(Note: This is a 30 page paper that I wrote for my Senior Thesis in Undergraduate Studies. It is a good read, in both quality and length. Those avid readers among us, enjoy, and I hope you’ll comment. I really enjoyed writing this one.)
Rock N Roll and the Musical Landscape
I would like to begin by saying that this paper is a culmination of two things that have influenced me a great deal while growing up: landscape and rock ‘n’ roll.
On Landscapes: I grew up without cable television and spent much time playing in the New Hampshire woods, in the sun and snow, and I now vividly remember the textures of the different types of trees, the brown leaves crunching under my feet, or the midnight blizzards that made the night look like day. I just close my eyes and there I am, standing like I did over 15 years ago, peering into a world that has become spiritual as much as it was a material reality in my childhood. Landscape, in many ways, shapes our worldview from the moment we become conscious; and we, in turn, interact with it, shape it, and store it within memory as a powerful reminder of who we are and where we came from.
On Rock ‘n’ Roll: As I became an adolescent, in the middle school years, I discovered something that could take my consciousness to new places on a different kind of journey than I had ever taken before. I discovered Rock ‘n’ Roll when I stole my dad’s Moody Blues Greatest Hits album out from his music collection. After listening to it once, it was as if my headphones had become a portal to a place where I could feel my emotions and I could sort things out through the moving words set to a syncopated rhythm and in the case of the Moody Blues, an orchestra synthesizer, a flute, keyboards, and whatever else. I remember memorizing the words unconsciously and before I knew it my thoughts would continually reference not only the words, but also the rhythm and the beat. Only three years later, after working two jobs just to buy albums at the local music store, my collection contained about 100 albums and I had spent much of my time in concert venues looking for a music that moved me. Rock ‘n’ Roll took me beyond my parent’s mobile home, especially during the cold winters when I could not take walks through the woods due to the frigid cold.
This paper is a journey in respect to these two things: Landscape and Rock ‘n’ Roll. With my paper I hope to move the reader into a sense of what a landscape is moving to an emphasis on the sacred meeting points with God, then onto why music is a landscape that transforms the physical world into a new place, and finally to show the viability of Rock ‘n’ Roll as not only a musical landscape, but that it is loaded with the possibility of spiritual encounter.
I will begin with the landscape. Landscapes being the places where people find meaning as they inhabit and live and create the context (culture) which they use to interpret their life story. In the first part of my paper, The Meaning of Landscape, I hope to instill a practical sense of the difference of being in space from actually giving meaning to a space, and in that creating place (the words place and landscape are interchangeable during my paper). The “cityscape” is the most common form of landscape in the modern world and is incredibly becoming important because as I see it, as more and more people are born into the world it is becoming clear that the culture of the city and its suburbia will someday be the only available place for anyone to live—even farms will be forced to integrate into suburbia when the edges of cities collide over time. I am reacting to this culture of the infinite city, and I try to illustrate my points with the use of places within a city as much as possible. In this I will also show how the stories and relationships that people associate with a place both give meaning to otherwise vacuous space. It is from the relational element of community in space that I move from place, to a sense of sacred space, in other words, a place that has meaning because we encountered God. From this point out, my paper will be centered on the relationship in space between man and God.
Next, the section Commentary on Music begins to pull out my theory of music as sacred landscape, by going into the recesses of the ancients: Plato who saw the utility in music for the state, then St. Augustine who experienced God in music during times of trouble, and the early worshipping Christian church (the first Jewish and Gentile converts) as it first developed a liturgy that focused on both the utility and ability for sacred meeting in music. I then tackle what may be seen as a crisis of place that occurs in cities due to the nature of our mobile society where the concept of home is sometimes overlooked. By showing that any space in our modern world can become meaningful by cloaking it in the metaphysical room of music, anyone with a gadget, headset, and a medium (i.e. cd, tape, etc.) can have access to a meaningful place where they can not only have a good time with friends and family though relationships, but also enter into a place where God may meet us and in that space, transform not only the space but our self. Through this process, we do not have just a space, but a sacred place, a musical landscape in metaphor for the sonic meeting with God.
From there I move to Rock ‘n’ Roll, where I will give a brief history, and build a framework for the emergence of Rock as a modern landscape for meeting the divine and how it has become an almost necessary language for many in our culture, even for communication with God. In all this I hope to have completed a paper that shows music as a metaphysical place of meeting between human and human, and more importantly human and God, with an ending emphasis on recognizing Rock ‘n’ Roll as its own place that is becoming a frontier of the divine encounter, sacred place, in contemporary times.
I. The Meaning of Place
Whether we are underneath a tree looking out on a field or within a white walled apartment colored by delicate Ikea furniture, we are always interacting with the natural or unnatural environment around us. But what exactly is space and how does it become more than just normal unnoticed sets of physical phenomena around us? And how do we discover the “sanctuary of life” where “the awareness…of the presence of the divine?” as Paul Tillich proposed. In more plain terms, how do we make space into more than just the dust at our feet and the tree to our backs? Phillip Sheldrake, who authored a book on this subject, separated the two terms, space and place, into two separate definitions. Space according to him, is abstract, infinite, and subjective depending on an organism’s perspective. Space, according to this definition is infinite and has significance only to the amount of space that we can perceive. Sheldrake shows that if we step outside the universe, we would see how much space there really is and how little it seems to matter in this perspective. Place on the other hand is a whole different story. Place implies that there is an awareness of what is around you and that it is “tangible, physical, specific, and relational.” In other words, it has meaning and we have a relationship to it in some way. So we see that space is what is around us, and we make Places by living in the spaces as an aware creature, creating stories that make those spaces reference points for our journey and understanding. This is a starting point for the definition of place.
A good example to demonstrate this movement would be walking into an office tower and receiving an interview within a cubicle. When you first enter the cubicle, it looks like any other; it is just a partition of space among many others and has no special significance to you, but when the interviewer enters the cubicle space, it starts to take on a whole new context. She asks you a few simple questions that determine your character and you answer, though terrified of the results, to her seeming satisfaction. There is a moment of silence as she looks over her paper work, then, she frowns, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think that you are what we are looking for. Have a nice day, thank you for applying.” She gets out of her chair to leave and trips, smashes into the cubical wall and knocks it over to the dismay of a now screaming employee in the adjacent cubical. This is a story to be remembered forever, and it is the story that makes the cubical space, place. You go home and tell all your friends and family the tale of the evil interviewer and her “payback” for not hiring you. To the interviewer, each time she interviews someone in that cubical, she remembers the day the wall did not hold her as she fell, and to the other employee, the sheer horror of the walls falling down without warning means more caution and more awareness of the weakness of the cubical and more attention to his surroundings. Suddenly a certain space has meaning and we can laugh, cry, yell, or think on the story that happened to us in a particular space at a certain time in history. The cubical becomes a metaphor in the three different lives for the experience and emotions humor, humiliation, or fear as the three actors came into contact. These experiences become part of our memory and help us map out the many days of our lives.
Once space becomes a place of meaning, a landscape is formed; “landscapes may be defined as sets of relational places each embodying (literally and metaphorically) emotions, memories and associations derived from personal and interpersonal shared experience.” Landscapes are molded by the human hand and mind as we make them fit into our lives. There is no question that this storied space, the cubical, is now part each person’s story helping to define the identities of everyone who was involved in the coming together of people and circumstances. This is so important because it is within space that we live out our lives. We work, play, drive, and worship; yell, fall, and fly within a limited landscape, and these places are what we call “home”. Home being a place to pass through as we come to personhood, it is where we belong to a community of people we know, but also where we can have a fruitful relationship with plants, animals, and the rhythms of the seasons, and offers us access to the sacred; it “relates us to life itself as sacred.” Space alone cannot become place, it is only with the human spirit and intelligence that space can have meaning to the otherwise meaninglessness of unexperienced existence.
Sheldrake’s example of the European parish relates this concept. He mentions that the parish maintained an intense linking of relationships that encapsulate the lives of all within, and to move was to be dislocated spiritually and humanly. A man walking into another parish’s church for the first time would not understand the message quite as clearly, or get the jokes, because identity within these small communities is synonymous with the geographical location of home. Of course a parish would have no meaning at all if it was not for the people who lived within its boundaries, who constantly are living their lives, creating stories to tell, and ascribe on invisible signposts the words, which explain that someone has placed a space within their thoughts.
It is interesting that Sheldrake uses the European parish as an example of what it means to be secure in a home, because in modern times, the church is still a common place for communities coming into a space together, creating stories and inter-relating narratives, for purposes that tend to end in worshipping God. So there is a dynamic in the church place. There is a community that gives worth to the meeting ground, and on top of that there is the seeking the presence of God. “The human heart seeks the infinite because that is where the finite wants to rest.” But is it only during mass or Sunday service that we experience the divine in our lives, or are we able to encounter God in other, seemingly less organized and miraculous ways? Another author on this subject, Belden C. Lane, wrote that a sacred space is “declared” to be different, but doesn’t necessarily seem so right away. His concept of the “ordinary reconstructed as holy” means that not only are the temples and churches sacred spaces for worship and contemplation, but so would any space where we seek the holy.
To give an example of this, when I come into a place, such as a stone-wall in the middle of the woods, there are many choices: 1) I can walk along the wall to the end of the woods with no second thought other than it was a nice walk to set the mind straight, or 2) I can see the beauty of stone wall, and hear the rustling of the leaves by squirrels nearby, I can kneel and pray by the organized stone, God might meet me, and if there is an encounter with the divine, I may call that place holy. I may even return there from time to time and remember it as part of my history. This stonewall is now a place where I met God, where the “finite meets the infinite”, and in this it becomes part of my story and my identity assuming that I try to understand the encounter. This meeting with God happened aside from the community, but nevertheless is a story that can be told when the group reconvenes on Sunday morning and thus, still has an element that promotes the community of God.
It is clear that any space that is sacred has become storied space. The ultimate example of storied space is Jerusalem. The promised city of the Jewish people is also where Christ was crucified and rose from the dead, and where Islam’s prophet Mohammed, ascended into heaven. Deep roots of three religions trace back to this holy city, and one can barely walk without thinking of the stories and people that have inhabited the city and its dwellings for thousands of years as civilizations rose and fell. If history were an oil painting, Jerusalem would be four inches deep, and the painter would have to explain for weeks how each stroke came about, but without the stories, and without the people to tell the stories, a place would quickly lose it’s meaning altogether and as the signposts of story are merely constructs created in our mind to remember. Stories are in us, as part of our memory.
In the church, every part of the service is telling a story: the story of God in the Old Testament with Israel; the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Ascension of Christ; and the story of God’s people today living under what Christ proclaimed as “The Kingdom of God” seeking to make the world more like the Kingdom of Heaven. The stories of the ancients are intertwined with our lives as we interact and believe in the same God who lives in relation to a people who are ever telling His story. The story is progressing each and everyday that we continue to tell it, and the forgotten part of all this faith telling is that all the stories take place “someplace.” As we live out our faith in ritual, when we experience God, we are “someplace!” Like when I was in an old northern New Hampshire church sanctuary and I felt God call me to the white-wooden alter, and I dedicated my life to God on brown carpeting. Moses was on a mountain when he encountered God in the sign of a burning bush; and Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem in an animal shed: “She wrapped him in cloths an placed him in a manger;” Holy things happen in spaces that when storied becomes sacred places to those who encounter the Holy.
When God first made covenant with Abraham, then Abram, in the book of Genesis, God said, “’To your offspring I will give you this land.’ So [Abram] built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.” Then Abram went north and “pitched his tent” and built another altar to the Lord even before he called on His name. Abram built the two alters to remember God in worship and reverence of the divine meeting. Today the only altars we build in public space are memorials to war heroes and countrymen, but within the church, people buy flowers to decorate the sanctuary altars, which tend to be the place of salvation and first encounter with God for many Evangelicals. These very altars are where the communion tables sit, and above it are the pulpits, and above that is the choir loft. The different functions space inherits is not only a place where stories are told, but new stories are created, especially the stories of experiencing God. Without the places, we would have not have an important ties to our identity. As we leave the sanctuary, or field, or wherever we meet God, we leave our memories wrapped in the flowing carpets, our hopes and dreams sitting beneath the stones, all a material reminder like a sign of the happiness, fear, or laughter we felt when the breath of the Lord entered and gave life to His Creation.
I conclude this section with a summarization of the terms space and place. Space is the physical world where we live life, and would remain just the space where we enact our lives if we were just robots taking in the environment and not processing what it means to us. In its most basic form it is what is physically present to us. Place is much different in that it is culturally constructed and is based on the meanings that we give it, individually and collectively. The cubical, the parish, and the sanctuary are all examples of spaces that have been transformed into place. Sacred place is an addendum to place because it is also “storied space” and we give it meaning with the added exception that it is where we encounter God, which Tillich mentions is man’s “ultimate concern.” All spaces have the potential to become series of divine places, Jerusalem being the prime example where so many have encountered the holy. In the next section I will begin to show how music itself is a space where one can have a divine encounter. I will look at the ancients, dissect their views on music, and show how music is incredibly influential. Music is scary to some, but when harnessed in its utility becomes a powerful place in itself. I will demonstrate by exploring Plato, St. Augustine, and early Christian worship, that music becomes the transformer that lifts the spirit into a new kind of space, which is not physical, yet at the same time, physically sensed by hearing and made metaphysical as the imagination fills the rest of the senses creating a space that allows people to be aware, and in the ultimate sense, meet with God.
II. Commentary on Music – Music Has Power
Music can be a place in its own right, but first we must build a foundation for this understanding in order to show that the musical journey, experienced by the ear, is just as impacting as the physical journey through landscape. I begin this foundation with the philosopher: Plato.
Plato: Utilizing Music for the State
The utility of song is the main use the philosopher Plato had for music in the lives of his guardians of the state and by showing this utility, we can build a strong foundation for the use of music as a mover of souls.
Plato begins with music as one side of a scale (being soft and effeminate) and Gymnastics on the other (being hard and brutal). In The Republic Glaucon asks “And in our opinion the guardians ought to have both these qualities?” and Socrates replies, “Assuredly.” So music’s main purpose is to maintain a balance between the body and the soul: “a harmonious soul.” Music’s main use is to be utilized as a balance to soften the harder men of the state so that they would not become brutes. Whether poetry or song Plato puts some heavy regulations on the application of musical rhythm in his writings. It is only the Dorian mode and Phrygian modes of song that he allows for the use of his guardians. It is almost depressing for the musician as Plato scalps away at the different forms of music: Dorian) “It is steadfast, consonant with the brave man’s speech (Rep. III 400A),” and Phrygian) “Evocative of emotions proper to society.” Military style, “probably four-four time.” “There remain then only the lyre and the harp for use in the city, and the shepherds may have a pipe in the country.” Those styles censored are the Ionian and Lydian modes; the Lydian mode most likely was being associated with drinking songs, dirges, and lamentations. Of the instruments the “harps, flutes, or many stringed instruments (399D)” were to go immediately, especially the flute, the “sexophone of antiquity, that was associated with girls and drinking parties.” Plato, the enemy of excess would strip away these gross abuses to personhood and detriments to the working order of his state by censoring music that did not develop good character.
Plato mentions that he is not an expert on styles of music and neither is Glaucon, so as we read into the text, the door is open for the redemption of musical styles according to the fruits of character associated with them. It is here that Plato agrees that there is music where a man can be moved and where, “he is seeking to persuade God by prayer.”  Plato is talking about creating a soundtrack for the life of a good man, the man who does what is right. He wants music that inspires him to be better, and here Plato builds the foundation of musical place by giving music value in the ability to bring the soul into a new state, and I make the move that this new state is a new place, where the soul of the person is raised upwards. This musical arena allows the guardian to be associated with a culture that will better him rather than the cultures of hedonism and self-indulgence, which is really what Plato was railing against.
At that time “new poets had appeared, ‘possessed by a frantic and unhallowed lust for pleasure’ (Laws III, 700D) and mixed up with the old forms. We see Plato using music as a weapon against those he disagrees with by banning the types of music they play. If we banish their music, and music is essential to the human being to find meaning, and unless they are not human, they will eventually begin to listen to the music of those who are good, and join in on the character building of that part of society. Music brings people together and separates them similar to the physical landscapes that separate our physical bodies. Music to Plato can be seen as a functional tool to build good character, we can also pull from his writings that music has similar functions as that of our previous definitions of place, in that people can find meaning and their natures within the notes and melodies, and lastly that his writings are congruent with music being a space for meeting the divine in prayer. It is in the next section on the early Christian church that we will see music become a powerful space for encountering the divine.
The Early Church: Music is Where We Meet God
Long after Plato, a man Jewish born man named Jesus gathered 12 disciples who built the foundations of the Christian church through relationships and remembrance of the death of himself, the Christ, on the Cross. But the church services were not dark reminders of the death of their Savior, there was a joyous celebration because after his death, Christ rose again, and the people praised him for victory over sin and death. But it wasn’t exactly like church services today.
Lionel L. Mitchell called the days of worship among early Christians gathered as “A First Century Celebration.” Sundays would be the normal day of the Sabbath where there was, “hearing the Old Testament read and expounded, singing of songs, and reciting the benediction and prayers.” The Christians inherited their use of music from the Jews at Synagogue who inherited their tradition from the times of Moses (Exodus 15:1-19) and throughout the Prophets, to the present. Early Christians would keep the style of worship intended for congregational worship in the temple. It was predominantly Antiphonal, “singing which goes back to the pre-exilic period of Jewish history.” And according to Philo, hymnal-like worship had been “developed by a sect of the Theraputae.” In this style someone would sing a new or old hymn that they had written, and soon after others would follow. It was those Jews who had heard and accepted the word of Christ, who on Fridays would have their own celebration in community. They would have a meal together, talk on subjects such as charity and Christ’s resurrection, then they would sing Psalms, bring in the “cup of blessing” and the leader would sing “The Great Thanksgiving.” A more electrical account comes from Ralph P. Martin on the subject:
“The Christian church was born in song.” “The Christian Gospel should bring with it on the scene of history an outburst of hymnody and praise to God.” “That the Gospel of God should be attended by an upsurge in spiritual fervor and power is what we might anticipate from our understanding of the ways with God and men, and indeed from our knowledge of ourselves. For the Gospel of the Apostolic age was not a theological Theorem, presented in a cold, detached and impersonal way, to be accepted with all the unfeeling and nonchalant reserve with which a student of mathematics learns his lessons! Indeed, Archimedes with his enthusiastic cry of Eureka—‘I’ve found it!’—is the great exception. The preaching of the Good News and its reception by the faith were both heart moving and rapturously joyous experiences; and we have only to read the early chapters of Acts to be persuaded of this fact. (Acts 2,3,8).”
Martin’s account shows the early church’s joy and the expression of its early story, its meaning, transformed into the form of musical praise. Music became the vehicle that carried their joy and praise to God. In whatever room, whoever’s home they had gathered, there the place was transformed into a sonic space for encountering the divine and experiencing the incarnated Christ among them. I imagine myself closing my eyes with them and entering the space of musical praise, where the believers praised the Christ.
And not just a dead Christ, but He was well alive and with them; “all the component parts of divine service were calculated to lead the worshippers to an awareness of His presence…His invisible presence knit together Christian hearts.” The early believers felt that as they praised God in song, He actually came and dwelled among them. This demonstrates that music is not only for utility, as used by Plato (in the furtherance of an ideology or culture, i.e. Plato against hedonism), but it is also a place itself, with a transformational quality. As early believers and people today worship, the music fills the room with sonic energy; it transforms what was once a normal living or working space into a sacred space of the encounter.
As we feel the music we are transported in our imaginations to another spiritual room that comes alive with newness and awareness that God is with us, we are encountering the God that lives and breaths life into the ordinary, the God who created the materials the room was made out of, and now it is something more, painted by the colors of the song and transformed by the meaning of the story in the words. The music becomes a spiritual room of waiting for our Lord, and He meets us when we come to Him there. It is in this that music is no longer the medium of the culture—it transcends the culture and allows our spirits a small ladder to see our God in the pleasures and rapture of our ears, the joy of our hearts, and the imaginations of our minds. This is the place we name Sanctuary and answers the earlier question, how do we find Tillich’s ‘sanctuary of life”—it is by entering the song itself. This is not just a spiritual experience however, as the ear is part of the body. Here we move toward St. Augustine.
St. Augustine: Confessions of a Musical Soul
The very flesh that brings us into musical place is not something that is merely left behind when we enter the sonic room of worship. Though we sometimes feel like we are at war as our mind’s imagination and intelligence wars with the base natures of the flesh, it is still the body that brings us to the place of worship until we are able to worship, as Jesus said, “in spirit and in truth.” We still worship vocally with our mouths, and hear the musical atmosphere into our ears, and until we are brought up to the heavens to see God, we are still in flesh. St. Augustine fought this battle and spoke:
“No man hates his body, and what the Apostle says concerning this is true: ‘no man ever hated his own flesh.’ And that which some say, that they would rather be without a body, arises from a complete delusion: They hate not their bodies but the corruption and solidarity of their bodies. They do not wish to have no bodies at all but rather incorruptible and most agile bodies.”
This coincides with the dialogues in Romans 6-8 concerning the death of sin in our lives: mind, body, and spirit, and I see our sinful nature dead on the floor as Christ redeems and brings all that is good to Him.
St. Augustine may have fought the flesh, but in reading I have found that he was a lover of music, and thoroughly enjoyed basking in the presence of the savior in the space of the divine song:
“Thus I fluctuate between the danger of pleasure and the experience of the beneficent effect, and I am more led to put forward the opinion (not as an irrevocable view) that the custom of singing in church is to be approved, so that through the delights of the ear the weaker mind may rise up towards the devotion of worship.”
He has this war within, but he loves the music, and Augustine sees how important the musical journey is to the spirits of men.
When Augustine was at his mother’s church during the fight between Ambrose, the mythical bishop of Milan, and Justina, the leader of the Arian Christians who wanted to seize Augustine’s mother’s cathedral for their own worship, St. Augustine noticed that Ambrose held his church with determination and a congregation “ready to die with their bishop.” St. Augustine was so moved by what happened that he wrote in his confessions,
“We were still cold, untouched by the warmth of your Spirit, but were excited by the tension and disturbed by the atmosphere of the city. That was the time when the decision was taken to introduce hymns and psalms sung after the custom of the Eastern Churches, to prevent the people from succumbing to depression and exhaustion. From that time to this day, the practice has been retained, and many, indeed almost all your flocks, in other parts of the world have imitated it.”
This scene reminds me of the stories of the sit-ins and demonstrations of the 60’s and 70’s with people singing songs to inspire one another as they fought against whatever group was infringing against their rights. The cathedral was already a place of story and meaning, but with the introduction of music, a transformation took place and lifted up the hearts of the weary. St. Augustine’s mother was one of the women who prayed in the church during this event, and I imagine how exciting and how fearful, but how exhilarating it must have been to be a Christian in the earlier times of formation. The times change, but people are still the same; a song of praise and joy lifts the spirit, it takes us from the cold dark times in the besieged cathedral, and we become placed in a clean room with our Creator, the one who loves us.
St. Augustine, Plato, and the Jewish Christians of the early church all looked at music and saw how moving it could be. They wrestled with the idea of how music could be of use, and also the idea music as a place where God could meet his people. All came out with differing dimensions and layers of practice and thought on the subject, but it is a strong case for music being both. Music is both the tool of atmosphere and it is the atmosphere itself, in a union that reaches out to the soul and pushes her heavenward. In music we kneel in the cubical of humility, fear, and laughter, in rapture of the encounter with the divine. With new technologies in a mobile society, and music is becoming a portable tool of transformation no matter where the body can go. This was only possible in ancient times with the formation of parades; it is much easier now, with kids bringing cd players on trips to get away from their brothers and sisters, adults buying ipods and arranging thousands of songs, and all of this is making our world a place of music, but the ultimate place is when we experience the divine through music, actively seeking Him out, and experience God in “music as an atmosphere or a ‘soundtrack for living,’ which is what Plato could have foretold had he only known of modern electronics.
So we have Plato, and the use of music for building character by the moving of the spirit, we have the early church, which actualized music as the matrix for meeting the incarnation of Jesus among them, and St. Augustine, who saw the brilliance of the use of the ear as a heavenly eye of the soul in meeting with the warmth of God. In all these we have moved beyond space as a stationary place, or even mobile place, and have seen how music is a dynamic metaphysical meeting place of the divine. On top of all these things, we must explore the warning that we must not remain stagnant in our forms of worship, especially as new generations are born and the city grows, which in turn grows our modern landscapes, in other words, our culture. As there are more and more people, there is more communication, more meanings, and more landscapes. As we seem to get lost in the shuffle of modern life and its mobility (seeming lack of home/place), we can step back and see that new places are developing within the space of music, and one such space that has emerged is Rock ‘n’ Roll.
III. Rock ‘N’ Roll and the Mobile Culture
In the global community most of the 7 billion people are underneath the shadow of skyscrapers, these are the men and women who are collectively working and living for the city and are the very blood of the giant steel organism we have constructed. What this means is that there is a lot of space where people build lots of place, and as history progresses, and as people continue to experience the presence of God, there is more divine place. In the cities, the landscapes of people are interwoven as their stories come and go, but there is a problem. Everyone seems too busy and too fast to sit down and think on the meaning of the places in which they live.
According to Sheldrake, since WWII: “Mobility is now understood to be a freedom…” We have deified reach and derided the home. This seems true as we grow into an age where we can do our office work on our laptop while sipping coffee and talking to our relatives in our BMW’s while driving to the football game. But does this really sound so bad when we look at some new ways in which a mobile culture can define itself? If we define ourselves in the understanding of our landscapes, even when it seems like the old places are fading away, people, who inevitably interact, begin to create new places with new meanings. It is conceivable that there is a new Urban Landscape that needs to be explored which includes recent additions to the family of “sacred spaces,” being both the traditional stationary ground, then moving to mobile spaces of the modern age—primarily music.
The traditional type of space recognized is the stationary, which has constituted the beginnings of my paper, and is the foundation of the study of space in general. It is what Sheldrake means when he says, “landscape…is the first partner in the dialectical nature of place.” Landscape is defined as the actual physical land that people work and shape and then build their cityscapes on top of. But there is a second type of space, and that is musical space. The ground itself, which seems stationary to us, is really moving at incredible speeds as the earth rotates on an axis and orbits the sun in a perpetual rhythm. We are so used to this and are so held by gravity that we do not even notice that we are moving. This same principle of unnoticed movement can be applied to a culture that is always on the move. Driving the car is so automatic that many people experience space within the car in very dynamic ways. People listen to the radio, talk on the cell, watch videos and read books (passengers hopefully), they post scriptures on the dash, and even pray while driving. When someone has become accustomed to it, the spaces of a mobile culture can be just as valid for the divine meeting with God, just as a small room of prayer can be. Airplanes too have this possibility, because any space that people occupy and become part of eventually becomes consumed by the meanings and stories that people create while occupying that space. Belden C. Lane exhibits this movement of space into new worlds:
“Sacred place is not at all necessarily pastoral and rural in character—something to be sharply distinguished from fabricated spaces of an urban landscape. It is, after all, a function of the religious imagination, not a quality inherent in the locale as such. That is why Americans fascinated by the power of new machines in the late nineteenth century could speak with religious fervor of standing in the presence of a huge electrical generator…The sacred space, in short, takes root in that which may form the substance of our daily lives, but is transformed by the imagination to that which is awe-inspiring.”
What is more ordinary to us than the freedom of the American car, where we are free to take our awe and wonder to any part of the world with passable terrain? This illustrates how we can create the new spaces by building something, and this is essential because soon much of the inhabitable earth will be covered with the shaping and molding of mankind. It is only healthy for us to shake off the limitations of what we thought had meaning and allow us to move forward towards more different and diverse types of space as even nature comes under the thumb of the landscaper and is more commonly only seen within the boundaries of the endless city. Our mobility has caused the imagination to move space to a whole new world, and there are so many new spaces to be explored and given meaning.
One space that has taken advantage of the mobile culture is the music known as Rock ‘n’ Roll, which has been aided by modern technology to become an amazing metaphysical and mobile landscape for finding meaning and even at times, encountering the divine (i.e. woman worshipping God while listening to a portable cd player taking a jog down the street). There have even been theologies developed around the special creative world that the music of Rock creates. A popular Punk Rock Musician in Australia, Nick Cave, found the freedom to live and worship through this music:
“Christ came as liberator. Christ understood that we as humans were forever held to the ground by the pull of gravity—our ordinariness, our mediocrity—and it was through his example that He gave our imaginations the freedom to rise and to fly. In short, to be Christ like.”
Nick pushes us to be aware of what is around us in a new light, and the context of this awareness and meaning to him is to be in Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Our growing pop culture is an indication of the power of music. Groups such as MTV and VH1, all of whom use music as the vehicle for their messages, cultivate the different rooms of music. It is clear that music is a powerful force as it is part of the rhythms of everyday life. We hear it on TV, it adds depth to movies, and we carry it in our pockets while we enjoy the morning run. Rock ‘n’ Roll is a cultural phenomenon that has moved into the common square, transformed it, and then become its own place as people look to music for escape from city life. It is in this move that Rock has become the language of the newest of generations, but before I go forward, I would like to draw a picture of Rock’s origins.
Early Rock History: A New Musical Form
According to Trent Hill, a hardcore musician and Duke graduate student, wrote in his article, The Enemy Within, Rock ‘n’ roll began as a hybrid of 1950’s Blues, R&B (the sophisticated, dance-oriented rhythm & blues that was popular among urban blacks); and country music (then known as ‘folk’ or ‘hillbilly’ music)…” It was a music that spread from the South through black channels until it reached the northern cities, “where blacks had migrated for better economic opportunities,” before WWII. You had to be “lucky” to listen to these new types of music however, because the dancing music was rare.
It was the era of McCarthyism, which meant protection and fear, and as the music spread to youth in white suburban neighborhoods parents revolted against this racial music calling it Fascist, mind control, and as Herbert von Karajan of the Berlin Philharmonic put it: “strange things happen in the blood stream when a musical resonance coincides with the beat of the human pulse.” A new form of music was moving the kids, but the parents never seem to jump on board.
Because of all the effort against Rock ‘n’ Roll, youth naturally were drawn to it and it became the music where “they defined spaces in which teenagers could exercise the body and, to a limited sense, indulge its sexuality.” Rock ‘n’ Roll, defined by Elvis Presley (the son of hardworking blue-collar Pentecostals) and his image of the sexually suggestive messenger of poor black America dancing to a beat, from the styles of music mentioned earlier, and a new youth culture of rebellion. These rockers wore blue jeans and leather jackets. They saw Rebel Without a Cause, which provided the “iconography” of rebellion; and with the styles, the press started associating rock and violence, because there was real violence as blacks and whites were coming together to listen to music. People blamed Rock ‘n’ Roll, but the country was desegregating and the contact was not always wrapped in a box of chocolates. Violence arose more from the social context but Rock soon became known as the music of violence.
David R. Shumay writes in the same collection of articles as Hill’s that rock was never tamed. It was “not just youth music, but [was and is] a way of life that youth lived, and more important, were represented as living.” This seems trivial but it is important, and that is the distinction of Rock ‘n’ Roll as the music of action. Rock becomes the music of the “real person” as the performer and audience begin to interact in a place of music like never before. Any space could now become a concert venue, and the lyrics tied to nothing but the beat could communicate and create a space of dancing, unity, and freedom. Rock was more than just a contested musical form, it had a way of living ascribed to it with followers and prophets and kings and queens. The music itself was a space that people entered into together as the community (of youth in this case), and which they did not leave without being transformed by the meanings they had gathered from the experience/journey of the music, its words, and its body moving energy,
It is here that we begin to see how Rock music becomes the most modern of spaces. Those who have attended a rock show can imagine themselves back in the concert closing their eyes to experience the particular place that music brings them. Rock, especially among the music forms, is the electric age’s form of music, where people can hear, metaphorically walk into it, and like the early worshipping Christian church, find meaning in the space of music. Be it a café or a barn house, it does not matter, because rock is mobile, and it can transform any space into a musical space. Here there is energy, here there is community, and here is where many have encountered spiritual uplifting and as the times have changed, more and more people are realizing this.
The Spirit of Rock
Palmer, in his article The Church of the Sonic Guitar, implies that the guitar has the range of spirituality within its strings. “Sustained by the amplification until a representation in sound of the wonder of Creation itself—The ‘Big Ring.’” This ring was heard all around the world and Christians were some of the first to scoff, but there was a new generation of rockers coming who would run to the doors of rock and understand that it was more than music and it was more than culture; rock, like any other music was becoming its own place because of the stories, and the meaning and living were all being infused into the performance of the rock star. The band would write a song of experience, bring it to the stage, and the audience would experience the emotion and words of the musicians, and together they would make a fusion of meaning. For some, rock was the new church for the outcasts, a space where the youth could express themselves freely and seek their own way for life. Sometimes that way of life led down a road of sexual promiscuity and risk taking.
One such story was in the life of Jimi Hendrix, who was undoubtedly a master of the electric guitar and Rock in general. Sometime before his body gave out to the drugs and alcohol that saturated his life, he performed his rendition of the American Anthem at Woodstock in a time of uncertainty during Vietnam. The sound of the distorted guitar still shakes the very soul to the core in anxiety, while still leaving room for hope in a new sort of patriotism. The religion of the “sonic guitar” takes people by surprise, shaking their world, and placing them in a space that is at once all alone, and at the same time, placed in a room with all of those who have heard and journeyed on the currents of worship. Hendrix may not have been a Christian, but there was something in his music that rang with sincerity and which still brings people into a place of awe and wonder that is so analogous to the Christian religious experience of praise. Not all youth who loved the music went down the path of hedonistic living that Plato steered clear of.
Many youth, like the soon to be pioneer of Christian music Keith Green, experimented with American variations of eastern religions, used various drugs for spiritual “highs,” as well as giving and receiving free love (multiple sexual partners), and other experimentation. But soon the chemicals didn’t work like they were supposed to, free love wasn’t deep enough, and Keith began to dedicate himself to a new spiritual life grounded in the spiritual space of music. Posthumously, Keith Green’s wife Melody, published a book called No Compromise with journal entries like this one: “Always a rational reason why I can cloud up my clear sky and pretend that I’m getting ‘high.’ What a screw up, never believing in my will—a snort, a joint, a pill will screw up my head until I let the angel(s) lead me away.” 61 pages later Keith writes a song that summed up a whole generation of youth who become part of a movement for a more real life. It was called The Prodigal Son Suite, an emotional symphonic ballad of hope for a whole generation that had gone into the cities, only to realize that God was waiting for them whenever they chose to turn around and see His face, and for many they did this within the context of rock ‘n’ roll. Interesting enough, Keith Green came from the world into the church, and as a Rock outsider, completely revolutionized and energized portions of the church and because of his efforts thousands have become missionaries and more people were set on fire for a more radical movement within the church. He did it all through the power of the musical space. Music was his language and his home, and more people live there in this generation than during his. Similarly, others are already in the world making spaces for the divine. Rockers today, like P.O.D. and U2, and others refuse to leave Rock ‘N’ Roll like so many Christians have, and these pioneers have embraced the earthly language of rock in an attempt to communicate with their Creator, and bring the audience in dialogue alongside them. It is a powerful dynamic that continues today even as the electric guitar rings toward the heavens.
Because of the popularity, today there are more rock bands with more labels and styles than can be counted (that is a lot of spaces to enter). It is too bad that the predominate attitude toward rock by the church was to “burn that devil music.” In the 1970’s churchgoers in Evangelical circles considered rock music blasphemy. Once again, “let us rid ourselves of the hedonist poets,” there was uproar among the moral community. It was “worse when we brought out the electric guitar,” says Todd Hunter, a pastor, “but positively the devil when we brought in drums…White, middle-class evangelicals clapped on counts one and three, as in classical music. Only heathens from the dark jungles of the world accented and clapped on counts of two and four.”
But the church to today must begin, and in some cases has begun, to walk beyond its mentally constructed walls and see that there is a new reality thanks to new technologies. Music is now a space that can transform any warehouse into a temple. All that is needed is the human being who seeks God. Music is just one of many landscapes where we can find His footsteps. Shock rocker Alice Cooper, a man who has given his life to rock and Christ mentioned, “When Christ came back, he hung out with the whores, the drunks and the miscreants because they were the ones that needed him.” If there are people seeking out there in a language that the church does not use, or living in a space that the church does not like, should the church learn that language or enter that space? I believe so, and in the freedom of the American church, I can envision more churches sprouting up in YMCA’s, storefronts, and fields of grass as people begin to recognize that the place of worship is irrelevant when the body of Christ comes together and welcomes the “other,” which in this case is the children of Rock ‘n’ Roll, who have been stigmatized with rebellion by the religion that itself was constituted as the ultimate rebellion. To the church, not welcoming the strangers of Rock music is scriptural madness and will eventually lead only to a drought of newness and energy within the different spaces of church. The church is more than its walls, and more than even the music, because none of these things would exist if it were not for the people that mold them. It is us that needs to move into the new spaces in order for real ministry to begin.
We began this paper with the construction of what a place, or landscape, is. Place is space that humans have entered into, molded, and made a home where stories can be told and life can find meaning to the individual and the community. There are all different types of spaces such as the office cubical, the field, the church, and the city, and as we have seen, there is also the world of music. When we close our eyes, there is a powerful physically experienced set of waves that enter not through our eyes, but through our ears. This world, which to the blind is the only world that can be experienced, is also a rich landscape that when we become aware of its presence, as Plato, the early church, and St. Augustine were, we can enter into it. Unfortunately most of our metaphors are made from vision, but it would be a joke on ourselves if we made “land” into the only type of “scape” or space, where we can meet God in prayer or experience something that is so far beyond our finite self.
And as music is opened as a new space for our living, we can become aware of so many new places to meet God. In some spaces we will meet Him, and in some spaces we won’t, but it is clear that when we meet God in music, it is just as profound as when He comes to us and we perceive that meeting point with the other senses. The encounter itself is spiritual in nature and very rarely is the divine made manifest visually; so all the senses are mainly what senses the world around us where God happens to touch our spirit. It does not matter whether God comes to us in a hymn, or in a pew, or in a dance, or in Rock ‘n’ Roll and its culture. The point is that God will meet us when we become aware of His presence and experience the world that He has given us in new and countless ways. In the city, it is imperative that we remain this creative with our space, because we are no longer a world of stationary villages with lots of habitable land. It is a smaller world, and as it gets smaller, and smaller, the artificial spaces are going to be all we have. Even the forests will be planted, and the fields will be planned. But at least we have the space of Rock music.
Rock is beyond Plato’s utility—it is a place where the modern man can pull down the shawl and experience the Creator. It should be in the center of the city like any other music or landscape where place is created. Thomas Merton, a completive monk, said that the center of the city should be called Celebration, and all roads should lead to Celebration, “when we let joy make itself out of our love…It is the creation of a common identity, a common consciousness.” But it is not a consciousness of people who look alike and think alike and act alike. “Celebration is crazy: the craziness of not submitting even though ‘they,’ the ‘others’ The ones who make life impossible, seem to have all the power…we laugh at them, when we celebrate, when we make our lives beautiful,” and we should take our Rock ‘n’ Roll worship to the streets like Ignatius of Antioch in the days when music was a weapon carved with scripture against heresy. We will parade down the streets with electric guitars in our hands, and drums at our feet, and we will praise the Lord who gave us the beat and shed light on the darkness so the world could be made new. It is time for the church to become aware like it has never been, to be fully alive, at the heel of YHWH. “There’s just a fire here,” they will say, and we will meet the source of the flame within this new space—which is the music—which is Rock ‘N’ Roll.
Detweiler, Craig and Taylor, Barry. A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture.
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Acedemic, 2003).
Elias, Julius A. Plato’s Defence of Poetry. (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1984).
Green, Melody and Hazard, David. No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green. (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2000).
Hill, Trent. “The Enemy Within.” In Present Tense: Rock and Roll and Culture. Anthony DeCurtis, ed. (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1992).
Hunter, Todd. “Entering the Conversation.” In Stories of Emergence: Moving from Absolute to Authentic. Mike Yaconelli, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003).
Lane, Belden, C. Landscapes of the Sacred. (New York: Paulist Press, 1988).
Martin, Ralph P. Worship in the Early Church. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995).
McCommon, Paul. Music in the Bible. (Nashville, TN: Convention Press, 1956).
Merton, Thomas. Love and Living. (New York: A Harvest HBJ Book, 1979).
Mitchell, Leonel L. The Meaning of Ritual. (New York: Paulist Press, 1977).
Nouwen, Henri J.M. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. (New York: Doubleday, 1986).
Ninde, Edward S., D.D. Nineteen Centuries of Christian Song. (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1938).
Palmer, Robert. “The Church of the Sonic Guitar.” In Present Tense: Rock and Roll and Culture. Anthony DeCurtis, ed. (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1992).
Plato. The Republic. (New York: Vintage Books, 1991).
Prothero, Stephen. American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon. (New York: Farrar, Staus, and Giroux, 2003).
Rabey, Steve. In Search of Authentic Faith. (Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press, 2001).
Saint Augustine. Confessions. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).
On Christian Doctrine. (New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc., 1958).
Schaeffer, Franky. Addicted to Mediocrity. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1981).
Sheldrake, Phillip. Spaces for the Sacred: Place, Memory, and Identity. (Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press, 2001).
Shumway, David R. “Rock N Roll as Cultural Practice.” In Present Tense: Rock and Roll and Culture. Anthony DeCurtis, ed. (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1992).
Stockman, Steve. Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2. (Lake Mary, FL: Relevant Media Group, 2001).
Tillich, Paul. The Dynamics of Faith. (New York: Perennial Classics, 2001).
Van Pelt, Doug. Rock Stars on God. (Lake Mary, FL: Relevant Books, 2004).
 Phillip Sheldrake. Spaces for the Sacred: Place, Memory, and Identity. (Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press, 2001) 3.
 Ralph P. Martin. Worship in the Early Church. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995) 18-19.
 When I use the term metaphysical, I mean that it is a place beyond physical space.
 Paul Tillich. The Dynamics of Faith. (New York: Perennial Classics, 2001) 14.
 Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred, 7.
 Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred, 4-5. On metaphors, and semiotics (signs and meanings).
 Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred, 10. Paraphrased from the text.
 Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred, 11. This is a striking story of “the other,” the stranger, and how old European relationships rarely left their home parishes and it is probably similar today.
 Paul Tillich. Dynamics of Faith. 15.
 Belden C. Lane. Landscapes of the Sacred. (New York: Paulist Press, 1988) 21.
 Lane, Landscapes for the Sacred, 11.
 Mark 1:15. All scripture will be from the New International Version of the Bible (NIV).
 Luke 2:7b.
 Genesis 12:7-9.
 Plato. The Republic. (New York: Vintage Books, 1991) 118.
 Julius A. Elias. Plato’s Defence of Poetry. (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1984) 21.
 Plato, The Republic, 102.
 Elias, Defence of Poetry, 21.
 Plato, The Republic, 104.
 Plato, The Republic, 101-102.
 Elias, Defence of Poetry, 20.
 Paul McCommon. Music in the Bible. (Nashville, TN: Convention Press, 1956) 25. I received this scripture while reading Paul’s book, which is an instructional booklet made by the Georgia Baptist Convention for their developing worship ministries in the 1950’s.
 Martin. Worship in the Early Church, 40-41.
 Leonel L. Mitchell. The Meaning of Ritual. (New York: Paulist Press, 1977) 67.
 Martin, Worship in the Early Church, 39.
 Martin, Worship in the Early Church, 130-131.
 John 4:1-42.
 Saint Augustine. On Christian Doctrine. (New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc., 1958) 20-21.
 Saint Augustine. Confessions. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992) 208.
 Edward S. Ninde, D.D. Nineteen Centuries of Christian Song. (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1938) 35. Arianism was a form of Gnosticism that denied the deity of Jesus Christ. They won early acclaim by announcing their views and ideologies through popular music of the time, i.e. the hymns.
Ninde, Nineteen Centuries of Christian Song, 165.
 Craig Detweiler and Barry Taylor. A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Acedemic, 2003)139.
 Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred, 8.
 Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred, 14.
 Lane, Landscapes for the Sacred, 25.
 Craig Detweiler and Barry Taylor. A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Acedemic, 2003) 134.
 Trent Hill. “The Enemy Within.” Present Tense: Rock and Roll and Culture. Anthony DeCurtis, ed. (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1992) 43.
 Hill, The Enemy Within, 44. You had to get it at a radio station or from African-Americans who owned the music.
 Hill, The Enemy Within, 47.
 Hill, The Enemy Within, 44.
 Detweiler, A Matrix of Meanings, 126.
 Hill, The Enemy Within, 56.
 Hill, The Enemy Within, 52-53.
 David R. Shumway. “Rock N Roll as Cultural Practice.” Present Tense: Rock and Roll and Culture. Anthony DeCurtis, ed. (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1992) 119.
 Shumway, Rock N Roll as Cultural Practice, 132.
 Robert Palmer. “The Church of the Sonic Guitar.” Present Tense: Rock and Roll and Culture. Anthony DeCurtis, ed. (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1992) 16.
 Melody Green and David Hazard. No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green. (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2000) 104.
 Todd Hunter. “Entering the Conversation.” Stories of Emergence: Moving from Absolute to Authentic. Mike Yaconelli, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003) 42-43.
 Thomas Merton. Love and Living. (New York: A Harvest HBJ Book, 1979) 53.
 Ninde, Nineteen Centuries of Christian Song, 21.
 From an article on Deliverance Bible Church in Hurst Texas, which I visited two summers ago. It is a punk church where the worship is punk rock loud and sincere, “like a fire.”