Sherlock Holmes, Moriarty, and the Devil

In the three most recent adaptations of Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock, Elementary, and the Game of Shadows) at crucial moments Holmes is deceived by Moriarty into making a tactical error and in the mean time a song about demon forces is played.

There Are Spoilers Below

In the movie, Holmes is fooled into thinking Moriarty intended to bomb an Opera house during Don Giovanni. Upon Holmes’ arrival, the chorus of demons is played as the main character is received into Hell. 

In the American procedural, Holmes is fooled into thinking a serial killer is Moriarty (when indeed the real Moriarty’s identity remains opaque to him) and Gil Scott-Heron’s, Me and the Devil, plays:

And in BBC’s version, Sherlock rides to the court house to function as an expert witness, and Nina Simone’s Sinnerman plays in the background:

 

Now, is this all just a coincidence or does something in the source material lend to this interpretation? No, it is not a coincidence. Yes, there is one reference to Moriarty as an evil on a diabolical level:

“[He] has, to all appearance, a most brilliant career before him. But the man had hereditary tendencies of a most diabolical kind. A criminal strain ran in his blood, which, instead of being modified, was increased and rendered infinitely more dangerous by his extraordinary mental powers. Dark rumours gathered round him in the university town, and eventually he was compelled to resign his chair and to come down to London…” – Sherlock Holmes on Moriarty in The Final Problem

 

I doubt that anybody I know was interested enough in that confluence of media and Sherlock Holmes source material. I had wondered to myself, “why had they utilized that sort of theme in these modern versions of Holmes, particularly when he’s portrayed as an atheist in two of them?” Since I hadn’t read the Final Problem in a while, the answer was unknown to me. When I went back to it, there it was.

I think part of the appeal of Holmes today is that his intelligence is used in fighting evil, I hope people go back to the books and read them though. Holmes is portrayed more humanely, more philosophically, and though I love the modern adaptations, more excellently in the originals.

There was Ash

I prefer my songs to tell stories and it’s even better if whole albums can do it. For this very reason, one of my favorite bands is Murder by Death. Below is an album that is inspired by Homer’s Odyssey, but the protagonist is fairly evil and vicious. There are timestamps for the songs. I highly recommend “Ash,” but they’re all good.  

Their albums appeal to me because they tend to take epic tales (Dante, Milton, and Homer) and set them in small town North America. The dust, heat, and violence of the tales reminds me of stories shared around fires with my extended family as a boy. 

1. Comin’ Home 03:35 2. Ball & Chain 03:02 3. Rum Brave 03:06 4. Fuego! 04:11 5. Theme (For Ennio Morricone) 02:49 6. A Second Opinion 03:19 7. Steal Away 02:05 8. Ash 03:32 9. The Black Spot 03:21 10. ’52 Ford 02:25 11. Spring Break 1899 05:56

Music Monday: When Bastille “Can’t Even!”

When I heard this song the other day, I thought it was a parody:

How can you think you’re serious?
Do you even know what year it is? 
I can’t believe the scary points you make 
Still living in the currents you create
Still sinking in the pool of your mistakes 
Won’t you stop firing up the crazies? 

 

This reminds me of Paul Graham’s wonderful essay What You Can’t Say. The very idea that ‘what year it is’ should determine what can, can’t, should, or shouldn’t be said is about as unamerican and certainly as illiberal an idea one can imagine. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from his essay:

We may imagine that we are a great deal smarter and more virtuous than past generations, but the more history you read, the less likely this seems. People in past times were much like us. Not heroes, not barbarians. Whatever their ideas were, they were ideas reasonable people could believe.  

Music Monday: The Highway Man

I’ve always thought this was an intriguing song/poem. I prefer Loreena McKennitt’s song to the poem, but it’s good. 

One reason I like it is that it raises that perennial question: why do people have relationships with people who are bad for them? For instance, dozens of women in the UK are married to men on death row! Also, in college, people with Dark Triad traits are more sexually successful (not defined in terms of ethics).

But I also like it because it’s an example of why self-control is so crucial. The highwayman loses his cool precisely when it’s time to calm and calculating and ultimately dies for it. The woman in the story is the man who dates jerks (in this case, he may have merely been a criminal, but not a jerk to her…hard to say). And the man is like King Solomon, who gave his strength to women (Proverbs 31:3). The archetypes are very real and something like this story happens frequently. People get into a relationship and catastrophically destroy one another while continuing to obsess over one another anyway. 

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The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes

THE wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees, 
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, 
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor, 
And the highwayman came riding— 
Riding—riding— 
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

II

He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin, 
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin; 
They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh! 
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle, 
His pistol butts a-twinkle, 
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

III

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard, 
And he tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred; 
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there 
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter, 
Bess, the landlord’s daughter, 
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

IV

And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked 
Where Tim the ostler listened; his face was white and peaked; 
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay, 
But he loved the landlord’s daughter, 
The landlord’s red-lipped daughter, 
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—

V

‘One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night, 
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light; 
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day, 
Then look for me by moonlight, 
Watch for me by moonlight, 
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.’

VI

He rose upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand, 
But she loosened her hair i’ the casement! His face burnt like a brand 
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast; 
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight, 
(Oh, sweet, black waves in the moonlight!) 
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonliglt, and galloped away to the West.

PART TWO

I

He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon; 
And out o’ the tawny sunset, before the rise o’ the moon, 
When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor, 
A red-coat troop came marching— 
Marching—marching— 
King George’s men came matching, up to the old inn-door.

II

They said no word to the landlord, they drank his ale instead, 
But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed; 
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side! 
There was death at every window; 
And hell at one dark window; 
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

III

They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest; 
They had bound a musket beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast! 
‘Now, keep good watch!’ and they kissed her. 
She heard the dead man say— 
Look for me by moonlight; 
Watch for me by moonlight; 
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

IV

She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good! 
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood! 
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years, 
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight, 
Cold, on the stroke of midnight, 
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

V

The tip of one finger touched it; she strove no more for the rest! 
Up, she stood up to attention, with the barrel beneath her breast, 
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again; 
For the road lay bare in the moonlight; 
Blank and bare in the moonlight; 
And the blood of her veins in the moonlight throbbed to her love’s refrain .

VI

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs ringing clear; 
Tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear? 
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill, 
The highwayman came riding, 
Riding, riding! 
The red-coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still!

VII

Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night! 
Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light! 
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath, 
Then her finger moved in the moonlight, 
Her musket shattered the moonlight, 
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.

VIII

He turned; he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood 
Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own red blood! 
Not till the dawn he heard it, his face grew grey to hear 
How Bess, the landlord’s daughter, 
The landlord’s black-eyed daughter, 
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

IX

Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky, 
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high! 
Blood-red were his spurs i’ the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat, 
When they shot him down on the highway, 
Down like a dog on the highway, 
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.

X

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees, 
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, 
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor, 
A highwayman comes riding— 
Riding—riding— 
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

XI

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard; 
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred; 
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there 
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter, 
Bess, the landlord’s daughter, 
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair. 

Linkin Park, Chester Bennington, and Death

A few weeks ago Chester Bennington, the front-man for the genre bending group, Linkin Park died, apparently having committed suicide.

When I was in high school I really loved every song but one on their first two albums Hybrid Theory and Meteora. And in those days of music pirating software like Kazaa and Morpheus, I was able to discover older versions of hits like In The End with significantly superior lyrics that may not have been as interesting to a mass market audience.

The weird thing about Linkin Park is that they were a staple in weight rooms and gaming dens alike. But admitting you liked them in public was like admitting you liked Wrestling, Nickleback, or Dragon Ball Z. But everybody knew that millions of people liked these things, but somehow it was weird to like them in public…even if you knew that all the jacked guys in school listened to them, too.

I did watch wrestling and I know an unusual number of ex-addicts (usually alcohol) who found Dragon Ball Z’s main character Goku to be archetypally important for overcoming their problems. So, yeah, I like Dragon Ball Z, too. And frankly, Linkin Park had enough awesome songs with sci-fi themed music videos to be a legitimately awesome band. Though, you probably only liked them if you programmed computers, played video games, or lifted weights in high school.

Here’s my favorite Linkin Park and Dragon Ball Z music video:

If you want to be less of a goober and weirdo, here’s the version of that song with alternate (superior lyrics). It deals with the struggles of seeking to be an independent thinker:

Lyrics:

It starts with one
And multiplies ’til you can taste the sun
And burned by the sky you try to take it from
But if it falls, there’s no place to run
Crumbling down, it’s so unreal
They’re dealing you in to determine your end
And sending you back again, the places you’ve been
And bending your will ’til it breaks you within
And still they fill their eyes
With the twilight through the skylight
And the highlights on a frame of steel
See the brightness of your likeness
As I write this on a pad with the way I feel
Hear the screaming in my dreaming
As it’s seeming that you’ve played your part
Like you’re heartless, take apart this in the darkness
But I know that

Chorus :
I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
I had to fall
To lose it all
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter

I’ve looked down the line
And what’s there is not what ought to be
Held back by the battles they fought for me
Calling me to be part of their property
And now I see that I get no chance
I get no break, fakes and snakes
Quickly lead to mistakes
And as the tightrope within slowly starts to thin
I can only hope that they close their eyes
To the twilight through the skylight
And the highlights on a frame of steel
See the brightness of your likeness
As I write this on a pad to the way I feel
Hear the screaming in my dreaming
As it’s seeming that you’ve played your part
Like you’re heartless, take apart this in the darkness
But I know that

Chorus :
I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
I had to fall
To lose it all
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter

I’ve put my trust in you
Pushed as far as I can go
For all this
There’s only one thing you should know
I’ve put my trust in you
Pushed as far as I can go
For all this
There’s only one thing you should know
I’ve put my trust in you
Pushed as far as I can go
For all this
There’s only one thing you should know

Chorus :
I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
I had to fall
To lose it all
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter

 

Sting and the unbearable lightness of sorrow

I was born in the 80s. This means that I listened to a lot of the best music of the previous century as a child. But as you grow older, some music acquires new meaning, either because of your experiences or because you just finally became conscious enough to listen to the lyrics. When I was in junior high, I realized how creepy or sad his Sting’s lyrics were. Without fail, every song is filled with shades of the dark triad traits or utter remorse at unrequited love.

But what is so weird about Sting is that his songs sound so upbeat, pleasant, and even energizing that it’s difficult to associate them with negative emotions or immoral pursuits! He can sing about wanting to die, being the king of pain, having an affair, stalking a woman who ignores him, or being a creepy teacher with the same exuberant tone!

That being said, two songs from the current decade reminded me of the Police’s Can’t Stand Losing You (below). The first is Somebody that I Used to Know by Gotye and Kimbra.

Here are the most obvious lyrics, though both songs are about the same experience:

Gotye Sting
You didn’t have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened
And that we were nothing
And I don’t even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger
And that feels so rough…
You didn’t have to stoop so low,
Have your friends collect your records and then change your number…
I see youve sent my letters back
And my lp records and theyre all scratched
I cant see the point in another day
When nobody listens to a word I say
You can call it lack of confidence
But to carry on living doesnt make no sense

If you listen to them both, they Gotye sounds deeply troubled and sorrowful about getting his records back. Sting sounds overjoyed even though they’ve been destroyed and he’s contemplating suicide!

The next is Chalk Outline by Three Days Grace:

Three Days Grace Guy Sting
You’ll be sorry baby, someday
When you reach across the bed
Where my body used to lay
You left me here like a chalk outline, etc

 

I guess this is our last goodbye
And you dont care, so I wont cry
But youll be sorry when Im dead
And all this guilt will be on your head
I guess youd call it suicide
But I’m too full to swallow my pride

The similarities are striking. Both are using the spectre (as it hasn’t occurred) of their impending suicide to make the other feel sorry/guilty. The chief difference is, again, the character in the Three Days Grace song sounds angry and sorrowful, perhaps willing to end his life and just letting her know it’s connected to her. It’s a crappy thing to do, but obviously a call to help.

Sting sounds cheerful and pleasant like Moriarty or the Joker. [spoiler] In the Sherlock television show and in one of my favorite Batman comics of the 80s the villains commit suicide specifically to cause trauma to the protagonist (legal, emotional, existential, it doesn’t matter).[/spoiler] I think Sting’s character in the song above really would do it out of a sadistic need for revenge and a narcissistic desire to be a permanent fixture in the thought space of the other. In other words, the character in many of Stings songs is a villain on the level of Satan, the Joker, or Hannibal Lecter. And it is the case that the dark triad traits correlate with short term sexual success and those same traits correlate very highly with sadism. Now, I find the Police and Sting’s songs catchy and fun. On the other hand either Sting or the character he plays as he writes his music (he has a background in literature) is a dark triad expert, as this biography linked indicates he was a bad teacher.

Walk Like an Egyptian

Why wouldn’t you want to?

Well aside from the Biblical commands against returning to Egyptian morality and idolatry, but otherwise, how better to walk than to:

Slide your feet up the street, bend your back
Shift your arm, then you pull it back

What did Jesus write in the sand?

When I was in high school, my buddy Steven and I went to a concert a couple of hours out of town. We skipped school to do it. I don’t remember if we had had permission from our parents or not. We must have, because we got home at like 2 am. Either way, the band Denison Marrs played there and this song had me entranced:

Around 3:13-3:16 in the song, the singer asks of Jesus, “what was it that you wrote in the sand?”

I’ve wondered that off and on for years. The Biblical passage in question, of course, is this:

[[They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”]]
(John 7:53-8:11 ESV)

Of course, it is disputed whether this passage belongs in John’s gospel and whether the events described therein occurred. But either way, the author meant for the event to be understood. So what could an early Christian author with an understanding of the Torah and a desire to portray Jesus as a Torah expert have meant hearers and readers to understand by this cryptic event? My thought is that Jesus would have been understood to be writing this excerpt from Deuteronomy 19:

“A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you. Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
(Deuteronomy 19:15-21 ESV)

Deuteronomy would indicate that perhaps every single person present, if they were witnesses of the adultery, would deserve the death penalty because they maliciously brought the woman and not the man. Or every one of them perhaps committed adultery with her (shades of the woman at the well?) and therefore were malicious witnesses. Or only one of them witnessed the crime and were therefore bringing her before Jesus. Incidentally, the entire scene is a miscarriage of justice because nobody was brought before judges or priests. Incidentally, the tabernacle, which would be the necessary ingredient for such a dispute, was missing. So to bring the dispute before the Lord was impossible, but the men did bring the dispute before the Lord unknowingly. This, with John’s theology of Jesus’ presence might work as an argument for the story’s inclusion in John’s gospel. But the story does completely interrupt the narrative where it stands and so it’s hard to imagine where it belongs other than as an appendix.