Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Rock and Roll

A disturbing documentary, They Sold Their Souls for Rock’n’Roll, has really taken the lid off this major strand of popular culture for me. Having been raised with classical music and a few LPs of Ian White’s Psalms and Adrian Snell I’ve never really given much time to rock music, though I was dimly aware of bits and pieces of rock trivia and occasionally enjoyed Status Quo and the odd Queen track while disapproving vaguely of the mock-Satanism and general foul-mouthed metal.

The documentary comes out of a stable I am slightly suspicious of – the knee-jerk, anti-culture fundamentalist Baptists of the US (see how rude I am?). But more fool me for that attitude when it leads me to dismiss things without considering them. Its history of rock is of course selective, but it wisely stops short of ‘the music itself is bad’ and instead examines the culture of rebellion and explicit anti-Christian discourse. Drugs, seances, violence, egoism, you name it. Instead of just thinking that sort of thing whenever I happened to think about rock, heavy metal and whatnot (rarely), I saw and heard in their own words what the big names of rock (Presley, Bowie, the Stones, the Beatles, Hendrix, Morrison, etc) actually thought about life, the universe and everything. Analysis of lyrics and album art was mixed with interview footage, quotes from biographies and autobiographies, live concerts and various other bits and pieces. It was pretty scary stuff. A veritable catalogue of occultism, obscenity and tragedy, much of it self-consciously linked to Aleister Crowley and his Satanic/pagan revival work of the early twentieth century.

What does this mean for the music of the churches? Clearly I need to know more about the history of popular music, and its other roots and inspiration in gospel music of the late nineteenth century… so I shall head on to Gene Veith’s The Honky-Tonk Gospel next.