Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Devil’s Music

Greetings fellow traveler. Sit a spell, relax along your journey and take in the echoing joyous sounds of the living. But ask yourself, in a world so infused with such darkness and death where is its influence in the sounds you year?

The 1950’s, fondly remembered for poodle skirts, hula hoops, hot rods, the advent of television, the Drive-in theatre, B-movies and of course Rock and Roll!

Ah yes Rock and Roll, early on dubbed with the notorious moniker “the devil’s music”. Certainly everyone knows how devout Christian groups reeled against this high energy music that made kids want to dance wildly and perhaps have a bit too much fun. Society was losing its morals and Rock and Roll was the cause. Was this alone enough for right wing church groups to rally against a simple form of musical expression? Well for some it would be, but let’s not be that naive.

Life in the great free Union (and yes I’ll admit it, Canada too) wasn’t all Happy Days and American Graffiti. It was a period of history mired heavily in racism and segregation. Rhythm revivals were of the forbearer of the sock hop and Blues music was at the heart of Rock and Roll. Early Rock and Roll legends like Chuck Berry were indeed Black and the music was considered black peoples' music. Rock and Roll was an extension of R&B in the 40's and wasn’t an issue until promoters started marketing it to middle class white America.

Now you’re saying to yourself 'So the phrase ‘the Devil’s music’ is all about pragmatic racists Christians?' You got it already, it's nothing new. And why would I even bother to write this on a blog about horror and the macabre? Certainly you could read this and more in one of the countless essays or papers on the subject of Rock and Roll History? And so you could, but you’ve got to figure I’m going somewhere with this right?

The other Day I started thinking about my next blog, and I started thinking about Hoodoo practices and their presence in classic blues music. And then it struck me that the topic really deserved more than I could address in one entry. But as that was where my train of thought started that will suffice as my starting point for this and the next blog.

We will save the meat of the discussion on Hoodoo for the next post, but a bit of a primer is indeed prudent here for those unfamiliar with Hoodoo.

First up lets be clear to keep both Hoodoo and Voodoo (Voodoun proper) separate. Historically these two have been confused, and although they share certain similarities, they are in fact quite different. Hoodoo is a type of practical folk magic exclusive to the United States and North America. Its roots are first and foremost based on practices and beliefs of Central Africa, and thus were most predominantly practiced by the African-American community with its heyday in the 1930’and 40’s. That said the practice is not extinct, and although I will be referring to it primarily in past tense, there are still modern day practitioners.

Hoodoo magic was very much a reality to many people and the belief in its power and effectiveness was not something that one questioned, no more than you or I question how the microprocessors in our laptops work. They simply do. Naturally such a commonplace reality would be expressed in other areas of life, and blues music is an excellent example of that happening. Not to say that all blues music is about hoodoo, such an idea is quite plainly a stupid one, but many songs clearly are either about the effects and methods of hoodoo tricking or mention it in passing. Early and influential blues master Robert Johnson made mention of hoodoo in a number of his songs. Cross Roads Blues, a location traditionally imbued with magical properties, Hellhound on my Trail (which really has little or nothing to do with supernatural beasts) and Stones in my Passway are about Hot Foot tricking, which Robert clearly believed he was a victim of as he himself was never able to settle in one place during his life.

Other early and influential blues bands sang about practices and even well known practitioners such as The Memphis Jug Band, Aunt Caroline Dyer Blues, Ida Cox, Mojo Hand Blues, and Ma Rainey, Black Dust Blues to name but a few. Even after world War II later Blues greats Like Bo Diddly Who Do You Love (note the play on words Hoodoo love) and Lightnin’ Hopkins Mojo Hand, Muddy Waters, Gypsy Woman, John Lee Hooker, Black Cat Blues and many others sang about hoodoo. Possibly the greatest influence on Rock and Roll, Chuck Berry makes mention of hoodoo practices in songs such as Thirty Days.

With all this in evidence, would it not be completely reasonable for Christians to view such influences that were openly accepting the existence and reality of spells and magic as heretical? Indeed modern Christian groups have rallied against J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books for that exact reason. Perhaps it’s possible that many of Rock and Roll’s early Christian opponents did have what they felt was a “legitimate theological” dispute with the music and their views were not based so much on ignorance and bigotry as we commonly attribute to their position.

Gary D Macabre

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