The Devil in Music – Diabolis in musica

Slayer album cover for God Hates Us AllWhen you think of satanic music you probably think about shock groups like Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson or some heavy metal band like Slayer (Guitarist Kerry King has 666 tattooed on his head). In fact, these artists have little or nothing to do with the traditional Satan. Manson himself, an honorary Reverend for the Church of Satan founded by Anton Lavey, has explained that modern Satanism is a faith based on self love and self worship in which there is no God or Devil.

In a 1995 interview in Washington D.C. Manson was asked if Satan existed and said “I think Satan is a word that you can use to describe your animalistic side if, as a whole, everyone’s animalistic nature – I guess Satan exists in that sense – that part of everyone’s personality. I don’t believe in it as a “being”. It’s a word that represents rebellion, represents Man, represents a defiance towards society and God and the things that are forced upon us and are considered to be normal and acceptable.”

What you probably don’t think about when you think of satanic music is a traditional delta blues artist who influenced the likes of Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, The Rolling Stones and many other classic artists.

Robert Johnson is a blues legend from the early 1900′s who was said to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his incredible musical ability. When Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones heard Robert Johnson for the first time he asked “Who is the guy playing the other guitar?”

Richards did not realize there was only Johnson playing a single guitar on the track. During the time that he was alive it was documented that, when he would play, the combination of his virtuostic guitar ability, wailing vocals and rhythmic foot tapping created the auditory illusion that an entire band was performing.

The 2000 film “O’ Brother Where Art Thou?” depicts a character named Tommy Johnson who seems to be loosely based on the real life blues singer. In the film the protagonists pick up a hitch-hiker on his way to ‘sing into a can’ who claims to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the ability to play the guitar ‘real good’.

The rumours surrounding Johnson are fed by those who knew him, those who played with him and those who taught him to play. It is said that he was an amateur-at-best guitar picker who followed around the intermediate players in his area and was often the subject of jokes from the more skilled musicians. He would unsuccessfully try to mimic what his peers were playing and become frustrated when he couldn’t play as well as they could.

At the time it was widely known that you could sell your soul to the Devil at the crossroads. When Johnson disappeared for mere months and returned with the unholy ability to play anything he heard by ear, it fanned the flames of many stories to come.

There are only two known published photos of Robert Johnson. The photo to the right is perhaps the most famous depicts an exceedingly chilling look in Johnston’s eyes, which was later speculated to be the result of an undiagnosed cataract of the eye.

Another aspect that has kept this rumour going strong was his untimely death at the age of 27.  An unusual number of prominent and successful musicians have died at the age of 27, often at the very peak of their fame. This has led to the birth of the myth of the 27 Club, sometimes known as The Club or forever 27.

Musicians Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison,  Brian Jones and Kurt Cobain all died within 10 months of turning 27. Of these five most famous members of the 27 club, three of the causes of death are still foggy. Although Jim Morrison’s official cause of death was heart failure, no autopsy was performed. Cobain’s suicide is still up for debate. Janis Joplins’ cause of death was a probable heroin overdose but also remains unknown. Robert Johnson’s death is suspected strychnine poisoning, but nobody knows for sure.

There are also several other famous musicians who died, some inexplicably, at 27 years of age. This has lead many to believe that these artists, like the founding Forever 27 member Robert Johnson, also sold their souls to the devil.