Alright so I sat down and rewatched Tenacious D: the Pick of Destiny for the 100th time yesterday. Why? Because my life is mostly composed of fun adventures with instruments and watching movies about music. Not as sad as it might sound to you, person with a life. Well after I finished watching (spoilers, if you are one of the few plebs who have yet to see the movie) and Jack sent the devil back to hell through the use of his amazing vocals and guitar skills, I got to thinking. Has there ever been a real pick of destiny on this sinful earth of ours and why is the rock and roll world so fascinated with the music and the devil?
Since I am not some kind of crazy fanboy with years to kill on research about a pick (who am I kidding) I decided to not start looking for it. I also like to say that skepticism and rational reasoning is why I did not start looking for it. That is a lie. I’m just lazy.
On the other hand my interest in the subject of the devil and music resulted in me finding some pretty fascinating legends and stories. Specifically about guitar players who sold their soul to the devil. The stories are pretty fascinating, even if some of them are mostly marketing ploys. Then again, the musicians I suspect for marketing ploys also eat live bats. So maybe, just maybe, you never know?
Anyway, let’s get into the thick of it.
The story of Robert Johnson is well ingrained into the popular knowledge of the United States. It is as much part of the history of the United States as it is part of musical history. The details of the story are much too fascinating.
Let’s get one thing straight – Robert Johnson had a childhood and a life that by current standards is nothing but tumultuous. He had 9 siblings, didn’t have much money to his name and yet still had an education; His 16 year old wife, who he married at 23, died not too long after the wedding; Travelling between cities, learning and living in each one he never settled down. Yet his home was the Mississippi Delta, where his blues would be born.
Strangely enough this father of modern blues is remembered as having embarrassingly bad guitar skills in the beginning. Stories go that he would hang by a bar/drink joint where a lot of blues musicians used to play. He would ask them to lend him their guitar and he would try to play. He would often be told to stop because his playing was that bad. This lasted for a long time, until one day he just straight up disappeared.
Six months later her returns. He sits down on the stage area with his back to the crowd and faces towards the wall. The expectations are low – nobody can learn guitar in six months. So when he starts playing, jaws start dropping. His voice is reflected off of the wall, amplified. The guitar is twangy, powerful, and dark. His playing is masterful and the crowd is surprised. How? When? Where did he learn to play like this?
The man traveled a lot from then on. He recorded a vinyl with 29 songs on it. He drank a lot and never settled down until he turned 27 and died, cold, alone and drunk sleeping under the wet newspapers outside of a bar he had played in. A short career of barely 5 years.
Sounds like the man had a debt to return. His bewitching might have been the reason for it. Maybe he felt ashamed of himself, which is why he never showed his face. The thing is, there is a legend. According to it, during the 6 months that the man was gone he came upon a crossroads. On the crossroads he met a man who was not a man. He made a deal with him, promising his soul for the chance to play the guitar well.
And then at 27 he had to repay his debt.
This makes so much sense. Yet it doesn’t. But really it kind of does. I mean… the guy is worshipped by all guitar players around the world. He is amazing on guitar and he is kind of mysterious in his private life. Not only that but the guy bought the house of Aleister Crowley. If you have not heard of Aleister Crowley you need to brush up your knowledge of the history of the occult. If you are like me and you are too lazy to do it, here is the short version:
He was a dark magician that worshiped Satan and dabbled in the dark arts. At least he said so. So why would Jimmy Page go about buying his house if he did not have a connection with darkness? One of the explanations is that Jimmy is a good businessman and wanted to keep up his brand. I mean he is part of the incredibly popular band Led Zeppelin who recorded a song that many people swear, when played backwards, is somehow Satan’s speech. Keep the brand name up and buy the Crowley house, make everyone think you sold your soul to the devil and you get benefits. Like cash and fame.
Or maybe he actually did sell his soul. I don’t know. Nobody does. I like the devil version tough. Way more interesting to think about.
Bob Dylan is a lyrical legend and a literal guitar hero. While his playing does not involve a bunch of amazing virtuoso skills, it is perfectly adequate and incredibly impressive paired with his voice. So when he mentioned in an interview that he had done a deal with one Chief or another to get his powers, I was not surprised. A lot of people were. I was not. I mean look at the transcript of the interview (taken out of context of course):
Journalist: Why are you still out here?
BDylan: It goes back to that destiny thing. I made a bargain with it, you know, long time ago. And I’m holding up my end.
Journalist: What was your bargain?
BD: To get where I am now.
Journalist: Should I ask who you made the bargain with?
BD: With the Chief Commander.
Journalist: On this Earth?
BD: In this earth and in a world we can’t see.
Creepy right? To compound the situation there is another. Bob Dylan recently won the Nobel Prize for Writing. He did not accept it at first. Why? Because he did not feel like he was worthy. My theory is he feels that way because he thinks his achievements are not his own. But the devil’s. Maybe I’m reading too much of what I want into his actions. He did give a specific reason, I just like to ignore facts to benefit my own understanding of reality.
I mean this is a no-brainer, right? The guy bites off bats’ heads, writes amazing, evil-oriented music and is a little crazy. He spent his life doing drugs, drinking and partying and yet he is still alive. There is no humane way that could be possible. So he must be kept alive by some power or another for a reason, right?
While he himself does not explicitly state that he sold his soul to the devil, he does state several times throughout his career that he feels possessed. Exorcist style. Like the devil is inside him, whether he wants it or not. All of a sudden the meteoric rise and incredible success of his band and makes so much sense. His Devilish skill, luck and a voice even a mother would be scared of are just plain logical.
Maybe he didn’t sell it, but that still counts, right?
Anyway, I might have written this blog post about the devil, but I want to make a quick point. I don’t think we should attribute the amazing skill and talent these people had. They spent years honing their skills until their success washed upon them. Attributing all of that to some supernatural force is unfair and discouraging. I mean, how are young rock stars supposed to achieve success and amazing feats if they believe they need supernatural help? All it takes is a skill and hard work. Anyone can seem like they sold their soul to the devil if they try enough. Far as I know, there is no such thing as a devil.