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.