The Devil and Mr. Newman

At the outset of Newman's Faust, the Lord is singing his happy tunes, exhorting the newly dead to hop on his "Glory Train" for redemption, and celebrating his almighty power over a world he's long ignored ("I've been busy up here, you know," the Lord explains). As Newman describes him in the script, God is a deity who has begun to doubt his own immortality: He has become lethargic, bored, listening to Hawaiian music and playing golf all day. He's not a mean God, not a vengeful God -- despite his comments early on that he's thrown the Buddhists out with the trash -- but a lazy God.

The Lord of Faust isn't too far removed from the Almighty that Newman portrayed in "God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)" on 1972's Sail Away -- a God for whom "man means nothing," a God who laughs at man's prayers. "You all must be crazy to put your faith in me," God sings on Sail Away. "That's why I love mankind."

Newman, though, argues that the God of Faust isn't as nasty as the one who sings "God's Song." In fact, Newman likes to say his newest incarnation is just "careless."

"He doesn't do one really mean thing," Newman notes. "He doesn't do anything to hurt anybody. There are terrible things that happen and his explanation is, 'My ways are mysterious.' But that's where you end up if you get in a theological discussion with somebody who believes in such things. It's an unanswerable. Whenever I was in trouble, I'd just say, 'Well, yes, you don't understand me,'" he adds with a laugh. "'Ah, my ways are mysterious.'

"The line about throwing the Buddhists out with the trash is a slip because God's a little grumpy. I say in the liner notes he's having an off day, but there's no meanness in him in the show and on the album. It's a mistake, but I just couldn't resist having him be a little exclusive about who gets in. I mainly couldn't resist the angels' reaction: 'Oh, no, oh, whoa, Buddhists.' It's so harmless and benign."

When it comes to mistakes, none are greater than those made by Lucifer, God's old boyhood chum. The Lord kicks him out of Heaven during the first few pages of Faust for calling God "a master of bullshit." The Devil, like God, isn't necessarily evil, just restless; he's the ultimate nonbeliever with too much time on his hands, and he'd like to regain his rightful place at the Lord's side and set up his palace in Heaven. As it is, the Devil is forced to reign in Hell, where it's hot all the time and the grass has all been replaced by spots of blue Astroturf.

Not that Heaven's a significantly better option -- as Newman describes it in his script, "Groups of angels are engaged in various soft hippielike activities, a re-enactment of the Whole Earth Catalog Games" A but the Devil has become so bored down in Hell, boiling, frying, and generally making the afterlife miserable, that he has decided he'd like to give God a hard time after so many years. So the Devil has returned to Heaven to tell God that he, Lucifer, no longer has to work to make humans evil because they now do a good job of it on their own.

"They think of things to do to each other that even I, in my wildest, my most insane fantasies of a perfect world, would be too modest to hope for," the Devil tells the Lord.

"They're not bad," God says. "They're weak."
"Did you know this is the worst century we've ever had?" the Devil wonders. "The worst. Did you know that?"

"Worse than the Fourteenth Century?" God gasps. "Come on!"
The Devil bets the Lord that he can pick a "representative specimen of mankind" from the Balkans or maybe Troy, New York, and prove to the Lord how corrupt humans have become. They settle on Henry Faust, a nineteen-year-old freshman at Notre Dame University who's in his third year of college.

Faust -- as "played" on the album by Don Henley, so perfect and sharp is Newman's eye for casting -- is a self-absorbed pretty-boy egomaniac whose only desire in life is to own a video-game company like Nintendo. Faust is only too happy to sign over his soul to the Devil in exchange for such certain fame and fortune; as Faust sees it, he's getting "something for nothing," which the Devil figures is about as good as the deal's going to get.

"Faust is a pain in the ass for the Devil in the original, and he is in mine, too," Newman points out. "He's completely a schmuck, yeah. He's a kid. You don't get anything back. When you look in his eyes it's like looking into the eyes of a goat. It's hard for people to understand. Some of the people in the theater say, 'Well, he should have an arc' and 'What happens to him? Is he good?' And I tell them no -- he doesn't want to go to Disneyland, he doesn't want to go back in time, he doesn't want to do anything. He doesn't know what he wants to do, and we really don't know what he wants to do.

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