Satan & Adam

Sitting down to watch Satan & Adam you could be forgiven for thinking this film was going to be an odd-couple, buddy story. It is that, but even more so about friendship, community and belonging.

In the 1980’s, not long after finishing university, Adam Gussow woke one day to find his girlfriend was leaving him. He took his heavy heart for a walk and found himself in Harlem, New York, which was considered odd and potentially risky for a white male at the time. 

He could never have prepared himself for the reward he was about to stumble upon.

Hearing music, Gussow moved towards a crowd marvelling at a raucous street player hammering out a very polished blues act. A bit of a musician himself, he asked the older gentleman if he could play with him and was told he could.

Describing that first session Gussow says he “held on for dear life.”

Soon one of the people watching the performance asked Gussow if he knew who he was playing with, which he didn’t. It was explained to him that the gentleman who played that Harlem street set regularly was Sterling Magee, a well known blues man who had played with many of the top players — Ray Charles, George Benson and James Brown, amongst others — in the 1960’s.

Magee, disheartened by the treatment and mismanagement of black artists, had walked away from the music industry, preferring to set up shop on the streets where he could play, make a bit of money, but do it his way. He also now called himself Satan.

During the film Satan explains that his name change had much to do with his feelings towards the bible, but also because “I can go into the darkness and come out with beautiful things.”

The film then takes us on an unexpected musical journey, with many highs, several significant lows, before taking a turn away from the music industry and putting the focus on health, ageing, and being there for one another.

Shot and documented incredibly for more than 30 years, Satan & Adam is not only for music lovers, but really for anybody with a heart. This is a beautiful story told very well and cannot be strongly recommended enough.