The value of “Friend of the Devil” to a Christ-believer.
First off, let’s get one thing straight – I am NOT a Christian. In fact, I can’t even use that word to describe myself. It doesn’t mean what it is supposed to mean these days. The so-called word of God -the Bible – has been used to justify hate, discrimination, cruelty, murder and more. Just as bad, the Churches have promulgated the idea that prosperity is the reward for Christian behavior; while the churches are used as places to network and form social alliances that often benefit its members in ways that Christ would not approve of. I digress. This may be the subject of a future writing, we will see, but suffice it to say I don’t approve of a lot of what is associated with being a Christian. While I am a believer that Jesus is the Christ and Savior of my soul, I do not want to associate myself with the worldly word “Christian” any longer. All of this is beside the point because it is merely here to help readers understand why I used “Christ-believer” in my title. Now, on to the discussion. To know where I am coming from, I will have to give some background. So that is where we begin.
As you might have deduced, I grew up in a Christian home. My parents attended First Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana until I was in about 5th or 6th grade. At that time there was a disagreement in the church which compelled a lot of the members to migrate across town to a new up and coming non-denominational church with a charismatic preacher. Now, this guy was one of God’s own. There was something genuine in him. He reached me through his sermons at the age of about 9 or 10. It was he who played a large part in my decision to get baptized. He had a profound impact on my life, and I fully bought in to Jesus as my savior. But a lot of things were changing in my life and soon, I would rebel and defy my Christian parents and my God in many hurtful ways. Cut to the age of 18 and I was leaving town in the middle of the night to go watch the Grateful Dead play in Colorado. A trip with just me and my friends, my first time out of the house on an adventure of this magnitude without parental supervision. This was in the summer of 1991.
We survived that two week long foray that ultimately wound us up camping up in the Rocky mountains, but that was just the beginning. Many Dead shows and acid trips later, I had an awakening moment when I saw God speaking to me while I was on acid through the words of my good friend, Scott. All of that which was mysterious in life suddenly became awesome and in-your-face real. All the things that I had been taught about God and Christ was going to be seriously tested over the next few years as I struggled with mental health issues that may or may not have been caused by psychedelic drug use. Jump ahead twenty plus years.
Looking back today, I’ve realized that one of the many things that has helped me through the years has been music. The Grateful Dead has been kind-of a comfort food of Musics for me. Everybody has that band that makes them feel good inside when they are at their lowest point. For me, I became somewhat ashamed of my musical preference and gravitated toward more acceptable artists for a younger person to be into during the late 90’s early 2000’s. Now, I am ashamed to admit that. I now embrace the music that was so influential for me personally, even though I didn’t go as deep into the deadhead world as I could have, or even as far as most of my friends from long ago did. But, whatever damage was done by the drugs, or the music, or both was part of the chiseling of my soul into who I am destined to be. Back then, I was shaped by Christianity as well. It kept me on the fringe of the community, never really ready to fully embrace it. Since then, I have never really belonged to a church. I’m more proud of that fact these days than I used to be ashamed of my deadhead past.
There was also the religious pull away from the music of the Grateful Dead. While I didn’t live a “Christian” life, even back then, I did still have the religious indoctrination and brainwashing of a Christian upbringing, where everything can be boiled down to a sin or an act of righteousness. After I had my awakening moment, I started to see the hypocrisy in the church, and basically decided at that time that I was not going to listen to another man tell me who God is and how God wants me to live, but I was going to find out for myself. My relationship with God became personal, if it wasn’t already. What I do know is that my view of the church changed and my perspective of it since then has been one of disappointment.
With my Christian past, I have had a hard time with my affinity for the song, “Friend of the Devil,” y the Grateful Dead. Why do I like the song? Not totally sure, but it is a song that I have recorded myself playing many times over the past 6-8 years. The reasons extend beyond the playability of the song. It’s not a hard song to play, just 4 of the most basic of the first position major scale chords, played in G Major. These are the first chords you learn when you are just learning to play guitar. The song is a familiar tune for me, for sure. It may have been deemed taboo by my own self at a certain point in my past simply because of the lyrics and because of my spiritual beliefs. I think at a certain point in time the tune just touched a place in me that I couldn’t escape from. I believe that music extends beyond the lyrics into a place where our emotions are moved and we are momentarily if not permanently transformed. Music is defined by Jonathan E. Peters in his Music Theory course as “the universal language of emotions communicated through intelligently ordered sounds consisting of rhythm and pitch.” Lyrics simply aid in that cause. If a particular lyric helps your expression of dissatisfaction with life or helps you to get in touch with a certain part of who you are, is that necessarily wrong if your spiritual beliefs don’t agree with it? That’s where I began to investigate the relationship I was having with this song. My reasoning played into a thought process in which I have swapped good things with bad things. I came to this line of thinking when I asked myself the question, “if the world (as according to Christianity) is so EVIL (I see evidence of this in our world every day), then why would it allow the Bible and Christianity to proliferate for this long and to the point where being a Christian is somewhat common, trendy, and cool. In this scenario, I am starting to see the church as one of the anti-Christ’s and in that case a “Friend” of the “Devil”, is a friend of mine. Because I want no part of what I’m seeing in the Christians. Does that mean I am condemned to hell? We shall see. But I won’t stop here.
The next step in my analysis is with the whole Christian paradigm altogether. Could it be that there is no heaven or hell as Lennon asks us to Imagine? Well, that is a stretch I’m not willing to make just yet, but I do believe that there is no devil. In truth, I think there is NO SATAN or at least not one that can harm us (unless of course God allows). And even then, I’m open to the possibility that there is no such thing as Hell or even pain that we don’t inflict on ourselves. Satan is in our desire to grasp onto things that are not part of who we are, and therefore not real. When it comes down to the end, our own soul is our judge. Is it God, yes. He’s in there with us. We are part of Him. We can’t escape that. When we screw up, we pay for it. Not always in the due penalty for our crimes on this earth but always in equal proportion. I think there is value in the idea that we examine the spiritual possibilities and look for truth outside of what we have been taught as children. I don’t question whether there is a God, He’s established that. At least with me. I just know He has protected me from the so called “devil” too many times to worry or fear Satan. Satan’s biggest power is in his ability to tempt and deceive, but it is us who allow it to happen. In this view, the lyrics don’t have a taboo inference at all. They are merely part of a unique expression that allows us to be moved emotionally.
Finally, the reasons to learn to appreciate a song’s lyrics even if you do not ideologically agree with what they are saying can be enumerated all day long, but this article is about what I like about the song. Or at least what is valuable about the song. In addition to the reasons mentioned above about its playability and melody being sweet to the ear, the song has a moral to its story. I do not think its writer, singer, or listener is pledging allegiance to the god of the underworld but merely painting a picture of a tired rambler that is running from the law and longs to get back home to his sweet girl and a warm bed. In my mind, this rambler is learning a lesson and we should be wise in our story and not allow the same fate to befall us. If I can learn to appreciate this perspective on the song, and other folk music for that matter, I rise above the narrow mindedness that belies Christianity. Additionally, if there are those folks that idolize the song and believe it holds power in their pagan or satanic belief system then I stand corrected, but my guess is that even people of those belief systems could care less for the lyrics of this song, at least as it pertains to any religious belief they may hold. If this case be true, then I counter with the argument that it is my belief that nothing can hold power over me but God and what I give power to. Point being, that anyone who believed that the Grateful Dead and the world surrounding it was “evil” is probably persuaded by and probably has been, at least at some point, indoctrinated into the Christian religious system and therefore holds beliefs that influence them in this regard.