Hotel California

Hotel California - Photo by RedC

I must have been around 11 or so when I heard a pastor in our church talk about the evils of rock music, especially this song called ‘Hotel California’.

“If you listen to it, it sounds very mellow and soothing to the ear, but it contains a message of pure evil,” he said. “You should avoid that song at all costs.”

And then he talked about backward-masking where if you play the music backwards, you would hear hidden messages in the songs. I heard some garbled samples of what sounded like “My sweet Satan”, “It’s fun to smoke marijuana” taken from the songs of KISS, Queen, The Beatles, and so on.

For a time, I became enamored with this and I would always be interested if this was the topic in church. I bought books on the evils of rock music and why it was from the devil. I listened to taped sermons about rock music from foreign pastors. One of them even featured a line-by-line dissection of Hotel California. For example, in the song, the narrator asks for some wine but the lady there replies “we haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.” The wine represents God (or the Holy Spirit) as it does in the Bible, and 1969 is significant because that was the year Anton Lavey supposedly founded the church of Satan (though Wikipedia tells us that it was actually founded in 1966). The Satanic Bible was written in 1969 though.

Because of this, I would shun rock music and musicians (and no, images of Ozzy Osbourne didn’t help in endearing me to this genre). During parties, even though I thought the music sounded good, I would always listen with some guilt, or would be wary and try to understand the lyrics first before I could bring myself to fully enjoy it. Love songs were ok but anything that sounded too metallic was suspect.

It was only a few years ago (when I began to get out of religion) that I learned to appreciate The Beatles and other rock and roll music. I could listen to Hotel California without getting goosebumps or wondering if demons were already seeping into my body as I soaked up the song. I also realized what a pathetic, neurotic and fearful individual religion has made me that I have become blind to the beauty right in front of me.

One thing that I have learned from this experience is to understand and appreciate things as they are — not by who or what they are associated with. Before, I saw rock music as from the devil, suddenly all rock music and musicians were now Satan’s minions, even if I hadn’t heard their songs or know who they are. Now, I make it a point not to judge until I have experienced whatever it is that requires my judgment.

What a liberating day it was for me when I learned to appreciate rock and roll. It wasn’t all noise and rebellion as I thought it was. There’s a lot of artistry and subtle emotions and passionate thoughts as well. And while rock (or Ozzy) is still not my preferred genre (I’m a jazz guy at heart), it is now a matter of taste rather than blanket condemnation.

I once heard someone comment that he was really torn when hearing “The Power of Two” from the Indigo Girls because the music was so nice but he knew that the singers were lesbians. I was like, “Oh, you poor, deprived soul. Get off your high horse and just enjoy the music”. John Lennon was perhaps right when he dreamed of a world without religion. It would probably be a better place. At least, it would be less judgmental.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s getting late and I’m going on a trip down a dark desert highway.

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