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Rock Docs: Satan & Adam

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Once in a while, you’ll get a recommendation for a movie that ticks every box, Satan & Adam is that kind of movie. Showing that music really can heal, it begins at a time when racial tensions were looming in NYC, and against all odds, a black street musician based in Harlem bonds with a white musician over their love for music, and the result is documentary magic.

Mixed with old and new footage, the film chronicles Sterling Magee (AKA Satan) and Adam Gussow, and was twenty years in the making. Satan & Adam follows the journey and deep friendship of the two musicians right up to the present day.

Scott Balcerek directed the film and we have to say, this is a wonderful statement when it comes to the power of music. The duo’s love of the blues becomes something of a spiritual force, uniting two completely separate entities with one common goal.

The two principles couldn’t be any different, on the one hand, you have Adam Gussow, a Princeton grad and aspiring blues musician, and on the other local “historical landmark” Sterling Magee, a.k.a. “One Man Satan Band,” who was a permanent fixture on 125thstreet in Harlem.

Adam saw Satan playing the street corner in 1986, immediately pulled out his harmonica and asked Satan if he could play along, Satan said yes and the rest, as they say, is history. Let’s not forget that these were racially-charged times and some of the locals were less than pleased at the time, Adam recollects hearing “Satan’s gonna play with the white boys,” and yet  both men shook it off, Adam started his “apprenticeship,” and Sterling, well, he was the master running the show.

 

The film takes an unexpected turn when in 1988, U2’s guitar player The Edge stumbled upon the duo during filming for the bands documentary Rattle and Hum. He said of the chance encounter: “It captured so much of our intention as a band.” Satan and Adam’s track “Freedom for My People” even made it to U2’s ‘Rattle and Hum’ album, by the way, they are the only band other than U2 to do so.

This led to the duo becoming not just a novelty act from Harlem, they were now ‘on the circuit.’ Throughout the movie

Balcerek beautifully threads old footage and new to chronicle their rise to success, the journey from the street corner of Harlem to playing all over Europe with Bo Diddley, and of course, the ups and downs.

The movie holds you captivated from beginning to end and when an unexpected, and deeply moving development happens a third of the way through, you can’t help but feel something tragic is about to happen. Stay with it, it is worth the wait.

With Satan’s raw talent, and Adam’s almost by-the-book approach, the movie is totally addictive, and when you add Satan’s “unbalanced” wife Miss Maicy into the mix, this adds another subplot to an already-bizarre relationship.

Satan & Adam shows us that music is truly a universal language, it can bring together racial divides, and shows us that music can help heal severe emotional trauma. Whatever your musical taste is, you’ll appreciate the musicianship shown by this inspiring duo.

Satan & Adam is currently showing on Netflix.

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