Rock My Religion
January 25, 2011 1:17 PM   Subscribe

Rock My Religion "...is a thesis on the relation between religion and rock music in contemporary culture. Graham formulates a history that begins with the Shakers, an early religious community who practiced self-denial and ecstatic trance dances. With the "reeling and rocking" of religious revivals as his point of departure, Graham analyzes the emergence of rock music as religion with the teenage consumer in the isolated suburban milieu of the 1950s, locating rock's sexual and ideological context in post-World War II America. The music and philosophies of Patti Smith, who made explicit the trope that rock is religion, are his focus. This complex collage of text, film footage and performance forms a compelling theoretical essay on the ideological codes and historical contexts that inform the cultural phenomenon of rock 'n' roll music. (Original Music: Glenn Branca, Sonic Youth)
posted by puny human (64 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Religion - noun:

1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.


Or, you know, we can be all cool with that shit Orwell warned us about. Whatever, eh?
posted by Decani at 1:32 PM on January 25, 2011


"Rock is religion" works better as a metaphor than a literal application of a definition. And that's as it should be, I think. After all, it would be a shame if the devil literally had all the best tunes.
posted by The World Famous at 1:41 PM on January 25, 2011


"Rock is religion" works better as a metaphor than a literal application of a definition.
posted by The World Famous at 9:41 PM on January 25


Some metaphors are dangerous.
posted by Decani at 1:41 PM on January 25, 2011


Some metaphors are dangerous.

You're right. Just think of the violent clash between rockers and atheists that could spring up at any moment because of the "rock is religion" metaphor.
posted by The World Famous at 1:45 PM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I haven't watched this yet, but plan to later today.

I've long felt that there was a bit of a "belief system" at the core of rock and roll. I use the quotes because it's not really spelled out clearly in any one source. But there is certainly a dichotomous philosophy expressed across the decades. One side is "sex drugs and rock and roll" and the other side is "peace love and rock and roll".

I started a file about 10 years ago of songs which I come across which seem to be "hymns" within this church. I've toyed with the idea of trying to actually publish a hymnal, but the idea of obtaining publishing rights is daunting.

Anyway, I don't have a problem with the idea of a Church Of Rock. I'll have to watch this video (once this other thing I'm watching is done) and come back with something a bit more apropos to this FPP.
posted by hippybear at 1:53 PM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


The thesis is definitely no stretch, and I don't mean to slight the effort that went into this (which, given the time it was made, wasn't all that easy to do). But there are a lot of approaches to the topic I've found more satisfying because they have more depth, detail, context, and continuity and are less impressionistic. Greil Marcus, for instance, isn't a bad place to start. Sometimes you catch some pretty great discussions of the music/religion interaction on the radio show American Routes, and Honky Tonks, Hymns, and the Blues is a fantastic series on the development of 20th century American pop music, including its religious and gospel influences.

Also want to note that the Shakers were only one of many religious groups during the 19th century that promoted an ecstatic and physical response to Christian texts and ideas - it was a thread that ran through the second Great Awakening and was important in Methodism, Baptism, Adventism , Presbyterianism and even in the romantic and sometimes unchurched approaches explored by the American Romantic poets, Thoreau, etc.
posted by Miko at 2:02 PM on January 25, 2011


Looked up the artist: Dan Graham. A pretty prolific conceptual/installation artist.
posted by Miko at 2:08 PM on January 25, 2011


Some days I pray for Silence,
Some days I pray for Soul,
Some days I just pray to the God of Sex and Drums and Rock 'N' Roll.
-Jim Steinman

soon I discovered that this rock thing was true
jerry lee lewis was the devil
jesus was an architect previous to his career as a prophet
all of a sudden, I found myself in love with the world
so there was only one thing that I could do
was ding a ding dang my dang a long ling long
-Ministry

So Let her go, let her go, God bless her;
Wherever she may be
She may search this wide world over
but she'll never find a sweet man like me.
-Trad., "Saint James Infirmary"

The connection between rock and religion has long been a subject for self-parody and sometimes black humor, probably going back to early jazz and blues singers who'd liberally mix drug and sex ballads with rocking gospel. You'll probably die in the gutter or jailhouse from your sins, but you might be saved through the grace of God if you're lucky.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:38 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, I'm watching this now, and am wondering how much of it is a product of its time...

Being produced sometime between 1982 and 1984 (apparently), that would put it right during the heyday of the second wave of Jesus Music, and right in the same time frame as all the backmasking hysteria and Tipper Gore's campaign for warning labels.

It all leaves me to wonder if this isn't a response to those cultural memes and attempting to end-run around the "Satan's Music" bullshit which was going on at the time.
posted by hippybear at 2:43 PM on January 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


This sounds interesting, I'll check it out later. It made me think of NPR's interview with Wanda Jackson. She went from original Rock'n'Roll growler grrl ("Some people like to rock / Some people like to roll / But movin' and a groovin' / Gonna satisfy my soul / Let's have a party") to born-again Christian (and 73-year-old grandmother) who was wasn't sure about covering an Amy Winehouse tune about infidelity (Wanda relented, and has even sung the song live).


hippybear: I've toyed with the idea of trying to actually publish a hymnal, but the idea of obtaining publishing rights is daunting.

You could simply publish a list of songs, or even a list of links to YouTube vids and lyrics sites. Not as fancy as a proper hymnal (which would be awesome), but still interesting.

It could be run as dueling Tumblr blogs. I like this idea. But I'm derailing the thread.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:12 PM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

So what does this make Buddhism and Taoism?
posted by localroger at 3:14 PM on January 25, 2011


Related Wanda Jackson prior post: Wild Wanda, Queen of Rockabilly
posted by filthy light thief at 3:17 PM on January 25, 2011


The hymal idea is a really cool one, no matter what the form, hippybear!
posted by Miko at 3:25 PM on January 25, 2011


So what does this make Buddhism and Taoism.

Debate clubs?

Actually, this is an interesting point because, weren't non-theistic religions and metaphysical systems pretty much the norm across most human cultures until the Abrahamic religions came along, with the novel claim that there's only one true God, who created the world in seven days, etc.? Has the cultural drift effect taken us so far that, from the vantage point of our time-place specific cultural miasma, we now unconsciously take the specific exceptions that defined our own dominant religions to be the unspoken rules that define the essence of all religious belief? That's a pretty striking example of the distorting effect cultural transmission can have on the integrity of our ideas, if so.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:39 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think non-theistic systems were the norm - I think there were more pantheistic and animist systems and that non-theistic systems were quite rare. The innovation of monotheism long predates most of the Abrahamic faiths except, perhaps, some early forms of Judaism - the monotheistic idea appears here and there across the early civilized world in the milennia before the common era, but the most powerful monotheistic antecedent of today's religions was Zoroastrianism.
posted by Miko at 3:44 PM on January 25, 2011


I'm not so sure about NON-theistic... but poly-theism was pretty prevalent for a long time before the monotheists came along.
posted by hippybear at 3:45 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


- Decani, not snarking, but could you flesh out your comment a bit? I don't really understand it as a response to this video. Or the Orwell reference.

- Sorry, I meant to link that wiki Miko.

I have to admit that I have only read a little of Marcus, and not been that impressed. Would be willing to bet that Marcus cribbed his ideas from Graham.


- Cool idea hippybear. You should include this hymn by I. Ron Butterfly ;)

- When it comes to Wanda Jackson, this is the one I like -- Funnel Of Love
posted by puny human at 3:46 PM on January 25, 2011


Love Spreads.
posted by Splunge at 3:50 PM on January 25, 2011


a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.


I think this definition is easily inclusive of Buddhism and Taoism since the "superhuman agency" is not a requirement of the definition.

Has the cultural drift effect taken us so far that, from the vantage point of our time-place specific cultural miasma, we now unconsciously take the specific exceptions that defined our own dominant religions to be the unspoken rules that define the essence of all religious belief?

In short, yes, people do this.

That's a pretty striking example of the distorting effect cultural transmission can have on the integrity of our ideas, if so.

But ideas are not independent of culture. Purity, authenticity, integrity - these are ideals only. The history of the world, including its religious history, is one of trasmission, translation, adaptation, change, and transformation.

As a manifesto, though, I hesitate to parse this work too much. My first reaction to it came when I was viewing it more as a documentary work, and I found it a bit lacking. Once I Googled the creator and discovered he was a conceptual artist, it made more sense. This piece is a better work of art than work of history or religious philosophy, so it would be hard to mount a good argument about religion based on the piece.
posted by Miko at 3:50 PM on January 25, 2011


What are some rock hymns? From Wikipedia, a hymn is
a type of song, usually religious, specifically written for the purpose of praise, adoration or prayer, and typically addressed to a deity or deities, or to a prominent figure or personification. The word hymn derives from Greek ὕμνος (hymnos), which means "a song of praise."
...which is fairly specific. Taking a broader view, of songs that might express the tenets of a faith in rock and roll, or songs that are commentary on things spiritual, what would we list? Won't Get Fooled Again? Dust in the Wind? You Can't Always Get What You Want? Pink Floyd's Time? Fun question.
posted by Miko at 3:56 PM on January 25, 2011


saulgoodman, this is a bit of a derail but I like to make this point whenever I can: The fundamental difference between pre- and post-Abrahamic religions as far as the creation of the Universe is that in the pre-Abrahamic religions, creation is something that just happens because it is natural, like birth or hatching or a confused Goddess losing her car keys and stepping in the mud. In not one case would any of those religions have considered the Creative force to have perfect knowledge of the Creation, or even very much power over it. After all, how perfect is a woman's knowledge of the baby she will have one day? In those days she wouldn't even know its sex in advance.

But in the Abrahamic tradition the universe is consciously made like a pot or a house. Everyone knows nothing gets made without determination, planning, and skill; a bad or sloppy potter will turn a crooked pot, and a badly made house will fall down. Since the Universe works in ways so wonderful they are nearly incomprehensible (if you haven't invented science) then it must have been made by a really skilled creator, and it seems natural that such a being must be omniscient and omnipotent. And to have gone to the bother of putting it all together so we'd have an existence at all omnibenevolent as well, amirite?

But no pagans ever made such ludicrous claims. The Greek and Roman gods who concerned themselves with human affairs were themselves as distant from the ultimate creative forces of the Universe (the distant and elusive Fates) as we are from them. Hinduism has an elaborate hierarchy explaining why the ability to create does not confer absolute power. Buddhism is a self-improvement club, and Taoism is a self-help manual. Shinto is just ancestor reverence taken to extremes.

Anyway, to return to point I think there is a religious quality to rock (I am reluctant to watch the installation on my home bandwidth constrained 3G connection) but there's another lyric that etched itself into my brain the first time I heard it:

Jesus died for somebody's sins -- but not mine. -- Patti Smith
posted by localroger at 3:57 PM on January 25, 2011


There's plenty in both Buddhism and Taoism that cannot only be supernatural (as most would understand it), but plenty of Buddhist that I know of believe in supernatural beings, a supernatural cosmology, and the like. Yes, there are some strains of very strictly "philosophical" Buddhism and Taoism, but they are not the majority, and I would not across the board describe either as 1) not being a religion or 2) not being theistic.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 4:00 PM on January 25, 2011


The more seriously people take it, the worse it gets.

This applies equally to rock and religion.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:01 PM on January 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


The Greek and Roman gods who concerned themselves with human affairs were themselves as distant from the ultimate creative forces of the Universe (the distant and elusive Fates) as we are from them.

creation is something that just happens because it is natural,

I'm not sure that's completely supported. Among other systems, the Greek and Roman gods did recognize specific creators and the processes by which the universe was shaped and created were portrayed as the actions of specific deities, not of undirected nature. This is quite true in many North and South American native religions as well. So 'pagans,' by which I guess you mean pantheists or polytheists, did indeed make such claims.

Since the Universe works in ways so wonderful they are nearly incomprehensible (if you haven't invented science) then it must have been made by a really skilled creator,

That's just one specific argument among many that's been used as an attempt to prove the existence of God, but it came about long after Judeo-Christian religions had already been practiced for centuries. It's also known as the teleological argument or the watchmaker analogy.

It's too far to go to say that a creator or creators with knowledge and intent is the biggest difference between Abrahamic and other faiths in human history. That doesn't fairly represent the belief systems of a variety of non-monotheistic faiths.
posted by Miko at 4:06 PM on January 25, 2011


I think localroger actually nailed the more interesting point (and really, on reflection, the one I might have made): pre-Abrahamic religious traditions generally (and remember the saying about he who generalizes...) didn't focus so much on a single creator being, nor on the act of creation. But ever since the brothers of the book burst onto the scene, the creator figure has become central. Like a rock star. QED, rock and roll is a natural outgrowth of religion.

There's plenty in both Buddhism and Taoism that cannot only be supernatural (as most would understand it), but plenty of Buddhist that I know of believe in supernatural being

(As a lapsed Christian Buddhist myself, I concur.)
posted by saulgoodman at 4:10 PM on January 25, 2011


I guess I take my definition of "hymn" less from a strict meaning of "song of praise", but more from my experiences growing up in a Presbyterian church. The hymnal was full of songs which weren't directly praise pieces, but often espoused philosophy or exhorted the worshipers to action, etc.

Based on my own thinking about the Church Of Rock And Roll and its definite dualistic nature, and the idea of it being hymns, meaning songs for group singing, and without digging out the physical file I have buried someplace in this house, I could list a few off the top of my head that I'd include.

Uncle John's Band - Grateful Dead
Closer To Fine - Indigo Girls
Given To Fly - Pearl Jam
What's So Funny About Peace Love And Understanding - Nick Lowe

and a lot more, presumably tracks from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones could be included, but I could see songs from as wide a field as ABBA and Patti Smith being pulled that would fit in with what I have in mind.

Maybe I really should start doing a bit more serious research about this and work something up. It could be interesting. I think I even have an old hymnal around here someplace I could use to draw on for organization and inspiration.
posted by hippybear at 4:12 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


ooh... might be a cool project for here, hippybear
posted by saulgoodman at 4:14 PM on January 25, 2011


Miko, in the layered pantheons of the more complex pagan religions, all of the levels beneath "ultimate creator" are themselves created beings like us, charged with doing bit parts of the creation. This has a few implications which are in direct contradiction to the Abrahamic way of looking at things:
  • The bit part creators are imperfect, explaining why the Universe itself is.
  • Whatever created the bit part creators is either imperfect, doesn't care about the bad job they're doing, or is unknowably distant and unapproachable even to the gods we can interact with.
  • The ultimate creative force doesn't give a rat's ass about your prayer or sacrifice; it doesn't even care about the sacrifices of actual gods.
The fundamental assumption of Abrahamism, that the Universe was made at skill rather than born or hatched or crystallized, was a very new thing you will find in such raw and extended form nowhere else. I am unaware of any other previous belief system that taught omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence (and that's likely because such a combination is directly obviously insane if you think about it too much). Those are all the assumptions a robot would make about its builder, not what a human or animal would think about its parents. This was a fundamental part of the whole thing long before watches were invented or the word "teleological" was coined.

For my part I think the Universe is a blanket of Santorum on a sea of possibilities that consumed the Creator after he was sexually assaulted against a locker.
posted by localroger at 4:21 PM on January 25, 2011


Jeremiah Was A Bullfrog afterall.
posted by Sailormom at 5:23 PM on January 25, 2011


I have to say I agree with the premise. I remember watching a film on snake handling churches in areas affected by the dust bowl: I was struck by the raggedy blues inspired music, and the similarities between the crowd dancing and a mosh pit.

How wonderful, how perfect a unifying force, I thought, to be able to get young and old together in the same room, all swept up in such a fervor. If only we could do that without religion.

I like to say that the left underestimates the practical community-building power of churches. I guess it's a good thing we have the best rock and roll and RnB.
posted by es_de_bah at 5:26 PM on January 25, 2011


Uncle John's Band - Grateful Dead
Closer To Fine - Indigo Girls
Given To Fly - Pearl Jam
What's So Funny About Peace Love And Understanding - Nick Lowe


All fine songs, but "Let My People Go-Go" by the Rainmakers should be the uber rock hymn, I believe.
posted by jonmc at 5:34 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


: pre-Abrahamic religious traditions generally (and remember the saying about he who generalizes...) didn't focus so much on a single creator being, nor on the act of creation.

That's just not the case - not in pre-Abrahamic religions, and not in non-Abrahamic religions. Especially with the antecedents of the Abrahamic religions, much of the story was based on already existing stories, so many components of the myths in Genesis were not new.

Miko, in the layered pantheons of the more complex pagan religions, all of the levels beneath "ultimate creator" are themselves created beings like us, charged with doing bit parts of the creation....The fundamental assumption of Abrahamism, that the Universe was made at skill rather than born or hatched or crystallized, was a very new thing you will find in such raw and extended form nowhere else. '

Without the statement becoming a bit more specific about which religious systems you're describing, I can again say that these statements are not, as a generality, true. There are many commonalities among the Abrahamic faiths, but very few of their conceptual tenets were actually new. They were evolutions of previous faiths, some of which contained some of the same views; and at the same time, there are faiths wholly outside the Abrahamic system whose creator beings share many or all the qualities of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God. Though the Abrahamic faiths united concepts about powers appropriate to the gods in a single deity, the powers themselves are not concepts new or unique to those religions; they arose out of earlier religious systems. The Abrahamic faiths are really not unique in world religious history, in that they introduced no demonstrably novel concepts as far as the major questions of the nature of God and the universe - they are particular in their history, power, continuity and especially in their degree of textuality, but many of the central conceptual features you mention are found elsewhere as well, together or separately. I'm not sure about your degree of familiarity with other world religions, but the sweeping nature of your statements guarantees many exceptions which are easily found in a variety of sources.
posted by Miko at 5:43 PM on January 25, 2011


QED, rock and roll is a natural outgrowth of religion.

Well, then, that pretty much settles the whole debate about whether religion is a net good in the world.
posted by The World Famous at 5:52 PM on January 25, 2011


What are some rock hymns? From Wikipedia, a hymn is

a type of song, usually religious, specifically written for the purpose of praise, adoration or prayer, and typically addressed to a deity or deities, or to a prominent figure or personification.


She's got the plastic
Comes from all the corners of another world
She's so fantastic
She's everybody's favorite little record girl

She knows music
I know music, do you see?
She got the power
I got the power, Rosalie


I started listening to Thin Lizzy when I opened the thread.
posted by ersatz at 6:11 PM on January 25, 2011


Miko: I didn't say the Abrahamic faiths were totally new. I said there was one totally new thing about them. Yes, I am more familiar than you might realize with non-Christian religions, and you have weasel-worded your way out of this:

Not one of them taught that the ultimate Creator, or for that matter any of its godlike subcreations, was omni-anything. Even the White Goddess and Her God had limitations, being bounded by each other.

I will now stop shitting this thread. G'night, all.
posted by localroger at 6:19 PM on January 25, 2011


We continue with an evangelical message: Have you heard the good news about Live and Dangerous? Still a great album.
posted by ersatz at 6:46 PM on January 25, 2011


Rock (except to the extent that some performers had roots in gospel) had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with religion; au contraire, organized religion did everything it could ... including telling kids they'd burn for eternity in hell JUST FOR DANCING ... to smash rock -and rockers- into tiny bits and pieces from the very beginning. Until they lost the battle.

Without getting into a lengthy discussion of how people like Mozart struggled to get popular music out of the hands of the church-dominated aristocracy, and without quoting at length from the 50s and 60s, I call complete bullshit on the whole idea. This makey-nicey revisionism will not stand, man. Go read Jacques Attali.
posted by Twang at 6:55 PM on January 25, 2011


Rock (except to the extent that some performers had roots in gospel) had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with religion; au contraire, organized religion did everything it could ... including telling kids they'd burn for eternity in hell JUST FOR DANCING ... to smash rock -and rockers- into tiny bits and pieces from the very beginning.

Well, I think that you're using a rather narrow definition of religion here.

Dancing into an ecstatic state is a major part of a lot of religions, on many continents, springing out of many traditions. Native Americans up and down the New World, Africans of many belief systems and nationalities, far and near East groups... We might even have evidence of it being practiced in Europe over the centuries if the Catholics hadn't worked so hard on wiping out any evidence of other belief systems.

The fact that the music might be called "rock and roll" doesn't have anything to do with it. It's got a strong beat which can be sustained for long periods of time while people dance rhythmically to it until they transcend their state? It's been going on for millennia.
posted by hippybear at 7:27 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not one of them taught that the ultimate Creator, or for that matter any of its godlike subcreations, was omni-anything.

I'm sorry, this is just completely false. And those aren't weasel words.
posted by Miko at 8:16 PM on January 25, 2011


except to the extent that some performers had roots in gospel

But that is not some small detail. I'm tempted to say it's the sine qua non, especially for rock and roll; but that gets circular, because pop music and sacred music have always intermingled and influenced one another, and the sacred music that gave rise to rock was also shaped by secular music in its turn.
posted by Miko at 8:22 PM on January 25, 2011


Exclusive Monists believe that the universe, the "God" of naturalistic pantheism, simply does not exist. In addition, monists can be Deists, Pandeists, Theists or Panentheists; believing in a monotheistic God that is omnipotent and all-pervading, and both transcendent and immanent. There are monist pantheists and panentheists in Zoroastrianism, Hinduism (particularly in Advaita and Vishistadvaita respectively), Judaism (monistic panentheism is especially found in Kabbalah and Hasidic philosophy[citation needed]), and in Islam (among the Sufis, especially the Bektashi).

Omnipotence in Hinduism

The section on "God's Attributes" discusses the Supreme God of traditional African religions and its inclusion of principles of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence.
posted by Miko at 9:12 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


including telling kids they'd burn for eternity in hell JUST FOR DANCING

And, well, the Puritan fear of sex transcends a lot of everything in US culture.

(Why don't Baptists have sex standing up? It might lead to dancing!)

But yeah, there are a LOT of holdovers from the Puritan days in our culture. The hate of rock music is one of them, because it reminds people of sex. So are George Carlin's 7 words. So is our movie rating system which allows violent death to be shown to children but still won't allow a single use of the word "fuck" or any male nudity at all. (But titties can be EVERYWHERE)

All that aside, rock music is descended from gospel and blues, which are both descended from slave music, all of which was brought over from Africa, much of which was used for religious ceremonies.
posted by hippybear at 9:22 PM on January 25, 2011


the Puritan fear of sex transcends a lot of everything in US culture.

The early Puritans really didn't fear sex itself They were more un-hung-up about the act sex than most religions that replaced them. What they feared was chaos, and they saw sex outside of the social controls of marriage as contributing greatly to social disorder. So, when women turned up pregnant they were promptly married to somebody, establishing them clearly as a member of a household, represented in the congregation and responsible to itself. When someone was adulterous, they were messing with the social structures of marriage and creating potential disputes about fairness, loyalty, heirs, and inheritance. But the actual primary sources on sex show they were pretty sex-positive, within marriage, and that women were entitled to sexual satisfaction, and a couple's being able to have a healthy and enjoyable sex life was encouraged.

I don't think it's rock's association with sex that's been the root of the occasional objections to it by some religious groups here and there. I think sex is the scapegoat - it's the social control they are usually after. In a controlled society, people behave according to the ideals of the one who wants to control. They dress, cut their hair, talk, move, and choose their activities according to what pleases those in authority. Rock music is basically anti-authoritarian and anti-hegemonic, like most vernacular musics, and that's really what bugs strict religious leaders about it - it undermines their authority. Kids doing whatever they want to do is terrifying to people who want to prescribe behavior in order to maintain authority, and rock music is one thing kids have used to do what they want to do. But rock isn't the only one by far. Whatever is happening outside the boundaries of control draws ire. The foxtrot did. The jitterbug did. Dime novels did. Ragtime did. The waltz did. Bustles and updos did. Things change and youth culture moves fast, and authoritarian organizations never like that.

All that aside, rock music is descended from gospel and blues, which are both descended from slave music, all of which was brought over from Africa, much of which was used for religious ceremonies.

A lot of gospel roots lie in European folk and sacred music, too. These musics didn't come over fully formed from Africa, they were developed in the environment of cultural interchange here in the New World. Though I'd never underplay the importance of the African diaspora in American music, sometimes there's a tendency to credit only that factor in the development of American pop music, and there are many other influences as well. As Wynton Marsalis puts it - it's "the gumbo."
posted by Miko at 9:43 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


The early Puritans really didn't fear sex itself They were more un-hung-up about the act sex than most religions that replaced them. What they feared was chaos, and they saw sex outside of the social controls of marriage as contributing greatly to social disorder.

Are you sure you're not confusing the Pilgrims with the Puritans?

The first wave of people to settle here from England were pretty much communal hippies, with a Christian focus. The second wave were religious tight-asses who would put people to death when hysterical teenage girls called them witches. They're very different approaches, philosophies, and groups of people.
posted by hippybear at 10:10 PM on January 25, 2011


A lot of gospel roots lie in European folk and sacred music, too.

Oh, yes, I don't deny this. But the defining factor between Lutheran and Wesleyan and other old world hymns and gospel music is easy to discern even to the untrained ear, and that is the looser, non-european rhythms which dominate the newer form. (Well, that and a penchant for improvisation within the framework, but that isn't the important part in the context of this FPP.)

Yes, it's all about the melting pot, especially when it comes to this particular development chain of music. But in this particular context, with a video comparing Shaker ecstasy to rock and roll frenzy, it really is about the use of rhythm and rhythmic movement in the context of religion which counts above all else. And those are features which were pretty much excluded from Christian sacred music for centuries before the slaves started converting their native songs to a Jesus context.
posted by hippybear at 10:17 PM on January 25, 2011


What are some rock hymns?

I suspect context matters for something. This, for instance, is NOT a rock hymn.
posted by philip-random at 10:22 PM on January 25, 2011


I saw Patti Smith at the Santa Monica Pier the day after Ellie Greenwich died, and as the culmination of a mindblowing, incredible show, she led a huge crowd in a rousing chorus of "Be My Baby". I've had plenty of less-than-mystical rock experiences in my life, but that night on the pier really changed my perception of what popular music could be in a person's life, and how it could be harnessed and transformed.

I've been to funerals of loved ones at the churches of gods I believed in that have affected me less. I'm not exaggerating.
posted by little light-giver at 11:30 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


this just seems like it belongs here
posted by idiopath at 3:50 AM on January 26, 2011


Are you sure you're not confusing the Pilgrims with the Puritans?

No, I'm not confusing Separatists and Puritans - after all, they were part of same movement, with the Separatists being the more extreme and radical, not less. On this point, though, they did not noticeably differ, at least until the Mass. Bay Colony began to deepen its establishment and reach (the Witch trials were seventy years after the Plymouth colony, anyway, and society had changed a great deal). When confining comments to just the Plymoth Colony, though, there's a limit to what one can usefully say. Within a couple of decades they were tightly knit with the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and by the time of the witch trials they were no longer politically separate. The Pilgrim period lasted a short amount of time and concerned under 500 people, all told, whose society was eventually subsumed into Puritan governance. In addition, even among the Plymouth Colony, a minority of the venturers were actually Pilgrims. There were also the Strangers, non-Separatists, who made up more than half of the company at the outset.

11% of the marriages at Plymouth Colony had births from premarital sex. The same analysis estimates that as many as 50% of the Pilgrims engaged in premarital sex. And the Pilgrims of the Plymouth colony are on court records as punishing adultery and fornication from the 1636 law codification onward. A couple secondary books that touch on sexuality in the Plymouth colony are A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony and Thanksgiving: The Pilgrims' First Year in America. These are helpful, because when your primary source is court records, the picture that emerges is one of severe punishment of infraction, giving the impression of a repressive society. While the sexual trangressions were indeed punished, at the same time, that social control co-existed with an encouragement and acceptance of sexual pleasure within marriage.

The first wave of people to settle here from England were pretty much communal hippies, with a Christian focus.

I'm not an economic historian, but that's not a characterization I could really agree on. They weren't truly communal; they were a business venture and never lost track of the shareholding and ownership of their property. The property wasn't held in a true collectivel it was an asset of a capital venture.

t really is about the use of rhythm and rhythmic movement in the context of religion which counts above all else. And those are features which were pretty much excluded from Christian sacred music for centuries before the slaves started converting their native songs to a Jesus context.

I have to disagree with that, too, because ecstatic singing, flailing, and dancing was a feature of the camp-meeting movement, which started among Presbyterians in the late eighteenth century. Methodists, including African-American Methodists, were drawn into this movement, and it's quite possible that the influences flowed in both directions, or at the very least jibed with pre-existing practices that became easy to adopt to the new religious environments emerging at the start of the nineteenth century.
posted by Miko at 5:41 AM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sorry I am being super-pedantic; this is my wheelhouse so I'm kind of finely dicing.

under 500 people

Wrong...under 3500 people
posted by Miko at 5:44 AM on January 26, 2011


Also, hippybear, it looks like you share my interest in American music history and so I thought you would also really enjoy this article and thread on call and response singing.
posted by Miko at 7:11 AM on January 26, 2011


Well, perhaps the trough that birthed rock-and-roll was being fed at both ends, then. Because certainly other historians and people who study such things have put forward that it was during slavery that a lot of the melting and blending took place which led to the development of black-influenced music here in America. Here's a pretty good overview from the history as presented in Ken Burns' Jazz.

And I can't remember right now where it was that I heard the characterization of the Plymouth colony settlers as communal hippies, but when I find it, I'll certainly post it here. The impression I got at the time I heard that was that there were huge differences in approach between the initial wave of settlers and subsequent ones, but I'm not really an early american scholar by any sense, so I may be mistaken.

Anyway, when it comes to black music and black influence on our culture, it's not something which has been very well documented early on, and when it was it was nearly always outsiders looking in, with very few primary sources. Sadly, a lot of things are just lost in the mists of time.
posted by hippybear at 8:37 AM on January 26, 2011


other historians and people who study such things have put forward that it was during slavery that a lot of the melting and blending took place which led to the development of black-influenced music here in America

I cerainly don't disagree with that, but it's part of the picture, and not the full picture. One of my favorite scholars, Christopher Smith, has done some really interesting work on the development of the minstrel music scene - the first mass popular-culture music in America - and how it was always thought to have developed as a poor imitation by whites of slaves' music, when in fact, he argues, it grew out of the culture of New York City in the 1820s and 30s, with free blacks and poor whites intermingling musically in the maritime environments where they worked - places where Irish fiddling and jigs met African and Southern rhythmic and instrumental and vocal influences. The story is never simple.

Part of my take on this topic is that rock and roll isn't exceptional. it's yet another American vernacular music, and follows social patterns that a lot of this culture's music has followed, in well-worn pathways. I don't think rock and religion are at all mutually exclusive - I believe instead that human musicality includes a tendency toward ecstatic singing and dancing, and that tendency finds its way into cultural expressions wherever conditions are fertile. At times, religion has been about control and restraint, alternating with times where the popular religious movements were more about exuberance and celebration. During those latter times, musical movements within religion have been just as physically wild as those within rock and roll. Humans do certain things when they get musical, and societies vary by time, place, and condition in how they accommodate music.
posted by Miko at 9:41 AM on January 26, 2011


Oops, meant to link Christopher Smith.
posted by Miko at 9:41 AM on January 26, 2011


The problem I find when delving into the origins of ROCK is that it always feels like something gets diminished, not unlike delving into the ingredients of a particularly potent recipe. On their own, there just isolated ingredients. Mix them up right and WOW! God is Great!

That said, my absurdly simplified two-bits goes something like this:

Rebel folk traditions from the British Isles (Ireland in particular) fuse with raw African rhythms and the like in the backwoods of the American south and rock and roll is not so much born as alchemized. But it doesn't achieve true religious status until about 1965 when Bob Dylan joins the party with a bagful of crazy drugs and crazier poetry.

A-fucking-Men!
posted by philip-random at 9:47 AM on January 26, 2011


And electricity. Don't fprget about the electricity.
posted by Sailormom at 10:21 AM on January 26, 2011


Well, rock was already electric when Dylan got there. In fact, the electricity was the magnetism that drew him toward it. And then he helped set it gloriously, rapturously free.
posted by philip-random at 10:41 AM on January 26, 2011


Hippybear, might you be thinking about The Maypole of Merry Mount (1836) by Nathaniel Hawthorne?

Hawthorne's story was transported to the Scottish isles and given a horror slant in The Wicker Man (1973). I wish I could find an uncensored version of that Willow Howie clip, because what, pray tell, is better than Britt Ekland naked?

full movie
posted by puny human at 12:24 PM on January 26, 2011


No, I'm not thinking of that at all. This was a much more recent thing, maybe a lecture I saw online, or something. I'm totally not finding it, but I'll keep digging around. I can't even remember the context. Shows how good a lecture it was if that's all I retained from it.
posted by hippybear at 12:41 PM on January 26, 2011


It wasn't this, was it? There are a lot of far-right-wing screeds out there which seek to use the Plymouth colony's development as an allegory of the failures of communism and the superiority of capitalism. Those arguments are all flawed and depend on cherrypicking texts.

In reality, the system was never communal, and was desinged from the get-go as a profit-making venture with a specific end point, seven years from the date of departure, at which time any profits would be divided among the venturers and either kept or sold, according to each person's will.
posted by Miko at 6:34 PM on January 26, 2011


Goodness gracious no. That wasn't it at ALL.
posted by hippybear at 7:04 PM on January 26, 2011


Was researching some other stuff and came across this really solid article on the development of and influences on early camp-meeting songs, which talks about the musical interchange between blacks and whites and the functional features of camp-meeting hymns that may have traveled in either direction, and more likely both, between blacks and whites as the spiritual developed.
posted by Miko at 10:32 AM on February 2, 2011


Something wonky going on with your link Miko. It sends me to my recent activity page. Hmm, now it is sending me back to this post. Weird.
posted by puny human at 5:43 PM on February 2, 2011


Thanks; I borked that link pretty bad somehow. Here's another try. The whole thing is good but the relevant section is "The Camp Meeting and the Negro Spiritual." I've been researching camp meeting lately and have spent the day reading about the hymnody, which is tied up with the origins of the spiritual so inextricably that there is really no telling exactly who influenced what when.
posted by Miko at 7:17 PM on February 2, 2011


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