Say You Love Satan – David St. Clair
Dell – 1987
I can’t remember the first time I heard of Ricky Kasso, but I remember watching My Sweet Satan, a short movie roughly based on his last weeks alive, when I was teenager. This book, David St. Clair’s Say You Love Satan, has been on my goodreads to-read list since October 2016, and I was mistakenly under the impression it was the definitive version of the Kasso story. It only took a couple of pages for me to realise that this could not be the case.
I plan to focus on the book rather than the events it describes, but a bit of background on Ricky Kasso is probably necessary.
In 1984, Ricky Kasso, a homeless, mentally unstable, drug addicted, 17 year old, murdered Gary Lauwers, one of his friends, while tripping on hallucinogens in Northport, New York. His pal had stolen drugs from him a few weeks previously. Events like this, while certainly tragic, aren’t particularly rare, but Ricky Kasso was a fan of heavy metal and a self-professed Satanist. He had also previously been arrested for grave-robbing. While it seems that his tastes in music and his interest in the occult had little to do with the actual murder, he apparently ordered his victim to “Say you love Satan” while he was stabbing him in the face. Ricky killed himself a few days after being arrested for the murder. The media latched onto the satanic elements of the story and ran wild with them. Before long, people believed that the city of Northport was home to a coven of sadistic Satanists who had murdered Gary Lauwers as a sacrifice to the Devil.
It’s a fascinating story, and 3 years after it occurred, David St. Clair published this book. Say You Love Satan became, as far as I can tell, the most popular version of the Kasso story. Unfortunately, it’s a very, very shit version of the story. I haven’t read many true crime books, but the story here is presented as a novel, and it’s awful. St. Clair describes lengthy conversations that he wasn’t privy to, and he very clearly had absolutely zero insight into what these kids were like. It’s painful. Page 266 of this book contains some of the worst writing I have ever encountered.
The response from the teenage girl on discovering that her boyfriend has participated in a murder is quite funny, but the awful joke about the child’s corpse at the end is my favourite. How did this nonsense get published?
While this book is sensational, exploitative garbage, it’s not particularly accusatory. St. Clair makes it very clear that he doesn’t approve of heavy metal and occultism, but he also gives the details of Kasso’s unhappy upbringing and drug use, and he doesn’t give any consideration to the idea that there was a satanic cult operating in Northport. Still, the parts where he made fun of Judas Priest’s lyrics made me wince. He also interweaves lyrics from Ozzy Osbourne’s Bark at the Moon into the murder scene. This guy was a real weiner.
I did a bit of research of David St. Clair. It turns out he was a self-proclaimed psychic, and he also wrote a few other novels that were supposedly about real cases of Satanic possession. Most of his other books looked like trash, but I did actually order one based on its awesome cover art. I’ll review it here in a few months.
I also watched The Acid King, a recent documentary on Ricky Kasso, and everyone in that documentary hates St. Clair’s book. I get it. The people interviewed in that film knew the characters involved, and they have every right to be annoyed that David St. Clair didn’t do a better job of telling their friends’ story. I thought that he had made some scenes up for shock effect, particularly the part where they visit the Amityville haunted house to perform a ritual, but apparently that really happened. Ultimately, both the book and the documentary tell a very similar story. My complaint isn’t that that the author took too many liberties with his characters; it’s that he was an absolutely terrible writer. Apparently, parts of the book were plagiarized too. None of this should have surprised me. A few years ago, I read a book of essays on the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, and there’s an essay in there that contains much of what I discovered while reading Say You Love Satan.
This book is poorly written, but I have other reasons not to like it. I was a heavy metal teenager, and many of my friends are still heavy metal satanists. I’m also a parent, and both the murderer and his victim in this book were children. I knew how this book was going to end, but because the story is basically being novelized, I couldn’t help but root for the characters. A kid goes to library to take out books about witchcraft after listening to Black Sabbath with his friends? I want to give that kid a high five, not read about him murdering his friend and then killing himself. This is an extremely sad story, and the saddest parts really happened. Reading this book was a huge bummer.
5 thoughts on “David St. Clair’s Say You Love Satan: True Crime or Truly Awful”
I owned this paperback myself in the 1980s. The Kasso case was originally given in-depth coverage by Rolling Stone magazine in a 1984 article by David Breskin called “Kids in the Dark”; the piece was later anthologized in a collection of RS journalism, and Breskin’s new introduction mentioned the “sleazoid” book you’ve reviewed here. Breskin’s article was apparently adapted into a one-act play, and the writer points to the 1980s movie River’s Edge that appeared around the same time – “the stories were, shall we say, very similar.”
Like you say, it’s a tragic a story, but the details that Kasso was photographed wearing an AC/DC jersey, that the kids were into Ozzy, Zeppelin, etc., and that they really did visit the nearby Amityville house, put it squarely into the Satanic Panic category, hitting the trifecta of the heavy metal, drugs, and the occult (I wouldn’t class any of that music as “metal,” incidentally, especially compared to later bands). I wrote about it in my own book: https://www.amazon.com/Heres-My-Sweet-Satan-1966-1980-ebook/dp/B016MVX5ES?ref_=ast_author_mpb 666 uoy evig lliw eH
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Yeah, Breskin is in that documentary. He tried to sue St. Clair for ripping him off, but St. Clair had a better lawyer.
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Glad you reference the Jim Van Bebber film based on this! I remember I wrote the entry on Van Bebber for the Wallflower Guide to Contemporary North American Film Directors decades ago. He also did Charlie’s Family, based on Manson. Wonder what he’s doing now.
Yeah, I remember hearing about that movie when i was a teenager because the singer from Pantera did some of the soundtrack. Van Bebber is in that documentary I watched. Never saw his other movies.
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His juvenile delinquent gang romp Deadbeat at Dawn is trashy zero-budget fun if you can find it. He stars in it too.