by John B
Sometime in the mid 80s we began hearing sermons locally about the satanic influence of modern music. Ted Herlofson, our associate pastor, was passionate on the subject, and delivered more than one sermon about it. He even held a special bible study, complete with a taped sermon from some “Sunday preacher” who had “proof” that many Rock music albums, if played backward, contained pro-Satan messages (it was the first time I had ever heard any Worldwide Church of God minister give credibility to an outsider).
Sad to say, I bought into it lock, stock, and turntable. Suddenly I, like everyone else in my local church, was analyzing the lyrics of songs on the radio, looking for hidden messages. We had been assured that our brains were capable of unscrambling backward messages and understanding them, though exactly what they would do to us was not clear. The Sunday preacher (in the bible study tape) had said that, if you were aware that backward masking was present, it could not affect you; but if you were not aware, well, you were susceptible – but susceptible to what? I never knew.
With this new awareness, however, convinced that I was sometimes listening to backward masking, I just got a headache.
I had long been aware that popular music contained messages, but they were hardly hidden. Many songs promoted the drug culture (Puff the Magic Dragon; White Rabbit; One Toke Over the Line; Mary Jane) and others brazenly promoted “pagan” religions (My Sweet Lord (Hare Krishna); Imagine). Many songs were pro-promiscuity (Hot Stuff; Do Ya Think I’m Sexy), but they always had been. Ted Herlofson pointed to many of these songs as proof of Satan’s influence in music. He also presented a lot of evidence that I was not aware of.
Barry Manilow’s I Write the Songs sounded an awful lot like Lucifer (Ted even produced a scripture about Lucifer’s “pipes” which “proved” he had once been musical); the old R&R song My Diana contained lyrics which appeared to promote the worship of the ancient goddess (“I’m so young and you’re so old...”); and just about everything by the Beatles was suspect. All disco was homosexual in nature, Ted said, and Country Western was just immoral as hell (all about drinkin’ and cheatin’), despite the fact that Garner Ted had once been a guest on Hee-Haw.
By the time Ted got done, we weren’t left with much. I was even suspicious of Red River Valley... (just kidding).
But I was suspicious of just about everything on the radio. That didn’t mean I didn’t like it (or listen to it), but I felt like I probably should not be.
And I wasn’t the only one. Two young men at church took a reel-to-reel tape recorder and somehow rigged it so it would actually play backward and forward. They then dubbed several albums onto a tape, played them in each direction, and claimed they had found examples of hidden messages. They brought it to my house and I listened to some of it, but I didn’t quite hear what they heard. In fact, I didn’t hear anything except what sounded like Russian (“eeemph oomph awwf feeg foog heek hook eemph…”)
Just what you would expect when normal sounds are played in reverse. Nothing audible or understandable.
Even so, I was still a believer. I just figured we hadn’t found the right records. But I was seeing other evidence of satanic influence in music. Not in backward lyrics, but in the content of some of the songs. Michael Jackson was getting screaming ovations while he gyrated his pelvis, cranked his crotch, and bleated “Beat it!” KISS looked like a bunch of Halloween cutouts as they paraded across the stage in death masks with flames behind them. Alice Cooper looked like a corpse who played with snakes. And some other joker, a thirty-something adult male, pointed directly at his preteen female audience while he proclaimed “I want your sex!” (the first time I heard that song the DJ was so embarrassed he could barely repeat the title on the radio).
There was a lot of questionable stuff out there, whether you believed in Satan or not. I, of course, was convinced that Satan was behind it. Even the names of some of the groups seemed to prove it:
ABBA. Hell, everybody knows that’s the name of the Father, right? I mean, Jesus said “Abba Father”. So this group was assuming God’s title, weren’t they? (Actually, they weren’t – the name came from the first letter of each of their names, arranged into a pronounceable acronym.)
Led Zeppelin. This one still puzzles me. A zeppelin is an airship, which has to become lighter than air in order to fly. But lead, the element from which bullets are made, is extremely heavy, so there is an instant contradiction. But it wasn’t “Lead” Zeppelin, it was “Led Zeppelin”, which suggested a leader. And who could that leader possibly be, if not Satan? Hmmmmmmmmmmm? (Apologies to the Church Lady.)
Black Sabbath. What the hell did that mean, if not anti-Christ shit?
Queen. A gay group.
The Village People. A really gay group. (One of The Village People’s early songs was Macho Man. At a church social in 1979 we had some fun with that one when the spokesman club put on a skit at a church social. The skit was a 30-minute faux newscast called “Upend Weekdate”. Bruce Renehan and I were the anchors, and all the men in club participated. We also had commercials, one of which was a record offer for Matzo Man, by the Hebrew People.) One of the few pleasant memories of Worldwide Church of God.
A lot of music sounded downright satanic. The idea of a satanic Big Brother (which was what Ted was worried about) seemed to be reinforced by such songs as I’ll Be Watching You (by the Police), and Hotel California (by the Eagles); I actually love the latter song, but certainly it carries some kind of message, even if only in fun. My favorite lyric is “You can check out any time, but you can never leave”. Hmmmm.
Herlofson chronicled for us the tragedy of so many music artists who died young, including Jim Crocce, Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, and others. Ted believed (and had material to suggest) that these artists had “made a deal with the devil” – each had been famous for around a decade at the time of their deaths. The story was that Satan would give you ten years of fame and fortune, but then you were his. It was very believable. (Of course, most of them died from some form of drug abuse, so it doesn’t take rocket prophet to figure out that daily heroin use and longevity are not synonymous.)
The Final Analysis
Ted not only condemned modern pop, rock, and new age music, he even had things to say about the old fogeys. Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra took their share of the blame, as did the Beach Boys (yeah, right! surf, sun, cars and chicks – really satanic!). Satan was the prince of the power of the air, controlling the airwaves (radio/TV) as well as broadcasting his own mentally telepathic messages into our brains directly (all “negative” urges are the direct result of Satan broadcasting into your head); Satan (as Lucifer) was the musical archangel, so it naturally follows that he is in control of all the world’s music; ergo, Satan uses music (broadcast through the air) to destroy the world.
The only problem is, it’s dead wrong. Ted meant well, and I know he believed his own rhetoric, but he was flat wrong. Music is a reflection of society, not the cause of it. Certainly music can contribute to the actions of some people (anti-war activity, drug use, even crime in the case of rap), but not until that situation already exists. Music is the result of things that are already in motion. If someone carries a placard or takes drugs or commits a crime because of a song he heard, then he is a weakling, a follower who will do whatever someone prompts him to do. It isn’t the music that made him do it, he is simply a loser.
As for backward masking – I’ve still never heard a legitimate example of it. The only backward masking I’ve ever been able to identify is the message of religion, which warps the judgment of the individuals who embrace it. I wonder what would happen if you reversed the names of some individuals in Worldwide Church of God? Like...
Nosfolreh Det, Heoh Namreh, Yrrulf Dlareg, Esuohretaw Dlareg, Gnortsmra Trebreh, Hcakt Hpesoj, Lezaef Leahcim, or Yllek Dlanor.
Yep, maybe you got something there. They look pretty demonic to me!
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