Sympathy for the Devil  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

"Sympathy for the Devil" is a song by The Rolling Stones. The song first appeared as the opening track on the 1968 Stones album Beggars Banquet. Satan was as "a man of wealth and taste" in "Sympathy for the Devil". The lyrics were inspired by Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita.


"Sympathy for the Devil" was written by singer Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards, though the song was largely a Jagger composition. Early inspirations led the Stones toward a more folk music sound, with Jagger saying in a 1995 interview with Rolling Stone, "I think that was taken from an old idea of Baudelaire's, I think, but I could be wrong. Sometimes when I look at my Baudelaire books, I can't see it in there. But it was an idea I got from French writing. And I just took a couple of lines and expanded on it. I wrote it as sort of like a Bob Dylan song." In actuality the lyrics were inspired by Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita.

The song is sung by Jagger as a first-person narrative from the point of view of Lucifer;

Please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a man of wealth and taste;

These opening lines reflect Jagger's direct inspiration by The Master and Margarita, with the book opening with the similar "'Please excuse me,' he said, speaking correctly, but with a foreign accent, 'for presuming to speak to you without an introduction.'"

Backed by an intensifying rock arrangement, the singer with chilling narcissistic relish recounts his exploits over the course of human history and warns the listener; the last line is used near-verbatim at another point in the song:

If you meet me, have some courtesy, Have some sympathy, and some taste; Use all your well-learned politesse, Or I'll lay your soul to waste

On this, Jagger continued in the Rolling Stone interview: "'s a very long historical figure -- the figures of evil and figures of good -- so it is a tremendously long trail he's made as personified in this piece."

At the time of the release of Beggars Banquet the Stones had already raised some hackles for sexually forward lyrics such as "Let's Spend the Night Together" and for dabbling in Satanism (their previous album, while containing no direct Satanic references, had been titled Their Satanic Majesties Request), and "Sympathy" brought these concerns to the fore, provoking media rumors and fears among some religious groups that The Rolling Stones were indeed devil-worshippers and a corrupting influence on youth. It should be noted, however, that one interpretation of this song is that "The Devil" is in fact mankind ("when after all, it was you and me"). The lyrics are a brief history of some of the most notable atrocities committed by man against man, including a mentioning of wars of religion as in The Hundred Years' War ("I watched with glee while your Kings and Queens fought for ten decades for the Gods they made"), the Russian Revolution of 1917 ("I stuck around St. Petersburg when I saw it was a time for a change, killed the Czar and his ministers") while also making a reference to the purported survival of Anastasia ("Anastasia screamed in vain"), and World War II, specifically, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, who rode a tank during the Blitzkrieg ("I rode a tank, held a general's rank when the blitzkrieg raged, and the bodies stank"). In that light, the song would appear to be a criticism of the immorality of mankind. Or it could also be suggesting that the Devil had caused men to commit such bad deeds.

In addition to the very idea of a sympathetic view of the Devil, the lyrics include references to the deaths of John and Robert Kennedy. The latter occurred while the Stones were recording the album, and the words were changed from "Who killed John Kennedy?" to "who killed the Kennedys?"

The song may have been spared further controversy when the first single from the album, "Street Fighting Man" became even more controversial in the wake of the race riots occurring in many cities in the U.S.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Sympathy for the Devil" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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