I went to a small town Christian school when I was growing up. In middle school (it was the late 80s), we had a two or three week course in music class about “back-masking” and the dangers of devil worship in music. Do people even know about “back-masking” anymore? It was this idea that artists were trying to sneak satanic backwards messages into music that would sneakily turn our young minds into fertile soil for demonic possession — Or worse: Little Metal Heads. I didn’t really understand how education worked back then, but looking back, I’m pretty sure our school purchased the curriculum. It had parts of songs on tape that followed the worksheets… I can still remember them playing a song backwards that clearly said NOTHING but gibberish, but a woman saying, “DID YOU HEAR THAT?!? It said, ‘My Satan,'” when it sounded way more like “My ass Nathan.” They told us to fear the Beatles because George Harrison changed “Hallelujah” to “Hare Krishna” in “My Sweet Lord” (with the woman’s voice saying, “And now we see who his REAL Lord is”). And it explained that The Eagles “Hotel California” was all about being caught up in devil worship… Which freaked me right out, because I’d known every damn word of that song since I was about 6 years old.
Somehow, we all knew it was all nonsense, but it was also effective at the same time. A lot of that stuff stuck with me. Music was a secret pathway Satan would use to GET you. For a very long time, I wouldn’t sing the part of Alice In Chains “Man In The Box” where it said, “Jesus Christ, deny your maker,” even though that song was SO rad (later I justified singing it because the next line says, “He who tries will be wasted”). When my uncle lent me his Audi to drive for my prom date, he put some disks in the 6-Disk Changer — probably stuff he thought I would think was cool — and because I heard Eric Clapton sing about cocaine and later heard The Grateful Dead sing about Casey Jones “driving that train, high on cocaine,” I was like, “Welp that settles it… My uncle is clearly doing cocaine.” Early in college I refused to listen to The Dead because I was convinced they were trying to get me to smoke pot. Which… I mean, who knows? That one might have been real. Either way, I had bought into the whole thing. I read “This Present Darkness” and a bunch of other Frank E. Peretti books. I was officially worried about Satan. And the thing is, if the devil can get you with backwards gibberish that you can’t even perceive, how much more can FORWARD words be used by Satan?!? It made singing The Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” a very risky prospect…
So when Christians found out that Lil Nas X’s gay black ass slid down a pole into hell to give Satan a lap dance (before killing him, it deserves to be noted) in his new music video, I can tell you that much of their fear is very real. It’s not all just performative. I can clearly remember the time in my life where such a thing would have made me clutch my pearls and cry out in Helen Lovejoy-esque fashion: “WON’T SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!”
If you don’t already know, Lil Nas X — creator of what is arguably the biggest song of all time “Old Town Road,” which stayed at #1 for a record-breaking 19 consecutive weeks — released a video for his song “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” which featured (among other things) him pole dancing down into hell and giving Satan a lap dance. In addition, he sold 666 pairs of refurbished Nikes with red ink (and supposedly a drop of blood) in the air pockets. Conservative christians were NOT impressed, and very quickly a whole bunch of conservatives forgot how much they hated “Cancel Culture.”
These sorts of controversies are nothing new. When I was in 8th or 9th grade, releasing videos for songs was a way bigger deal, and that year Pepsi partnered with Madonna to release the video for “Like A Prayer” during prime time. The video had her dancing in front of burning crosses with her cleavage showing, had her hands bleeding & experiencing the stigmata, and had her making out with a Black man who was a religious statue come to life (I thought it was Black Jesus, but it turns out it was a representation of a Black Saint). The words “When you call my name, it’s like a little prayer. I’m down on my knees. I want to take you there” mixed religious and sexual imagery… Which — again — is nothing new. Poets have been doing this for centuries. But the Pope got mad, called for a boycott of Madonna (and Pepsi by association), and Pepsi parted ways with Madonna… While letting her keep the money and all the press that came from the controversy.
This is just more crap like Cardi B and the whole WAP controversy. It’s wringing hands about art while ignoring actual injustice. That Eric Clapton “Cocaine” song that convinced me my uncle was on cocaine? That song was from 1977. Every classic rock channel plays it. Just like they play “Whole Lot Of Love” by Led Zeppelin, which says, “Gonna give you every inch of my love” and “Lord, shake for me girl. I want to be your backdoor man.” Have you ever listened to the lyrics of “Squeeze Box” by The Who? “Pearl Necklace” by ZZ Top? But when BLACK artists sing about sex — especially Black women, and now Gay Black artists — white conservative christians act like 1) this is something new in music, and 2) it’s somehow more dangerous to our poor, pure children who should never learn anything about sex until their junior year of college, like God intended. When Cardi B sings about her pussy, the world is going to hell in a hand basket… But when Britney Spears sings about “Hit Me Baby, One More Time” or “I’m A Slave 4 U,” those same guys are making jokes about her “finally turning 18.”
People of Color will PLEAD to be believed about the fact that racism is a very real problem in America, and white folks will act like they are making things up to “play the victim”… But if Fox”News” tells them they need to be upset about a Lil Nas X video, they take it as gospel truth. When Morgan Wallen gets caught on video using the N-word, people excuse it by saying, “Well, he was drunk” (and it should be noted that the folks who think that alcohol somehow excuses people using the N-word are outing themselves as people ALSO drop the N-word after a few drinks. I’ve been drunk many times. The truth comes out when people start drinking. You know what I DON’T start doing when I’ve had a few too many? I don’t start dropping racial slurs. 100% of people who start using the N-word when they drink are people who also use the N-word when they are sober… If they feel “safe” enough). Eric Clapton is a great guitar player, but he is RACIST AS HELL. And it doesn’t get a whole lot of press. He once stood on stage and railed to his audience about “keeping Britain white.” Here are his words:
“Do we have any foreigners in the audience tonight? If so, please put up your hands. So where are you? Well, wherever you are, I think you should all just leave. Not just leave the hall, leave our country. I don’t want you here, in the room or in my country… Listen to me, man! I think we should send them all back… Stop Britain from becoming a black colony. Get the foreigners out. Get the wogs out. Get the coons out. Keep Britain white.”
That’s Eric Clapton — One of the most venerated, celebrated artists in music… A man who considers himself a Blues musician, and a white man who has made millions playing music created by black American artists.
A lot of people who call themselves christians are afraid of Satan. We were RAISED to be afraid of him… But we are a lot less afraid when we’re educated. And like with so many things, this christian fascination and focus on Satan is the result of bad theology. When you actually study the history of the Christian beliefs about Satan, you see how different cultures have influenced this idea of a personification of an opposition to God. You learn about the influences of Zoroastrianism (and its idea of Angra Mainyu) on Jewish thought… You learn about how often the word “satan” (which means “accuser”) was used in the Hebrew scriptures without actually referring to an idea of “the devil”… You learn about non-canonical representations and stories about Satan… You learn about how a primitive mind would credit every disability or disease to “demonic” influence and possession… You are forced to struggle with stories like Job, where God bargains with the Devil and lets him kill all of Job’s family, just to prove a point… Sometimes I think the real Satan is a lack of the ability by Christians to understand metaphors. It is all very fascinating, but mostly it’s just frustrating.
Key & Peele made a skit about two Black church women talking about what they’re going to do to Satan (with their prayers) if he doesn’t leave their family members alone. It is hilarious to me now, but the me from 20 years ago would’ve been threatened by it. It would have felt sacrilegious because it didn’t take Satan seriously. Anyway, I want you to see it… It is ridiculous and offensive and wonderful.
Please focus your concern. There actually are things to worry about right now. Imagine worrying about a gay, Black artist (a young man who has been told for years that he’s hell-bound, and abused by the Church’s toxic, hateful position toward our LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters) twerking on Satan in a music video, while not being bothered by a police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck and slow-motion murdering him while he is hand-cuffed on the ground. What an exercise in missing the forest for the trees. It’s like seeing someone murder a bunch of kids in a school, and getting upset about what his T-shirt says. If you’re looking for Satan, here’s where to find him: We have republican state legislatures all around the country working to strip rights from people who are LGBTQIA+… We have a pandemic that has killed over half a million Americans, while morons like Marjorie Taylor Greene act like lifting heavy things will keep people from catching COVID… We have concerted efforts by states to make it harder for People of Color to vote… I live in a state that is trying (AGAIN) to make the Bible the “official state book,” while it is also trying to criminalize homelessness… We just had our third mass shooting in two weeks… We are poisoning our oceans and polluting & warming our planet to the point life on earth is in danger… Meanwhile, you’d think the real threat to Christians is a Lil Nas X video. But there is nothing more “Satanic” in America than hatred, bigotry, racism, ignorance, & indifference in Jesus’ name. And that includes a music video where a gay man gives Satan a lap dance.
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I remember when Andrae Crouch worked with Madonna on “Like a Prayer” and Christians lost their minds. We weren’t allowed to listen to secular radio stations growing up because my mom heard a Barry White song once and about had a heart attack because he kept singing doing it until you’re satisfied. She missed the part where he sang, “Whatever it is.” My parents ended up at a church that did a whole thing about backward masking when I was in high school, which I went to, and now I can’t listen to “Another One Bites The Dust” without hearing “my sweet Satan.” It rattled me at the time, but it was so ridiculous.
All of this was over 40 years ago. Sheesh. Sometimes it seems like Christians never learn.
I hadn’t heard about “Another One Bites The Dust.” I’m going to go look that up…
That one might have been “start to smoke marijuana, hey, hey!” Which I didn’t do until it was legal and I was in my 50’s and smoking marijuana on my sister’s patio. I think “my sweet Satan” was “Stairway to Heaven.”
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