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    All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Chapter Nine

    February 25, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    I love rock n’ roll
    So put another dime in the jukebox, baby
    I love rock n’ roll
    So come an take your time an dance with me

    -Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

    God gave rock and roll to you, gave rock and roll to you
    Put it in the soul of everyone.


    When I was a child, I loved to play the Billy Joel Glass Houses record {yes: record!} on my parents’ record player. I grew up on rock, but not in an obsessed sort of way. But it was part of my culture, I suppose. I have certain songs that still bring back memories of my mom laying out in our backyard in the summer {wow…she must have been my age}, or driving to school, or a dance in junior high, etcetera.

    My dad also does a pretty good impression of Johnny Cash, but that doesn’t have anything to do with this post.

    Si, on the other hand, was raised on Christian rock. Just in case you were wondering.

    I also have wonderful, wonderful memories of singing in choir growing up. In fact, one major lament I have concerning homeschooling is that my children might not have access to a regular choir when they are older. I say “might” because I do not claim to know the future. I felt like I was helping with something truly beautiful when our choir performed madrigals. Learning to sing pieces which required skill brought about an appreciation for more difficult music, one that I have never lost.

    And, of course, during my many years of piano training, I studied classical. I remember once, when I was a teenager, complaining to my teacher that I wanted to play something else. Jazz, perhaps. I remember that she told me that if I could play classical well I’d be able to play anything. The implication was that I wasn’t playing well enough, not yet. I’m glad she didn’t just give in. I think it was good for me.

    I was a rock fan until I had children. Becoming a parent changes so much. It is hard to explain to people who don’t yet have children. But there is this sudden, dramatic change where what you might have tolerated in yourself simply has to go because you just couldn’t stand to see it begotten in your children.

    I know you think I’m going to say that we ditched rock, but actually it was the TV and rock was something that has simply dwindled over the years.

    We are not against rock.

    But it also doesn’t seem to fit what we’re aiming for around here.

    The road away from rock began when Grace gave me a Charlotte Church CD. I had a newborn who was just crying and crying and he couldn’t seem to be pacified by anything I did and I just happened to flip on Charlotte Church and something amazing happened. He stopped crying. Things continued this way, and with all of our children, until I can say with conviction that complex, beautiful music has a calming effect on children, and on our home. When the day gets wild and the children are bickering, I can often save the day with a classical CD if I remember to lift myself above the ruckus long enough to turn it on.

    So I suppose you could say there is far less rock in our house than either Si or I ever really planned for, and it didn’t so much have to do with being anti-rock so much as it did with pursuing a different sort of life in which rock fit less and less.

    So when Myers’ says that rock has certain affects on a person, I tend to believe him, even though I hate to see rock “attacked” in that way. Myers discusses rock’s ability to create restless energy in the listener:

    The usual line offered in defense of rock ‘n’ roll was, “But it has so much energy.” What was rarely asked in response was why the experience of energy was intrinsically a good thing.

    Mere energy, undirected and purposeless, is generally regarded as a nuisance. Mere energy is the stuff of insomnia, not creativity. It is what parents and teachers lament in hyperactive children. Energy is only an asset when it can be directed toward a task.

    Since the word “restless” is a good descriptive term of our culture, it is interesting to have Myers say that the music we listen to encourages restlessness, energy without purpose.

    Of course, I tend to take a more holistic view of this and say that the purposelessness is part of the problem. So when we need to deep clean the house, I turn on rock and it gets us going and we put that energy to work and I’m not sure that’s a problem. But to entrench ourselves in rock throughout the day would have negative repercussions, I think.

    Myers explains that there is actually a dominant Rock Myth which informs the culture. It is anti-intellectual in nature. It is emotional in a way that overrides reasoning. He writes:

    The essence of that myth was that rock would offer a form of spiritual deliverance by providing a superior form of knowledge, a form that was immediate rather than reflective, physical rather than mental, and emotional rather than volitional.

    I was surprised that Myers didn’t follow this thought into the drug culture. Rock held hands with hallucinogenic drugs in The Sixties. When the music and drugs coupled up, folks were essentially attempting to reach Nirvana without dying. It was a spiritual quest which denied Christ and His Church.

    I remember that when I was at Biola a parent came into my office to complain about some music being played in our coffee shop. We allowed the student managers to select the music during their shifts and, unbeknownst to my boss and I, they were playing that famous socialist/atheist ballad “Imagine.” Naturally, we told her we would instruct our managers as to what was appropriate taste. I don’t remember the rest of the conversation except for one thing. She said that we didn’t really understand because we hadn’t experienced The Sixties {my boss was too old and I was too young}. She said that those songs could still, to that day, provoke memories of the visions she had seen in her drug trips because they were so tied to the music.

    I would go so far as to say that many rock songs of that era were written in consideration of drugs. They were made to complement the trip, if you will. And when we note that this sort of thing didn’t just have a spiritual component but was actually a spiritual quest, we have reason to pause and consider.

    The idea of rock is also tied to dancing, to whole body movement. I like dancing. However, a lot of the “dancing” associated with rock isn’t really dancing in the strictest sense of the word. Myers quotes Charles Reich:

    The older music was essentially intellectual; it was located in the mind and in the feelings known to the mind; the new music rocks the whole body and penetrates the soul.

    I think this might be a sign that rock is bypassing the intellect altogether. There is a general lack of thoughtfulness in the culture. Most “decisions” are really impulses. I wonder how much rock has contributed to this. Or perhaps it is actually a result of it?

    Myers spends some time discussing this culture of rock and explains that it glorifies youth and primitivism. I think that the idolizing of youth is fairly obvious, but the primitivism was a new concept to me. I was particularly interested in Myers’ assertion of the connection between rock and the Noble Savage of Rousseau. I hadn’t considered that one aspect of rock is not just generalized rebellion, but an actual throwing off of civilization. Once I thought about this, I came back again to the idea that my children respond differently to jazz and classical than they do to rock, and perhaps this is the reason.

    As I read this book, I keep coming back to this troubled feeling when I consider the connection between rock and worship within the evangelical church. However, I think that the dangers of rock for the church are actually a little different from what Myers discussed. Though I do think that the restless energy is somewhat counterproductive when one considers than most churches expect parishioners to sit through a sermon subsequent to the singing, and though I do think that rock-as-rebellion is antithetical to the humility and submission required by a holy God, I also think that there is a more simple danger. {After all, the culture of rock isn’t something that most folks sit around discussing.} Rock-as-worship changes worship into a concert, and that is my real concern.

    Worship service was intended, I think, to me something participated in rather than something watched. Rock worship can be participated in, but it is more difficult than traditional worship because rock-type worship songs are actually written with soloists in mind. When soloists really get going, they stray from the music altogether into improvisation, which is to say that they are making it up as they go along. This might please the ear, but it is still individualistic in nature and not conducive to participation. And so congregations are dubbed “audiences,” which is to say that they watch what is happening.

    And then there are rock lyrics, which tend to be vague an emotional as a general rule. And since we are now at least two generations away from a firm theological foundation, the emotions are more manufactured than they are responses to actual knowledge of actual truth.

    These assertions are all generalizations, of course, but they are concerns of mine nonetheless. So I suppose a good place to end, and a way of seeing how far the Church has come, is to read Saint Augustine:

    I waver between the danger that lies in gratifying the senses and the benefits which, as I know from experience, can accrue from singing. Without committing myself to an irrevocable opinion, I am inclined to approve the custom of singing in church, in order that by indulging the ears weaker spirits may be inspired with feelings of devotion. Yet when I find the singing itself more moving than the truth which it conveys, I confess that this is a grievous sin, and at those times I would prefer not to hear the singer.

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  • Reply Brandy February 26, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    Hi Cindy. 🙂

    Are they selling Gileskirk again? I would love to pursue that when my children are the right age.

    My hunch about dancing is that dancing is different (to some extent) when it is choreographed. When we look at older dancing, like square dancing, waltzing, etc., there was a pattern of dance to which a person had to conform themselves. Most of the movements were not dirty. It was good clean fun. I took ballet in my youth, and that too dealt with conformity, though more in a high art sort of way. But rock dancing is more a s*xual activity than anything. Or at least it tends to lead that direction.

    I guess this brings us full circle to Myers’ earlier chapters where he distinguished between everything being permissible but not necessarily beneficial. I see benefits in traditional dancing that I do not see in rock/pop dancing.

    With that said, my sister-in-law is a trained modern dancer and I wonder what she would say to this? Maybe I’ll email her.

  • Reply Dominion Family February 26, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    We went through something very similar when our children were young, just a gradual drifting away from the culture. My oldest was familiar with our favorite Christian rocker Mylon LeFevre but after that we didn’t even listen to Keith Green anymore for many years. Now all my children love Keith.

    It was also enlightening to me to tie in the Nobel Savage idea. It is a point my 17yo immediately understood since he is studying that idea in Gileskirk American Culture.

    I am also wondering about dancing which is making something of a comeback in and out of Christian circles. I like dancing also. My mom taught dancing (tap, ballet, etc) and a missionary in our church told her she was sending the children to hell.

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