Rock ‘n Roll: The most brutal, ugly, desperate, vicious form of expression it has been my misfortune to hear.  -Frank Sinatra

Rock and roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can’t help but move to it. That’s what happens to me. I can’t help it.  -Elvis Presley

We all know the iconic image of James Dean in Rebel without a Cause, a poignant study of American teenage angst and rebellion in the 1950s. According to historian, James Gilbert, the reason why many Americans were “puzzled and distressed by the activities of post-war teenagers” was caused by much the same issues that teenagers face today. Because of growing prosperity and growing technology in the early 50s, Americans began to be able to see certain aspects of their culture as a unified phenomenon. More and more teenagers were able to attend high schools and they were able to become socialized more readily. Mass media exposed the problems of juvenile delinquency as a national problem; however, the media also gave teenagers a chance to know what was hip nationwide. Teenagers began to separate themselves from adult culture and adopted new fashions, new slang, and a new music called rock-n-roll.

Many adults began to fear that this new subculture might be antagonistic towards the accepted mores of proper American society. Gilbert states that many believed “the very creative energy that welled up in rock and roll, new words, fashions, and customs threatened the stability of American society. To some degree they were right. Teenagers, by erecting barriers of fashions and custom around adolescence, had walled off a secret and potentially antagonistic area of American culture. No doubt for some that was the intent” (15). But many were most likely simply wishing to express independence from their parents, a healthy desire for teenagers since they will soon become adults on their own. What teens need is healthy guidance and flexible boundaries from stable parents and other adults they can trust. In the typical post-war response of paranoia, fear of a generation of juvenile delinquents caused an uproar and many authorities tried to stomp out this new culture. This of course only fueled rebellion against the restrictions and we eventually got the 60s “revolution.” Unfortunately, now that that generation has grown up, it seems like they’ve removed any and all boundaries from their kids and we’ve got a new generation of kids thinking that they can act on any impulse they want and don’t consider the consequence for themselves or anyone else.

Those who reacted against rock-n-roll the most were squares with no soul in them, dig? The first in line were the racists, who are right about rock-n-roll being formed out of black music. Early rock really was just a bunch of white boys ripping off blues and soul music and not doing it as well, but it turned out the result was not so bad. As Muddy Waters puts it: “The Blues Had A Baby, And They Named It Rock-n-Roll.” The problem is, since these various “Citizen’s Councils” that campaigned against rock music were racist they considered that a bad thing. Really, if anyone should have been upset, it should have been the black musicians whose creative property was constantly being ripped off.

There were also crybabies like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. and other established musicians. They complained that rock-n-roll wasn’t as high a quality of music as what they produced. It has to be admitted that in general, rock isn’t as intricate an art form as many genres of music, but Keith Richards has proved to us all that groove is more important than skill: it’s the beat that moves the feet. But the real reasons these guys were complaining was that they were losing the spotlight and losing money. Frankie proved this when he kissed up to Elvis and did a show with him to get back in the public eye.

Finally, there was the self-righteous religious folk who had no understanding of how much of a ministry opportunity they were missing by not embracing this wonderful new style of music. They complained that rock-n-roll went straight to the heart and emotions of the youth and it did. But instead of allowing parish members to develop music that would praise God and go straight to the heart of America’s youth, they shunned it and ultimately shunned their youth, pushing out those who enjoyed rock. As Christian rocker, Larry Norman, says, they let the devil have all the good music. I am not saying all rock-n-roll is therefore evil, I am saying that for 40 years since this anti-rock campaign, almost all the music that came out of the Church stunk really bad. What would these perfect parishoners have done had they learned that most of their precious hymns where originally written to tune of popular drinking songs that their great grandparents enjoyed? But now we’re finally starting to get some really good grooves in our worship and contemporary music…

Teenage rebellion usually flows from two extremes: too much oppression with no outlet for self-expression, or too much freedom and relativism without a caring authority to lead and guide teens safely into adulthood. Rock-n-roll was born in a time when uniformity was encouraged and self expression was often denied, now it seems those who should be in authority roll over and defer to their children’s wishes out of a fear of damaging their self-esteem, but the truth is they are leaving them stranded in a sea of hopelessness and apathy only to be blown and tossed about by the wind of endless doctrines with no compass to lead and guide them, teens today have no way to interpret the stars. Music is not the cause of any rebellion; it is simply the expression of those searching for some kind of meaning. It would be well for parents and the Church to take heed and listen, and then respond with the proper wisdom and guidance. 

Peter L Richardson
8/12/2004

Gilbert, James. A Cycle of Outrage: America’s Reaction to the Juvenile Delinquent in the 1950s.Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1986.

“Rock n Roll is Here To Stay”
-Sha Na Na

Rock ‘n roll is here to stay, it will never die
It was meant to be that way, though I don’t know why
I don’t care what people say, rock ‘n roll is here to stay
(We don’t care what people say, rock ‘n roll is here to stay)
Rock ‘n roll will always be our ticket to the end
It will go down in history, just you wait, my friend
Rock ‘n roll will always be, it’ll go down in history
(Rock ‘n roll will always be, it’ll go down in history)
So come on, everybody rock, everybody rock,
everybody rock, everybody rock
Everybody rock
Now everybody rock ‘n roll, everybody rock ‘n roll,
everybody rock ‘n roll
Everybody rock ‘n roll, everybody rock ‘n roll
Rock ‘n roll will always be our ticket to the end
It will go down in history, just you wait, my friend
Rock ‘n roll will always be, it’ll go down in history
If you don’t like rock ‘n roll, think what you’ve been missin’
But if you like to bop and stroll, come on down and listen
Let’s all start to have a ball, everybody rock ‘n roll
Ah, oh baby, ah, oh baby, ah,
oh baby, ah, oh baby, rock!

The Gospel According to Jake and Elwood Blues

Elwood: It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.
Jake: Hit it.

The Blues Brothers is one of those movies my friends and I would quote to each other whenever the situation called for it. It is one of the few movies that I still watch repeatedly and never get bored. I even own the two hour and twenty eight minute collectors edition which includes all the less important scenes that never should have gotten cut in the first place. The Blues Brothers was revolutionary with its car chases and car crashes, and it broke new ground as a modern musical, and through the music it revealed a cross section of black and white culture in a time when it was still not popular to do so. Because of the Blues Brothers I discovered the roots of the rock-n-roll I so dearly loved, and I gained a respect and love of black music and black culture that I might not have found otherwise. Since I’ve become a Christian, however, I found my love for The Blues Brothers suspect in many situations. You see, it does have the dreaded ‘R’ rating because it contains multiple uses of the “F” word. But even when I would urge some friends to watch it with me while it was edited for television—so they could experience the joy I knew—some refused claiming it was sacrilegious. I do not want to be one who tempts my brother to sin, so I’ve chosen to keep my love for this film on the down low. However, thirty years after its release, the Catholic Church has finally put their stamp of approval on the film. It seems that The Blues Brothers is finally being recognized for its spiritual value. I grew up on the Blues Brothers. My cousin and I used to dress up like Jake and Elwood and imitate their singing and dancing (unfortunately, some of those dance moves still unexpectedly come out of me today!). The Blues Brothers helped shape my love of music, my understanding of comedy, and, yes, my theology and my faith. When you follow the movie beyond its comedic value, what you have is a classic prodigal son tale of redemption including all the warts and bruises and miracles and lessons from trying to follow God’s plan.

Curtis Blues: Boys, you got to learn not to talk to nuns that way.

We need to start at the beginning. The movie starts with Jake getting an early release from jail for good behavior. Elwood picks up Jake and makes him visit “the Penguin” to fulfill a promise Jake made to her. The Penguin is the nun who ran the orphanage the two grew up in. Jake at first refuses, but Elwood reasons that you can’t lie to a nun. Their visit to her is hilariously disastrous as she tells them the orphanage needs $5,000 to stay open. Jake offers to help and she refuses money gained by criminal means, so he ends up cursing. She pulls out the yardstick and the more she hits them the more they curse until they fall down the stairs outside her office and land at the feet of Curtis Blues. Curtis (played by Cab Calloway) is the janitor and handy man at the orphanage and often becomes the only family for the kids, tucking them into bed and singing them old blues songs. The contrast between Curtis and the Penguin allows for great comedic effect, but even as the characters are foils of one another, they also can represent the dual nature of God. God is Justice and Mercy working together. God’s Justice brought the Law that causes us to realize our need for repentance, but it his Mercy inspired by Love that causes Him to forgive us and allows us access to Him and to love him in return. After Jake and Elwood speak to Curtis, they desire to find a legit way to help the orphanage but feel helpless.

Reverend Cleophus James: And now, people… And now, people… When I woke up this mornin’, I heard a distubin’ sound. I said When I woke up this mornin’, I heard a disturbin’ sound! What I heard was the jingle-jangle of a thousand lost souls! I’m talkin’ ’bout the souls of mortal men and women, departed from this life. Wait a minute! Those lost angry souls roamin’ unseen on the earth, seekin’ to find life they’ll not find, because it’s too late! Tooooo late, yeah! Too late for they’ll never see again the life they choose not to follow. Alright! Alright! Don’t be lost when your time comes! For the day of the Lord cometh as a thief in the night!

Curtis agrees with the Penguin; the boys need “a little churchin’ up.” He encourages them to slide on over to the church of Reverend Cleophus James (played by James Brown). When I was a child I was awestruck at this service. My mom drug me to a church where all I really knew was that I couldn’t make a sound or even put my head down and fall asleep, but this service was wild. It was like a party! I dare to say that while God’s holiness often provokes a deep silence and reverence in our souls, I think that the rejoicing in heaven is much more like the service we see in this movie than what is usually found in the services of most Traditional-Western churches. As a child I thought this service must be extremely exaggerated for the movie; I was pleasantly surprised the first time I had the opportunity to visit a Black Church on Booth St, a run down part of Elkton, MD, and discovered that the service led by James Brown was not so far from reality.

Reverend Cleophus James: DO YOU SEE THE LIGHT?
Jake: THE BAND!

It is at this church that Jake receives his vision and revelation from God: “The band.” It’s simple, they just need to put their old band back together and they’ll be able to raise the money for the orphanage. There is much we can learn from this. Jake is easily one of the most offensive and selfish persons in the movie, yet God chooses to speak to him and reveal his plan. Is this any different from the Apostle Paul? Did not God have a plan to use him while he was approving of the death of Stephen and later dragging more “followers of the Way” to their deaths? We should not despise those around us, no matter who they are; we need to be aware that God uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. Look all through scripture and you will see that God prefers to use the underdog to get his work done. As the movie progresses we discover the childlike faith that both Jake and Elwood have. There is much resistance keeping them from their goal, but they literally plow through every obstacle with the security that God is on their side and the expectation that he will get them through. Each time they are met with resistance, whether it’s a reluctant band member (or his wife played by Aretha Franklin) or the cops or a redneck-country-western band or the Nazis, their reply is always the famous line: “they’re not gonna catch us, we’re on a mission from God.” Would that Christians today had the faith of Jake and Elwood Blues! Imagine what God could accomplish through his children if we could only walk into the journey he’s called each of us to with confidence in his power and trusting in the security in his love! What a wonderful world that would be.

Willie ‘Too Big’ Hall: You’ll never get Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy and Mr. Fabulous out of them high-payin’ gigs.
Jake: Oh yeah? Well me and the Lord, we have an understanding.

It turns out that putting the band (all the members are played by professional musicians) back together is not so easy. Jake has been in jail for three years, and most of them have pretty much gone their separate ways. After much work, manipulation and grace, they manage to get the full band back and get their manager to book a show that will make enough money to save the orphanage—if they can fill the concert hall. Despite wrecking havoc throughout the greater Chicago area, they somehow avoid arrest and get enough support to help advertise, and the show is sold out. This teaches that when God is on your side, he will enable you to reach your goal, because it’s His goal. Jake and Elwood had set out to save the orphanage they grew up in; it’s clear in the scriptures that God has a special place in his heart for orphans. When you are confident you are walking in his will, you can trust God to come through for you. God will surround you with people who will support your vision, sometimes without even realizing what they are supporting. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend going about it the way Jake and Elwood did, but then we wouldn’t have half as many laughs in the movie if they had been a bit more conservative.

Jake: First you traded the Cadillac in for a microphone. Then you lied to me about the band. And now you’re gonna put me right back in the joint!
Elwood: They’re not gonna catch us. We’re on a mission from God.

They managed to do such a good job advertising the show, that in addition to their fans, all their enemies showed up as well, including the country-western band, the Nazis and the entire local police department. They were surrounded, and it looked unlikely they would make it out the door, but “if God is for us, who can be against us?” Their job was not finished; they still needed to get the money to the Cook County Property Assessment Office in Chicago. King David often speaks in the Psalms of being surrounded by his enemies on every side, yet trusting in God to save him. Not only did they find a way out, but the man who showed it to them happened to be a record producer who hooked them up with enough money to save the orphanage, pay the band all the money they owed them, and pay off all their debt to Ray’s Music Exchange (the owner played by Ray Charles). This supports the principle that when we are obedient to God, he will do exceedingly and abundantly more than we can ask or imagine. The only thing left to do was to get the money to Chicago before the deadline. This is brings us to the Bluesmobile.

Elwood: It’s got a cop motor, a 440 cubic inch plant, it’s got cop tires, cop suspensions, cop shocks. It’s a model made before catalytic converters so it’ll run good on regular gas. What do you say; is it the new Bluesmobile or what?
Jake: Fix the cigarette lighter.

The Bluesmobile has mythology all to its own. The original one was a Cadillac, but while Jake was in jail, Elwood traded it for a microphone. He was able to pick up an old Dodge police car at an auction to replace it. When Jake protests that his own brother picks him up from jail in a police car, Elwood convinces him that the car is worthy of the title of Bluesmobile by jumping an opening drawbridge. The movie progresses and the car is able to perform greater and greater feats as the police, the country-western band, and the Nazis close in on them. One of the scenes that got cut from the movie implies that the car draws its power from Elwood parking it illegally in a high voltage area near his apartment. However, the end of the famous Police Car Chase Finale (which held the record of most wrecked cars in a movie for a very long time) implies that the power was actually coming from a higher source. The truth is that when we have faith, God will come through for us with miracles. The amazing feats of the Bluesmobile teach us that when human nature fails us, the supernatural will kick in and God will provide us with what it takes to get the job done. However, sometimes he will provide only what we actually need. Once Jake and Elwood made it to the Assessment Office, the car literally fell into a heap as they exited it. This shows that even when we are struggling to survive, God will “hold together” whatever objects or circumstances we need as long as we actually need them. When the Israelites wandered the desert for forty years, the scripture says none of their possessions wore out. True story: after my divorce, I took a risk and followed God’s lead to go back to college and get my teaching degree. Needless to say with two kids to help support, I was poor, and my car, a 1983 Chevy Nova (not the cool Novas, this year’s model was an imitation Honda) got progressively worse during that time but somehow puttered along. When I finally got my first paycheck as a teacher, I was ready to take on car payments, and as I pulled into a used car lot that advertised they would take any trade-in, no matter how bad, the Nova broke down. On that same lot was the exact car I was looking for in great condition and with an affordable price; it was even in my favorite color: a 1997 Forrest Green Jeep Cherokee. Being such a fan of the Blues Brothers, the irony was not lost on me. God does have a sense of humor.

The Cast and Crew: Everybody on the whole cell block / Was dancin’ to the Jailhouse rock!

God loves to laugh, and he is full of joy and love and peace, but he is also holy and righteous, and despite his grace and mercy, like a good father, he allows us to pay the consequences of our actions when we continually act in ways that displease him. I think if it wasn’t for the end of the movie, the sacrilegious argument could be justified. However, after Jake and Elwood pay the $5000 property tax for the orphanage, they end up in jail; they pay the consequences for their careless and foolish actions throughout the film. This doesn’t contradict God’s mercy and grace. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for us gave us access to God with a renewed relationship, but his resurrection gave us the ability to receive the Holy Spirit who gives us a greater power to walk away from sin and into a greater trust in God. We have to make daily choices to follow God and do the right thing. Where Jake and Elwood went wrong on their renewed walk with God was they felt they needed to manipulate certain situations to accomplish their goal. They weren’t mature enough to trust that if they consistently did the right thing, God would still come through in his way and his time. Though most Christians don’t commit offenses nearly as bad as the Blues Brothers did, how often do we get impatient with God and take matters into our own hands only to screw things up in the long run. For the sake of grace and for the sake of accomplishing his will on Earth, God will put up with our foolishness for a time, but unless we get back on track, we will pay the consequences. The more we make right choices, the easier they become, but if God didn’t allow us to suffer the consequences of bad choices; we would never learn how to live righteously. The reality is that even when we are following the Lord’s will, if we screw up and sin in the midst of it, we still have to pay the consequences, but it is for our own good.

Elwood: We certainly hope you all enjoy the show. And remember, people, that no matter who you are and what you do to live, thrive and survive, there’re still some things that makes us all the same. You. Me. Them. Everybody. Everybody…Everybody Needs Somebody to Love…

God is not above using vulgarity to reach people who would never step foot in a church, or even to get his own children’s attention. If you think that statement is sacrilegious, go read Ezekiel 16 and 23 (and most of our modern English translations are translated in the nicest possible way). C.L. Lewis said, “Suppose the image is vulgar. If it gets across to the unbeliever what the unbeliever desperately needs to know, the vulgarity must be endured.” I am by no way advocating that Christians should feel the freedom to use foul language or even make viewing films that clearly contain vulgarity in them a regular part of their lives, but I do believe that the majority of the Church spends so much time fearing the vulgarity of the world that they become closed off to what God could be doing through them to bring truth and light into the darkness of the world. A common Church doctrine tells us that we are to “be in the world, but not of it.” We are not of the world because we follow a higher law of love that Jesus has placed in our hearts, but it is that that law of love that should be causing us to “go out into the world and make disciples of all men.” When I watch The Blues Brothers on television with all the cursing edited out, it is just as funny. There is no reason why Christians shouldn’t be making art that is both as appealing and humerous as The Blues Brothers and also speaks as much truth as it does. John Landis and Dan Akroyd were the principle writers of the movie. I don’t know what kind of faith either of them have. One of them must have at least grown up Catholic, but much of their other work implies the faith didn’t stick. In the very first sermon to the “unchurched” after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the Apostle Peter quotes the Prophet Joel, “In those days I will pour out my spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:14-41). Many interpret this passage to mean that the gospel is for all the peoples and nations of the earth, and while I certainly agree with that truth, I believe the Lord also means something deeper. I believe he often prophetically inspires unbelievers to speak his truth, so that those who refuse to listen to those in the church can have a chance to wonder about a God in heaven and maybe even begin to talk to him and connect with the longing of their souls. John Calvin said, “All truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have said anything that is true and just, we ought not reject it; for it has come from God.” When Christians reject all art that comes from the world, we are losing opportunities to water the seed of truth that was planted by that art. God once spoke truth through Balaam’s ass, why wouldn’t he take the opportunity to speak through John Landis, Dan Akroyd, and John Belushi in the same way?

The Blues Brothers Band: I got everything I need, almost. I got everything I need, almost. But I don’t got you, and you’re the thing I need the most.

Peter L Richardson
7/1/2010

An interview with Curtis Jackson and Ethan Freeman

My Name is Drew

L-R: Ethan Freeman, Rob Graves, Curtis Jackson, Zach Schroeder

I live to write down my life and act it out as I go, To feel everything, Put it on paper, And let it show.    from “Jeff’s Song”      -My Name is Drew 

If you haven’t heard of the band, My Name is Drew, you are likely to soon. The members of this peculiar band are all seniors in high school and are just waiting for the freedom to break out on the local music scene. The band consists of Ethan Freeman (lead vocals and guitar), Curtis Jackson (lead guitar and vocals), Zachary Schroeder (bass), and Rob Graves (percussion). They recently organized and headlined a benefit concert at Glasgow High School, where all of the band, except for Rob, attend. I had a chance to catch the show and I was duly impressed. Not only do these boys write good music and play it well, they put on a great show that is full of energy. Traditionally, bass players are subdued and fade into the background; however, Zach is never in one place at a time, dancing and running around the stage like a madman. Ethan and Curtis both are comfortable bantering with the audience while introducing songs, and Rob constantly keeps the beat that gets the audience out of their seats and dancing. I caught up with Ethan and Curtis, the principal songwriters, after a long day at school to talk about the band.

Ethan looks like your average, everyday, middle-class high school student. With hair a bit long, but combed and kempt, and the beginnings of scruffy beard, Ethan sports a green tee with a white bird decal under a red and black soccer jacket, and he seems encouraged and interested in the interview. He wouldn’t look a bit out place hanging out with the jocks. Curtis, on the other hand, is all rock-n-roll. Working on a Sudoku book throughout the entire interview, Curtis seems disinterested in talking about himself and looks like he might have dropped out of the 70s, minus the bell bottoms. Curtis wears tight jeans that look painful, topped off with a brown Reliant K t-shirt under a black oversized unzipped hoodie. His dress and his long, scraggly hair suggest an age old anti-establishment attitude, but a few minutes with him reveals his attitude is not of rebellion, but rather of choosing to exist above all the drama that life brings.

Curtis and Ethan have been neighbors and friends since they were young children, but they never really considered playing together in a band until My Name is Drew began to evolve. A few years ago, Zach and Rob played together in metal band that was not destined for stardom. After they broke up, Zach and Curtis began jamming together; eventually Zach brought in Rob, and Curtis brought in Ethan. Once they became an official band, they needed a name. It seems the question they get asked the most is where their name comes from; they actually argued about who had to tell the story. It turns out, one day at band practice, they were arguing about what the band’s name should be, until Curtis’ older brother, Drew, came in the room and exclaimed, “My name is Drew!” That’s what stuck.

The musical influences of the band mates are as varied their personalities; among the bands they listed are Oasis, Reliant K, Coldplay, The Foo Fighters, Mute Math, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pink Floyd and the Beatles. It is no surprise they have such diverse interests; when listening to their brand-new, self-titled release, it is hard to pin down what style of music they fit into. Almost all songs have an acoustic base, which make them simple and accessible to all types of music lovers, but these guys are no strangers to amplification; they are not afraid to make some noise. However, they don’t hide behind distortion as many bands do. They are all skilled and gifted musicians; Rob and Zach keep strong, yet intricate, beats that keep the audience’s feet moving, and Ethan and Curtis fill in the gaps with melodic guitars and harmonizing vocals. Additionally, guest musicians, who often join the band on stage, help add variety with instruments such as the flute, violin, and saxophone. My Name is Drew describes their sound as Pop-Punk-Alternative.

Describing his inspiration for writing music, Curtis rubs his hand over his face and sighs, “For me it’s just jamming and getting into a place where I feel like I’m in the music, no longer in the physical world. It’s spiritual.” Ethan confirms and mentions that when Curtis brings a new song to the band, he presents it as an expression of emotion and feeling, rather than just teaching them the song’s chords and melody. Ethan writes most of the lyrics for the band, and he says he is inspired by life in general: “Things you think about when you are alone when you have time to think, like when you‘re staring at the stars. My ignorance: I write about things I don’t know but want to find out, but I like to write about happy things.” Curtis affirms that Ethan’s into nature, and when asked about the other band members’ source of inspiration they laugh and agree that, “Rob would disagree about everything we just said!” After taking some time to reflect on his work, Ethan states, “I want people to look past the lyrics and see the meaning behind them.” The band’s songs are not overtly Christian; however, most of the lyrics will cause anyone who thinks deeply to contemplate about the concept of God and his relationship and relevance with today’s world. Ethan and Curtis state that everyone in the band is a Christian, and they consider their music God-inspired, but they are not a Christian band. Curtis explains, “The band is not the witness; the band can take me to new places and help me meet new people, but our focus is on living as an example and not being preachy.”

Both Ethan and Curtis state that fame is not important to them; they both would be happy just to be able to make a living off the band and not have to work a 9-to-5 job. Ethan, however, admits, “I do dream about waking up on a tour bus and heading out to play Wembley Stadium!” They have the talent and the skill to make that dream come true. If you want to find out for yourself, click on their link on the sidebar to hear some of their songs and look for a My Name is Drew gig near you.

Peter L Richardson

“I have such a craving for the music of heaven.”   Frances Ridley Havergal

I absolutely love to sing. In the shower. In my car with or without the radio. While I’m working with any loud equipment, like a lawnmower, that deceptively makes me think no one can hear me; I just belt it out. I am convinced that deep in my heart of hearts there is a maestro directing the rhythms and melodies of my moods and the tempo of my life. Unfortunately, to the dismay of my children, he has not found his way up to my lungs and vocal chords, and what comes out is something less than music. It’s okay, though; doesn’t the Psalmist tell us to “make a joyful noise”? And that is where the heart of song is for me: in worship. I love to read the word, I love to speculate, theologize and philosophize about how God’s amazing creation all works, but when I just want to be with my Savior, when I just want to know or be know by the God of the Universe, I sing to Him. There is no better way to connect with my God than worship. For when we lift up our voice to Him, he sings with us and right back to us; it is the equivalency of a mother singing a lullaby to her baby boy and a father dancing with his little girl. It is intimacy.

Even though Jesus just loves to hear the joy of his people in their praise to him, despite how pleasant it may or may not be to the human ear, I am absolutely convinced that our God just plain loves music in general. Think about it. It is all over his creation. First, just consider the human existence. Everyone who’s ever or never been in love has a song of longing in their hearts. The difference is whether it is full of lamentation or full of sappiness. Humans add music to everything they do. If we’re working out or getting pumped up for a fight, we want Rage Against the Machine or Linkin Park. If we’re trying to convince someone we love them or just get into their pants, we want Marvin Gaye or Otis Redding. If we think we’re going to change the world with our next fad movement, we want Bob Dylan or Counting Crows. If we just want to chill at the beach or a barbeque, we take Dave Matthews or the Alman Brothers along with us. You get the point. This passion for song is in every country and every culture in the world. The melodies and the instruments might change, but humans have an inner need to express themselves through song. You can take this all the way back to the beginning. Cain’s grandson, Jubal, “was the father of all who play the harp and flute” (Gen. 4:19). Were we not made in the image of God? God loves and delights in music!

Just listen. Turn off your i-pod, the television, close up your laptop. Try to find genuine silence. It doesn’t exist. God has music playing all around us. Listen deeply to the rhythm and melody of the universe. Turn off your air conditioner and open your windows early in the morning. You will find the birds performing a symphony for our God, or are they doing it for us on His behalf? Listen to the gentle melody of the wind flowing through the leaves, feel the rhythm of the rain falling on your body, hide from the thunderous crescendo of a lightning storm! Float along to the sound of a bubbling brook, or fiercely try to master the violent rhythm and roar of the rapids. Travel to the ocean and play in the rhythmic pounding of the waves. Even the great whales underneath the deep sing out their songs! I love the movie August Rush. In it the main character, an orphaned child, finds music in everything. Whether he is in a quiet field, or a busy city block, he takes what those of us on a lower plane of existence would consider noise, and in his mind he hears and creates an amazing symphony of sound. I think God is like that. He has a designed and composed rhythm and melody of the universe constantly at play all the time. And it is deeper than you might think.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2). Music is another facet of nature that speaks to mankind of the existence of God. The Apostle Paul spends a great deal of time in the beginning of his letter to the Romans explaining that even those who never had a chance to be taught about God, should still have a basic understanding of his existence just through the glory of his creation. In addition to how perfectly seasons work together to produce crops for us, or the majesty of mountain views, flower petals, and sunsets, God has knit music into his creation at the deepest levels, just as he has knit it into the human heart. Music is another way for us to connect with him and be secure in our existence with him in eternity. And now, in my opinion, science is proving this to be more true than ever.

I don’t know how God created or designed the universe in the beginning. I wasn’t there. Genesis testifies that he simply spoke it into existence. What that looked like, or how it worked at the sub-atomic particle level, we will never know, unless He chooses to reveal it to us in the coming age. According to scientists who put their faith in the Big Bang Theory, the big bang apparently caused cosmic microwaves of background radiation that flow around us and through space to this day as the universe continues to expand. These cosmic waves all vibrate at different frequencies. Think about what sound is. In layman’s terms, it is just the vibration of matter creating noise through waves that travel through the air into our ears. Now, these cosmic waves vibrate at too low a frequency for us to hear, but they are all making different notes and different sounds at the same time. Brian Greene, a physicist from Columbia University, calls these waves flowing together “cosmic harmonies.” Turns out, even black holes have different frequencies, one has been measured as a Bb! Also, consider ideas being generated in the study of Quantum Physics. According to String Theory, all particles at the sub-atomic level are connected together by “strings.” These strings that run between the particles that make up all matter in the universe all vibrate. How does a guitar string make a note? You pluck it, and it vibrates. How does a violin string make a note? You run the bow over it, and it vibrates. All these particles that go beyond even the molecular level create notes that create music. We just can’t hear it with our human ears. Greene states, “If string theory is correct, at the heart of matter is music.”

Think about it. Let it sink in. From the grandest cosmic level to the tiniest particles that we are aware of, everything in the universe is making music. The Lord is such an amazing and creative being, that when he designed our universe, he not only made it work to provide for our carnal bodies, not only made it beautiful to behold, but he has made a symphony of sound that is constantly making music simply to please him (and perhaps the angels!). How amazing, and why not? Think about the intricate beauty of a flower petal up close, or how when the sun hit’s a certain landscape just right, or the shape and color of sunsets from different perspectives. Now think about how there are places in the world that no human being has ever been present at these moments, yet the beauty was still displayed. Why? To praise and glorify God. Simply for his pleasure at the work of his hands. Why wouldn’t God create music that we simply can’t hear, at least in this present age, for his own good pleasure? We do it. Does every song that was written get recorded and go out to the masses? How many musicians have spontaneously composed the most beautiful sounds as they bare their souls through their instruments, but they kept the moment to themselves? God, our Creator, is the ultimate scientist, the ultimate artist, and the ultimate musician. The Universe is his symphony that declares his glory. Will you listen for it? Better yet, will you join in? “Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy!” (Psalm 98:7-8). When Jesus said that if we keep quiet and do not praise him “the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40), who would ever have guessed that he was speaking literally?

 

Greene, Brian. Interview: The Music Instinct: Science & Song. Written and directed by, Elena Mannes. Ed. Donna Marino. Mannes Productions Inc. 2008.

 

Peter L Richardson

July 15, 2009

 

Rock n Roll Idols

July 30, 2009

I just finished watching a Doors special on PBS.  It brought me right back to my youth. I hit puberty in the eighties when rock n roll was at it’s weakest. Nirvana and Pearl Jam had yet to emerge, and if you wanted some solid rock n roll without hairspray, spandex, or screaming, you had to go backwards in time. That’s how Jim Morrison became my idol when I was a teenager. To me he was more than a rock god. He was the image of physical perfection to the women I wanted attention from; he was what any teenage male who aspired rock stardom would want to imitate. He was the epitome of rock style: a deep dark voice, black leather pants, cool hippie hats, an odd dance that grooved, but was not at all flashy, he was just genuinely feeling the music. That cat was cool.  But what impressed me the most was his mind. For me it was more about the lyrics than anything else. That cat was deep.  A rock god, but he was also a creative intellectual. He was a wordsmith that happened to have style. He was everything I wanted to be. I loved music, but I loved words even more (though I never would have admitted that back then). There were other factors, but I could credit Jim Morrison as the reason I began writing poetry. He made poetry look cool, so I could record my deep thoughts about life in my own special way and not worry about being ridiculed. In fact, Jim Morrison empowered me to not give a shit about whether anyone even liked me at all. I became a dark loner like my idol. Tired of being another outcast and a social misfit, I became another misunderstood Byronic anti-hero. Unfortunately, while I was trying to imitate my idol, I tried out his lifestyle as well, and I began to take excessive amounts of drugs. I somehow was able to  ignore how it all turned out in the end for Jim Morrison.

I think part of Jim’s drug and alcohol abuse had something to do with his great intellect. I think in many ways he really was above it all. All the sheep mentatlity of the rock genre, and American society in general, that he despised  and mocked was something that he couldn’t be a part of, but the tradegy of Jim Morrison was that he made himself so misunderstood that he became a true lone figure on the American landscape, and he became truly lonely. I think he wanted desperately to fit in with somebody, anybody, but he had too much pride to bring himself back down to such a small minded level. Better to be the Lizard King and go out like a Roman Candle, than to conform to any belief system that required submission. In order to cope with the pain of lonlieness he began using all the time, no matter what the consequences for him and his band. Whatever could get him high, whatever could get him away from that nagging feeling of not fitting in and being alone he took it in. I used honor the man because he lived life so dangerously and so passionately, now I uderstand it was just an escape. Morrison was above it all, but he was not indestructable. He was not a god. In life, he was obsessed with death. I don’ t think he was suicidal, but I don’ t think he was a bit afraid of death. He believed he was out of place in this world, why, then, wouldn’t he embrace death? It was the only thing that seemed to really be a mystery to him, the only thing that he couldn’ t make sense of. If life becomes too simple, why wouldn’t you embrace the mystery, the freedom of death? It’s all over his lyrics and poetry. Refresh your memory with “The End”, “When the Music’s Over”, “Break on Through,” and even “Moonlight Drive,” a song so many couples make love to unaware it’s truly about a dual suicide, or maybe even a murder/suicide.

Fortunately for me, I had neither the intellect nor the addictive personality Morrison had. Seventeen-plus years after my obessession with Jim Morrison ended, I can look at this man who died at 27 from a new perspective. I have had more than my share of failures in this life. As of yet, I have no literary or musical merit at all, but as a 36 year old single dad, I can look back at this kid who reached to the heavens to try to understand life and feel genuine pity for him. Morrison could have been one of the great minds of his generation if he would only have humbled himself a little more. If only he would have held on a little longer. Instead he wasted his genius on sex, drugs and rock n roll, and he literally wasted himself in alcohol. The secret to life that Morrison consistantly missed was that it is meant to be simple. People as mass are idiots, and probably should be mocked, but people as individuals are, well, people. And individual people should be respected. We live, we breath, we die. Our impact on the world, good or bad, lies not in the amount of people that know our name, but our impact is greatest felt by those who truly know us and are known by us. Morrison missed it, he was tragically lonely, and that is why he was so obsessed with the mystery of death. If we spend our time living life and giving our loved ones the best of us, than we simply won’t have the time to obsess over death. We won’t need to think about it or fear it. If we leave behind a legacy of touched hearts and opened minds, even with just a few people, family, friends, then we have left a significant impact on the world that can’t be taken from us, and we can die satisfied. 

I hope the rumors are true. I hope Mr. Mojo Risin’ faked his own death. I hope he  joined some AA group and is living some absurdly normal suburbian life with a good wife and a couple of kids. I hope he’s teaching English lit at some high school or community college, and all the students try to get the class with the teacher that is a little off. Maybe he sings for some crappy little blues cover band on the weekends. But he is probably dead. Better yet, I hope he’s a minister at some middle of nowhere country church. It’s possible. James Douglas Morrison obviously knew his scripture; Biblical imagry is all over his work. (When I was back there in seminary school…) Ironically, Morrison’s lyrics were an important factor that led me discover my own faith in the truth of Jesus Christ. His obsession with death made me question the afterlife, and in an effort to understand his lyrics and message I began to study Nietzsche, Blake, and well, the Bible. Of course there were so many other elements in my life that contributed to my search for Truth, but the ultimate irony is how God used one of my strongest idols to point the way to my own salvation. I can only hope that Jim gets some kind of cred for that in the afterlife.

Peter L Richardson