How the devil’s rock and roll changed me

by Brian Clarey

So where was I?

Oh yeah ‘— I was exploring the connection between little old doorbell-ringing church ladies, my cat food-loving baby girl and my own personal salvation when I had a quasi-religious epiphany, namely that rock and roll really is the devil’s music.

It all made sense to me, there on my couch, still reeling from the visit by the biddies. Trying to gauge my spiritual worth, I remembered the years I served as an altar boy at St. Joe’s in Garden City, NY, back in ’81 and ’82, and in remembering I believe I put my finger on the exact moment that Satan entered my life.

I was a good kid before then. I studied and got good grades and was mindful of authority. But then something came along that would forever alter the my path.

In 1982 my town got hooked up to cable television. I can still remember the day’… my sister and I sat in on the meet between the cable salesman and our mother, who knew so little about the service it was embarrassing and was therefore, in our opinions, unqualified to make a learned decision about which package of channels to get.

We convinced her that we needed every channel ‘— there were 36 of them back then, including a fledgling all-sports network dubbed ESPN (I still have no idea what that acronym stands for), HBO (way before ‘“The Sopranos’”) and Cinemax, which a few years later became known as a repository for B movies that bordered on soft porn, earning them the nickname ‘Skinemax.’

Also with our cable package came an experimental all-music television station known as MTV.

Now I’m not saying MTV is a tool of the devil, though I suppose that argument can be made. But I do know this: MTV’… changed me.

Before MTV, my musical vocabulary consisted mainly of the relics of my parents’ record collection, which was heavily rooted in not-too-longhair folk music, Allen Sherman (remember ‘“Hello Mudda, Hello Faddah’”?) and the soundtrack from Hair.

After the cable man got the mainline going, I would veg for hours in front of MTV and become exposed to the likes of Tom Petty back when he looked kind of skeevy, the Rolling Stones during the Tattoo You era, the Go-Gos dripping wet and splashing around in a public fountain, and my personal favorite band back in those heady days, Adam and the Ants.

Man, I thought Adam and the Ants were awesome’… rad’… bitchin’, as we used to say. And they, along with all the other rockers (don’t laugh ‘— these guys were what passed for rockers back in the day), inhabited this very cool world with loud music and crazy chicks and wanton behavior that made me realize that I didn’t have to be such a weenie all the time. I wanted to be a part of this world, to get a weird haircut and wear a sneer on my face and kick dust on the buttoned-up society to which I had heretofore been destined.

It had to be the devil talking.

I discovered Led Zeppelin shortly after that, but I could never figure out how to rig my turntable to play ‘“Stairway to Heaven’” backwards. Then I began listening to the Grateful Dead ‘— and that’s all I’m gonna say about that.

Since then I believe I can directly correlate many of my life’s bad decisions to what was playing on the stage or the stereo or jukebox or, even worse, bouncing around uninvited in my own head.

Steve Miller, (known by some as the ‘Space Cowboy’) convinced me to chase after the wrong woman. Elton John’s ‘“Benny and the Jets’” made me bag school and go to the ticker-tape parade when the Mets won the World Series in 1986. Carlos Santana induced me to party in broad daylight. Johnny Winter’s licks were so damn hot I wanted to punch somebody in the mouth

I moved down to New Orleans, where the slinky syncopation of the Meters and the Neville Brothers stirred something in me that felt so good it had to be bad. And then the song ‘“Going the Distance’” by Cake, which for my friends and me was the official tune of Mardi Gras 1997, earned me a permanent spot in the fiery place down below.

It was the music, the rock and roll music I tell ya.

And what’s amazing is that I didn’t see it until the grannies waved the Good Book in my face.

What’s even more amazing is that I don’t really care. Not really. I mean, we all gotta go somewhere and I might as well spend eternity down in H-E-double-hockey-sticks with all of my friends and heroes.

I think I’m gonna listen to some music right now, in fact ‘— a little Weezer and then some Audioslave and, if Old Man Splitfoot sees fit, maybe some gnarly Frank Zappa.

See you in hell.