Penthouse Retrospective

by David John Farinella Originally Published: May, 2001

Godsmack | 20 Years Ago This Month

Erna found his calm center in the midst of a rock ‘n’ roll tempest while studying the practice of witchcraft known as Wicca. He’s loath to explain his involvement in Wicca, only because he’s told the story so many times. “I just stopped talking about that because it’s not what the band is about,” he says. “It’s my personal beliefs. They don’t ask Madonna if she’s a practicing Catholic. This is about a rock band, and that’s it. Everything else is on the side. I’ve definitely let people know what was what with that, and I wasn’t shy about talking about it.”

Indeed, during interviews promoting the band’s first album, Erna was extremely candid about his practice of witchcraft. He told Rolling Stone, “I never have a problem talking about this, because it’s something I strongly believe in. I never wanted to be the poster boy for witchcraft, but, okay, I’ve been identified, and that’s fine.”

Erna also has explained that his problem with Christianity — which he turned away from before becoming a Wiccan-stems from the fact that “they never allowed you to look into any other religions. It’s like, This is the book. This is the way. Believe it or go to hell.’ Fuck that. And who knows? I could be wrong. Maybe when I die I’ll go to purgatory and there will be Jesus going, ‘See? We tried to tell you the whole time. You fucked up, now go to hell.’”

Erna’s Wiccan revolution started some years ago when he was studying alternative spirituality. He met Wiccan high priestess Laurie Cabot — she’s featured in the video for the hit song “Voodoo” — at a pub in Salem, Massachusetts, and studied with her for a couple of years. In the most fundamental sense, Wicca focuses on how individuals are connected with nature; Wiccans study the moon, herbs, and their symbolic meanings. The spells Wiccans cast, Erna has said, are similar to a prayer a Christian might offer. In Erna’s experience, there is no connection to Satanism.

Fair enough, but it seems that any type of quest for spirituality would influence the art of songwriting. Not so, says Erna. “It has nothing to do with it. It’s black and white. The spiritual side of me is something that humbles me, centers me in life, and makes me want to be a better person. My music releases the demons.” The closest he has come to blending the two is in the song “Bad Magick” with the common Wiccan spelling. “Does it feel so bad when you’re taking a drag / and when you’re looking at the world through dying eyes?” he sings.

On Awake, the band’s second offering, which was released this past Halloween, Erna gets a chance to exorcise a number of demons. One of the first negative experiences of success the band faced — the guy who lent them the money to record All Wound Up came back and sued them, claiming a ten-percent ownership in Godsmack — gets dealt with mightily in the song “Greed.” Erna growls, “I knew when an angel whispered into my ear / You gotta get him away / Hey, little bitch! Be glad you finally walked away / or you may have not lived another day.”

Erna delves into the redemptive side of music during the closing track, “Spiral,” the theme of which he finds easy to explain. “It’s about reincarnation. It’s about why people take deja vu for deja vu. It’s about why people just ignore that, and live for the here and now. Why don’t they see the bigger picture?” In large measure, “Spiral” is an affirmation of Erna’s personal beliefs. “I believe that everyone is put into your life for a reason, and one way or another you can learn a lesson from that person,” he says. “Even if it’s some psychopathic girlfriend that [makes] you go, ‘What in the fuck was I thinking?’ Maybe you learned to live a little bit more without the blinders on.”

Many of those Erna lessons are being chronicled in the book he’s begun to pen. “I just started, for my own self. writing down stories that I remember and how I remember them;’ he says. “I decided that in a year or two or whatever, I may put out some sort of autobiography, because I’ve experienced so many amazing things that I don’t really even think people would believe. I don’t know if I would have believed it, but I’ve seen it with my own two eyes, so I know it happened.” Some of those stories are hilarious, some cruel, and some sad. “But they are just awesome,” Erna adds. “One of the first things I wrote for the introduction of the book was that I truly believe people are molded and shaped through their childhoods and upbringings. I believe that, because I think that’s what makes you the person you are today. It could be good or bad, but it still makes you that individual.

“I’ve been through every fucking thing you could ever imagine. It would take me months to tell you everything that I’ve gone through, but I can just tell you it’s been some crazy fucking shit I mean, everything from seven-hour cop chases to drugs to gang fights. Goddamn, I’ve just seen so many things. It’s amazing that I’m still here.”

Perhaps that’s why people relate to Godsmack and the lyrics Erna writes?

“I don’t even know if they know that part of me,” he declares. “I just know that I am just like them. I am a rock fan, and I can relate to them. If we’re paternal to them in some way or they look up to us, or if they just feel we can relate to them on their level, it’s because it’s both. I do give them advice, because I have knowledge to give a younger kid and I see the shit they are going through and it’s the same shit that we went through. They’re no different than us, and I want them to realize that At the same time, I’m a big kid too, so I can relate to them and fuck around with them and goof off, because I still haven’t changed in that respect I’m still someone who will sit front row at a concert”

Name your band Godsmack, and you have gone a long way toward identifying your philosophy if not your music.

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