A: There’s a weird poetry to the word salad that people think they
hear when they play records backward.
So here’s to my sweet Satan/The one whose little path would
make me sad, whose power is Satan/He will give those with him
666/There was a little tool shed where he made us suffer/Sad
That was supposed to be encoded in “Stairway to Heaven.” It’s
nonsense, but it’s compelling nonsense: I’ve reached the point
where I enjoy the spooky sensation of hearing the song backward
more than the worn-out pleasure of listening to it the way it’s
supposed to be heard.
There have always been rumors that something evil is lurking in
popular music. If you look in the Monkees’ FBI file—yes, of course
the Monkees had an FBI file—you’ll see that someone at the bureau’s
Los Angeles field office got it into his head that the band had
included left-wing “subliminal messages” in its live show. In the
1970s a man called John Todd traveled the circuit telling
congregations that he was a defector from the Illuminati, that the
Illuminati control the music industry, and that Elton John had
never created a song that wasn’t written in “witch language.” These
days half of hip hop is supposed to be under Illuminati control,
and YouTube is filled with intricate analyses of the symbolism the
secret society has supposedly concealed in pop videos.
But the most potent conspiracy story about music is this idea that
backward Satanic messages have been inscribed in rock records. The
fact that the bands have almost always denied that the incantations
are there didn’t matter—even if they’re telling the truth, the
story went, the Devil could have inserted the messages
Other phrases I was asked to react to include “KKK,” “The
Illuminati,” “The Dead Kennedys,” “Christian Rock,” “Twin Towers,”
and more. You can read the rest of the interview
here. The site also published an except from the book; you can
While I’m on the subject, I might as well do my weekly roundup
of book links:
• Bill Kauffman
discusses the book in The American Conservative.
• Jack Kirk
reviews the book in The Red Wire.
• Radio New Zealand
• And now, an opposing