Tales of Nostalgia: The Devil and Led Zeppelin

By: Joe Lofranco

True Detective has really been messing with my head. I can’t stand that devil-stuff. It freaks me right out. One would think it has to do with my Catholic upbringing, but this simply isn’t case; my church was much more focused on raising funds for the new furnace then on warning us kids about some boogey-monster. The real reason this Satanic shit scares me is simple: I’ve heard The Devil at work. No joke.

Is True Detective dancing with the devil?

Is True Detective dancing with the devil?

It was seven years ago. I was visiting my parents’ place on a Sunday morning. They were at church, fittingly, so I turned on the computer to check my email. In my inbox I found a forward, which is something I would normally ignore, but this one caught my eye:  Fw: Play Stairway to Heaven Backwards and Hear Satanic Messages!!  Now, this wasn’t exactly news to me; I’d heard the rumours and conspiracies before: Rock musicians were putting subliminal messages in your music to turn you to the dark side. Judas Priest, AC/DC, even The Beatles were accused of it. But, the way I figured it, millions upon millions of people listen to these bands, but very few ever become Satanists. I was, however, intrigued to give it a listen. I’d always wanted to see if I could hear the words of The Dark One or if I’d be immune. But, up until now I hadn’t. I hadn’t out of fear. Not fear of Beelzebub, no, no! It was my parents I was afraid of.

I was taught how to use the turntable early on in my life. We didn’t have a tape deck, CDs were still a few years away from being ubiquitous, and MP3s were a sci-fi fantasy that only weirdos who read Omni knew about. A record is only about 20-23 minutes long on each side. I guess my mother got tired of having to come into the living room so frequently to flip the record for lil ol’ four year old me, so she figured I should learn how to do it myself. I was taught to be gentle with the needle; to never touch the needle with my fingers; to never drop the needle (despite what Maestro would tell me later) or scratch it across the records. I was taught to revere the needle. I was assured that, if I didn’t, I’d ruin my records beyond repair. This wasn’t like a toy my dad could glue back together for me: once you scratched it, it was gone. I’m sure my mother instilled this rather extreme version of things into my head just in case I happened to decide one day to put on her Cat Stevens album rather than my Sesame Street Songs, however unlikely that was. So, from there grew a certain amount of respect for the tiny sliver of diamond that held the magical ability of putting Raffi, Fred Penner, and Roger Whitaker right in my living room. Because of all this, I never attempted to reverse a turntable and play a song backwards. I wasn’t sure of how it all worked, and I didn’t want to ruin the damn needle!

Could these men be devil worshippers?

Could these men be devil worshippers?

But that was a long time ago. Technologies had changed and now I was sitting at a computer with the ability to hear “Stairway” backwards with just a click of a mouse. So I clicked. Annnnd heard 20 seconds or so of a garbled bunch of slurs and some obviously backwards guitar. Well, that was a bit of a let down. I listened to it again, hard this time, really focusing to see if there was anything behind that whooshing guitar and Robert Plant’s ethereal backwards howl.  Nothing! What horseshit. They actually had a court case about this? But then I noticed a little note, “Scroll down for the lyrics.” Well, I might as well give it another listen:

Oh here’s to my sweet Satan / The one whose little path would make me sad, whose power is Satan / He’ll give those with him 666 / There was a little tool shed where he made us suffer, sad Satan.

I heard every. Single. Word. Holy Shit. It was like someone had pulled a dozen cotton balls out of my ears and I was hearing for the first time! And then in hit me… and I got scared. What had I done? I’d listened to hours upon hours of Zeppelin in my time, not to mention all the other classic rock gods who’d been accused of worshipping the devil in their music! Had this seeped into my brain? Brain!? What about my soul!? What was I gonna do, I was possessed!!

Just then my parents came home. “You’ve got to listen to this!” I said and played the clip for them. “Did you hear it?! Did you hear about Satan?!” Now, you’d think most mothers would show some concern or compassion or at least curiosity when they return home to find their son in an obviously heightened state of distress. Not mine: “I can’t hear anything… but that’s probably because we went to church!” BOOOOM!!! And with that they retired to the kitchen to cook up some bacon and eggs, leaving me to my terror and securing my attendance at Sunday mass for a long while to come.

While my parents cooked away in the kitchen, ignorant to the creeping influence of the devil they were letting into the house by listening to Q107s Psychedelic Sunday, I stayed in the basement and did some more research. This stupid clip was only 24 seconds. Stairway was almost 10 minutes long, what about the rest of the damn thing? Maybe this was just some weird fluke, like the Virgin Mary appearing on a water-stained gas station wall. Yeah, that’s it: it’s a fluke!

The internet wasn’t as easy as it is today, and it took me a while to dig through weird pre-Reddit chat forums before I stumbled upon a transcription of the whole song backwards on some Christian site. I pulled up an MP3 of Stairway and opened some audio editing software I had and listened to the whole thing, start to finish, backwards, to see if the lyrics matched up. And they did:

Plaaaay backwards,
Hear why its sung here, oppositioner.

(Holy Shit!!! The FIRST LINE is telling me to play the song backwards! This was getting real, and getting scary!)

All on track, all arriving
They all sing, and they are one.
Shall I loathe you now, parishioner?
Oh hear Him, Christian within me.
It stirs my sin, the river,
Oh, she swells with our lousiness.
will all life end for him?

(This is written like some ancient tract. Even without mentioning Satan, it’s terrifying!)

We’re all out of signs,
I know I’m sorta shocked
To hear The Lord,
My God now will save me!
Oh I will never be saved,
Because I live with Satan!
One wish today,
That you’ll all pray for
Three who will make it here late.
Pray now and you’ll see,
The ‘Lord’ turned me on,
But, oh, I was the shaggy fool..

(Shaggy fool? What? I was shitting my pants up until that point. Kinda weird, but I can see it: Robert Plant was kinda shaggy in the 70s with his beard and hair and all that)

Clothed in agony,
Lost at a height.
There’s no escaping it,
Nor his woes.
So here’s to my Sweet Satan.
Whose little path
Would make me sad,
Whose power is Satan.
He’ll give those with him 666.
And there was an evil tool shed,
were he made us suffer sad Satan.

Ohohohoh…
“Family won’t get loose,
They’re offered me.”
Always soothes the worker.
Always will be as we know now
“I see ruins,” said he,
“the world they offered me?
Who wished the Lord’s fall?”
If we lose feather,
Say you’ll save me!

And no wimps can bend the rules…
And no wimps can do.

(Wimps?! I’m definitely a wimp! Oh noooo!!! I’m doooomed!!!)

Hunt next to the shore,
‘Cause they see all from there,
See here’s the news,
Who walks with mute grief!
Perhaps no-one found thee…
“Heaven, lift me out,”
Spake the Rave,
“Someday, failed, we’ll lose one line-up,
They’ve gotta leave forsaken.”

And no wimps can do…
And no wimps can do…

He, who say the lords
Thoth have our laws,
that must be superb. Mass is ended.
Over there,
He who should learn thee.
Any moot that serves by my sworn music,
I wish it with snow be shushed,
All for my mass’s sake.
Hear why its sung,
here, oppositioner, Ohh…
He who should show
May make his show worthy,
To look, for us, odd… sickly,
There’s one chance, take his show.
Hold thy head,
Hear why its sung here oppositioner.
Who owns this earth built below?
Oh sweet Israel…

(Israel? Is this about the whole Palestine/Gaza Strip thing? Was Robert Plant Jewish?)

Jesus Christ. That is some heavy shit. Now I was really freaking out! The Devil. Shit.

I need an old priest and a young priest!

I need an old priest and a young priest!

I suppose it’s the notion that The Devil is a power that would be beyond our control that scares me the most. I’d have no way to counteract it if he were to decide to come up here and mess with me a bit. And he’s evil. PURE evil. Like he is the actual source of evil; it all comes from him. So it’s not like he’s just gonna get me to go egg someone’s house or something. He’s gonna fuck. Me. Up. The Exorcist? The Omen? No, no… I can’t be possessed. No. More. Classic. Rock. I made my decision. I was gonna clean up.

I remember being 13 or so and watching an episode of the X-Files where a high school teacher is possessed and I couldn’t sleep. Her eyes, the whites completely obscured by the darkness of evil, floated through my mind as I lay in bed trying to think of some way to protect myself while I slept. The only thing I could find was buried deep in one of my desk drawers: a glow-in-the-dark rosary I got from someone for my first communion. It wasn’t perfect, but it would have to do.

Somehow I managed to make it through that night, but now, a short decade later, here it was again, staring me in the face: The Devil. I started looking up demonic possession and discovered, much to my relief, that cases were quite scarce in modern times, and the ones that were recorded were slightly dubious to say the least. Looking at the history, it seemed most demonic possessions could be explained away with either epilepsy or schizophrenia. There was also a higher tendency for modern day “possessions” to occur amongst the more, shall we say fervent of Christians. Words like “Extremist” and “Fundamentalist” carry such nasty connotations nowadays that I’ll just avoid them altogether. But I digress: the point is I found it odd that the average guy walking down the street was never possessed. Wouldn’t it be easier for a Prince of Darkness to go after some drug-addled, prostitute-using, pro-choice, liberal smoker than a God-Fearing-Christian-of-Upright-Morals-and-Virtues who happens to have a pastor nearby to perform a quiet exorcism in front of lots of followers? I mean, everyone likes a challenge, but why make things hard on yourself when you could just point your finger down Yonge street and invade the first person you see with little to no resistance? Wouldn’t that lead to world domination a bit quicker?

Then I started looking into the amount of work one would have to do to write lyrics that were intelligible one way AND when played backwards. Now, I’m no genius, but it’s pretty common knowledge that Led Zeppelin kept up a rather rigorous touring schedule in the early 70s. The number of hours in a studio one would need to plan and execute this, especially with 1970s technology, would have meant Zep would have to be in the studio working 24hours a day forever. It just wasn’t likely.

Then I came across some work by the famous behaviourist B.F. Skinner. Called the Verbal Summator, and dubbed the “audio Rorschach test” it was essentially an experiment to see what people would “hear” when played a recording of non-sensical speech. Pretty much taking a bunch of consonant sounds, chopping them up, and pasting them back together in random order. Much like the inkblot tests that were its visual cousin, the Verbal Summator left people hearing very different things depending on the individual. One further piece put the nail in the coffin for me: apparently when people are prompted they are more likely to hear the words they were told to hear. So that’s why I didn’t hear any mention of Satan the first time through, but when reading along the words crystallized over my ear drum! The power of influence! The Devil hadn’t infiltrated my mind through my ears! Yeeesssssss!!!!!

So I wasn’t possessed, I was just a sucker. This provided me with a great sense of relief. I went into the kitchen and wolfed down the eggs my mother made me, and when my dad ribbingly asked if I’d be joining them at mass next week, I cheerfully replied “Nope!” then went into the living room and turned up Psychedelic Sunday, wondering what other messages might be filtering into my subconscious.

That was then. Now? Now I’m sitting on the couch praying that Matthew McConaughey isn’t gonna be the Yellow King and that somehow, somehow, this damn glow-in-the-dark rosary will keep me safe tonight!

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