Essay: That time Guy Raz interviewed Satan on the NPR podcast “How I Built This”

But first, my May 11, 2021 rejection letter (OK, e-mail) from The New Yorker for an essay that I submitted on Nov. 6, 2021. I am glad they fixed the issue.

Dear Submitter, 

We’re sorry to say that your piece wasn’t right for us. Thank you for allowing us to consider your work. Apologies for the delay in response. We fixed the issue and will respond to submissions more quickly moving forward.Best regards,
The Shouts Dept.
The New Yorker

The rejection-worthy essay:

That time Guy Raz interviewed Satan on the NPR podcast “How I Built This”

Guy Raz: He survived a hellish childhood — no mother, no father, kicked out of the only home he’d known at a tender age. As a teenager, he wanted to be a rock star, like the Beatles, but he lacked the essential good looks and talent.

An accidental career in high-tech inspired him to create the first app –but it failed miserably. Nonetheless, components of it made possible the creation of several of the biggest giants in technology today. Not only did our guest invent technology, he invested cash in the industry and has become one of the wealthiest tech entrepreneurs in the world.

He learned early on that falls from great heights can lead to greater things, if you stay with it long enough.

Our guest on NPR’s “How I Built This” today is Satan. Welcome to the program, Satan. Is that your full name or do you prefer another these days?

Satan: Thank you, Guy. It is a pleasure to be here. I am known by many names but Satan is the one most people seem to remember. I’m good with that.

And by the way, it’s the wealthiest tech entrepreneur in the world, not “one of.”

Guy Raz: So noted. I know that is a big thing among you guys at the top. So, in the mid-1960s you decided to go corporeal. Was that part of a greater plan?

Satan: I’ll be honest, Guy, I just wanted to meet girls. One of the benefits and challenges of being a fallen angel is that you are no longer an asexual creature of God. The upside is, you can play the field. The downside is, there are few disembodied spirits of the opposite sex. In fact, none.

When I started seeing the kind of thing that four homely musicians were onto — girls throwing themselves at you, girls screaming and tearing your clothes well, I thought, that’s worth a try.

Guy Raz: Sadly though, it wouldn’t work out for you. Why is that?

Satan: Very true, Guy. This is around the time I learned a valuable entrepreneurial lesson about failing upward. My first pass-through at becoming corporeal was a disaster. I came back as a talentless, acned, dullard of a 16-year-old boy. 

Guy Raz: Be careful what you wish for, huh?

Satan: You bet. It would be years before I could come up with punk rock and even then, the kind of girls drawn to me weren’t what I was hoping for. Contrary to the stories, I have never been a fan of tattoos or tongue studs. Still, punk rock was a living. For a while.

Guy Raz: Around about that time, toward the end of your venture into punk rock, you stumbled across an incredible idea that sadly went nowhere. What was that?

Satan: So true, Guy. In the early 1980s — about the time Disco came into being, something I wanted to distance myself from, by the way  — I created the first-ever app for the iPhone. 

Mind you, it was a primitive thing. It told you the weather and it could sell you umbrellas, sunscreen, and down jackets — according to the current conditions. You could search for weather in other places. That was a neat feature. I was thinking of offering a line of beach novels that users could buy in the summertime, too. You could also rate the weather on a five-star system, from Not-so-hot to Hottest. Here’s the best part, every time you used it, your data was sent back to this massive mainframe computer, although I had no idea at the time what we’d do with it.

I thought it was useful and that people would like it and that girls would be attracted to geeky guys who invented such things.

Guy Raz: So in one app you had an information component, a search mechanism, a sales component, a method of rating things, and a data collection scheme. Pretty impressive for the time. But it failed. Why was that?

Satan: Well, as you and I both know now, the Internet as we know it, hadn’t been invented yet. Nor had iPhones. Also, people were pretty repulsed by the idea of down jackets back then — big ugly bulky things that made you sneeze and that only Chinese soldiers wore.

Guy Raz: But you didn’t give up, did you?

Satan: To be honest, I did for a while. That one really hurt and I was in for a lot of money. When I heard from an … let’s call it an investment angel … how long it would take until a viable Internet and cell phone would be on the market, I decided to go to college.

Guy Raz: And that was at …

Satan: Harvard. Why screw around, eh? When you’re an almighty being, even a fallen one, always travel first class.

Guy Raz: And when was that?

Satan: Let’s see … I started in 2006 as a Freshman, living in Kirkland House.

Guy Raz:That was a fortuitous time to enter Harvard. Want to tell us why?

Satan: Well, I got lucky, considering my recent past. I fell in with some pretty geeky guys who sat around talking about girls a lot. I mean a lot. They would spend hours ranking girls on paper, arguing about their rankings, then photocopy the results, and post them up on bulletin boards.

I felt I was getting a little too mature for this sophomoric behavior but there was something familiar about their process. So, I went up to the guy in the bunch who seemed to have the most on the ball and said, “You know, Mark, there’s a better way to do this.”

Guy Raz: And did he listen?

Satan: Seriously, Raz? Of course, I tailored my app to the existing Internet and pared it down to strictly the information and rating stuff and when I handed it off to him I said, “Try this Zuckerberg, but do no harm.” I think he stopped listening after he heard his own name. In fact, looking back today, I’m sure of it.

Guy Raz: But that phrase, “do no harm,” came in handy earlier, didn’t it? 

Satan: Yeah, it’s no secret that I’d been knocking around the West Coast tech scene since time immemorial. 

Guy Raz: In fact, that little piece of weather software was getting around, wasn’t it?

Satan: Yeah, it was a no-brainer. If your job is to sow chaos and foment change in the world, I couldn’t have asked for a better tool. In 1994, I gave Jeff the sales piece of the app up in Bellevue for a truckload of stock futures and …

Guy Raz: That’s Jeff Bezos. Is your hand visible in the designing of his rocket ships?

Satan: That’s right. Bezos. And, no, I don’t do rockets. Commercial ones anyway. I wish I could discuss North Korea’s rocket program but I signed an NDA — imagine that, tied up in a concept of my own invention.  All I can say is, that has been loads of fun.

Guy Raz: But you weren’t done, were you?

Satan: No. Cold and wet don’t do it for me. And Bellevue is the worst. Once I’d walked Jeff through the basics of selling online, I moved south. He’s a quick study and I was sure my investment was safe. Just before we parted ways, I turned to Bezos and said, “This thing will blow up big in the future — all you need is one good pandemic to keep everyone home — but do no harm.”

I don’t think he heard a thing I said after “pandemic.”

Guy Raz: But eventually your admonition to “do no harm” fell upon receptive ears.

Satan: Yeah, in a way. I said the same thing to Sergey and Larry in 1998 but I was feeling like a broken record. They heard it, made a big deal about it — turned it into a virtue-signaling marketing tool — but honestly, I don’t think they ever knew its true meaning.

Still, the return on investment has been phenomenal.

Guy Raz: So your real talent has been investing in promising startups, handing them divinely-inspired technology, and reaping the rewards down the road.

Satan: Yeah, you could say that.

Guy Raz: Which begs the question: Microsoft? Apple? Craigslist? Who else have you had a hand in developing? 

Satan: OK, great question. But let’s get one thing straight: I’m not the only fallen angel playing in this game. There were seven at the start. Now, I’m not saying that Moloch, Chemosh, Dagon, Belial, Beelzebub, and Lucifer are all in tech. There are other games out there — the stock market and finance, Hollywood and the record industry, Big Oil, Evangelical Christianity, and the offroad automobile industry just to name a few. 

It isn’t easy nurturing stability while sewing chaos. It is a big world. You’ve got to approach it from a lot of different angles. Or angels. Heh. Heh.

Guy Raz: Good one. So, here you are, as wealthy as Croesus …

Satan: Wealthier. He’s chump change in comparison.

Guy Raz: Ok, wealthier than Croesus. You don’t need to work now. I suspect that charity and good works aren’t your things. What does the future hold?

Satan: I’m keeping my hand in a few side-projects. Venture capital investment for one. We’ve done a good number on the newspaper industry but there are so many fields ripe for takeover and dismantling — Big Oil and Gas, for one, in about a decade. Maybe less.

I’m also working on a recording career. I still haven’t lost that original corporeal spark from the 1960s. I have an incredible band. It has a few names that will shock the living daylights out of you. People whose careers you thought were, well, were long dead. That’s all I can say about that.

Guy Raz: Well that’s an intriguing note to leave this interview on. However, I have to ask one more question: If you were a young man or woman with entrepreneurial ambitions today, in what direction would you go? 

Satan: Great question, Guy, but remember my original goal was to date girls, not sow the seeds for the future destruction of mankind. That has all just been gravy.

I guess you’d have to ask yourself, “Why are all the richest men building rocket ships to get off Earth? What do they know that I don’t?” Once you figure that one out, you’ll know. Follow the money. Even if it is into space.