*DISCLAIMER*: In this post, I have provided a YouTube link to every musical reference. This song may possibly be the soundtrack of my life. I hope you enjoy it. I urge anyone who reads to listen to any of the songs if you want a little insight into my musical psyche, which I believe there most gracious and sensible way of learning about a person.
When I was in seventh grade, the Devil tried to visit Gold Beach. A concert promoter tried to bring a rock & roll concert to the county fairgrounds. There was a barrage of Op-Ed about it in our local newspaper, the Curry County Reporter. All from parents were writing, none from the kids, who really mattered. This was the music of the young, they said, but the young people of Gold Beach were ignoring the issue.
I had recently returned from the church’s State Youth Convention in Salem, where we heard evangelist Alton Garrison speak about the evils of rock & roll. A few highlights of his sermon (which I purchased on cassette and listened to dozens of times) I still remember almost verbatim:
- The Eagles, with their soft rock sound, were just a backing band for Linda Ronstadt until they joined a coven in Los Angeles, and sold their souls to the Devil: “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”
- Alice Cooper sings “Cold Ethyl“: about making love to a corpse in a refrigerator.
- Blue Oyster Cult condones devil worship by telling us not to fear the reaper.
- The Rolling Stones condone devil worship in Sympathy for the Devil. The deviant guitarist Keith Richard even kissed Mick Jagger full on the lips, on stage, during a concert.
- Ozzy Osbourne bites the heads off live animals on stage while condoning insanity with the song “Crazy Train.”
- The hypnotic rhythms of rock & roll can induce trances, rapid breathing, and even heart attacks. A girl, listening to Black Sabbath’s Iron Man for hours, died on the floor.
- The Beatles, and The Beach Boys, were devotees of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his cult of Transcendental meditation.
- A young man was burning a KISS record, which levitated itself from the flames and placed itself away from the fire, three times. Photographic evidence has recorded demons leaping out of the record.
- What would a band of four young men want to be called Queen for?
I ate this stuff up. I’d always been sensitive to matters of the occult, ever since my kindergarten alien superpowers debacle. Now, as a Christian, I knew there was power, and then there was Power.
I went to bed at my normal time, around 9 PM, and started thinking about the concert. Eventually, I found myself at a typewriter at 4 AM, drafting a letter to the Reporter. They published it.
I was ridiculed at school (by some, mercilessly) for the letter. I even received hate mail once or twice. But the Power of the Lord prevailed: the festival had been cancelled.
But I knew was living a little white lie. Since I was 9 years old, I had been listening to the Beatles Red and Blue albums, and what’s more, I knew they were rock and roll. They were the first music I specifically remember having emotional reaction to. The joy of Eight Days a Week; the excitement and innocuous lyrics of Paperback Writer; the tender melancholy of Yesterday. I knew all their names. I knew they’d experimented with meditation, and with drugs, and weren’t particularly Christian. But I’ll be darned if their music wasn’t just plain amazing.
I was once again living a duplicitous life. I tried to cover my tracks by substituting mainstream rock music with the more wholesome lyrics of Larry Norman (“Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?“), and Dallas Holm (“Hey, I’m a Believer Now“), but I was inundated in school by the early 80s. MTV was just making inroads. I remember Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” AC/DC’s “Big Balls” playing in Riley Creek School’s Hallways. I remember the very catchy J. Geils Band songs “Centerfold” and Hall and Oates’ “Man Eater.” So, every day in 7th grade: murder, genitalia, pornography, and blowjobs. All the while Joan Jett and the Blackhearts were singing “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” I remember Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” playing nonstop in my Freshman year in art class. We watched “The Making of Thriller” (pt. 1, pt. 2) in sophomore English class. I found it demonic and abhorrent. And, worse, I secretly loved this stuff, but I was the one who wrote that letter to the paper. I couldn’t possibly tell anyone. I’d look like a hypocrite. I’d be my worst nightmare.
I tried denial. For awhile, I only listened to classical music and opera. This didn’t work. The sounds and rhythms were too prevalent in our society to ignore rock entirely. I tried to find soundalike groups. The Christian group Silverwind had a sound much like the Swedish group ABBA. Keith Green was an adequate substitute for Billy Joel. Petra had a sound similar to Kansas. Later, Stryper (“To Hell with the Devil!“) gave Christians a substitute for the hair metal sounds of Def Leppard, Warrant, or maybe an earlier Boston.
None of these folks were third-rate musicians, but I lived a long way from a metropolitan center that had a radio station or even a record store. I gleaned what I could from peers, and I listened to groups who were hailed as pseudo-Christian, like U2. But it was all substitution. I finally asked myself if my Christianity possibly hold up under the intense secular barrage of an Elvis album (even he admitted he was caught in a trap), or a Simon and Garfunkel track. It did fine. I slowly realized not all rock music was about sex, and drugs, and more sex. A lot of songs were about relationships (Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle“) or freedom (“Come Sail Away” by Styx) or framed in bitter ironic justice (Country Joe & the Fish’s “Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag“). Some were just plain weird and experimental (Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle“)
In 1991, my friend Don Ryall decided I had spent enough of my pathetic life without a CD player, and bought me one for my birthday. The first CDs I bought were the Beatles’ White Album because I’d never heard the whole thing and, quite honestly, the movie Fletch had the memorable line “Do you have the Beatles’ White Album? Never mind, just bring me a cup of hot fat. And the head of Alfredo Garcia while you’re at it.” Seriously: how much more of an endorsement can an album possibly need than Chevy Chase?
I’ve given up on contemporary sacred music. It’s derivative, has no meaning to me, and has lost its way as the leader in contemporary music. Moreover, apart from a few exceptions (Blues Traveler, Ben Folds, and Nirvana come to mind), I listen to nothing that wasn’t released on vinyl, or at least eight-track tape. Have I lost my way? Lord, I hope so.