Sunday, September 7, 2014

"Play Me Backwards"

Adam Selzer was born in Des Moines and now lives in Chicago, where he writes humorous books by day and researches history, ghost stories and naughty playground rhymes by night. After eleven published books, including the acclaimed Smart Aleck's Guide to American History and I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It, not to mention How To Get Suspended and Influence People (which people try to ban now and then), he is just famous enough to have a page on wikipedia. He has been described as "subversive, but in a fun the offspring of Bob Dylan and some Muppet."

Selzer applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Play Me Backwards, and reported the following:
On Page 69, we find our hero, Leon, contemplating whether or not Stan, his best friend (and manager at his job) could possibly really be the devil, as he’s claimed to be since the age of 9.

Leon considers the old story that you can hear Satanic messages in rock songs by playing them backwards, and gives a few famous examples. He’s heard samples of them online, and notes that to him, they never sound like they’re saying “Satan.” It always sounds more like “Stan” to him.

This is something I noticed years ago, and is the exact reason why Stan has the name that he does (despite the fact that you practically never meet a “Stan” under 50). When I was in high school, I stumbled across a terrifically ridiculous book called The Devil’s Disciples: The Truth about Rock at a used book store. I used to find books like that quite a bit - I remember reading one thing claiming that rock bands hired witches to write their lyrics, then took their melodies from ancient Druidic manuscripts. Where they were getting all these manuscripts wasn’t specified.

Anyway, Devil’s Disciples had a whole section exposing the “backmasking,” and I wanted to hear it for myself. Leon can easily hear samples online, but I happened to be a teenager in the era when it was hardest to hear things played backwards. It’s not so hard with a vinyl album or an mp3, but CDs can’t be played backwards easily. I had to copy the section I wanted to hear onto a tape, snip the section of tape out, then tape it back in upside-down. I wrecked several blank tapes trying to get it right.

Most of the time, I felt like it took a lot of imagination to hear any sort of messages in the garbled sounds of a song being played backwards. Now and then, though, there’d be a real message that was clearly intentional - you could tell because it sounded like gibberish played forwards, but was perfectly intelligible reversed. 90% of the time, it was the artist playing a joke. There was one song - I think it was the J Geils Band - that, when played backwards, clearly stated that “you don’t have to be a genius to know chicken shit from chicken salad.”

My two favorite examples came from Weird Al Yankovic, who has, to my knowledge, two intentional backwards messages. In “I Remember Larry,” there’s a garbled section that, when reversed, says “You must have a lot of time on your hands.” In his early classic “Nature Trail to Hell,” a backwards playing reveals Al saying “Satan eats Cheez Whiz.”

In the draft of what became page 69, I contemplated including Al’s line about Cheez Whiz, if only to explain the fact that Stan is seen eating Cheez Whiz right from the can in several scenes throughout the book, but decided to just leave it as one of those “let’s see who notices” jokes.
Visit Adam Selzer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue