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I've been exposed to this hyper-evangelical view of popular music before.
In this discussion, I'm just going to put aside the fact that I don't think Satanism is a real threat, and that I basically consider it a fetishistic and harmless reaction to Christianity. I think that the actual religeon of satanism is largely populated by clever athiests / loser teenagers / silly confused pagan wannabes, and that the truly powerful and effective damagers of the world and souls are just selfish beings of every other major religion. A real player in the damage and power of the world would never choose a rhetorical vehicle as pathetic as Church of Satan-style satanism.
So, for the purposes of this discussion, we're going to pretend that satanism itself, the worship of satan, is actually the fundamental damaging force in the world, and that music that glorifies satan is to be cast aside as a real agent of personal destruction. Okay?
I remember when I was a teenager, and a friend of mine played me a video his mom had exposed him to, about subtle satanic themes in modern pop music. I don't remember many of the examples, but I do remember one quite clearly. In the video, they mentioned it's often less threatening pop music that is the most likely to sway people to the devil. The example given?
Huey Lewis. I shit you not. The song specifically mentioned was Huey's masterpiece of satanic self-reliance: Jacob's Ladder. Parse the following:
"I met a fan dancer down in southside Birmingham
She was running from a fat man
Selling salvation in his hand.
Now he's trying to save me
Well I'm doing all right the best that I can."
Satanic. This lyric encourages people not to rely on Christ, our true salvation, and instead to seek it humbly themselves. Never mind the other connotations of this, or the reliability of this particular fat man's brand of salvation, this is clearly a rejection of salvation itself.
Okay, evangelical types are not known for their subtlety of humor, so let me say this plainly. I don't think this can be called by any realm satanic. I do not think Mr. Lewis is rejecting Christ here in this passage. I think he's telling a story. Do I think self-reliance is the theme of the story. Yes. Do I think cynical rejection of sources of real salvation is a theme as well? No, I don't. I don't think the fat man selling salvation in this song is meant to represent true spirituality, and I think someone making such a case is... childish.
However, this is not the point of my analysis today. The other day, SJ pointed me at an article accusing the lovely Neko Case of a clear satanic message in a song on her recent album "Hold On, Hold On".
So, let's cut to the crux with this quote about the song:
Neko case states, "Now it's the Devil I love." I have no doubt that she has some cute excuse for her praise of Satan, and I'm sure I'll receive some letters from her fans telling me that I don't understand her intent. Whatever her excuse, it is evil (from a Biblical perspective) for anyone to state that they "love the Devil."
- David J. Stewart
You think you might get such letters, eh David?
Let's just start with the idea, David, that there are different ways of expressing oneself through music, other than straightforwardly singing your opinion, just like you'd say it...but in rhyme. This is common in Christian music, I'll admit, but in other forms of artistic expression, the obvious has already been said, and people who create art in the modern world often employ a number of storytelling devices in order to point at ideas or feelings more complex or conflicted than can be said plainly.
Like for instance. Let's say I'm sitting in a chair watching a beautiful sunset, and thinking of my dead grandmother. Perhaps I wrote a poem about said moment, and it went like this:
I am sitting in a chair. I am watching a beautiful sunset.
It is orange.
I am happy to be sitting here, but I am also reminded of my dead grandmother.
I feel both happy and wistful.
Okay, that's actually not that bad as far a poems go... but really that's only one way I could express my feelings. I might try telling a story about my grandmother, and subtly weave in my observations about the sunset. Or... perhaps I don't mention my grandmother or the sunset at all.
One of these methods is to create a fictional character, and tell a story about that character's feelings. This is quite a popular method, for instance when Alice Cooper sang about being 18, in his song, 18, Alice Cooper was not in fact 18. Now Cooper's song is not a particularly subtle expression. He's making a pretty ham-handed point about youth that both his fans, and evangelical christians STILL took at face value.
It still cracks me up when I think about a Pink Floyd documentary where Roger Waters is telling how they still get letters complaining about the song "Money" as if the song were a real tribute to money and not, in fact, actually verifiably ironic.
So now the song, Hold On, Hold On. First of all, I'm going to offer the song in mp3 in case you'd like to listen to it, and you can read the lyrics over at the article in question. I actually love this song, which must be why I'm so confounded at this dunderheaded response.
So, I'll just come right out and say it. I don't think that Neko Case is literally saying that she loves the Devil. I think this is the story of a troubled woman who has a drug and alcohol problem. Neko Case tends to always sing in character, and usually about dark and murderous themes. Is it because she is a murderer? Probably not.
So let's go back to David's canonical example, Sympathy for the Devil. I guess it never even occurred to me that this actually was a kind of satanic expression. Or, the Grateful Dead singing, "A friend of the devil is a friend of mine." It always struck me as a kind of jaded weariness. In character.
The same here in Hold On, Hold On. I'm not 100% sure what her character means, but I just don't see how a case can be made that this song is an unvarnished praise to satan. These are rich songs based on a dark tradition of country and rockabilly and I think they have more to say than that.
So, David, I don't mind you saying the Bible should be interpreted as a literal word of God, no matter how complex or conflicting the overall message, but must we take pop music lyrics at the same kind of literal face value? Especially from musicians known for their complex storytelling?
What if one wrote a play about a man struggling with Satan. What if the actor had a line where he states that he loves the Devil, but is then later in the play redeemed? Is the actor who says such a line in a play acting by some satanic expression by being in this Christian play? Is the playwright? Even if his purpose is ultimately to tell a salvation story?
Please tell me there's still a little room for complex exploration of how difficult and multifaceted it is to be a citizen of this planet. Please David, I know there's a lot of people out there thinking about music and culture this way, but I ask you to reconsider Neko Case.
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