The Devil’s Best Tunes


Not very long ago, my wife brought to my attention this IMDb thread about the music in The Lords of Salem. Usually these boards are pretty stupid, and it bugs me how half the replies to any given post are pretty much always deleted, but occasionally there will be something interesting on one of them. If you haven’t seen the movie (and not that very many people have, from what I understand), the theme music is just four notes repeated over and over.

Actually, it could probably be a hit if someone added dance beats. Anyway, it has a profound effect on women who were born in Salem. According to the thread, it’s an example of a tritone, which is three adjacent whole tones played together. At least one commenter said the Lords music didn’t contain a tritone, but I can’t say I have enough musical knowledge to know who’s right. Regardless, the tritone was considered quite dissonant to medieval ears (nowadays we hear worse from car alarms), and eventually came to be regarded as evil. The term diabolus in musica was applied to it around the eighteenth century or so. Of course, according to some people, the Devil is all over music.

We’ve all heard that the Devil has the best tunes. Robert Johnson learned to play guitar by selling his soul to the Devil at a crossroads. The idea that Satan is a master fiddler long predates Charlie Daniels’ song about it. Rock and roll was considered the Devil’s music, although nowadays thinking, say, Buddy Holly was Satanic seems rather peculiar.

That doesn’t stop people from making websites and handing out pamphlets on the street about how rock music is evil, though. Jack Chick, that purveyor of ridiculously outdated evangelism, told us in 1989 how the rock beat is Satan’s invention, having been gradually introduced.

This song was later sampled in the hip-hop classic “We’re Gonna Rap, Rap, Rap, Rap with the Rap.”
Never mind that Elvis was a Christian who also sang gospel, I guess. Old Scratch even created Christian rock, fundamentalist Christianity’s attempt to meet pop culture halfway.

I have to say that, based on what I’ve heard when coming across a religious station on the radio, a lot of these people just don’t get it. It’s not that there isn’t a lot of good music with Christian themes, but this comes from people who believe that Jesus doesn’t require everything they do to be totally banal. I think this pretty much gets to the root of things, that while the notion that anything fun is ungodly isn’t quite as prominent as it once was, it still has its adherents. I’m inclined to think that even musicians who claim to have Satanic connections, which is quite common in heavy metal, are being facetious about it.

I believe Ozzy Osbourne is also a Christian, for instance. I’ve never really gotten into metal, although I do appreciate the pageantry. And I do realize that the genre incorporates both the operatic and the noisy. Beth and I are going to be attending the Monster-Mania Convention on Saturday, and between panels they often play the screamy sort of music, but I’ve noticed that a lot of actual horror movie themes (The Exorcist, Halloween, and Candyman, for example) tend to be more on the minimalist side. While the noisy stuff can be jarring, I think music really sounds its scariest when it’s kind of sparse and eerie.

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