The Great Rock'n'Roll Conspiracy

Your weekly dose of Paranoia


The Nervous Breakdown took an unusual approach when it interviewed me about my book The United States of Paranoia. It just fired phrases at me and asked me to free-associate. For example:

Huntington House


A: There's a weird poetry to the word salad that people think they hear when they play records backward.

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

That was supposed to be encoded in "Stairway to Heaven." It's nonsense, but it's compelling nonsense: I've reached the point where I enjoy the spooky sensation of hearing the song backward more than the worn-out pleasure of listening to it the way it's supposed to be heard.

There have always been rumors that something evil is lurking in popular music. If you look in the Monkees' FBI file—yes, of course the Monkees had an FBI file—you'll see that someone at the bureau's Los Angeles field office got it into his head that the band had included left-wing "subliminal messages" in its live show. In the 1970s a man called John Todd traveled the circuit telling congregations that he was a defector from the Illuminati, that the Illuminati control the music industry, and that Elton John had never created a song that wasn't written in "witch language." These days half of hip hop is supposed to be under Illuminati control, and YouTube is filled with intricate analyses of the symbolism the secret society has supposedly concealed in pop videos.

But the most potent conspiracy story about music is this idea that backward Satanic messages have been inscribed in rock records. The fact that the bands have almost always denied that the incantations are there didn't matter—even if they're telling the truth, the story went, the Devil could have inserted the messages himself.

Other phrases I was asked to react to include "KKK," "The Illuminati," "The Dead Kennedys," "Christian Rock," "Twin Towers," and more. You can read the rest of the interview here. The site also published an except from the book; you can read that here.

While I'm on the subject, I might as well do my weekly roundup of book links:

• Bill Kauffman discusses the book in The American Conservative.

• David Halperin—author of the novel Journal of a UFO Investigator, which has been on my to-read list for a while—reviews the book on his blog.

• Woody Brown reviews the book in Artvoice, and then he writes some more about it in Case Magazine.

• Jack Kirk reviews the book in The Red Wire.

• Radio New Zealand interviews me.

• And now, an opposing view.