I am blessed to have many loves in my life. Two of them are children and rock and roll music.
First of all, I absolutely LOVE children. One of my favorite stories comes from very close, long-term friends of mine. I cared for their three children for seven years, and I’m quite proud of the fact that I’ve been a bit of an influence on them. However - on this particular occasion, they were watching TV, and 6-year-old boy asked Mom, “What show is this?” Mom answered, “Highway to Heaven.” Six-year-old boy very confidently replied, “mommy, there is no highway to heaven. There’s a highway to hell, and a stairway to heaven… but no highway to heaven.”
Oops. Did I teach him that, or did mom and dad teach him that? It could have gone either way…
As much as I love this story, and I love the genuine innocence behind it, I’m reminded of the importance of being careful about the things we say, and the things that are said (and sung) in front of our young people. While we carefully guard which television shows they watch, we can sometimes be unaware of the seemingly “white noise” that permeates their little brains.
Second of all – and this is important - I LOVE rock and roll. GOOD rock and roll. I grew up during the Viet Nam War era when rock and roll music was at its height, so I believe I know what I’m talking about. I’m even a bit of a rock and roll aficionado, having seen more than 200 live performances. Not all of it is of a positive nature to be sure, but if you take the time to listen, there are some very positive messages to be taken from the poetry that has become Classic Rock. I would like to share a few of them with you.
The first really positive example I remember is the Byrds’ Turn, Turn, Turn (To Everything there is a Season.) I didn’t know at the time how this song came to be, I only knew I liked it. As it turns out, the band borrowed it from singer/songwriter Pete Seeger, who borrowed it directly from the book of Ecclesiastes. He did add one line at the end, “a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late…” but aside from that, it’s pretty much as it was originally written. It has been re-recorded many times since. For a kid like me, who never saw the inside of a church during my childhood, it was kind of awesome.
A little later, when I was entering high school, the Doobie Brothers told me that “Jesus is just alright with me,” and it made me wonder… is He JUST alright, or is He just ALRIGHT.” The emphasis, changed ever so slightly, changes the meaning completely. I wasn’t sure which way they intended, but I probably read some liner notes from the inside of the album, and found that it was originally a gospel song, and the “alright” was intended to mean awesome! Or “really good.” I liked that.
In 1969, David Bowie’s imperiled alter-ego, Ziggy Stardust, blasted off in Space Oddity, and received orders from Ground Control to check ignition “and may God’s love be with you.” I’ve always found it profound that these were his instructions, and I’ve wondered why David Bowie chose to use these words. Even now, I think of this as one of the nicest blessings I can give someone… may God’s love be with you. Such a wonderful thing to say to someone!
At the same time, John Lennon pleaded with us to “give peace a chance,” He warned us that instant karma was going to get us, and reminded us that we’d “better recognize our brothers, (as) everyone we meet.” He encouraged us with “we all shine on like the moon and the stars and the sun;” two years later, he “imagined all the people living life in peace.” In 1980 after the birth of his son, he wrote in Beautiful Boy, “before you go to sleep, say a little prayer, every day in every way, it’s getting better and better.” I don’t think John Lennon gets enough credit for being the truly gentle man he was.
In 1970, George Harrison, another truly gentle soul, was quick and to the point: “My sweet Lord, I really want to see you, really want to be with you… but it takes so long, my Lord.” He was very generous in his use of the words “hallelujah” and “hare Krishna,” throughout the song, which he said pointed out the similarities between the Eastern religions and Christianity.
In the early 90’s Eric Clapton, arguably one of the most talented men to ever pick up a guitar, abandoned “Cocaine” (thank God!) and used the gut-wrenching death of his 4-year-old son to inspire him to write Tears in Heaven, “would you know my name if I saw you in heaven? Would it be the same if I saw you in heaven? I must be strong and carry on ‘cause I know I don’t belong… here in heaven.” In the late 90’s he founded the Crossroads Centre Antigua drug rehab clinic. Its websites bears the words, “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.” - Mother Teresa
In 1996, when Matt and I got married, Matt arranged that we would take communion during the playing of Yes’s Wonderous Stories… ”I awoke this morning, love laid me down by a river. Drifting I turned on upstream bound for my forgiver. In the giving of my eyes to see your face. Sound did silence me, leaving no trace. I beg to leave, to hear your wonderous stories. Beg to hear your wonderous stories.” I believe Matt and I feel its spirituality just as Jon Anderson intended when he wrote it.
Admittedly, there hasn’t been a whole lot of positive – or even good - rock and roll music produced in the past 30 years, with a few exceptions. U2 is one of those exceptions. Although the critics at times don’t know what to make of them, they very boldly came out with “Yahweh.” “Take this soul, stranded in some skin and bones. Take this soul and make it sing.”
I hope I’ve shown a seldom-seen side to the rock and roll genre. I could keep going forever. Literally forever. There are thousands of songs and artists I haven’t touched. Except for the fact that I can no longer carry a tune, I could open the book of Psalms and “sing to the Lord, as long as I live; I (could) sing praise to my God while I have being.” “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” When I am cheerful, I will sing praise. I will “sing to God, sing praises to his name, and lift Him up in song.”
But most of all, as Psalm 13:6 says, “I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me.”