laughter coming from behind us. Was this all a joke, or serious? We didn’t wait to find out. No drug is stronger than adrenaline, and we absolutely legged it – down the road, across a hedge, and eventually back to the pub, now closed. We had a key to the hotel section through, and after a few words of disbelief, went to our rooms, half laughing, half terrified, then doors firmly locked. Exhausted, I passed out as soon as I hit the pillow, then woke up in a sweat two hours later around 5am, got up, and knocked on my friend’s door. It was empty. He’d already gone, so I left too, getting the first train home. I tried to call my friend later that day, but couldn’t get hold of him. I tried several times, but no response. Later I discovered he’d moved, but no one knew his new address. I’ve never heard from or spoken to him again.
I don’t know whether to joke about this now, or still think of it as genuinely frightening experience. In retrospect I fantasise about turning around at that house, putting on the Ghostbusters theme and shouting, “I ain’t afraid of no goats.”
Still the whole thing was a bit like a scene from the even more terrifying Ben Wheatley horror film, Kill List. Watch it at your peril.
So then, what the devil is going on this week? Well, aside from a crazy experience in the countryside, it’s all supposed to be a bit of Halloween-themed fun. It’s best not to pander to seasonal themes, but this time, what the hell? As we get towards Christmas, perhaps it will be time to tell the story of the dyslexic devil worshipper who sold his soul to Santa.
Anyway, this week’s new theme is the Devil, Satan, Lucifer or whatever other name you have for him. The concept of the devil seeps into our culture in forms, in all sorts of gnarly, horned, black, red, hellish or fall-from-heaven ways, and natural counter to the heavenly and divine.
Who is the devil and where is he? The devil can have all kinds of associations. The Devil’s Elbow refers to place names across the world, usually involving a bend in rivers or roads, from the US to Canada, Australia and the UK, but in particular Scotland’s mountain pass on the A93 between Glen Shee, Perthshire, and Braemar, Aberdeenshire, which includes a notoriously dangerous double hairpin.
Does the devil really know the best tunes? Talking of elbows, long before the story of blues great Robert Johnson meeting the devil at the crossroads to gain his talent, there was a musician who predated him with that association. The virtuoso violinist Niccolò Paganini’s elbow, not to mention fingers, were deemed to be linked to the devil because of his otherworldly ability and the Catholic church even denied him a burial in Genoa. The player remarked upon the general perception of him too:
“At Vienna, one of the audience affirmed publicly that my performance was not surprising, for he had distinctly seen, while I was playing my variations, the devil at my elbow, directing my arm and guiding my bow. My resemblance to the devil was a proof of my origin.”
Some argue devil has a hand in everything, not only in music, but also art, literature. David Bowie even said, perhaps with tongue in cheek, and taunting religious critics that: “Rock has always been the devil's music... I believe that rock & roll is dangerous... I feel that we're only heralding something even darker than ourselves.”
Yet that’s the attraction, and naturally when it comes to the devil, we’ve a packed audience at the Bar, figures from history, music, literature and more, all eager to say more about this topic. “If you make money your god, it will plague you like the devil,” warns Henry Fielding, waiting to get paid for his novel. “Fear is the dark room where the Devil develops his negatives,” says the actor Gary Busey, glancing at some pictures of himself. “Everything I was afraid of when I was growing up, I've become. I've taken on my nightmares, like the devil and the end of the world, and I've become those things,” says Marilyn Manson. Well, the devil certainly pays the bills.
Another person who cashed in on it, and has also been a source of many musicians, especially in the world of rock in the 60s, 70s and 80s, was that notorious early 20th-century figure Aleister Crowley: “I was not content to believe in a personal devil and serve him, in the ordinary sense of the word. I wanted to get hold of him personally and become his chief of staff.” Is Aleister working at the White House now, perchance?
Yet, if the myth of Robert Johnson holds any truth, the idea of the devil is also very attractive. Early jazz was also seen as that of the devil by suspicious white Christians across the deep south. “The Devil, can sometimes do a very gentlemanly thing,” says Robert Louis Stevenson. “Oh yes, says, Debbie Harry, turning a few heads as she enters the Bar. “You always fall for the rascal or the guy who's got a little bit of the devil in him. You can't help it.” The queue grows to buy her a drink.
The devil can also be very witty. One of the sharpest, ironically, comes in the book written by Christian allegory writer C.S. Lewis, best known for the children’s Narnia books. The Screwtape Letters, however, is dedicated to J. R. R. Tolkien, written in a satirical, epistolary style and is a series of correspondence between senior demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter.
“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out … Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. – Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.”
Satan, also know as Lucifer is a fallen angel, at least in terms of Milton’s Paradise Lost: “Farewell happy fields. Where joy forever dwells: Hail, horrors, hail,” as he puts it, and he does have all the best lines, and Shakespeare echoes this with: “Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell.” One great depiction of this comes in Buckethead’s wonderful video for Spokes For The Wheels of Torment an animation from that famous Hieronymus Bosch painting, look out for the falling Satan from heaven:
Falling from heaven is no bed of roses, or indeed is dealing with the devil afterwards. Here’s the comedian Emo Philips, who comes out with this wonderfully understated line: “Probably the worst time in a person's life is when they have to kill a family member because they are the devil. But otherwise it's been a pretty good day.”
Perhaps he’s referring to perhaps the scariest of scary devil films, more than the Omen, or Rosemary’s Baby. Nothing quite compares with the original The Exorcist and the devilishly deep voice of that fabulous actress Mercedes McCambridge.
So if you’re dealing with the devil, what’s the best tactic? We’ve brought in some top talents to tell us. “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.” says Martin Luther. and here’s Thomas Moore adding his advice: “The devil...the prowde spirite...cannot endure to be mocked.”
Taking that on board, let’s see how that goes with musical duel scene from Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny:
So is there a bit of the devil everything? As much evil as good? William Blake seems to think so. As he put it:
“When the stars threw down their spears
And watered heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”
– The Tyger, from Songs of Innocence and of Experience
Charles Baudelaire broadens the picture more with this:
“The Devil pulls the strings which make us dance;
We find delight in the most loathsome things;
Some furtherance of Hell each new day brings,
And yet we feel no horror in that rank advance.”
So then, pulling the strings that make us dance this week, and making the picks of our musical destiny, I’m delighted to announc that this week’s devilishly good judge of all Satin-based songs the one and only takeitawayGuru! Carefully place your offerings, burnt, slaughtered or otherwise, in comments below. The bell tolls for thee deadline at 11pm UK time, for playlists published on Wednesday. And no doubt, alongside all song nominations, damn fine they will be.
New to comment? It is quick and easy. You just need to login to Disqus once. All is explained in About/FAQs ...
Fancy a turn behind the pumps at The Song Bar? Care to choose a playlist from songs nominated and write something about it? Then feel free to contact The Song Bar here, or try the usual email address. Also please follow us social media: Song Bar Twitter, Song Bar Facebook. Song Bar YouTube. Subscribe, follow and share.