In 2002, Darkness singer Justin Hawkins sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for fame and fortune, reveals Doktor Snake.
(First published January 1st, 2004)
“Listen man, this is gonna be scary, but just stay calm,” I advised Justin Hawkins, the now famous singer with retro-rockers The Darkness. He was shaking with fear. Not surprising, considering what he were about to do. It was approaching midnight. We were staggering and stumbling through the driving rain in a deserted swamp near Lowestoft in Suffolk, eastern England.
Justin had an old, battered acoustic guitar slung over his shoulder; while I carried my leather doctor’s bag full of Voodoo herbs and potions, and other occult paraphernalia. I also wore a big government surplus backpack. Inside was a gallon can of petrol.
The desolate landscape we were trudging through, on the far eastern edge of England, was Hawkins’ homeland. He and his brother Dan, lead guitarist of The Darkness, grew up in nearby Lowestoft, a coastal town that is often described as “gloomy” by the more shallow type of travel writer.
You couldn’t blame Justin for feeling a little panicked. After all, we were about to trade his immortal soul with the Lord of Darkness himself in exchange for fame and fortune.
It was 2002 and The Darkness were still unknowns. Rank outsiders. But this would change in an explosive way the following year.
I was to be the mediator of the Faustian pact – the demoniac middleman. I’d done this kind of thing before with other now famous rockers, the most notable being Marilyn Manson. But even I was nervy. Satan – though likeable and more witty and charming than the prude-crew up above – is a tricky character. And besides, I’d made my own bargain with him when I was a boy of twelve.
“Are you sure I’m doing the right thing?” asked Hawkins at one point.
“Well, I’d have left the spandex trousers behind,” I replied. “They might be great for gigs and raising your voice an octave or two, but not for muddy treks cross country in the dark.”
“Fuck you,” he said, his now famous sense of humour having deserted him (understandable given the circumstances).
With that we marched on, getting scratched every so often by the gorse and Juniper bushes, and getting muddier by the minute. The sky was black as death. There was no moon to light the way and we were chilled to the bone. As we walked across the desolate marsh, it felt as if Hell itself was about open its gates (actually this was exactly what was going to happen).
We arrived at the crossroads early – half-an-hour before midnight, the witching hour. So we sat down on some logs underneath a majestic Turkey oak, the branches of which provided ample shelter from the rain. I pulled out a bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon from my backpack and offered it to Justin to cheer him up. He took a long, slow grateful gulp and breathed “Pure nectar…”
I took a swig myself and asked him how he rated the chances of The Darkness making it big?
“We’re a tight and mean rock & roll outfit,” he said. “But, above all, we’re different. I truly believe we’ve got what it takes and that we’ve got a special magic.”
Throughout the 1990s, I talked to a lot of musicians. Some went on to make it, some didn’t. After a while, I learnt to tell at a glance who was going to hit the big time and who wasn’t. The thing that marks out the winners from the losers is a look in the eyes that speaks at some deep level of knowing their destiny.
I could see that in Justin’s eyes.
At that time, though, things weren’t going great for the band. They knew they’d got it. That they were a first rate act. Audiences knew it too. But record companies weren’t succumbing to their charms; nor was the music press.
The Darkness were playing around London and were grindingly poor – investing the little cash they’d got into the band.
Justin believed totally that he and his band were destined for greatness. But he was also aware of the dark legend of the Devil’s pact, which lies at the heart of rock music. Like most people in rock he knew that 1930s bluesman Robert Johnson had reputedly gone to a crossroads in the Louisiana swampland to trade his soul for fame and guitar expertise.
Justin thought that maybe he should do the same – visit the intersection of the damned and put his immortal soul on the line. The ultimate shamanic sacrifice. In some sense, Justin came to believe that the pact was obligatory for achieving fame.
Not long after this thought crossed his mind, he stumbled on my Voodoo Spellbook in a bookstore in London’s Camden Town. After reading my chapter on Johnson and the Devil’s bargain, he decided to get in touch with me.
“What really sealed it was the fact that you live in Norwich, only 25 miles from Lowestoft, where I grew up,” Justin told me later. “I couldn’t believe it – it has to be the unlikeliest place on Earth for a Voodoo doctor to live.”
I told him that fate works in mysterious ways and that “it wasn’t my choice to become a Voodoo doctor – I didn’t exactly do O’Level Voodoo.” I explained that I spent most of the 1980s playing guitar in bands in London. One of the bands I played in was fronted by a Trinidadian conjure man, or Voodoo worker, called Earl Marlowe. He taught me the art and craft of Voodoo, along with the lore surrounding the Devil’s pact at the crossroads.
“Do you really believe in the Devil?” Justin asked.
“Well, that’s a question everybody asks – and it’s a good one,” I replied. “The truth is, I don’t believe in anything and I don’t take anything literally. That, in my opinion, is the royal road to ruin. It stops you being creative. Whereas if you maintain a stance of non-belief you are flexible enough to make anything possible. You can do anything.”
This is the upside-down logic of the conjure man. Nothing is as it seems. And everything is possible. I don’t believe in anything. But I use belief as a driver, a powerful engine that gets things done in life. I’ll take on a belief for as long as it proves useful. Then I’ll discard it. I even became a Christian once, just to test the belief system out and to try to sleep with some of the women in the Christian fellowship club held weekly in the crypt of the Bristol church I attended for two months – just to see if their “sex as sin” conditioning could be broken down. But that’s another story…
I looked at my watch. “It’s nearly midnight,” I said, “and we’ve got an appointment to keep.” I picked up my doctor’s bag and we made our way to the centre of the lonely crossroads. I then pulled out various potions and herbs and sprinkled them on the ground around us. I planted about 500 incense sticks and lit them, the pungent aroma making us gag as the smoke weaved and whirled around us.
With Justin looking on apprehensively, I took the petrol can out of my backpack and proceeded to mark out a large circle in petrol around us. I then lit it with my trusty Skull & Crossbones lighter.
Suddenly we were surrounded by a blazing circle of flame. Justin’s terror-stricken eyes reflected the dancing flames. Scared he might be, but I knew he was going to hold his own – such was his desire for fame. And besides, there is no walking away from your destiny.
“Okay, time to meet the gentleman from Hell,” I said.
SatanI began reciting the dark ritual that had been taught to me by Earl Marlowe, the Voodoo conjure man and singer from Trinidad. The words of this ancient rite are secret and cannot be revealed here. But as I recited the strange rhythmic words I began to slip into a hypnotic trance. At that point my deeper unconscious mind took over and I was wailing and yelling like one possessed. Fortunately, I’d warned Justin that this might happen, so he was prepared and stayed on an even keel of sheer terror, rather than slipping into utter gut-wrenching panic that makes you run for your life.
The flames danced higher and higher. And then … the ground began to shake as the gates to the very bowels of Hell started to open. Blood red coals smoldered around a long, vast staircase that seemed to stretch forever into the earth.
Eventually, the figure of a man appeared, climbing slowly up the stairs.
It was Satan himself, looking dapper as ever. He appeared to be about 50, with a greying goatee beard, slicked-back hair, and wearing top and tails. A red handkerchief was set in his breast pocket.
“So who has my trusty Snakeman brought to me this fine evening?” he asked, as the wind and rain battered against him. “I hope it’s better than the last one. A writer, wasn’t it? Who was she now? Potter? Or some such name?”
“J.K. Rowling,” I replied, noticing Justin’s eyes go wide at the thought that he was in good (and rich and famous) company.
“Ah, yes, I remember now. She was on her uppers writing kids books in Scotland.”
“That’s right,” I said. “She’s become the richest and most famous children’s writer there has even been.”
“Glad to hear it. Should bring a few more my way, eh?” he said with a wink. “But I must say they don’t make them like they used to. I remember Somerset Maugham was one of mine – top class writer. He’s down here with me now. Same with the James Bond chap – what was his name now? Flaming, or some such…”
“Something like that,” I cut in, motioning towards Justin and reminding him that we were here on business, not for a social chat.
“Well, well, let’s have a look at the specimen you’ve brought to me today,” said Satan, peering with interest at Justin’s spandex trousers.
He looked back over to me: “I think you need to get him a new tailor, old chap.”
With that he gestured to Justin to follow him down the staircase into Hell. Justin looked at me. I nodded to reassure him that all was well.
Satan put his arm around Justin and the two, now thick as thieves, made their way down to the land below. Justin was still clutching his guitar – which Satan would re-tune, once the Devilish pact was sealed.
There was little else for me to do other than try and keep warm by the hot coals at the top of the staircase.
What went on down in the bowels of Hell between Justin and Satan cannot be revealed – not yet, at least.
But when Justin emerged, a new fiercer light shone in his eyes. It was the unstoppable light you see in many of the great stars of film, music, and literature. Look closely at J.K. Rowling and you’ll see she has it. So does Marilyn Manson and Johnny Depp. And Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. You could also see it in the eyes of cult writer William S. Burroughs.
After packing up my Voodoo kit and dowsing the fiery magick circle, Justin and I walked back across the marshes to civilisation (if you can call Lowestoft civilisation). We said very little – both of us drained from our demonaic encounter.
We didn’t stay in touch. But I was not surprised to hear that, soon after, The Darkness had secured a support slot with veteran metal outfit Def Leppard. This was followed up by a headlining gig at rock’s spiritual London home, the Astoria, where tickets sold out. They went on to steal the show at Glastonbury Festival 2003 and their debut album “Permission to Land” saw phenomenal sales. What’s more, Justin and the band are regularly covered in the media across the globe – and are particularly loved by the British tabloid press, which makes you a household name.
All of which goes to prove rock music is not called the Devil’s music for nothing…
Jan 1, 2004