The Devil’s Musicby Tamlin Wightman / 13.10.2010
Warning: content may be offensive to Christians and disco dancers.
Frank Zappa was the devil’s advocate. “We have our own worshippers who are called groupies,” he said, “Girls who give their bodies to musicians as you would a sacrifice to a god.”
Rock and religion were long time enemies before, God help us, Christian rock emerged. Lennon said of the Beatles: “We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity?” Cue a spate of middle American record burning parties. Put primally: religion is about rules and rock breaks them. Repression requires rebellion. “Whenever society gets too stifling and the rules get too complex, there’s some sort of musical explosion,” says Slash of Guns ‘n Roses.
The Doors’ Jim Morrison was labelled Satanic in the 1960s. “Father, yes son, I want to kill you. Mother…I want to…fuck you,” he bellows in “The End”. Maybe the most Oedipal reference in rock. “Expose yourself to your deepest fear,” Jim said, “after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.” Yeah, baby.
The Devil’s Music does make sin happen. When it’s good. When it’s dirty and raw and right. Good rock can return you to the animal in you. Makes the lizard brain rise. But it’s repression that stokes the heat. Marilyn Manson didn’t cause the Columbine Killings. Repression did. Kids trapped in themselves. Their own limits. The limits of school and cliques and unacceptance.
Frank Sinatra was right when he dismissed rock ‘n roll as brutal, ugly, desperate and vicious. He didn’t like Elvis stealing his airtime. And that’s precisely what I love about it. Sure you get the odd idiotic head bitten off bats incident. Peanut butter smeared all over Iggy. GG Allin shitting onstage. But that’s not all there is to the music.
Rock festivals are vital. They’re restorative. From Rocking the Daisies to Oppikoppi. You’ll see lawyers, bank tellers, accountants and teachers roll in. And bands appear. All the hoary old rock elements in place. Still working. Phallic guitars. Microphone poles. The sweat. Electric riffs and crooning. The sex. Oh God yeah the sex.
Jazz, heavy metal, hip hop – most genres – have been condemned down the years by the righteous. The Blues was low-down music played by the rural poor scratching lives out of the dirt. Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads to play it. Hear him and you’ll know he got a bargain!
Rock is a “world of compromised values and diminished brain cells that you throw away like confetti,” says the mom in Richard Linklater’s wonderfully sun-kissed trawl through rawk culture in Almost Famous. She’s right. Get dirty. Get liquoured. As Ozzy once said: “All the bad things that ever happened to me were attributed to drugs and alcohol. I mean, I would never urinate on the Alamo at nine o’clock in the morning dressed in a woman’s evening dress sober!” You don’t need booze though to wake up covered in deep purple bruises and dried blood next to the bassist of some nameless band. On a stolen mattress. R1000 poorer with a splitting headache and lewd drawings on your chest in permanent marker.
I’ve seen some demeaning things at rock concerts. Bra throwing, streaking, brawls. Suicidal stage diving. Rampant promiscuity. Vomiting. The problem is when the music stops. When the booze and drugs run out. When the Come Down hits. Rock ‘n roll is not your life.
The singers, drummers and bassists who deflowered you say they have someone back home so you’d better not kiss and tell. Don’t expect some kind of follow up romance. This was your One Night Stand with the Devil. Now buy the CD.
Über groupie, Penny Lane, says it best in Almost Famous, “I always tell the girls, never take it seriously, if you never take it seriously, you never get hurt, you always have fun, and if you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends.” Rock on.