Monday, February 29, 2016

Music 11 – Witchcraft, Rebellion, and Rock

Witchcraft is an ugly albeit biblical word. I have spent dozens of hours in research, and spilled the equivalent of gallons of ink on this blog to establish the undeniable link between rock music and witchcraft. Having done so it should not then shock us to find this music at the same time also closely associated with rebellion. An old Samuel sadly asserted to his one time protégé, Saul, Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. (I Samuel 15.23)

What is rebellion? At its root it is war against God. It is a revolt against His authority and those to whom He dispenses His authority. The devil, of course, was the first rebel. I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north. (Isaiah 14.13) He will not rest until he has fomented rebellion against God in the heart of every human and angelic being he can touch. It is easy to see, then, not perhaps in strict conjunction, but certainly that there is at least a loose association between rebellion and witchcraft.

Rock and roll was birthed in rebellion, the rebellion of the young against their authority. Bill Haley who13257 first topped the charts with a rock song in 1955 did so in the context of a movie soundtrack, MGM's Blackboard Jungle, which purposely attempting to display the "teenage savagery" of a rebellious group of inner city young people. Cliff Richard, in 1961's The Young Ones belted out

Mummy says no
Daddy says no
Brother says no
But they all got to go
'Cause we say yeah

No wonder Marlon Brando, when asked what he was rebelling against, sullenly said, "Whaddya' got?"

That initial rock generation's rebellion was against their parent's morals, the collective cultural habits of decency which they labeled as prudish. So Elvis swung his hips, the teenagers screamed, and suddenly sexuality was no longer repressed but flaunted. As the pop music of the 1950s and early 60s gave way to the British Invasion the rebellion led by the Beatles was not primarily a sexual one; it was the drug-fueled turn on, tune in, drop out of Timothy Leary's countercultural generational stick it to "the man." As the 1960s became the 1970s the rebellion against authority found focus in the student riots and the campus sit-ins of the Vietnam era. By the mid-seventies a new generation of rebellious rockers gave voice to Pink Floyd singing that kids "don't need no thought control" and Johnny Rotten's Anarchy in the UK as they lashed blindly out at everything. And just when we thought rock had run out of things to rebel against came 90s grunge with Nirvana's apathy, nihilism, and fascination with suicide.

The previous paragraph's wide-ranging simplistic recounting of the first fifty years of rock reveals a genre (and numerous sub-genres) that contains over and over again a similar thread – rebellion. Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead told Spin magazine in 1991, "The essence of rock music is rebellion." Lemmy was right.

I do not deny that rock has become mainstream; in fact, I assert it. But I do deny that rock in so doing has lost its penchant for rebellion. Indeed, I would argue that as rock music has gone mainstream rebellion itself has also gone mainstream. There is now a generally accepted wisdom that teenagers are supposed to rebel against their parents and that young adults are supposed to rebel against their college administrators. It has assumed all the parameters of a youthful rite of passage as if an obedient young person is weirdly wrong. In the 1950s James Dean's Rebel Without a Cause generated an uproar; in contemporary America rebellion has become a main course.

It is interesting to note not only the correlation between witchcraft and rebellion but a similar correlation between the rise of rebellion in American society and the rise of rock music. If you don't believe that I dare you to try to take away the average American teenager's music. Rebellion and rock live in mutually pleasing symbiosis that feeds upon itself. And I do not just mean the lyrics; I mean the music itself.

Mark Applebaum
One of the most popular courses at Stanford University is Associate Professor Mark Applebaum's "Rock, Sex, and Rebellion." The student reviews for it available online are almost exclusively and effusively positive. As an active composer with a PhD in musical composition he not only researches and teaches about music he also writes and performs it. The basic thrust of his course is not a cultural history of rebellious rock stars and their antics although there is certainly enough material for such a course. His premise is that the musical structure itself is rebellious, and that it was birthed from the desire of various sub-cultural groups to make a statement of rebellion. When asked in one interview I read to proffer up a one line description of rock music he offered this: "It's a little glib but I think I can give you a quick 21st century sound-byte response – so I'll invoke Keith Richard's definition: 'Rock 'n' roll is sex and rebellion.' It's not a complete response but if you wanted a super-short version, it would be that."

So, yeah, let's allow this music free reign in the life of our young people. Furthermore, let's embrace this music as a tool for God's church to use in order to reach people more effectively. That makes sense. Witchcraft. Rebellion. Rock. What's not to love?