“He Got the Devil Around His Finger, Jesus Around His Neck”: When Satan Is Your Muse, King Dude, and the Alternative Folk Rock for the Unsaved

king dude

Photo credit: Daniel Ahrendt

King Dude is one of these singer-songwriters who appears one day in the margins of a web page, an unexpected recommendation that catches your eye because of an image, a song title, or a feeling that something incredible lays in wait for your discovery. At first glance, King Dude, which is a trio consisting of T J Cowgill, Tosten Larson, and August Johnson, may make you expect a rockabilly sound—somewhere between the Stray Cats and rockhorror bands like Horrorpops and Creepshow. But then you play the “Jesus In the Courtyard” video that was recommended because of the array of metal and Nick Cave tunes you’d been checking out lately. So, you hit play and your struck by the beauty and insight of the sacrilegious lyrics and images filling your eyes and ears.

But “sacrilegious” is the right word only if you accept what the preacher is preaching is the only way to salvation. As King Dude continues to sing songs about people who have had their fill of biblical platitudes and everyday hypocrisy, you begin to realize that only real sacrilege is being untrue to your own heart as you try to suffocate your feelings under a blanket of clichés. The tormented souls that populate King Dude’s songs are the ones who dared to rebel against the Father, fly too close to the Sun, or steal fire from the gods and are condemned for their heresy.

“No one wants him in this world

Nor the fucking next!”

I don’t consider myself a Christian, although I admit to growing up with its influence, my grandfather was a minister. However, my dad was an unbeliever; not an atheist, but a cynic who thought church was a waste of time. So, my mom prayed for his soul at the same time she accommodated his attitude. As for King Dude, this is what I imagine Johnny Cash would have sounded like if he finally had the guts to stop believing that Jesus was salvation and realized that the only real faith was in music.

“Jesus will not save him

A savior will not rise

Satan kissed him on his cheek

Said his last goodbye

Don’t you wanna know why?

Ohhh, don’t you wanna know why?”