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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sympathy for the Devil

I don't really know why I've been doing this recently--searching through famous deaths of the Sixties. I guess we Boomers get sentimental at times. Death was really, what the Sixties were all about, wasn't it? From JFK's assassination to Altamont, it was the theme. Where else could the basic Sixties creed of “no limits” end?

Looked at this way, the Sixties begin to look Satanic. Where else did our present “Culture of Death” come from? Conspiracies seem to be everywhere, perhaps, because it was all a manifestation of the ultimate conspiracy. Satan's.

There is a God, and there are Angels and Demons—all of whom can have their influence.

And yet, this does not work for me. Even though rock and roll emerged more or less self-consciously as “the devil's music,” even with the eerie coincidences of the “27 Club,” even with the legends of Robert Johnson selling his soul at a Mississippi crossroads, I have a problem with this.

My problem, in the end, is that the music is just too darned good. Maybe everything else about the Sixties seems laughable, or embarassing, now, but I play a YouTube video of vintage Rolling Stones—Their Satanic Majesties themselves—and it still sounds pretty wonderful. Could the devil really be the source of something that so fully touches beauty, when beauty—the beauty of nature, for example—seems to be a direct manifestation of the nature of God? Is God not in his essence the good, the true, and the beautiful?

I think, for all its posing, therefore, rock and roll, and the Sixties, were really on the side of God all along, and were a genuine expression of the holy spirit.

Jerry Lee Lewis, “rock's original wild man,” for example, always believed his music was from the devil, but also always cosidered himself a Christian—just a bad Christian who was going to hell because of his music. Robert Johnson seems to have thought about the same. Little Richard tried several times to leave his music to become a Christian evangelist. So, notoriously, did Bob Dylan, and his latest album, of traditional Christmas music, suggests he may still be trying. Ozzy Osbourne, the prince of darkness himself, once of Black Sabbath, has said that he fears he is inspired by the devil. He believes he is—but he does not see it as a good thing.

A real disciple of the devil would speak, and think, differently. He would embrace his status. He would deny the holy spirit. To say instead, “yes, there is a God—and he hates me”; “Yes, there is a right and wrong—and I'm wrong” is something else again. Something very close to true Christian humility, something very close to redemption, something like an antidote to religious complacency and hypocrisy.

I think, in fact, rock and roll and its culture holds a place in modern Christianity rather like the place of Tantra in Hinduism. It is an upwelling of elements overlooked or undervalued by the mainstream of the religion, a “loyal opposition” in rebellion against the dominant faith, but not against God.

It is telling, I think, that rock music emerged directly from the Bible belt, from the most Calvinist strains of Protestant Christianity, those places where dancing was seen as the work of the devil. Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Janis Joplin, all came from this background. So, in British terms, did Brian Jones, darkest of the Rolling Stones—he was Welsh.

Sex, drugs, and dancing music—the precise rejection of the Calvinist rejection of sex, alcohol, and dancing.