It is not surprising that rock & roll has been adapted for contemporary Christian worship because it has the power that contemporary worshippers are looking for, the power to create strong emotional experiences, the power literally to take control of you and to carry you into spiritual realms.
Rock & rollers have long described their music in glowing spiritual and religious terms, but the spiritual fervor described in the following quotes does not pertain to the Spirit of God; it pertains to the “god of this world” who masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor. 4:4; 11:14).
Rock historian Michael Moynihan says: “In spiritual terms MUSIC IS A MAGICAL OPERATION, A VEHICLE FOR MAN TO COMMUNICATE WITH THE GODS” (Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground, p. 1).
Craig Chaquico of the Jefferson Airplane says, “Rock concerts are the churches of today. Music puts them on a spiritual plane. All music is God” (Dan and Steve Peters, Why Knock Rock? p. 96).
Jimi Hendrix understood the power of rock & roll as mysticism:
“Rock music is more than music, IT’S LIKE CHURCH” (Jimi Hendrix, The Dick Cavett Show, July 21, 1969).
“We’re making the music into ELECTRIC CHURCH MUSIC, A NEW KIND OF BIBLE you can carry in your hearts” (Jimi Hendrix, quoted in Crosstown Traffic by Charles Murray, p. 161).
“... THE MUSIC IS A SPIRITUAL THING of its own” (Jimi Hendrix, interview with Robin Richman “An Infinity of Jimis,” Life magazine, Oct. 3, 1969).
“ATMOSPHERES ARE GOING TO COME THROUGH MUSIC, because the music is a spiritual thing of its own ... you hypnotize people to where they go right back to their natural state ... The idea is to release in the proper form. Then they’ll feel like going into another world, a clearer world. The music flows from the air; that’s why I CONNECT WITH A SPIRIT, and when they come down off THIS NATURAL HIGH, they see clearer, feel different things...” (Jimmy Hendrix, rock star, Life, Oct. 3, 1969, p. 74).
Bruce Springsteen used to open his concerts with these words: “WELCOME TO THE FIRST CHURCH OF THE ROCK, BROTHERS AND SISTERS” and has stated that he was dead until rock and roll changed his life. USA Today described a Springsteen concert in these words: “Displaying an awesome musical chemistry, Springsteen and his E Streeters at times turned the Meadowlands’ Continental Airlines Arena [in East Rutherford, New Jersey] into a raucous revival tent, playing off themes of redemption, salvation and resurrection via rock ‘n’ roll throughout the nearly three-hour show” (USA Today, July 19, 1999, p. 9D).
Robbie Kreiger, guitarist for the Doors, said the band members were “revivalists and WANTED OUR AUDIENCE TO UNDERGO A RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE” (Break on Through: The Life and Death of Jim Morrison, p. 190).
Remembering Bob Marley’s rock concerts, Judy Mowatt, one of his backup singers said: “ON TOUR THE SHOWS WERE LIKE CHURCH; Bob delivering the sermon. There were mixed emotions in the audience: you see people literally crying, people in a frenzy, on A SPIRITUAL HIGH ... These concerts were powerful and HIGHLY SPIRITUAL. There was A POWER THAT PULLED YOU there. It was a clean feeling ... For months and maybe years it stays with you” (Sean Dolan, Bob Marley, p. 95).
Grateful Dead concerts have been described as “A PLACE TO WORSHIP.” “The band was the high priest, the audience the congregation, the songs the liturgy, and the dancing the prayer” (Gary Greenberg, Not Fade Away: The Online World Remembers Jerry Garcia, p. 42).
A music reviewer described a Backstreet Boys concert as “worship” (Express Writer, August 16, 1998).
Jim Morrison of the Doors said, “I FEEL SPIRITUAL UP THERE PERFORMING” (Newsweek, Nov. 6, 1967, p. 101).
Michael Jackson said, “On many an occasion WHEN I AM DANCING, I HAVE FELT TOUCHED BY SOMETHING SACRED. In those moments, I felt my spirit soar, and become one with everything that exists” (Steve Turner, Hungry for Heaven, p. 12).
George Harrison said, “Through the music you reach the spiritual. MUSIC IS VERY INVOLVED WITH THE SPIRITUAL, as we know from the Hare Krishna mantra” (Turner, p. 71).
Brian Eno says that WHEN HE DISCOVERED ROCK AND ROLL, IT WAS “A SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE” to him and IT OCCUPIED THE RELIGIOUS PART OF HIS LIFE (Turner, Hungry for Heaven, p. 150).
Sting, of the rock band Police, said, “The pure essence of music is very spiritual” (Musician, Feb. 1987, p. 41). He says: “MY RELIGION WOULD BE MUSIC, AND I HAD JUST RECEIVED MY FIRST SACRAMENT [WHEN HE FIRST HEARD THE BEATLES AT AGE 11]” (USA Today, Jan. 27, 1984, p. 2D).
Dancing at raves “may be construed as the method by which ravers WORSHIP THE GOD OF ALTERED CONSCIOUSNESS” (Russell Newcombe, The Guardian, Jul. 22, 1995).
A fan of Andrew WK testified: “Andrew WK truly helped me let go. HIS SHOWS WERE LIKE CHURCH SERVICES, I felt rejuvinized, and for weeks following them I was happier and made people around me happier (which in turn made me feel even better)” (Andrew WK Paradigm Shift, from web article no longer available).
Rock My Religion is a documentary by Dan Graham that describes the nature of rock & roll as religion to multitudes of people.
The memorial to John Lennon in Central Park, across the street from the Dakota building where he was murdered, has heavy religious overtones. A steady stream of fans place flowers and other offerings on the monument, which is inscribed with the title of his song “Imagine.”
What is it about rock & roll that has produced such spiritual fervor? What is the mysticism in rock?
It is a combination of the heavy sensual syncopation and the “me first” philosophy.
The most mystical element of rock, though, is not the lyrics; it is the music itself.
“What is undeniable about rock is its hypnotic power. It has gripped millions of young people around the world and transformed their lives” (William Schafer, Rock Music, 1972, p. 79).
“Rock music is an ideal vehicle for individual or mass hypnosis” (Andrew Salter, cited in Pop Goes the Gospel, p. 20).
“Rock music in particular has been demonstrated to be both powerful and addictive, as well as capable of producing a subtle form of hypnosis in which the subject, though not completely under trance, is still in a highly suggestive state” (John Fuller, Are the Kids All Right? 1981).
“Atmospheres are going to come through music, because the music is a spiritual thing of its own ... you hypnotize people ... I connect with a spirit, and when they come down off this natural high, they see clearer, feel different things...” (Jimi Hendrix, Life, Oct. 3, 1969, p. 74).
“An incessant beat does erode a sense of responsibility in much the same way as alcohol does. ... You feel in the grip of a relentless stream of sound to which something very basic and primitive in the human nature responds” (David Winter, New Singer, New Song).
“Heavy rock is body music designed to bypass your brain and with an unrelenting brutality induce a frenzied state amongst the audience” (Dave Roberts, Buzz columnist, Christian rock magazine in Britain, April 1982).
“Don’t listen to the words, it’s the music that has its own message. ... I’ve been stoned on the music many times” (Timothy Leary, New Age guru and promoter of LSD, Politics of Ecstasy).
“[Rock music] is THE STRONGEST DRUG IN THE WORLD” (Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Rock Beat, Spring 1987, p. 23).
“Rock ‘n’ roll is like a drug. When you’re singing and playing rock ‘n’ roll, you’re on the leading edge of yourself. ... It’s like there’s somethin’ alive and exposed” (Neil Young, cited by Mickey Hart, Spirit into Sound).
Janis Joplin, who died young from the rock & roll lifestyle, describes her first big concert in these words: “I couldn’t believe it, all that rhythm and power. I got stoned just feeling it, like IT WAS THE BEST DOPE IN THE WORLD. It was SO SENSUAL, so vibrant, loud, crazy” (Joel Dreyfuss, “Janis Joplin Followed the Script,” Wichita Eagle, Oct. 6, 1970, p. 7A).
Another element of mysticism in rock & roll mysticism is the widespread use of drugs. In this connection consider Aldous Huxley (1874-1963).
Huxley was a British-born mystic who believed that he was enlightened through drug usage. As a young man he “discarded dogmatic religion altogether” (Anne Bancroft, Twentieth-Century Mystics and Sages, p. 8). He leapt from one mystical path to another “like a grasshopper.” He studied hypnosis, psychic phenomena, meditation, automatic writing, and other things, but he was particularly drawn to Hinduism and Buddhism. In 1925 he visited India. He knew J. Krishnamurti and Swami Prabhavananda.
In the 1930s, while studying Vedantic Hinduism under the direction of Gerald Heard, the founder of Trabusco College in California, Huxley wrote The Perennial Philosophy. In this he discussed the teachings of various mystics and described his religious views at that time. He said they were based “on direct experience,” which is the mystical approach. But it was in 1952 when Huxley claimed to have finally achieved enlightenment. This was through the ingestion of mescaline. He said that this experience cleansed the “doors of perception.” He continued to use drugs, including LSD, to the end of his life. On his deathbed his wife gave him LSD and sat beside him reading the very occultic Tibetan Book of the Dead.
In his books The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell, Huxley described his drug experiences in terms of spiritual enlightenment. He thought that the brain acted as a filter or a “reducing valve” that did not allow man to readily connect with the “mind at large.” Through drugs, yoga, and ascetic practices the brain’s filtering function was weakened, allowing the individual to tap into the “truth.”
Huxley has had a great influence on rock & roll and on the modern world at large. The 60s rock group The Doors were named after his theory. They, too, used music and drugs as a door to “another world,” to “break on through to the other side.” The band’s lead singer, Jim Morrison, was described as an electric shaman. One of the band members said:
“When the Siberian shaman gets ready to go into his trance, all the villagers get together... and play whatever instruments they have to send him off. … It was the same way with The Doors when we played in concert... I think that our drug experience let us get into it... [the trance state] quicker” (Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, cited by Jerry Hopkins and Daniel Sugerman, No One Here Gets out Alive, pp. 158-60).
Rock & roll has been intimately association with end-times mysticism since its inception. To think that Satan is not behind the modern pop music craze is to reject the plain teaching of the Bible which says that the devil is “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and the “spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2) and the power behind the “mystery of iniquity” that is working in the world (2 Thessalonians 2:6-10).
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