While our hero is being damned and doubted for masqueradin’ with words, and arousing suspicion and then hilarity for hiding in plain sight in New Jersey, I wanted to take a break and look at a song about evil and unmasking.
Some sweet day I’ll stand beside my king.
No, not that song. Man of Peace. (But a brief moment of hello and envy to the good people of Tahoe who got to hear “desk clerks dressed in black” out of our hero’s own mouth last night.)
Come over here baby, there’s a scene you’ll like to catch. Listen to Man of Peace. The artist-as-a-young-man whose revelatory and vast vision looked boldly out at desolation row and recreated history until he exhausted himself, Lady beside him, this young seer has become a matter-of-fact middle-aged man who seems to want only to share some grownup disillusionment with his companion, through an ordinary window at the ordinary world.
Is it news that the beggars and buskers, and holy men, and the man who can slip and slide unnoticed through the crowd, might not be what they seem, might not want what they seem to want or be offering what you think they’re offering? Is it news that the devil can be a needy tramp playing on your pity, or a sweet-talking and sweeter-singing minstrel reeling you in with every song of love that ever has been sung? Not news. Look out of any window, any day, and see if you can tell the one true story of what you’re seeing. The song begins and the not-so-young singer is only telling the girl what she’d come to know herself about the tricky and treacherous world outside safe, maybe even loving, rooms.
But the singer starts getting closer, pulling in from the scene outside the window. Satan is right there when you need light, that glimpse of the sun, and he’s right there when your burden’s more than you can stand. His timing is excellent and he is a subtle beast, doesn’t have to call attention to himself. If he promises exactly what I want, and I can’t spot him for anything but what I think he is– someone I notice least, when certainly we would like Satan to be exactly what we notice most--what are my odds of beating him?
The poor girl still at the window, captured by the song, and now things take an awful turn, don’t they. Ride down Niagara Falls in the barrels of your skull. There’s something quite horribly wrong with this line of the song. This is too…particular a nightmare. It’s conventional and even a little pedantic to point out all the possibilities of deception and malice in our day-to-day world. It’s a little uncomfortable to be reminded that evil tempts us when we’re hungriest for consolation, and oppressing to be reminded that we’re often too weak to spot it. But now the singer knows something not at all conventional, or pedantic, and now there’s no more subtlety to Satan’s deceptions. We’re a little spooked by imagining a demon careening over the falls in our very own skull. This is out of a one-of-a-kind nightmare, and now I am looking at it. Next line, the singer unmasks himself pretty much completely. He smells something cooking. This does not sound, well, healthy, or appetizing, does it. There’s going to be a feast, and we’re reminded of the feast whose preparations are observed from desolation row, a feast that somehow requires curtains to be nailed. Sometimes Satan comes as the man with the harmonious tongue, who, after all, tried to warn you.
Too late apparently–Satan has humanity’s best interests at heart, a great lover of mankind in fact, if we dig into the root of philanthropist, whose awkward syllables roll effortlessly into the rhythm of the song. It’s a very old story: Satan seducing one single creature through the language of doing all of mankind a favor. A single creature forewarned and hapless, like the girl who’s gone with the man in the long black coat.
And on we ride through prophecies of annihilation and the end of days–anything you thought would last forever, trees or love, they’re all coming down and coming to a stop. No doubting now that what the singer knows and sees is coming from some place far beyond that window. Until.
The last verse is a different kind of window. We’re back in the very human world. A world more realistically doomed than the one in the next-to-last-verse. It’s just the regular world where innocence has to end and mothers have to weep. and there are dreams of redemption and sacrifice to be followed to whatever end they lead you, and then we’re back at the window, listening to a song about that same old lost world, sung by an old artificer.