Trance bluesman Otis Taylor‘s new album Contraband: lies, who’s telling them and who gets the last word.
“Everybody lies” is the rather cynical worldview of Dr Gregory House in the hit TV series, House. That may not entirely be true, but I think Otis Taylor’s song “Devil’s Gonna Lie” from his album Contraband, released just a month ago, gets to the heart of the matter.
This new album was said by Paste Magazine to be “a modern blues record that even non-blues fans can love and that blues fans can outright cherish”. It’s a terrific album of what Taylor himself calls “trance blues” with a mix of jazz, blues, Americana, searing rock guitar and Taylor’s gruff baritone voice, where the lyrics are sparse and repeated over and over. The songs are eclectic, but strangely winning and at times mesmerizing.
“Devil’s Gonna Lie” opens the album and consists of two lines repeated over and over – “The devil’s gonna lie, When he needs to,” sung over a two-chord blues riff. For Taylor, one senses the devil isn’t so much a person as the personification of evil at work in the world through systems and institutions that abuse and exploit. And lies are always the tools of such evil. As the apostle John said, the devil is a liar and the father of lies.
Throughout history and throughout the world, lies and propaganda have been a tool in the armoury of oppressive regimes from Rome to Stalin to Hilter to Pol Pot to Robert Mugabe. But we’ve all experienced this to some degree over the past few years, haven’t we? With the Bush and Blair governments in the US and UK lying barefacedly to sell their war in Iraq, with “sexed-up” dossiers claiming weapons of mass destruction that never existed. With bankers and economists who sold us a never ending supply of cheap loans and never-ending economic growth. With retailers who tell us the only thing that matters is that these goods are cheap and never mind the near slave labour we’ve used to produce them at that price. And so it goes on – with the lies we face everyday from big business which tells us that we’ll be better looking, healthier, stronger, fitter, more up-to-date, sexier, cooler – happier – if only we buy this or that product, and buy it now. The lies never stop.
Here’s a great one-minute clip which graphically illustrates the lies of the advertising industry which sells us the idea that, yes, we really could look that good, with no wrinkles and no blemishes, and our hair and make-up would always be that perfect – if only we’d buy the product.
It’s all a lie, though. And we get sucked into the never-ending cycle of buying and consuming, but in our better moments wonder why it’s all so unsatisfying.
Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggemann suggests that our freedom and imagination is enthralled to “the global market economy supported by an undisciplined militarism in the service of limitless consumer entitlement”. The result is misery and exploitation for many and “seething anxiety” and unhappiness for the rest of us.
As Otis says, “devil’s gonna lie, when he needs to”. Governments, systems of oppression, institutions, corporations lie when they need to. Lying is one of the biggest tools of injustice. Injustice tells the poor that they are worthless and can’t expect more than they have; it tells the minority and the exploited that you have no right to complain; it tells everybody that things are OK the way they are and denies that injustice exists; it lies about history and why things are the way they are; it lies about the ability of the planet to sustain our lifestyles of consumption; it tells us that our wants and desires are the most legitimate ones and we have a right to satisfy them no matter what; it tells us that others (particularly if they are far enough away on the other side of the world) are expendible in the interests of our own “security”, trade prospects, energy interests or simply predatory covetousness; the biggest lie of all is that the way things are is just the way things are, and we are incapable of making change, so why bother?
Two New Testament texts are helpful in thinking about all this. The writer of 1 Peter says “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”. Be alert, be on your guard, don’t allow yourself to get sucked in by the lie. Listen to Otis – he’s right, “devil’s gonna lie, when he needs to”. And then James 4:7 “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you”. Resistance to the lie is the way to freedom. Bruggemann suggests our proper response is to be a truth-teller “to name the ways in which our world is organized according to the gospel of greed” and to be a “hope-teller, that the political economy can be organized differently …not man for the economy, but the economy for men and women.”
It is possible to make a difference – a recent study has shown that Wall Street financial institutions are changing their business practices as a result of the Occupy movement .
Real change is possible, but we gotta be watchful, be alert and resist. That’s the way to freedom from the lie.
Taylor’s Devil’s Gonna Lie, starts of with the foreboding sounds of a cornet and discordant electric guitar, with moaning and manic laughter. It’s the devil all right. But before long we get a gospel choir joining in and by the end the full sound of the band, the choir and Otis seem to hit a note of triumph. The lies of the devil don’t get the last word.
LISTEN TO: The Devil’s Gonna Lie
Otis Taylor Band Performs Rain So Hard