Anton Szandor LaVey was the most outspoken and most notorious apostle of Satan in the twentieth century. On his life before founding the Church of Satan in 1966, LaVey liked to spin wild tales, but he did actually work as a professional and semi-professional musician in the carnival circuit. The High Priest of Satan was fond of bombastic classic music in the Wagnerian mould and popular tunes from the thirties, forties, and fifties, the period in which he himself had been young. He even formulated a magical theory to suit his tastes: when playing forgotten hits again, their pent-up magical energy would be released and could be directed to the magician’s advantage. In the Black House, LaVey had set up a battery of synthesizers to practice his golden oldie magic: he claimed to have caused the 1988 Mexico City earthquake by playing them in a particular angry mood.
While this may account for some of the unusual synthesizer covers LaVey released, his choice to record “Answer Me” stands out as unusual. “Answer Me” was originally composed in 1953 by the German songwriter Gerhard Winkler under the sweet title, Mütterlein (“Mama Dear”). In the same year, the song was translated by Carl Sigman and made it to the English hit charts in no less than two performances – one by Frankie Laine and one by David Whitfield. The song was already called “Answer Me” then, but its first line was not yet “Answer me, o my love,” but “Answer me, Lord above.” Because the BBC considered religious content in pop music inappropriate, Sigman removed the religious reference. In this secularized version, Nat King Cole sang the song into the US charts of 1954.
While one may debate the musical merits of Satanic leader Anton LaVey’s cover of “Answer Me”, his raw singing strikes one as eerily sincere. Who was the Exarch of Hell addressing with this plea? The idea that he was pleading with the traditional deity may be summarily dismissed: for all we know, LaVey remained completely devoted to the cause of antireligious Satanism until his demise in 1997. Was he singing directly to Satan then? There might have been some occasion for a prayer to Satan for LaVey when he performed this song. The Church of Satan had been plagued by schism, waning appeal, and general decay since the late 1970s. LaVey had first envisioned it as mass movement, then as a select cabal of superior Satanist schemers; none of these options had materialized. Seemingly extinct forms of Christianity were on the rise again and spreading obnoxious rumors about Satanism, and LaVey himself led an increasingly isolated life as lone Übermensch in a barricaded Black House. These circumstances might well have induced him to raise his own De Profundis to the Devil.
There is a third candidate for being the addressee of this song, however: LaVey’ex-wife, Diane Evelyn Hegarthy. LaVey met Hegarthy in 1959, when she was a blonde, seventeen-year-old waitress in the San Francisco restaurant where LaVey played the organ. Since then, she had been the most important woman in his life and provided indispensable help and support in running the Church of Satan. However, LaVey’s infidelities with “student witches”, his growing disrespect for personal hygiene, and his increasing general grumpiness had estranged Diane from him; by the late 1980s, she had filed for a divorce, claiming that LaVey hit her on at least two occasions. In January 1993, the year LaVey recorded this track, a Californian judge granted Diane the divorce with alimony, leaving LaVey financially and emotionally broke. And that is what we may be hearing on this record: a Satanic High Priest with a broken heart.
Featured image credit: 666 by Kuba Bożanowski. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.