Hear a Man Sing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Backward
If you’re anything like the staff here at Ultimate Classic Rock, you’ve heard Led Zeppelin‘s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ so many times that you feel like you know it forward and backward. But only one man truly understands the song in reverse, and his name is Jeroen Offerman.
Offerman has proven his peculiar grasp of one of rock’s best-loved classics by actually going to the trouble of learning how to sing it backward, and a video of him performing the song in public has made the viral rounds — although his ‘Stairway,’ titled ‘Stairway at St. Paul’s,’ is actually nothing new. In fact, it was published in the first issue of McSweeney’s ‘Wholphin‘ back in February 2005 and circulated shortly thereafter by WFMU’s Beware of the Blog, but this kind of thing never gets old, so we’re all just as impressed now as we were back then.
“My parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses and so I had a very strict Christian upbringing,” explained Offerman when asked what motivated him to learn ‘Stairway’ backward. “There was a suspicion of rock and pop music, and some music, Led Zeppelin in particular, was branded downright evil. The rumor was that if you played ‘Stairway to Heaven’ in reverse, you could hear messages that would urge you to follow the devil’s path. Supposedly, even if you listened to the music in a normal manner, you would subconsciously pick up these messages and act accordingly.”
Continued Offerman, “In my early teens, I destroyed some music that I thought I shouldn’t listen to or have at home. ‘Stairway to Heaven’ was a difficult one for my friends and me. We thought the song and the lyrics were so utterly beautiful and yet we couldn’t listen to it out of fear of what could happen to us if we did. That’s the tension I felt by listening to this record: a teenage attraction to something dangerously beautiful. I am still intrigued how these myths are created and the effect they can have. So I started to learn to sing the song and its lyrics in reverse. After three months the job was done. I went up to the steps outside Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London and performed it for an audience of confused passers-by, pigeons, and a video camera. Back home I reversed the tape and put a karaoke track underneath.”
So just remember, rock fans: The next time you’re in a guitar shop and some knucklehead decides to disobey musician etiquette by playing those first few bars of ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ rather than getting upset, think about Offerman’s example and remind yourself that there are still things to be learned from even the most overplayed song. Even if you have to spin it backward to figure it out.