Track 2 of Black Sabbath’s third album, 1971’s Master of Reality, is a song entitled After Forever_, which, if you’re unfamiliar with its authors and were to read its lyrics without accompaniment, you might well assume it to be some sort of progressive hymn, or a folky Christian dirge. It’s actually, being Black Sabbath, a very heavy rock number (although ‘heavy’ is not the only string to their bow). Sabbath at this time, according to many accounts, were indulging in the rock star lifestyle; as such, despite retrospective pretensions to having been a ‘protest’ band that would invoke religious reference to accentuate the apocalyptic darkness of many of their songs (_Black Sabbath; War Pigs_), much of the paeanism in their oeuvre was more likely to extol the effects of chemical rather than spiritual transcendence (_Sweet Leaf; Snowblind; Fairies Wear Boots_). They didn’t encourage Satanism (incidentally, that forefinger-little finger Devil’s horns salute, perpetuated Beavis and Butt-Head-style by rock concertgoers, was not originated by Ozzy, whose live signature was always the two-armed, two-fingered ‘V’ for peace-type thing1977.jpg; the Devil’s horn thing was introduced by Ozzy’s replacement in Sabbath, Ronnie James Dio, on the Heaven and Hell tour, circa 1980), although let’s not kid ourselves that they were on any kind of morality trip. The religious allusions merely provide image and gravitas to some of their songs, but the lyrics were never really the point; rather, they serve to help give song-shape to the spot-welding of Tony Iommi’s otherwise often discordant riffs. Whatever, it usually worked – they were just a great rock band.
A few days ago, when I heard about this, I was reminded of After Forever because it includes the following line:
‘Would you like to see the Pope on the end of a rope – Do you think he’s a fool?’
Not too, er, imaginative (the lyric, or this attempt at a bridge to my point). And, in case your over-sensitive finger is twitching because, “Woahhh, wuh… yer cahn’t say that about the Purpp!”, I should quickly point out that, no, I don’t advocate having him hanged. And I’ll quickly add that I’m not using this as an attack on religion, but on anti-science (although when the two coincide, so be it). As such, I do think he is being obtuse for re-endorsing unethical doctrine.
Today, the discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus is acknowledged by a share of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. HIV is a huge problem in sub-Saharan Africa. Science is also elucidating the mechanisms by which it leads to AIDS, yielding the drugs that can control its onset and progression, and consequently prolong life. But these drugs are expensive, and, as such, largely unavailable to affected members of populations whose economies can least afford them – and over whom The Pope’s influence still holds sway. However, there remains no cure. Consequently, the best strategy remains…. prevention. But, Jo says ‘Naohhhh’. Way to go, Jo.
The Vatican has shown itself adept at doctrine adjustment when needs must. And earlier this year, it looked like it might be coming round. But the maintenance of a worldview is apparently considered more pressing than the preservation of life. Some Christian imagination wouldn’t go amiss. I’d rather listen to Black Sabbath.
- Martin Rowson: The Dog Allusion
- Jar City