by JIM KNIPFEL
May 8, 2016
The Devilís Power is the Greatest One
Bear with me here. I know Iíve talked about much of this before, but Iím just trying to answer a question I was asked in an interview seven years ago. At the time I was distracted and in a foul mood, and so couldnít answer it very well. For some reason itís nagged at me ever since. It may also have something to do with having listened to too much Blue Oyster Cult, Ghost and other Satanic music these past few weeks.
††††††††††† I was a very good, mild-mannered kid. I didnít steal or lie, didnít talk back, didnít smoke or drink, and always did my chores. We had a close-knit family and it was a wholesome and idyllic Midwestern small town upbringing filled with fishing holes and old candy stores and backyard barbecues. But as much as I loved my parents and as nice a kid as I was, from as early as I can remember I always harbored some very dark thoughts.
††††††††††† In kindergarten I remember telling my friend Ed, quite seriously too, that I would much rather be dead than alive. Although I had many of the standard kid obsessions (dinosaurs, Evel Knievel, the Middle Ages, monster movies, gorillas and sharks), in the early Seventies my obsessions with both Nixon and Manson trumped them all. I found myself strangely attracted to crime stories both fictional and true, grew morbidly excited whenever I heard news about a major disaster or accident of some kind, spent hours staring at assorted artistic renderings of the crucifixion, read and re-read the Book of Revelation, and ached to see a nuclear war in my lifetime. I always rooted for the villains in movies even though I knew they didnít have a chance, and at church always found Satan a much more compelling character than Jesus. Early on I also discovered I really had very little patience for most people.
††††††††††† I canít explain where any of that came from. Certainly not my folks (who were Lutheran, Republican, and found it confusing and disturbing). My friends, few as they were, were all pretty straight as well. It seems to have always been part of my makeup despite everything my parents taught me.
††††††††††† For the most part I was able to keep all those bad thoughts safely and silently trapped inside my head, but they did leak out in different ways. Again without explanation, I always felt compelled (despite my quiet, geeky and dorky exterior) to do and say things contrary to what was tacitly accepted, expected, and agreed upon by everyone around me.
††††††††††† Although it was a heavily Lutheran and Catholic town, the one true overarching religion in Green Bay, the one that topped all others, was the Packers. Within the tenets of that faith, Satan took the form of the Chicago Bears, so of course I became an ardent Bears fan. I wore a Bears cap to Packer games even when they werenít playing the Bears, and a Bears jersey in my backyard, both of which earned me more verbal and physical abuse from adult strangers than I usually got, which in turn convinced me I was doing something right. It was also a mostly conservative Republican town (especially during Vietnam), so I of course started reading Marx and Engels and declared myself a revolutionary communist in junior high. This did not go over real well in a military household. Even the clerk at the Waldenbooks who sold me my first anthology of Marxist writings nearly spat on me. By the time I hit high school Iíd switched out Marx for Bakunin and become an anarchist instead. That was somehow less effective, given no one seemed to know what anarchism was.
††††††††††† Since all the kids in school were listening to Top 40 pop bands and metal, I started listening to Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Bach and Wagner, Irish folk songs, crooners, and punk rock. Even though I genuinely loved that music then and still do, it mostly arose out of simple contempt for whatever appealed to the masses around me.
††††††††††† The important thing is, though, that on the surface I was still a nice, quiet, shy and bookish kid. I didnít scream or yell about Marx or the Bears, didnít loudly and snottily denounce people, just read the books, wore the jersey, and listened to the records and that was that, and so for the most part this contrary acting out was taken as little more than a collection of eccentricities (except by Packer fans). At the same time, beginning around age fourteen, the depression started growing worse and I got into the habit of trying to kill myself in one way or another every six to eight months.
††††††††††† Iím still asked to this day if those morbid obsessions, destructive thoughts and suicidal impulses were in response to the fact that I was going blind, and the simple answer remains no. I knew my eyes were bad is all, and apart from my Uncle Tom telling me, when I was twelve, that I should start learning Braille, I had no idea I was going blind until I was officially diagnosed in 1989.
††††††††††† Anyway, the evil thoughts and quiet self destruction brewing behind the nice guy exterior continued on course until I splashed into Madison and met Grinch, who showed me how very easy it was to step over the line and get away with it. In those pre-YouTube days when there werenít eight surveillance cameras on every block and a million assholes with camera phones to pick up the slack, you really could act on any stupid impulse, do whatever the fuck you wanted whenever the fuck you wanted and, if you did it with enough brazen confidence, no one would say a word. For the first time I was able to openly act on those bad and ugly thoughts, becoming one of those sociopathic criminals I so admired when I was a kid. It felt mighty good and liberating, but for some reason I continued trying to kill myself every year or so. Thatís another thing Iíve never been able to fully explain.
††††††††††† So I became a Very Bad Person for a few years there, like the Very Bad People I idolized. After moving to Philly and falling into writing, somehow I grew Even Worse, because even if there were certain thoughts I couldnít literally and physically act upon, I could still act on them in a way by describing them in a public forum. That worked even better, because I didnít have to risk personal injury or incarceration, and could reach a much wider audience. And somehow after tripping into that outlet, I found I was no longer much interested in killing myself, at least in any obvious overt way.
††††††††††† Well, the years passed, the fires tempered, the eyes died, and that old Nice Guy exterior crawled its way to the surface again. As the Church of Satanís Peter Gilmore once pointed out to me, being pleasant to people, even people you loathe, works like a kind of white magic. If youíre pleasant to people instead of screaming and ranting at them, theyíre much more likely to be cooperative and give you what you want. It works doubly well if youíre blind, which is good, as I need to count on the occasional cooperative hand of a stranger.
††††††††††† The ugly thoughts are still up there, though now they mostly get expressed through the thoughts and voices of fictional characters. Itís still good to know that when they do occasionally slip out unexpectedly, they still have the power to shock even my wife, whom youíd think would be quite used to them by now.
††††††††††† So in answer to that question I couldnít answer seven years ago, namely ďWhat went wrong with you?Ē I guess Iíd have to say I have no goddamn clue. Maybe I just have a bit of the Debbil in me.
You can contact Jim Knipfel at this address:
With occasional exceptions Slackjaw generally appears weekly. For email notification of other Jim Knipfel publications (books, etc.) and events please join the Slackjaw email list here.