GHOSTS AND GOD.
Which one do you believe in? One, but not the other? Neither? Both? Throughout the storied and often piteous arc of the species know as homo sapiens, debates have raged over the existence of a world beyond the material plane that we call home; and if that place exists, just who’s in charge over there?
Most prominent is the question of whether God exists and if so, what that means for us mortals. Ironically, the most violent and malicious extensions of this debate unfold almost entirely between camps of people who are squarely in agreement that God does, in fact exist. Rare indeed is any manner of physical altercation, let alone war, between believers and non-believers, the two groups seeming to observe some unspoken agreement to relegate their dialogue to automobile bumper stickers.
Perhaps the thornier issue concerns the existence of a paranormal world populated by ghosts, spirits and other spine-chilling emissaries from beyond the grave. Ghost stories have endured for thousands of years, straight through to the present day, where supernatural thrillers like The Conjuring enjoy a bracing global reception, not to mention hundreds of millions of dollars in ticket sales. We may not agree on the existence of ghosts, but anybody walking alone through the woods at night has certainly entertained the notion with some urgency.
In A Funny Thing Happened on the way to Heaven (Or, How I Made Peace with the Paranormal and Stigmatized Zealots and Cynics in the Process), Corey Taylor, the bestselling author and gasoline-throated frontman of heavy metal outfits Slipknot and Stone Sour, fixes the existence of ghosts as a springboard for the larger debate of the existence of God, and in the process, shares a jaw-dropping number of his own personal encounters with the supernatural.
Taylor’s first book, Seven Deadly Sins, saw the platinum-selling metal vocalist mark a critically-exalted literary debut in which he loosely draped biographical narratives across the framework of a meditation of the seven deadly sins and how they have played out both in his life and in human history.
His follow-up flows with the same easy, conversational cadence of his debut, replete with acres of legitimately funny, self-effacing observations, as well as compelling insights, scientific research and of course, telltale doses of the swagger and bravado that one might reasonably expect from the frontman of Slipknot.
The meat and potatoes of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Heaven are the ghost stories that Taylor himself claims to have experienced, from his early childhood in the midwest to the present day, including one blood-curdling incident that occurred in a Hollywood mansion where Taylor was staying while Slipknot were recording their landmark album, Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses. While showering alone in the house, Taylor absently looked through a crack in the shower curtain to find a man in a tuxedo—a ghost— staring straight back at him, even though all of the doors and windows were locked.
Taylor’s affable style is perfectly-suited to spinning yarns of the pant-shitting variety, and regardless of one’s opinion—or lack thereof—regarding the supernatural, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Heaven offers readers a thought-provoking and hellaciously-entertaining experience.
We caught up with Corey recently to discuss his new book and to ask him a few thorny questions of our own.
Joe Daly: After reading this book, it would seem that you’ve had considerably more paranormal experiences than most people. Do you think that’s true?
Corey Taylor: I think I’m definitely up there, but it’s not so much seeing them as much as it’s about having these experiences of things that I can’t explain. Trust me, I’m the first one to try to disprove things; I’m not the one who just jumps into the ghost pond just because my feet got wet. I really try to come at it from a different perspective, and I genuinely try to figure out if there’s a logical explanation behind some of this stuff. The stuff that I talk about in the book is the stuff that I just can’t explain from any angle. Yeah, there’s been a lot of stuff that’s happened to me over the years, and it seems like it’s happening more and more and more, but what people need to realize is that usually it’s happening in a place where I live or where I work, so these are places that I’m going to all the time. It’s not like I go into a house and I’m like, “Whoa… It’s haunted. It’s coming after me…” (laughing) These are things that tend to happen where I live, so it’s almost like a one stop shop kind of thing.
With all these different experiences, have you noticed any common threads or any evidence that suggests why you, more than the average bear, seem to have these experiences?
I think it’s just something about my personality maybe, or the energy I give out—my soul, basically. In the book, I talk about one of the hypotheses I came up with, which is an idea called “The Intelligent Energy” idea, where these spirits could be the result of a person’s personality or will that is so strong that it’s able to encode itself onto the energy of what makes up its soul; and when the body dies, that soul carries on with that personality fairly in tact, one way or another. Doing the research on this book, I realized that certain bundles of energy attract each other and become supercharged, and we see that in nature all of the time.
From the human side of things, we always talk about the “soul mate” idea, where you meet someone and there’s an immediate attraction there, and you just need to be around that person all the time. If that’s true in both examples, then why couldn’t it be a case of a person giving off a certain type of energy that attracts these things to them? I think that’s the case with me; I just think that maybe various spirits and whatnot are attracted to me because of who I am and because of the energy I give off.
You also speak about metaphysics in the book. Do you allow for the possibility that by simply thinking about the supernatural, in positive or negative terms, you are putting an energy out there that attracts these experiences?
I think it’s part of it now, definitely. Over the last ten years, things have definitely grown a lot crazier around me, and I think that maybe the older I’ve gotten and the more set in my ways that I become, I’ve come to appreciate the things that I see a little more, so maybe that has opened me up to seeing different things or feeling different things.
The crazy thing about being a free-minded individual is the fact that we’re always changing, so the energy is always changing; what you emboss onto that energy is always changing, so maybe because I’ve embraced the fact that these things happen, it’s attracted to me a little more and maybe it’s encouraged them to show themselves a little more.
You know, that was one of the reasons that I wanted to write this book. I pride myself on being a pretty together atheist who uses common sense more than fascination, and yet here I was, a guy very dedicated to my belief that ghosts exist—just because of the things that I’ve seen—and like I said in the book, it comes down to knowing and believing.
Maybe this is me being a little more self-assured or cocky than most people because I’m saying that I know ghosts exist because I’ve seen them, and I don’t believe that God exists because I’ve never seen God, but the biggest reason for writing this book was to figure things out for myself. I’m not trying to put out a pamphlet or start a cult or anything like that. I’m trying to figure these things out for myself and get some answers that might give me some peace when it comes to stuff like this. If people read it and relate to it, that’s just extra, but for me it was more about settling this argument in my own head and being able to come to terms with it.
What was the experience that you hoped this book would transmit to the reader?
I’ve always assumed that there are more people who think the way that I do than maybe there actually are, because that’s the only truly righteous way that you could write something like this, especially if you’re trying to figure it out for yourself. What you’re doing is you’re trying to relate to the audience your own thought process, and maybe something about that thought process will inspire something to click for them. So I always assume that there are people like me who have this kind of dichotomy going on in their own head. The religion thing is fairly antiquated and, let’s be honest, it’s been passed through so many generations that at this point, it doesn’t even resemble the same religion that was started thousands of years ago. So that I can put to rest, but the whole ghost thing almost spits in the face of common sense, so I needed to find an answer that made sense to me, because all of the answers out there that were available, whether they were religious or “supernatural,” didn’t satisfy me in any way, and I can only hope that there are people out there like me as well.
It’s interesting that you raise that parallel because if you look back at history, religion has changed profoundly. Even Christianity, as you point out, has changed languages, cultures, interpretations, etc. Ghost stories, are actually more constant than organized religion. We have them all throughout history—before and since the birth of Christianity—and the elements of ghost stories remain generally the same.
Very true, and I’ve always said that there are two kinds of people: there are people who have seen ghosts or have ghost stories, and then there are people who are very skeptical but deep down inside, they desperately want one. Whether it’s the energy that we give off or the energy that the skeptics give off, for whatever reason, these things happen. Admittedly, to read the book, you have to kind of buy into the fact that these things do exist, but at the same time I think I make a fairly decent argument to people who might dismiss this at face value through a lot of the research that I did, as you noted with metaphysics, the various laws of thermodynamics and really trying to tap into a different state of mind to try and explain what these things could be.
When you talk about your experiences at the mansion in the Hollywood hills, the sheer number of these incidents and their increasingly malevolent nature, the story takes on a truly unnerving edge. Were you ever close to the point of just packing up and getting the hell out of there?
Oh, I wanted to bail every day. (laughing) In fact, if there had been somewhere else for me to live, I probably would have. But at the same time, I’m so fascinated by this side of things, and honestly, once I get past the fight-or-flight instinct, I tend to have a fairly analytical vibe when it comes to taking it in and processing the things that have happened.
When the Tuxedo Man walked through the room, I was the only one in there and he essentially walked right through a locked door. Most people would have been like, “You know, I’m good. I think I’m just going to pack up and record my stuff at a different studio. I’m going to go home, crawl in bed, and just think about stuff.” I jumped out of the shower and ran right in there. I didn’t think, I was just so freaked out that I ran towards it. Maybe that’s a bad thing about humans as well, but I’ve never allowed myself to truly fear these things. I know I’ve only had one instance where I’ve been physically touched by something like that and there was definitely a sense that I could have been physically harmed, but at the same time, I refuse to give into that. I want to go towards these things; I want to figure out what’s going on and I want to have more detail. I want to have more experiences so I can make an even better-educated guess.
In traditional fields of science, certain immutable laws emerge: what goes up, must come down. From your observations, can you extrapolate any such laws for the supernatural?
Well that’s really where I started, because I believe that the soul is energy. We, as humans, give off so much energy and so much electricity just from our own bodies, that I refuse to think that there isn’t something that can be left over once the body dies. It starts right from the first law of thermodynamics, that states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. So I started to sort of shoot my experiences through that prism, and I came up with the idea of “Intelligent Energy,” that I talked about earlier. And the crazy thing that I discovered when I was doing my own research is that there is other research going on right now where they’re trying to record information onto energy itself, and it’s fascinating to think about, because if that application is true, then not only does it take us leaps and bounds beyond where we could ever be in our lives, but also it gives a bit of credence to this idea, and that got me starting to look at more things and looking for different ways to support this argument.
The last time you and I did this, I gave you some Either/Or questions…
Oh, boy… (laughing)
So you know what’s coming. This time, I’d like you to tell me which one is scarier and why. OK?
Let’s do it.
Fact or Fiction?
Fact, because the truth is always scarier than something that somebody could make up.
Writing your first book or your second book?
Writing the first book. I was really, really nervous. I knew the fans would pick it up, just because it was me, but when you do something like this and when you take it as seriously as I do, obviously you want people to read it, and there was no guarantee that people were going to read it. I was terrified that I wasn’t going to find an audience to read it, and now after the success of the first book, it was a little easier to try to refine my writing skills for this one, because I knew that people would pick it up and hopefully enjoy it the way I enjoyed writing it.
Ghosts or serial killers?
Serial killers. Like I said in the book, as far as ghosts go, I really only felt malice one time, from that experience I had getting pushed, but I essentially think that when ghosts try to communicate with us, they’re just trying to find their place in this world. It’s almost like a child trying to communicate with their parents. Serial killers are something that we’re still trying to understand and there’s a real threat from that, because as time has gone on, the psychoses behind these killers have become even more aberrant and more vicious, and that terrifies me. That’s not a good way to look towards the future.
The existence of an afterlife, or no afterlife?
Probably the existence of an afterlife…(laughing) Just because I hate being wrong. My wife could tell you that; I hate being wrong. As a guy who doesn’t subscribe to any religion, if I woke up and found out, “Oh, by the way, you missed the mark on this one,” that would suck, you know?
A world without music or a world without books?
Ugh…that’s a good one. (long pause) A world without music. Not everybody’s like me; I try to read as many books as possible, but everyone listens to music, for the most part. Music is sometimes the only way that we can really communicate with each other, because even if you have nothing in common, if you and someone else like one band in common, you can kind of get on the same page. So I think that a world without music would be something that would be dreadful. I don’t even want to imagine a world without music.