Sympathy for the Devil?

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Krist Novoselic's column on music and politics runs every Tuesday on the Daily Weekly. He is also a regular contributor to Reverb, our music blog.
Everyone knows that rock music is synonymous with rebellion. When I was a teenager, I not only cranked my stereo because I loved to rock out--I wanted to send a message to a world that I thought was insane.

I was 15, and the first Black Sabbath song I heard was "Iron Man." That riff was so heavy--even more than Deep Purple's epic "Smoke on the Water." Sabbath not only played heavy music; as the band's name itself suggests, they alluded to the occult.

My Sabbath discovery took place in 1980, a time when cable television was growing, and our family switched from an antenna to a converter on top of the wood-paneled console TV. Among the many new channels was a local religious broadcaster. While channel-surfing, I would always flip over the televangelists. To my surprise one day, I came across a program on the religious station that featured much of the music I loved. The narrator wasn't as impressed by the music as I was: He was pointing out what he saw as the connections between rock music and Satanism.

Authorities and naysayers such as him completely missed the point of rock and roll, an art form with a narrative arch in which they were the villains, not the cherry-cheeked singers and guitarists.

This particular show pulled out some of the classic rock-as-Satanism tricks: They played Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" backwards and claimed the lyrics said "I love you, sweet Satan." They showed AC/DC's Highway to Hell album cover, with Angus Young as a demon and the late Bon Scott wearing a pentagram necklace. And there was the cover of the "new" Black Sabbath record, Born Again. I thought, Whoa! Black Sabbath has a new record? The next day I went out and bought it!!! I had already moved past my KISS phase--but I never made the connection, as the program did, that the band's name is an acronym for Knights in Satan's Service.

This anti-rock TV program didn't turn me off at all to the music that I loved. I never seriously bought into the demonic imagery in music anyway. In the early 1970s, a lot of rock music had this Tolkienish aspect, tales of wizards and dragons, which to me all just seemed to be fantasy or like watching a horror movie.

The new wave of metal in the 1980s had all kinds of dark images. Celtic Frost, Iron Maiden, Slayer, and many other groups often evoked the prince of darkness. I have a limited knowledge of Satanism. It seems to me that people like Aleister Crowley and Anton LaVey were mostly promoting hedonism--no wonder Satanism is alluded to so often in rock.

We played the heck out of Ozzy's Blizzard of Oz in 1980, and I still have that record! Three years later, I got into a new kind of strange and dark music. Flipper's Album: Generic Flipper was spooky and esoteric. It wasn't about Mr. Crowley anymore. Generic's liner notes alluded to Dr. Wilhelm Reich, a radical psychiatrist who had controversial ideas about sex. Punk could be another thing to believe in, and this school of music seemed to have its own prophets.

Regardless of what kind of rock you were into, one of the goals was clear - piss off your parents, teachers and other authorities that drove you crazy.

 
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