It’s only Rock ‘n’ Roll but I Like It


*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 LeppardWarrant, 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.

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6 thoughts on “It’s only Rock ‘n’ Roll but I Like It”

  1. Brian, I had that same cassette of Alton Garrison! Any chance you still have it or know where a copy can be attained?
    Thanks!

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  2. Such a tough subject, when many of us who follow Christ also enjoy secular music. You could also do a whole thesis on watching movies as well. For some very heartfelt lyrics, please come and check out my site at chanceman4. My name is Chris Chance and there is a link on my blog to listen to my CD, “Following You” featuring “You” and “His Prints Are in the Sand”. We are trying to get this project up and moving, so anything you can do and any way you could pass it on would be greatly appreciated. Also you can go to http://www.noisetrade.com/chrischance.
    Thanks and God Bless!
    Chris

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  3. It’s funny that you’d mention Jim Croce, who was also one of my pathways out of white gospel quartet music. His best songs were simply good songs, not offensive in any way, and the fact that they didn’t talk about God didn’t seem unholy; even the holy think about human relationships once in awhile. I loved Larry Norman’s music–still do–but simultaneously fell in love with dozens of other performers and songs, most not overtly Christian. All of those arguments cropped up when I was a Bethany student (secular vs. sacred music, being not of this world, etc.), but I sided with the world on this one. Except for Norman and a few others, they were only shadows compared to the brilliant lights of the best nonreligious artists. That’s what sold me. Why should the devil have all the good music? He doesn’t. All truly good things are in God’s realm even if they don’t appear on the Sparrow label.

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  4. I’ll never completely know the extent of damage that Christian ideology has done to those individuals, whose parents/mentors have smashed into compliance with their own misguided beliefs. Don’t get me started. My soapbox has already been worn out.

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  5. Can I say again that I freaking love you, Brian? We come from such different musical backgrounds. Growing up, in my household, we were only allowed to listen to country music. Maybe a little gospel, but not black gospel. My parents still don’t understand the concept of “contemporary Christian music,” although they’ve heard of Amy Grant because of her later marriage to Vince Gill. My parents consider Elvis a “country crossover”, so we could listen to him; I guess that’s because he was from Tennessee, which is near Nashville, so it must be country? Never really understood that one. I listened to what they listened to. My brother was the rebel, he listened to The Eagles and Styx and such. In high school, I adored Amy Grant, Sandy Patty, Michael W. Smith, Keith Green… although my favorite was Gary Chapman. My musical background was pretty limited. I knew the popular songs that we played in the marching band/pep band, but didn’t really have a frame of reference for rock.

    And then I met you in 1991, shortly after you received that CD player. We started dating soon after, and I started exploring the wonderful world of music with you. Thank you for opening up music to me. 🙂

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  6. I agree that contemporary Christian music only follows secular. And most of it is sucky. Everyone needs to find their own musical path or yellow brick road ;), or Abbey Road…

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