The Devil’s Music

I have such a love/exasperated (can’t say ‘hate’- I ‘d never hate them) relationship with U2.  They have made some of my favourite music.  Seriously.  So many of their songs figure prominently in the continually developing soundtrack that is my life.  But man, some of the stuff that comes out of Bono’s mouth these days…

The other day Pete Yorn- a fabulous singer-songwriter who I follow on the Facebook (seriously, check him out.  Great stuff)- was asking people to name their fave U2 song.  It got me thinking.  There are a whole lot of great ones to choose from.  As I say, they are a formative/foundational band in the development of my youthful love of music.

This one is near the top:

‘Don’t believe the Devil, I don’t believe his book’

Sure, the song is (at least partly) about the unauthorized biography/biographer of John Lennon, but the imagery of the devil and ‘his’ book is just tootoo apt, in my humble opinion.  The creators/recorders/redactors of the mythology, theodicy, rules and rituals of diverse and often-disparate biblical literature assigned a whole load of culpability to one figure- and those minions who chose to follow him in rebellion.

‘But the truth is not the same without the lies he made up.’

We use the devil to illustrate the opposite of what is ‘right’ and proper.  Without him- and the many ‘wrongs’ he manages to consistently and continually tempt us to execute- we have a great deal of difficulty determining proper course.

It isn’t enough that we have long lists of things we are supposed to be doing- whether those things are mandated by religious command or communal laws and consensus- we are, apparently, so easily influenced that we require constant and ever-changing (these things are culturally relative, after all) examples of ways not to behave.

These bad things are fluid to a ridiculous degree.  Unlike the larger prohibitions that are written into our legal systems- the big stuff like murder, theft, property damage (although even these things can be ‘condoned’ in specific- generally politicized- circumstances)- elements of our morality are subject to change according to the times and the ideology that holds the most power at any given time.

These actions are most often associated with that Devil Dude.  If a particular group of people decides that, say, a type of music is the result of the persuasive intervention of an external entity messing with the ‘proper’ order of things, and if that group has money and power and the means to communicate this message of ‘evil’ to a community of followers… the Devil receives all credit for culpability of origin.  The behaviour comes to be associated with him- and as something that is directly in opposition to his ‘good’ counterpart.

And if that type of music can also be associated with a marginalized group of people, then those people are also lumped in with the horned one and his disruption of all things good and ‘godly’.  As mores and tastes change and evolve, the music might eventually come to be regarded as ‘mainstream’- and acceptable to those who hold true to ‘strong values’- yet the stigma of association with the Big Baddy remains.

Labeling something as ‘evil’ or ‘against god’ gives its negative association an unreasonably long shelf life.  Those things that his detractors claim belong to the Devil are incredibly tenacious in their resonance across time and generations.

U2’s God Part 2 is an appreciative echo of John Lennon’s God.  In it, John deconstructed a whole passel of beliefs and constructs that he saw no need to hold onto as he remade himself as ‘John’- no longer the Dreamweaver, or the Walrus, or 1/4 of the Beatles.  Just John.  With Yoko.  Believing in the two of them- but not in the idols (religious and secular) he listed after declaring that ‘god is a concept by which we measure our pain’.

‘I don’t believe in magic
I don’t believe in I Ching
I don’t believe in Bible
I don’t believe in Tarot
I don’t believe in Hitler
I don’t believe in Jesus
I don’t believe in Kennedy
I don’t believe in Buddha
I don’t believe in Mantra
I don’t believe in Gita
I don’t believe in Yoga
I don’t believe in Kings
I don’t believe in Elvis
I don’t believe in Zimmerman
I don’t believe in Beatles

The song marked his new beginning as he let go of the trappings of the past to move in a new direction- one that would eventually lead to Imagine– and its beautiful vision of a world without religion, heaven or hell.  A world focused on this life- that we spend here together on this big ol’ rock in that we call ‘Earth’ for the duration of our lifetimes.  The song remains timeless in its simple beauty- both for its music and its message.

That guy knew.

(Short aside here- again with the links and connections that I keep harping on… As I write I have Forrest Gump on in the background- 20th anniversary of that movie.  How did THAT happen?  Where has the time gone?- and it’s just at the scene where Forrest is on Dick Cavett’s show with John- ‘inspiring’ him to write Imagine.  Weird).

And then there’s this:

‘I believe we’re not alone
I believe in Beatles
I believe my little soul has grown
And I’m still so afraid…

What made my life so wonderful?
What made me feel so bad?
I used to wake up the ocean
I used to walk on clouds
If I put faith in medication
If I can smile a crooked smile
If I can talk on television
If I can walk an empty mile
Then I won’t feel afraid
No, I won’t feel afraid
I won’t be Be afraid

Bowie recorded that song for his 2002 album, Heathens.  Since much of it was written and produced after the attacks of September 11, 2001, most of the album illustrates the pervasive anxiety felt across the country and around the world in the immediacy of the aftermath of the terror.

He has said that the album in its entirety is one of deep questioning- hence its title and the subject matter of many of its songs.  He stated in interviews that it was reflective of our collective trauma but that he wasn’t seeking to resolve the trauma.

Great songwriters do that- as they play the Devil’s Music.  They reflect and comment upon our experiences and sometimes even posit new directions that might make a difference to our overarching existence as human beings.

Gods and devils are both concepts which we use to measure our pain.  As metaphorical markers they have value.  Our earliest attempts to understand our world use story and metaphor.  We learn- and teach- using universal concepts that resonate with us because of their apparent immutability and simplicity.

‘Good’ is better than ‘Evil’.

Pretty easy, right?

Too bad the simplicity is always complicated by greed and politics and power plays.  This inevitability is part and parcel of our human nature.

So.  If John Lennon, David Bowie and U2- and all those who came before and after them- are playing the Devil’s Music there’s even more reason to appreciate the Horned One, if you ask me.  He obviously wields some mighty influence leading to incredible songs that are also expressions of our human nature.

Sometimes you have to take the bad with the good.  Unfortunately just what fits into which designation isn’t always all that easy to discern.

Musicians contribute their voices to the battle for the maintenance of the goodness and rightness of our humanity, often speaking out against governmental and other power-based inequities and wrong-doing.

I’ve said it before.  I’ll likely say it again.

Music.  And Science.  Both associated with the Devil.  Both often running counter to the accepted traditions/norms that fight change in favour of clinging to obsolete ways of viewing our world.

I think there are patterns forming hereabouts…


17 comments on “The Devil’s Music

  1. The connections and patterns are very much coming into play. Reading back over your linked posts and reflecting on what I am reading/seeing/hearing/writing too there is evidence of growing awareness. And dissatisfaction with the status quo and current perceptions.
    Only this morning I was on a blog that I hadn’t previously explored as fully as I should. A political post took me there this morning but I stayed to browse.
    I listened to some videos from You Tube on the blog and they were all so relevant. Quantum Theory and spirituality no less. ‘A paradigm shift….a mythology of the 21st century’ to quote from it.
    As you’ve so eloquently stated in all of these linked posts, science (perhaps particularly quantum physics in encapsulated understandable form !) questions our perceptions. I was particularly entranced with the idea that ancient spiritual understanding was very much in alignment with quantum theory. For so long I have felt and believed that the separation that exists between the two only allows supporters of either side to see one half of the equation. The way in which the video described the oneness of everything citing Einstein ‘…spooky action at a distance…’ sent shivers of recognition.

    Music speaking to our inner soul, art in words and images describing and appealing to collective thought and yet perceptions disturbing unity.
    I find it sad that John Lennon sings of only he and Yoko. Somewhere along the lines it would seem, from that song, that he gave up on more than just religion and the world but on some dream of cosmic unity. I can’t say as I blame him right enough. To hold onto a dream that seems more dream than a possibility of reality and without evidence to suggest that it ever could be so would try anyone’s hopes and beliefs. Perhaps his legacy will be that he, along with other artists and scientists, helped to direct the world towards a new spiritual/unifying awakening, a new mythology.
    To quote Bob Dylan, ‘the times they are a-changing’. To think though that those words reflect hope for change in the sixties. We are truly slow to learn and act. But then the sixties didn’t have global communication to the same extent nor our wee science TV dudes explaining particle physics to us. Now we just need a presenter for the arts. Your CV’s up to date, isn’t it? 🙂

    P. S. I must be one of the few people that actively dislikes ‘Imagine’! I know! It’s not the sentiments as such although I take issue with one or two of them. It’s the fact that it is so slow, I’ve probably heard it too many times and it speaks to me of inaction. I want action! Let there be light.

    • colemining says:

      I checked out the blog you linked- very interesting stuff. I will be returning for a closer look for sure. I have never understood people who draw conclusions from, as you say, looking at only one side of the story.

      I won’t speak for John- who could?- but I can empathize with his need to be ‘just him and Yoko’- for a time, at least. My interpretation of the song is that by giving up the belief in the idols, he was able to focus on making change himself– which he certainly accomplished. His point, I think, is that our created gods- be they religious or secular or drawn from pop culture (like the Beatles and Elvis and Bob Dylan/Zimmerman) aren’t going to help us- it’s up to us to make the difference. Which means starting with the individual and then moving to the community level. I hear what you’re saying re. Imagine- although I do admit to having a big soft spot for that tune. Again, I think it’s saying that if we can imagine things like heaven and hell and the like, then can ALSO imagine- and help to realize- peace here on THIS plane of existence. Ah music. So beautiful that we can all take away different meanings and evocations.

      It does seem as though change is slow to be a-coming. But when you look at the length of history- and the advancements that we have made in a blink of time, I think we should draw optimism from the fact that change IS in the air and gaining momentum. As we open our minds to the all the ideas we can access via our communications systems and persist in our conversations about these things we CAN make things better. I know we can.

      My CV is up to date- but I’m not sure I’m up for television presenter duties. We need a true charismatic who captures the attention of the audience. But I’d be happy to write the copy!

      Another wonderful comment, Anne-Marie! Thank you for your continuing investment in my thoughts and ideas! xo

      • I’ve only moved to replenish coffee today! Everything I link on is a link to something else. My wee brain’s going nineteen to the dozen. I’m on to letter O on my self-imposed myth challenge and thought Orpheus would be an easy one to rattle off given the time I’ve diddled about on sites. Was I ever wrong on that one!
        My background knowledge on myths and legends must really be quite scant when I see what else is out there to be uncovered. It’s a maze.
        And I suppose that’s kind of what this whole journey is about. Learning more, understanding better through various means and trying to be the change.
        There is such a wonder of interpretation disseminated through so many means it’s like being back at school without the exams. Unless you count the big, final exam. 😉 But I love it too, I have to say. Very energising. I always was a bit of a sucker for exams. Quite liked the excitement and camaraderie! I know. Sad but true.
        I was thinking myself when I made the comment about the sixties of how that was just a blip in time. In fact, the more I research the more I’m wondering how we got into such a fankle. So much of what is evidenced in previous knowledge and practice seems to already point the way. Maybe it was all just waiting for the right time. Communication worldwide. The possibilities are staggering if we can be allowed to hold on to that functionality.
        I love reading your posts, Cole. They’re good for my brain. 🙂 x

      • colemining says:

        Glad to see you’re spending your holiday so productively! Learning is always a good thing. And thank you for saying that I contribute to you thinking about things- does my auld teacher’s heart good!

        I’m kind of an exam nerd, too. I never really stressed about them- and didn’t mind preparing for them all that much. We must continue our learning journeys- regardless of what stage we are in life.

        And yes- looking at the vastness that is our collectively mythology can lead to a maze of wonder- but it can take some time to navigate through the twists and turns (and re-writes and re-interpretations).

        Loved the poem- the motifs are timeless and speak to truths as much now as they did millennia ago. Orpheus’ story is one of my faves, actually. Likely because of the connection to music and the Orphic Mysteries.

  2. Hah. I just commented on a post about AC/DC by saying I grew up in a house where music was treated like religion, and it stuck. I love U2. Love. Don’t know what Bono’s been saying, but Rattle and Hum is one of my all-time faves.
    For my own two cents on the good and evil bit, those things just are. They just exist. We can conjure either one, act it out, spread it around, but they both just exist, no different from any other essence.

    • colemining says:

      Hi Joey! Bono just seems to have a tendency of late to speak before thinking- which is fine, except that he is doing some good work with world poverty awareness issues and needs to do a little self-editing now and again.

      ‘Evil’- with its ever-shifting definition- is present in the world because PEOPLE are present in the world. IMO anyway.

      Just read something saying that AC/DC is still planning on hitting the studio to see what happens- despite the illness of one of their members. Hope we get a new album- how can you not love those guys?

      Thanks for reading!

  3. lennymaysay says:

    “god is a concept by which we measure our pain”

    Has to be up there with the most profound things I’ve ever heard.

  4. I can’t believe there’s someone in the universe who’s heard of Pete Yorn besides me! He’s a genius!

    As for science and religion, more enlightened religious minds (or maybe just more educated ones?) do not negate science. It’s the more fundamentalist religious believers who insist on every scientific finding. Much new religious thought actually embraces sciences and doesn’t find it anathema to religious findings at all (at least Christianity). Granted, they don’t buy into the myth thing because they believe in the historical accuracy (I’ll leave that for another discussion), but they don’t have to be mutually exclusive in every regard. (So, no, I don’t think science is “of the devil” at all! 😀

    • colemining says:

      Please don’t think I’m lumping all religious folks together, Susan. There are many among you who embrace both sides of the equation- and find a balance between belief and science.

      Unfortunately it is the anti-progressives/mutually-exclusivists who tend to get the most press- and who are attempting to dictate the ways in which we teach our children in public schools. With THIS I have a BIG problem. And since being anti-science fits nicely with the political agendas of certain politicians I could name… these religious groups find allies in secular government/far-right media outlets who are looking to maintain their own version of the status quo. Science- and scientists- are demonized as being ‘against the best interests of the many’ so politicians can maintain their power base and religious fundamentalists can keep hold of their flock as they ‘protect’ them from the seditious theories of ‘evolution’ and ‘gravity’. Sigh.

      Yes, we will certainly discuss history vs. myth at another time…

      I love Pete Yorn- seem him live a couple of times. GREAT singer-songwriter (and the guy can play drums too!).

      Thanks for reading! xo

      • 🙂 Yes, I saw him live once years ago. I still have a CD somewhere, though can’t seem to can’t get my hands on it at the moment. And you’re welcome – you’re always a great read!

      • colemining says:

        I love him. The first time I saw him live he was opening for Crowded House. For some reason, his drummer was stopped at the border so he was beat-less for the show. Pete got on the drums himself and sang most of the set from behind the kit. I bought a CD at the merch table, and the rest is history. So talented. xo

  5. yakinamac says:

    Like they say, the Devil has all the best tunes. But what I really want to know is, why hasn’t anyone been looking more closely at the Satanic undertones of Simon and Garfunkel? I tell you, the things you hear when you play Scarborough Fair backwards…

    • colemining says:

      The Devil needs his due- and for us to stop blaming him for all our failings. And now I have to track down my LP version of Scarborough Fair to seek its hidden messages… I always knew those guys were seditious, but I never anticipated the demonic messages…

      Thanks for reading- and welcome back! You’ve been missed hereabouts!

  6. […] that was Ford’s tenure as our mayor, I wrote about evil (using the term with all my usual caveats) and the face of banality that it often wears. That little bit of a something was a little too […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s