The Devil Went Down to Georgia

I've been engaged in a conversation in comments on another blog about the many and varied representations of the Christian Devil. Someone there linked to the McSweeney's piece Thirty-Nine Questions for Charlie Daniels Upon Hearing "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" for the First Time in 25 Years. I have a longstanding hatred for that publication, and decided to take that particular list to pieces. Here you go: ~~~~~~~~ And that, right there, is a shining example of why I hate McSweeney's. The smug, condescending, ignorant elitist hipsterism. The "humor" in that is supposed to be "Nobody has really thought about this before, they all took it on face value, but I really listened to it, and actually it was stupid." (And please, nobody try to tell me that that's supposed to be an "ironic" attitude. That's just meaning it but trying for plausible deniability.) The problem is that every single one of those questions can be answered by having a passing familiarity with the body of folklore that "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" comes out of and is a part of. The hipster assumes that other people are missing something -- the stupidity of the song -- but instead it is the hipster who is missing something -- the context of the song. Rather than actually go do some research and understand what's going on in the story, the hipster decides it would be really funny to turn it into a piece for McSweeney's, where they love this shit. 1. The Devil won that fiddling contest, right? 2. Because isn’t that totally amazing fiddle feedback thing the Devil plays (which sounds like Hendrix gone bluegrass) a hundred times better than that high-school-band piece-of-crap tune Johnny plays? 3. I mean, come on, right? 4. And since the Devil is so clearly better, why does he lay the golden fiddle on the ground at Johnny’s feet? The intended audience of the song and its story has one important standard by which fiddle music is judged: that it makes you want to get up and dance to it, in the way they like to dance. Johnny's playing does exactly that, and very well -- and if this hipster shrimpdittle thinks Johnny's part is high-school-band crap, I invite him to fucking try it himself; that takes skill -- while the Devil's does not, even if Mx. My Taste Is Superior To Your Hipster likes it better. There is another important standard, although the first one trumps it -- fiddle music that doesn't make you want to dance is worthless -- and that's technical difficulty. The Devil's technique is actually obscured by his band of demons; he's filling in to cover up the fact that his fiddling won't stand on its own. He can't do the runs Johnny can at the speed Johnny can without mistakes. By the rules of the setting, Johnny is the winner. 5. What kind of one-sided bet was that anyway, your eternal soul for a fiddle? 6. Shouldn’t it have been something like Johnny’s soul or the eradication of Evil? 7. Or maybe a golden fiddle against some object Johnny placed great value upon? Um. If he just sold it as-is, the funds would set him and his entire extended family up for life as quite wealthy people. But more than that, in this folklore, a fiddle made of gold is a magical object. This is one of those people-can't-stop-dancing-while-you-play, your-music-can-drive-away-evil, the-sound-of-it-has-other-magical-effects type of fiddle here. Even a poor fiddler could make a fortune playing an instrument like that, and there are tales of them doing just that. A musician as good as Johnny could, again, set up his entire extended family for life on the fees he got playing out, and more, he would have fame and recognition, which he may or may not have on his own. The temptation isn't just money, it's an appeal to what most musicians want: for their music to have an effect on the people they play for, and to be recognized and loved for it. This is the shape of these stories: the temptation must be personal. To bring your beloved back from the grave, to give you a child, fame and fortune, power, great music, whatever your heart's desire might be. 8. If the Devil went down to Georgia ’cause he was looking for a soul to steal, why does he arrange what appears to be an honest competition? 9. Was there actually some hidden theft or scam going on here on the part of the Devil? 10. Then why not explain that, Mr. Daniels? The intended audience of this song already knows what's happening, so why the fuck should Charlie Daniels explain it to you, Mx. Hipster? Johnny is, apparently, a reasonably good man, one...