Rock n’ Roll and Me— Part Three

The Stones, the Beatles, the Who, the Kinks, the Animals, Led Zepplin, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, the Yardbirds, and on and on and on. The British Invasion changed American culture beginning about 1963-64. The American response was huge, and there was a period of music from about 1964-84 where there were an astounding number of good bands and solo artists cranking out great tunes, and playing lots of good concerts. I was fortunate enough to go to many of these concerts and see many of these acts. I had an opportunity to go to Woodstock while I was in New England just before that happened, but I turned it down. I heard the weather would be bad— and I was right. This did not stop 500,000 of my contemporaries. The concerts I enjoyed most were the smaller venue ones where the acoustics were good— for instance the Eagles and Joni Mitchell concert at Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke, or the Seals and Crofts concert in Memorial Hall at UNC. Outdoor concerts were o.k., but indoor concert in arenas with bad acoustics not so much.

One of the major perks of working at a record store as I did was: 1) very cheap and sometimes even free albums (I spent no more than about $4.00 per album back in the day); 2) cheap or free concert tickets. It was fun to stand back stage and watch once and a while, but I preferred being out front, down close to watch the instruments be played. I loved being down front for the Bob Dylan and the Band show, or for the Loggins and Messina show, or for the CSN show, or for the Phil Collins and Genesis show, or for the recent James Taylor and Carole King show and on and on. Just as fun was to see CPR or Rickie Lee Jones (Crosby, Peavar and Raymond) in the Kentucky Theater. Those folks were musicians.

You learn a lot about musicians by what they play, how long they play, and how hard they try to please the audience. Most of them love and respect the music, and have made lots of sacrifices to be good at it. Some of them eventually really are in it for the money, money, money… Some of them just have fun, like when I saw the Average White Band, Steely Dan, and Hall and Oates all on one concert. That deserved a wow.

What I learned about music is that it reaches people at levels that mere words can’t reach. It resonates with the affective side of our personalities as opposed to the cognitive side. Many times I have gone to concerts where the audience was so entranced with what was happening, so caught up in the music, that it was a sort of euphoria that happened, almost like a religious experience. Indeed, I have often wished that church could generate half the sort of devotion and audience participation that you see at some of these concerts. I remember going to a U2 concert, and Bono sussed out what was happening and just said, ‘it’s time to have church’, and we started singing along to Hallelujah….. Worship should move and inspire as well as inform people, not prompt them to wish they were elsewhere.

Something else I learned is that people will spend money on something they deeply love like good music. I’m one of those people. Last summer we had the fun of going to see Toto in an outdoor terrific venue. We got Dave Mason thrown in as an opening act. It was too much fun singing along to everything from 40,000 Headmen to Rosanna and Africa. There is a reason the book of Revelation depicts worship in heaven as involving music, even angelic singing. We were made for praising and singing and singing praises.

Sometimes I am asked, “How can you as a Christian endorse all that stuff”? The answer is simple— you have to be able to sift the wheat from the chaff, the good from the bad, the music from the lifestyles of some musicians. If you simply lump people together with their creative products you will throw away lots of the world’s greatest art and music. Do you really want to boycott Beethoven and Mozart because they were not always moral people? I don’t think so, and I especially don’t think so when I know that it was God who gave them that great gift of music.

So often, even musicians who are not particularly religious, freely admit that they did not create their voices, and the tunes they write came from somewhere outside of themselves. Exactly right. Ultimately, everything that is good, and true and beautiful comes from God, the ultimate creator, the ultimate artist, the ultimate musician.

I was talking to the Episcopal bishop. Bishop Chaine, who was in charge of the National Cathedral for a while. He had been a drummer, a rock n’ roll drummer. He was telling me about spending time with Crosby and Nash who had come to the Cathedral to do a concert for peace. He remarked to me about how they kept asking about God, and Christ, and how one gets all that together with suffering in the world etc. Here were seekers looking for some answers, and one of the things that had pointed them towards God was indeed the music, and realizing it came through them, but not entirely from them. I have more such tales, but they must wait for another day.

  • Marc Axelrod

    Good article. I totally agree. The problem is that with today’s pop music there is even more chaff than ever. I’ve been to some good concerts also, but I especially enjoy listening to a concert on my Sennheiser HD 600s.


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