Friday night while driving me home from an evening out, Fresh Hell played Lobsterdust’s mashup “It’s Fun to Smoke Dust” (Queen vs. Pastor Gary Greenwald vs. Midfield General) from Best of Bootie 2008. Overlaid on Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” is Pastor Gary Greenwald’s passionate sermon about how the song contains an evil “backward masked” message, saying, “It’s fun to smoke marijuana!” (Thank you, Freddy, for stating the obvious via satanic technology). I’d heard the mashup before, courtesy of Date, but I hadn’t really listened to it. Now that I was listening, it sounded very familiar.
“Wait a minute! I’ve heard this before! Is this from Hell’s Bells: The Dangers of Rock and Roll? We had to watch this movie in high school!*”
Even though Fresh knows I was raised by fundamentalist Christians and had to go to fundamentalist school, sometimes my knowledge of such things still manages to surprise her. I thought perhaps it might surprise you. Here is a tale of an attempt to inoculate me and my fellow inmates against what fundies call “The World.”**
Sometime during my junior year in high school, our Christian Education teacher, who had also been our eighth and ninth grade history teacher (she had an associates in physical education), decided that my class had grown too worldly and that we needed to be aware of the dangers of backward masking and other messages hidden in rock and roll music (aka “Worldly Music”). To that end she had signed out the school’s VCR (usually reserved for showing anti-premarital sex videos) and told us that we were going to watch a movie during class. That movie was Hell’s Bells.
Oh, Hell’s Bells. Made in 1989 at the height of the satanic cult scare, it saw the Dark Lord’s sooty fingerprints everywhere. The early middle-aged narrator, still sporting a mullet (all the better to appeal to “the youth”), left no stone unturned. From the usual heavy metal suspects to the Bauhaus, XTC, and the Cure, according to him every genre had but one, singular goal. To turn young people into knights in Satan’s service (yeah, Gene Simmons. We’re onto you).
While degenerate rock musicians peddled messages of sex and drugs as a matter of course, far more insidious was the phenomenon known as backward masking. Hidden in certain rock and roll songs, were messages discernable only when the track was played backwards.*** The subject of these messages? Pure evil. Groups like the PMRC blamed backward masking for everything from suicide to Satan worship. Listen to rock? Become a zombie for the devil.
Most of the examples of backward masking in Hell’s Bells had to do with worshipping Satan, but Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” announced that it was fun to smoke dope. So I guess when I was bopping my head, skating around the roller rink, I should have been thinking about toking up instead of shooting the duck. Sigh. I’d always misheard lyrics.
Thing was, when mullet guy played the backward masked message to “Another One Bites the Dust,” it didn’t sound a bit like “It’s fun to smoke marijuana!” It sounded like this:
Eetssss nnn te kehhh erijNAH!
Excuse me? Don’t you think Satan would make himself a bit clearer? I was trying rather hard not to laugh, but some of my classmates couldn’t help it and started snickering. That pretty much did it for the effectiveness of Hell’s Bells. We weren’t going to be burning our Led Zeppelin albums and replacing them with Steven Cutis Chapman any time soon.
When our teacher left the room to return the video player, Queen was all we talked about. We tried to figure out what the heck was going on. “That didn’t sound anything like marijuana!”
A number of us tried, but the young Smokestack imitated the backward masking best. She’d grunt and yell, and then someone would follow with “Hey hey!” and we’d bop our heads to the tune in our head. At some point, someone (maybe it was me, but I don’t remember) realized that the backward message sounded a heck of a lot like “Another One Bites the Dust” written backward:
That clears things up. Of course it says, “It’s fun to smoke marijuana!” Hail Satan! Pass the bong!
Among other oddities, Queen’s supposed backward masking has become a symbol of our warped education. So when I got back home after hearing Lobsterdust’s mashup, I immediately sent the following e-mail to Smokestack:
Run. Do not walk. Google directly "Best of Bootie 2008," and download the Queen song. You will laugh yourself peeless.
She replied with the suggestion that we use it as a theme song to our next reunion.
*The particular sermon in the mashup was not drawn from the documentary, but the message is the same.
**“The World”—To fundamentalist Christians, existence can be bifurcated into two groups, Christians (meaning born-again fundamentalists—no Catholics or “mainline” churches welcome) and everyone else. Everyone else = “The World.” The customs and music of the others are viewed by fundamentalists as the slippery slope leading directly to the Bad Place.
***It is indeed possible to add a “backward masked” message to an album track. The new wave band the Waitresses added a backward masked message on “I Could Rule the World if Only I Could Get the Parts,” and then slapped a warning label on it. I’d heard the story, and when I was in college, I convinced my computer science geek friend to feed it through his computer. The message? “Anyone who believes in backward masking is a fool.” Genius.