I have memories of sitting in the living room of my home in 1964 (I was ten years old), watching the Beatles sing “I Want To Hold Your Hand” before a live audience on the Ed Sullivan Show. The shadowy black and white television introduced these long-haired young rock and rollers to mainstream America…and nothing has ever been the same since.
My parents were in shock. Musical shock wasn’t new to them, though. Elvis Presley’s gyrating pelvis had already been doing that for a few years. The church I grew up in, much like the conservative white church around the country, was working hard to make sure I knew all the things I couldn’t do, if I was going to grow up to be a fine Christian young man.
Good Christians didn’t drink, smoke, cuss, play cards, dance, go to movies, stay out late on Saturday nights, sleep in on Sundays, sport long hair (boys), sport short skirts (girls), question authority…and absolutely no listening to that evil devil-music: rock and roll.
Even though I don’t think they really realized it at the time, parents and church leaders were creating an “us vs. them” mentality. More importantly to me, they were building a sacred vs. secular philosophy into my life…one I learned to respectfully rebel against in my high school and college years.
(If you ask my wife, she will gladly tell you that since I never had a typical adolescent rebellion back when I was a teenager, I have been going through an extended and particularly awkward post-adolescent rebellion ever since I hit around 50. Maybe I will self-analyze that mess in another post someday.)
In the early years, when my favorite bands would sing about sex and drugs and anarchy and who knows what else, I would pompously tell my church friends and leaders, “I’m not listening to the lyrics. I’m just listening to the music.” The truth is, I knew what they were singing about, but it didn’t matter to my young, respectfully rebellious heart. The music was touching me on a deep, personal level.
I know they were afraid the music was going to lead me into the darkness inhabited by Satan and his minions. But I never had that concern. To me, music was art. It was the creative expression of the musician. Look, based on the lyrics and perceived lifestyles, I’m pretty sure most of the bands I was drawn to were not “christian”. But they were making art that I was blown away by. Their imagination and innovation drew me in.
When I first understood basic principles of music well enough to recognize that Led Zepellin was playing in these bizarre time signatures, my head exploded and I was hooked. I always have been. But it wasn’t until I got older that I was able to give definition to what I was feeling.
When I first looked at a black and white Ansel Adams photograph of Yosemite Falls, I didn’t stop and think, “Gee, I wonder if Ansel is a Christian? If he’s not, I need to be careful when I look at his pictures, lest I fall.”. Nope. I look at his pictures and simply say, “Wow. Those are amazing. I feel like I am right there.”
Most people know I’m not much of a connoisseur of movies. But there are some actors who I really enjoy. Morgan Freeman. Matthew McConaughey. Sandra Bullock. Honestly, as I watch them perform, I’m not thinking much about their standing before God. I’m usually just enjoying their art.
I don’t cheer for my favorite athletes because they are christian. I cheer for them because I’m caught up with their performance. And whether or not they are helping my team win. Athleticism is artistry of the human body. I love watching them. Christian. Buddhist. Muslim. Atheist. Hedonist. It just doesn’t ever really factor into my enjoyment.
(Before you get preachy back at me, I believe there should be common sense limitations on the first amendment. There are amazing artists of all types, that are criminals whose values and lifestyle seriously affect my enjoyment of their art. Open hostility and disregard for the things of God will always leave pain in my heart, no matter how great the artistry.)
So, because I see music as art and I have experienced it, both as a listener and as a musician, my love and appreciation for the beauty of musical expression is pretty broad.
You like the Cowboys. I like the Chargers. You like Leonardo DiCaprio. I like Sylvester Stallone. You like country or pop or classic rock. Me? Old school rap metal rocks my world.
Don’t knock it till you try it.