The subject of rock ‘n’ roll has been controversial and a source of conflict between parents and children ever since it first appeared on the scene in the mid 1950’s. When Elvis Presley performed on the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time in 1956, the cameras only showed him from the waist up, because adults were offended by the way he shook his hips. The kids loved it!
When the Beatles arrived in the mid 1960’s, parents were shocked again this time by the mop-top haircuts. But young people were swept away by the infectious enthusiasm of their music. After the Beatles, more shocks were in store as groups like the Rolling Stones and the Animals popularised a more coarse, gritty, and vulgar style of blues-influenced rock.
Still later, the psychedelic explosion brought new controversy to the world of rock. Bands such as the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead openly lived a hippie lifestyle and freely admitted to the use of drugs like marijuana and LSD. This was a new source of alarm for parents as young people adopted hippie ways and the abuse of drugs became epidemic. In the twenty years that have followed, rock ‘n’ rollers have continued to try to keep the shock waves coming with the violent aggressiveness of “heavy metal” rock, the open rebellion of “punk” rock, and music advocating sexual promiscuity, homosexuality, drug abuse, and finally, Satanism, the worship of the devil.
However, one thing has changed over the 30+ years of rock history. People aren’t shocked much anymore. Parents aren’t alarmed much anymore. Rock ‘n’ rollers are still putting in a mighty effort to keep the shocks coming, but the fact is that rock has become accepted in our society. Rock music that I would have considered radical when I was a teenager is now commonly heard on commercials. Even an old rocker like Eric Clapton, who spearheaded the group “Cream” in the 60’s, is shown playing live on a beer commercial on T.V. Many parents are now content to keep their kids quiet by letting them stay glued to MTV at home.
The question for us is, how should we, as Orthodox Christians, and especially, as Orthodox parents, approach the subject of rock ‘n’ roll? Should we be in a continual state of alarm? Should we, as some preachers and churches do, condemn rock as evil, forbid our children to listen to any of it, and burn the records or tapes we might have? Or should we simply accept rock? Should we just figure our children are good Orthodox young people and music can’t have any bad effect on them?
How about “none of the above” for an answer?
Before we get into this, let me point out one thing. It is nearly impossible to generalise about rock ‘n’ roll. If someone says “rock is this,” someone else can always show an exception, and say, “no, rock is that!” So I cannot give you a lot of easy absolutes about rock. I can only indicate general trends in rock music. But my observations do come from 25 years of watching the rock scene. So I’m not just “shooting from the hip” on the subject like some preachers do, which unfortunately only encourages rock enthusiasts to casually dismiss their criticisms.
So how do we approach rock? If we can just use one word, that word should be “honestly.” We must be honest and unprejudiced as we attempt to analyze it.
Viewing rock honestly means, first of all, that we can say there is some good in rock music. The person who cares to listen closely to rock can find examples of deep human sensitivity, elevated poetry, valid social criticism, inspired performing, and expert musicianship. And all of these are things that an Orthodox Christian can and should appreciate. But more than this, occasionally in rock music, we find themes that are genuinely biblical and Christian.
When I was a teenager, a group called the “Quicksilver Messenger Service” did a song called “Pride of Man” about God’s judgment on sinful human pride — full of material from the Bible. More recently, a group called “Mister Mister” did a song called “Kyrie Eleison” — right out of the Liturgy. Other groups like “The Call,” “U2,” and several others have distinctly Christian and Biblical themes to much of their music. Several groups have even done modern renditions of old hymns. So there are things in rock music that even the strictest of us can appreciate.
But while there is some good in rock music, there is much evil. (However, most rock music falls somewhere in between. It is not completely good or totally evil. Like most of life, it contains some of each). And just as we can enjoy the good, we must recognize and reject evil.
I would list some of the wrongs in rock under the following categories;
Fr Paul O’Callaghan
TO BE CONTINUED