Summer, 1983

I’ve been going through some of early journals recently, and I’ve created a post out of the content of a few of the entries. This should fulfill the quota of ‘anecdotes and short stories’ for which BCC is apparently famous.

In early 1980s Dave and Julie Elliot* lived down the street from us. They were a mormon married couple in their early twenties, and they were incredibly cool. (They still are, actually.) Both my sister and I were enthusiastic music fans, and the Elliots encouraged that with a vast and progressive record collection. (Dave made me my very first mix tape.) They seemed to like having us around, and my parents approved of their influence on us.

In 1983, they decided to go to a day of the US Festival, a rock and technology festival held in Devore California, about an hour’s drive from us. I was 14, my sister was 16. They offered to take us with them, and my parents agreed. That may surprise you, but my parents subscribed pretty strongly by the ‘teach correct principles … govern themselves’ idea. When I asked them about it many years later, they said that they felt that this would be a good way for us to explore something we would be interested in and would come into contact with anyway, but with knowing and trustworthy guides.

We went on day 3, Memorial Day Monday. The lineup included The Pretenders, U2, David Bowie and many others. (Tickets were only $20.) Despite the heat, the crowds, the hassle, it was an amazing experience. The music, the displays, the collective experience — fantastic. But one moment of the day has stuck in my memory.

U2 was a young band, and they were great. As a kid with a growing interest in social activism and a flair for the dramatic, the political passion of the music and all that white flag waving really appealed to me. And then, during ‘The Electric Co.,’ Bono climbed up the scaffolding holding a flag, reached to the top and sang from a hundred feet above the stage. (You can see it here.) It was astonishing and electrifying. Even at the time I realized that rock stars do that kind of thing, and that it might be a gimmick, something he probably did at every show. I didn’t care. The archetype, the iconography of that lone man atop a tower raising his flag, singing his truth — it inspired me. It wasn’t about Bono; it was about the symbolism he was appropriating. In fact, at a regional youth conference a few months later, when we were asked to imagine someone we would like to be more like, I didn’t imagine Christ or the prophet … or Bono, for that matter. But it was a solitary figure, waving his white flag and singing his song high over a throng of a quarter of a million in the desert.

So I was especially disappointed later in the same conference when I attended a session by a prominent speaker. The point was to warn us about the dangers of the rock and roll lifestyle. We heard the old story about Mick Jagger and the GA on the airplane, and he told us about a student of his witnessing demons possessing bodies at a Pink Floyd concert. Avoid the whole thing, he said. It is a tool of the devil. It may look alright, but it isn’t. None of it.

At the end, he answered questions. I asked, ‘Isn’t it possible to be inspired to be a better person by rock music?’ Brother White looked me over and said, ‘That’s what Satan wants you to believe. You can get all the inspiration you need in the restored gospel.’

I wanted to tell him about my experience, much in the same way I wanted to explain in another session that I had friends that drank alcohol and used drugs who were in their own way very good people, but I realized this was one of those times it was best to keep my mouth shut. I left the conference feeling unsure about my place in the church.

Fortunately, I had some good role models of people who did live in the real world, who interacted with all kinds of culture, popular and otherwise, and remained faithful church members, starting with my parents, the Elliots and some other youth leaders. The ‘avoid at all costs’ approach may work for some, but it doesn’t seem to be a sustainable position for many others.

* Names have been changed … except for the rock stars, of course.

Comments

  1. Amen brother.

    I have been inspired by rock and roll since I was 10, and it always puzzles me why some people in the church (and out of it) insist on labeling a genre of music as devilish. I always wondered: how do they decide what musical genres are of the devil? Is it rock and roll in general, or just some sub-genres? Does it apply to electronica? Jazz? Country? It’s just crazy talk to me.

  2. Did they try to get you to eat onions disguised as carmel apples too? That object lesson is of the devil.

    I can’t get over the fact that the tickets were $20!

  3. I’ll be the first to admit–there is some music I feel uncomfortable listening to. For example, I feel uncomfortable listening to Iron Maiden. I like their music and their style, and I feel fine listening to other bands with similar styles, but…
    My mother never liked much of my music, but I was lucky to have the father I did, who liked much of the same music and was supportive of his son listening to it.
    The music my mother doesn’t like has inspired me, driven me, even shown me gospel truths that I hadn’t seen before.
    Thanks for the fantastic post.

  4. As an additional note–I don’t have anything against Iron Maiden. Everyone has different tastes. I think the problem with people like “Brother White” is that they take their own opinions and their own tastes in music and try to turn it into gospel truth, when it’s nothing but their narrow opinion.

  5. I did not attend the concert, but on September 25, 2006, Green Day and U2 performed before a crowd of 70,000 people at the Louisiana Superdome. They did three songs – When September Ends, The Saints are Coming, and finished with a piece of Beautiful Day. I saw a film of the performance a few days after. In the lead up to Beautiful Day, Bono riffed “Lower 9th will rise again, from the waters of Lake Pontchartrain, See the bird with the leaf in her mouth, after the flood all the colors came out…”

    Yes, hope and inspiration can found in rock and roll.

  6. Even an exploration of the darker side of life can uplift us, by reminding us of the grace and beauty of the restored gospel. I know that someday I’ll listen only to classical music, but until that gradual process matures, I’ll always enjoy my collection of every Pink Floyd album ever made, and find the nuggets of truth even among the chaff.

  7. “I know that someday I’ll listen only to classical music.”

    My hope rests in the belief that this will not be true. I love good classical music, but I love all good music. There also is some really bad classical music – just as there is some really bad “great literature”.

    My mother once commented that there wasn’t any good music anymore. I told her she simply didn’t know where to find it. That was about 30 years ago, and she still quotes that conversation when discussing music.

    Some of the songs my kids listen to is stuff I wouldn’t choose – but there are some awesome songs among those songs, as well. You just have to know where to find them.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    Ugh, I hate that talk about the GA and Mick Jagger on the airplane.

    Thanks for the post; I could relate to it.

  9. I heard a story on NPR last week about the positive social changes that Metal Rockers are bringing to the Middle East.

    Take that youth-conference anti-rock-n-roll speaker!

  10. Mark IV says:

    Rock and roll ain’t noise pollution.

  11. cj douglass says:

    We heard the old story about Mick Jagger and the GA

    When I told my Dad this story he simply said, “Well, Mick Jagger is of the Devil – but that doesn’t mean Rock is.” My dad was more of CSN&Y/Eagles sort of rocker – he couldn’t stand the Stones.

  12. “My dad was more of CSN&Y/Eagles sort of rocker”

    Now I feel old.

  13. Ugh, I hate that talk about the GA and Mick Jagger on the airplane

    Do you mind elaborating?

  14. Mark IV says:

    Ryan,

    Here you go.

  15. As a youth, when I was nearer to satan then God, music inspired me towards wrong doing. Nowadays, I like to listen to some of the same music, but because I now follow Christ the music is enjoyable to me because it is the music I grew up with.

    Following is a 1967 hit. By the time this came out I was on my way back to following Christ after the Lord left the 99 and came for me.

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=8lhIc-ByUmU&feature=related

  16. Mark IV,

    Thank you for the effort — I am actually familiar with the story :)

    I was looking for elaboration on the “Ugh” part of Kevin’s comment

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    Well, first of all I’m not a big fan of the whole meme of trying to convert your seatmate on a plane. No wonder people have such negative impressions of Mormons. When you fly, you’re a captive audience; do you really want the JW or Evangelical sitting next to you to spend four hours trying to convert you? The number of people who are actually going to welcome such an intrusive conversation is very small.

    Second, the cluelessness of the GA about contemporary music is paraded as a virtue, but I don’t see it as such. In many ways he is having this conversation from a position of ignorance, and that’s not a good thing.

    The Church needs converts, true, but it also needs friends. This conversation is dripping with self-righteousness and judgment. It seems to me that the conversation could have had a much different contour with a much different result. Instead of trying so hard to convert him on the spot, he could have had a normal human conversation with the man.

    I realize some LDS are inspired by this account, but I’m not one of them.

  18. #17 Kevin–I used to like this story, but now I tend to see it as you do.Your point is well taken. However, I allow for the fact that Heavenly Father works through His servants to convey His message. If the Lord was providing Mick J. with a blessing via Elder Cook then who am I to make a judgment. Elder Cook is a powerful servant of the Lord. I’ve witnessed Elder Cook at work and know he is the genuine article.

  19. Does music influence thinking? If it didn’t advertisers wouldn’t spend billions on those little ditties that are so hard to get out of your head. But its true that different people respond differently to various types of music. Unfortunately we aren’t always good at monitoring ourselves when the music is popular with our friends. My son was always somewhat of an inward looking guy. As a teen he started listing to Nervana and the like with his friends. It didn’t seem to affect them, but he admits now that it made him feel darker and darker. It was only a miricle that I discovered his plans to kill himself before he could carry it out. I learned then to pay attention to the moods my kids reflected after listening to their music. Unfortunately Satan knows us better than we know ourselves; he remembers us from the preexistence. So listen to what uplifts and inspires you. But be cautious; all music isn’t good for everyone.

  20. do you really want the JW or Evangelical sitting next to you to spend four hours trying to convert you?

    On the way home from my mission, an evangelical pastor from Denver did try exactly this, all the way from New York City to Las Vegas. Annoying little fellow.

  21. Ardis, you must have a welcoming face. I inherited a very helpful congenital surly look. It cuts way, way down on unwanted conversations on sea, land, and in the air. Of course, it also cut way, way down on wanted conversations during the dating years. It’s still worth it.

  22. Oddly, that’s not the version of the story I heard as a youth. The name of the GA was left out, and Jagger said that his music was intended to bring kids to worship Satan. I’m sure that it got changed as it spread virally through the CES … although I agree that Elder Cook’s story does not show him at his best. I thought this disclaimer was interesting:

    (This text is not verbatim and there are substantial differences in the wording of the text version and the actual talk.)

    I’m not interested enough to listen to it, though.

  23. I find a lot of spiritual and uplifting feeling in the music of Nine Inch Nails, Tool, Radiohead, Nirvana, and other musicians some Mormons might find problematic. On the other hand, System of a Down, while I like many of their songs, can also upset and offend me, so I generally avoid them. I suppose that the experience of art in general must be completely different for different people. I find Dostoyevsky, for example, to be extremely uplifting but others seem to feel he drags them down. For me music (or art, literature, or even scriptures) with no evil depicted, no sorry, no agony, no pain, can likewise not hold any light or joy. There must needs be an opposition in all things, and all that. Lots of people might find Trent Reznor’s songs to be objectionable because of the words or attitudes of questionable morality depicted therein, but I don’t. His lyrics are actually some of the most moralistic and didactic that I’ve heard in popular music, though somehow despite that fact, he seem to pull it off. He comes across as honest and searching, and I feel as a musician he’s quite spiritual and inspired. That’s why I’m so glad that we’re taught to be selective in what we watch and listen to, and in the entertainment we consume, that we’re taught to stick to what lifts us up, and stay away from whatever drags us down. We each are the judge of what that is for ourselves.

    I avoid TV entirely, for instance. I find nothing edifying there. For me it’s all empty calories. But in good music I find much that’s worthy to feed my heart, mind, and spirit.

  24. sorry = sorrow

  25. hawkgrrrl says:

    Around that same year, we had a speaker at a YC in PA covering the same topic. My friend and I were sitting in the conference in our Led Zeppelin tee shirts as he explained why this music was Satanic. Personally, I would have to say that he brought a very negative spirit to the conference. He got a few kids fired up to get rid of their records (yes, vinyl). I always wondered how much that guy got paid to spin these old chestnuts. The other thing that never made sense to me was the guideline that music at stake dances couldn’t have a stronger beat than melody line. Frankly, I’m not even sure the minuet qualifies under that description. Fortunately, most of our chaperones were insufficiently trained in music to understand the difference between the melody line and the bass line.

  26. I had an older Church member tell me yesterday, that he disliked the fact that I listen to a lot of Jazz music. And that I play the saxophone. Seems saxophones are the ‘horns of the Devil” that influence the player of said horn and listeners to acts of drug use and fornication!!!! He didnt seem to have an answer when I asked him, why BYU offered Jazz classes and had a bunch of very good student and faculty jazz ensembles. But said Brother got all red in the face and got real angry :):)

  27. I have had the discussion with older members about jazz too. In the conversations I had, it was pretty clear that the problem they really had with jazz was that it was “black music.”

  28. cj douglass says:

    If music can be a positive influence, it can certainly be negative as well. But labeling a specific genre (any genre) as “satanic” is plain idiotic.

    My first MP spent a whole zone conference on the evils of rock. The man had no clue what he was talking about. For him, the difference between country and rock was like night and day. He asked all those who listened to rock and roll before their mission to stand up. He had no idea that half of those seated were fans of gangsta rap. Public enemy #1? The Beatles of course. The Jagger/Cook story was mentioned. Lennon’s comment about being bigger than Jesus was also in there.

    It’s ironic. We cry and moan about people making sweeping generalizations about our faith – yet we can be the worst offenders.

  29. My teenage years spanned the last half of the 60′s and the first couple of years of the 70′s, so this is really personal for me. I grew up on 60′s rock, and heard all those arguments then about Satan’s music, etc.

    Of the big 60′s triumvirate of sex, drugs, and Rock and Roll, Rock was the only one available to me. I loved the image of social activism that I found in much of it, but also recognized the negative messages as well. Interestingly, I’ve always been more sensitive to music, melody, rhythm, chord structure and the like than lyrics, which is odd because I was an English major in college.

    One of the reasons I encouraged my sons to listen to U2 was because of the hopeful social message of much of their music. I’ve also become a huge blues fan, which is music that is pretty much all about sex, and jazz, primarily the instrumentals.

    But with any music, I’ve found that I have become a little more discriminating than in my youth. I used to be a big Doors fan, but in retrospect, the music hasn’t held up, and the messages less so. I’ve also learned that many of my musical heroes truly have feet of clay (and brains to match, after years of drug abuse).

    But Bono, Eric Clapton, Eddie Vedder, John Coltrane, and others still inspire me. And the music still moves me. As John Sebastion of the Lovin’ Spoonful (another problematic name) said, “Do You Believe in Magic?” I still do.

  30. It’s OK, Norbert, you can admit it. It *was* just that he was Bono.

    I was raised Lutheran, and when I was a teenager my family stopped attending church. U2 were my favorite band (I was hugely obsessed) and for those years they were my only spiritual food.

    I listen to a lot of stuff that most people would probably call evil-sounding. I mean seriously. But it doesn’t sound evil to me—it actually makes me really happy. I can’t hear it without smiling. It’s like audio sunshine. (Yes, there’s something wrong with my hearing.)

  31. Elder Cook came to the MTC while I was there and told the Mick Jagger story. I was also there when Paul Dunn came and told his baseball and war stories. Two of the more infamous Mormon stories during the same MTC stay. Lightning striking twice. This would have been Nov – Dec 1988.

    Do GA’s still talk about the evils of music? That was a common theme while I was a youth during the 80s, but I don’t seem to hear it much today? Today they seem to rail against porn, or video games, or maybe movies.

  32. I never saw these seminary videos but I have a few friends that saw a couple on the evils of rock and roll, which had little sounds bites from a lot of different groups. They found out what the bands were and bought the albums, which molded their taste in rock and roll. I remember one of the bands they reported was Sex Pistols. Another was U2. I don’t think the Stones made the “evils of rock” seminary video.

  33. Mark IV says:

    My seminary teacher devoted several class periods to the subliminal messages that could be heard when you played The Beatles’ white album backwards.

    I went home and tried to get in on the sinning, but I couldn’t ever figure out how to make the turntable go in the other direction.

  34. hawkgrrrl says:

    Well, I certainly had a voracious appetite for pot after listening to Another One Bites the Dust.

  35. I couldn’t ever figure out how to make the turntable go in the other direction.

    Classic.

  36. Rush.

    That is all.

  37. Well, I wouldn’t say Rush is all, but it’s certainly an important part of the equation.

  38. regarding the GA and Mick Jagger on the plane story. I wonder if it was the case that Mick Jagger was pulling the GA’s leg? Maybe he saw the GA as being a sanctimonious, self-righteous person whose leg needed pulling? And the GA probably didnt get the joke.

  39. Ronin, I’ve wondered the same thing. Seems likely that Elder Cook could’ve missed Mick’s sarcasm.

  40. David Kilmer says:

    Norbert-

    I think I’m putting together that we’re second cousins. My father (Victor) was probably your grandfather’s brother. Thanks for your common sense comments. Being raised in the South, well, you get the picture. Drop me a line if you’d like…

    David

  41. Cynthia L. says:

    That would make you second cousins once removed. /nitpick :-)

  42. #41 – First cousins once removed. :)

  43. Cynthia L. says:

    If I am to be corrected by anyone, Ray, I would of course prefer it be someone I esteem as highly as you. :-) However, I think I got it right the first time. Notice he said “My father” is “your grandfather’s brother.” So the common ancestor is not father and grandfather of each party, but grandfather and great-grandfather.

  44. Maybe you are right, Cynthia.

    I was taught to link at the cousin level and then add “removed” as the relationship moves “down” from that level. First cousins share a common set of grandparents, so my cousin’s kids (as in this example) would be my first cousins once removed.

    I’m also very tired today, so if my brain is malfunctioning on this (or if I just learned it incorrectly) . . . Ardis, where art thou?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,413 other followers