Rock Music

We have, in two previous articles, discussed the subject of rock music, chiefly the kind of music rock music is. We want to continue that discussion in this article. I have made the point before, and I want to emphasize it again, that I am not an expert in the whole field of music by any means; and it is possible, therefore, that I shall make statements in this article with which those who know and understand music far better than I disagree. In that event, I would welcome the advice and suggestions of those who have made a study of music and the corrections which these are able to make of my thoughts on this subject.

It seems clear to me, however, that, given the truth that music is a gift of God, music has a purpose, which only it can fill. It is a unique gift among many other gifts of God and serves a function in our lives which cannot be served by any other gift which we receive. In attempting to answer the question of what this purpose is, it seems to me that this must be defined as beingcommunication. Music is a vehicle of communication above all else. I am talking now about music as music; not with words added. It. is quite obvious, I think, that the lyrics of any song will quite naturally communicate ideas and thoughts. But of this I am not speaking. Even music without words must communicate if it is to have any meaning and significance. 

But having stated this, we have not yet said all that needs to be said about the purpose of music. After all, it is perfectly obvious that there are other means of communication than music. And the chief means of communication is through the spoken or the written word. Speaking or writing (whether the latter be in the form of an essay, a treatise, a poem, a novel, a short story, or whatever else) is also communication. And we have to ask the question of how music is an instrument of communication in distinction from the written or spoken word. 

It is in attempting to answer this question that one faces difficulties. The question is not really such an easy one to answer. 

It seems to me that just as soon as one has granted the point that music is communication, one has also said that music is, in its very nature, morally and ethically, good or bad. The whole idea of communication immediately involves the question of the truth or the lie; for communication has to do withideas. One communicates thoughts, knowledge, ideas, concepts, truths, lies. This is inescapable. And this immediately brings the whole subject of music within the area of the intellect. For the mind of man is that which proposes ideas, receives ideas, learns ideas, understands ideas, and accepts ideas. Music has got to have an intellectual aspect to it therefore. 

I do not think that I am able to draw the lines sharply here. I mean that I do not think that it is possible to say of any given piece of music that just this idea is expressed in this piece of music and not that idea. Listening to a piece of classical music for example, will not enable a person to say with absolute precision that such and such an idea is expressed or communicated through this masterpiece. Maybe this is partly due to the fact that sin has also made all music less than perfect. I do not know. But, while it is impossible to speak with absolute precision on this point, it seems to me that, in general, it is possible to say that some music conveys specific ideas in distinction from other music. And it seems to me that this is an essential point that we must not overlook. 

But partly the reason why we cannot speak here with precision is in the nature of music itself. If music did nothing more than communicate ideas, it would differ not at all from verbal communication—whether in the spoken or written word. The appeal of music is not to the intellect alone in distinction from man’s other powers and faculties. In addition to and in relation to this communication of ideas, music has this about it which is unique, that it communicates mood, or feelings, or emotions, or whatever you may want to call it. I do not want, at this point, to get involved in some kind of psychological discussion of what the emotions or the feelings are; and what is the relation between the emotions and the intellect, etc. I only insist at this point, that music is highly emotional and appeals, in a unique way, in a way that nothing else can, to the feelings and emotions of a person. This is not bad. God created a person so that he is able to feel. God created a person so that he is an emotional creature as well as a rational and moral creature. Joy and happiness, sorrow and grief, to mention but a few emotions, are legitimate. Man is not cold and indifferent and cannot be. He feels and he feels deeply about things. He is, indeed, a man just because he is this way. 

Yet man is also created in such a way that his emotional life is closely related to and must be guided by his intellect. Man is not, as some psychologists have said, a mere bundle of feelings. He is not moved to do what he does by feeling alone. He is not the kind of creature who only feels and does not think or will. And, in keeping with this, music must be of a kind which appeals to the intellect and emotions of a person so that the two are joined (in the appreciation of a good piece of music) in the proper way. It is somewhat difficult to say perhaps, just exactly what the relationship is. Sometimes, I think, the appeal of music is heavily intellectual and the emotional impact is via the intellect. Perhaps there is an analogy here in a genuine work of art. The longer one looks at a work of art, sees its details, understands the skill involved in producing it, grasps its harmony of color, perspective, and composition, the more deeply one is moved. But then again it seems to me possible that ideas are conveyed through music because the very nature of the music sets the proper mood for the reception of such ideas. At any rate, the communication is possible because music, good music, is profoundly moving. 

And it is here that music has moral and ethical content. There are good ideas and bad ideas, for there is the truth and there is the lie. There are good emotions and there, are bad emotions for there is lust in the world as well as godly joy. Music can communicate good ideas and. bad ideas; it can communicate good emotions and bad emotions—and the two stand connected. Music can rouse one to godly sorrow or joy in the Lord; it can also create a frivolous feeling, an I-don’t-care attitude, an obscene emotion. Music can soothe. It can also rouse to battle. Music can be written which is suitable to marches of armies to war and which kindles a martial spirit. It can also be funereal. By a combination of harmony, tempo, beat, key, tone and volume, it can convey many different ideas and many different feelings. 

Just as soon as we enter the area of feeling, however, we are entering the area of the physical as well as the mental or psychological. God created man one living soul. He cannot be chopped up into pieces. He is not a soul lodged within a body without any connection between the two. There is the closest possible relation between what goes on in the soul of man and what happens to his body. We may not always understand this relation very clearly; but that this is present, no one will deny. When we are angry, the effects of anger are present in the whole body. To mention but a few: our hearts begin to beat more rapidly, adrenalin is released into our blood stream, and our breathing changes from slow to rapid. Every emotion has some physical effect. Thus music, in its very nature, has physical influences on those who listen. We may not always be conscious even of what influences there are; but they are there. Everyone must have found himself unconsciously tapping his feet to the beat of a piece of music even though he was listening only slightly. I recall, for example, the time I was preaching in one of our congregations which was meeting at the time in a store. People were living upstairs and one of the members of the family was playing a trombone. I recall vividly how I was stunned momentarily when I discovered that I was pounding my hand on the pulpit in perfect time to the strains of music coming from above; and I noticed that several in the audience were also keeping time with their feet to the music.

It is here that I find the basic evil of rock music. Rock music is not alone in this respect; there are other types of music which are very similar. But there is this emphasis in rock. I refer to the fact that the essence of rock music is its beat. And the influence of rock, the appeal of rock, is to the physical and emotional almost exclusively. Almost everyone who has, in these recent days discussed the question of rock music is agreed on this. Its appeal is purely emotional and purely physical. This is why rock music is at its best played at high levels of noise. The very loudness of the music must itself have physical impact on people who listen. The driving beat must influence a person in physical ways and thus, in emotional ways. Its appeal is to the emotions via the physical. This is why those who listen to rock and give themselves completely over to it speak of the music giving them a “high” in much the same way that drugs give people “highs.” There are those, in fact, who speak of a “rock trip” in the same way as a “drug trip.” 

This is terribly evil. For an appeal to the emotions via the physical, has to be, in the nature of the case, sinful. It is an appeal to the base emotions. It is an appeal to purely sexual emotions, to purely physical anger, to purely emotional rebellion. 

I am aware of the fact that there are many different types of rock music. There are such types as pop rock, folk rock, country rock, and, no doubt, other kinds. And there is what goes under the name of hard rock, or acid rock. It is the latter which is the purest form of rock and which one finds so often associated with drug trips, rock festivals where young people give themselves over to drugs and fornication. And, while, some argument may perhaps be made for the idea that not all rock is as bad as hard rock, the fact of the matter is that all rock music has this in common, that it appeals to the emotions alone via the physical. And to the extent that it does this, it is wrong. 

I have before me a couple of quotes in this connection which are taken from a book entitled “Rhythm, Riots and Revolution” by David A. Noebel. On page 16 he quotes from a psychiatrist these words:

Music is a curiously subtle art with innumerable, varying emotional connotations. It is made up of many ingredients and, according to the proportions of these components, it can be soothing or invigorating, ennobling or vulgarizing, philosophical or orgiastic. It has powers for evil as well as for good.

In a footnote on pp. 54 & 55 a book is quoted which tells of experiments which were made to determine the relation between music and the muscular activity of the body.

Using musical selections as the stimulus, T—observed that (1) music exercises a powerful influence on muscular activity, which increases or diminishes according to the character of the melodies employed; (2) when music is sad or of a slow rhythm, and in the minor key, the capacity for muscular work decreases to the point of ceasing entirely if the muscle has been fatigued from previous work. The general conclusion is that sounds are dynamogenic or that muscular energy increases with the intensity and pitch of the sound stimuli. Isolated tones, scales, motifs, and simple tonal sequences have all been found to have an energizing effect upon the muscles.

Quoting again from another author on p. 115, the book says:

This type of music, it appears, is just as dangerous and perhaps more insidious a weapon in the battle between Light and Darkness for the minds, bodies and souls of our young people, as are the salacious movies and pornographic literature on which the Parent-Teacher Associations, the clergy and other groups are waging an all-out attack. . . . 

Great musicians see the music as degenerative.

This same book claims, and a correspondent has confirmed this, that rock music really has its origin in the tribal music of Africa. As such it is music which has become, in that country, a vehicle to express the superstition, pagan idolatry, and gross immorality which characterizes these countries. It is imported to other countries as a proper and highly effective vehicle to convey the same superstitions, emotions, and idolatries as are present in Africa. 

It is for these reasons that rock music has become an acceptable and highly effective means of communication among the youth culture of our day. This, of course, brings us into the other aspect of rock music: the words. 

There are, it seems to me, at least three qualifications of good music. The first is that it must contain music which glorifies God; i.e., music which is an appropriate vehicle for communicating God’s truth. The second is that the words or lyrics are not only from a formal point of view good poetry, but that they contain- also the truth concerning God as He has revealed Himself in His Word. And the third is that the music and the words fit each other. The music must be the kind that conveys the same ideas as the song. One does not and cannot sing joyous anthems in a minor key. One does not sing the songs of a prayer to a tune which is a war march. Apart from some of the music found in our own Psalter, it is true that in several striking instances, the music does not fit the words of the song at all. This makes for bad music. 

With respect to our discussion of rock music, it is my contention that the music itself is a precise instrument to convey a particular type of song. And that type of song is the song which speaks of drugs, sex, rebellion, revolt, revolution, disregard for authority; in short, all the themes of the hippie culture. 

This is not my contention alone however; it is the contention of other writers as well. In his book “Music, Does It Make Any Difference?” Bob Parks writes.

I have found in listening to the songs that are considered “pop hits” that most of them fall into one of about five categories in word content. There are the songs whose words are quite acceptable morally, as I have already mentioned. These are in the minority. Most of the others fall into the last five categories: 1) Words with obvious immoral suggestions, 2) Words with hidden or double meanings, 3) Words that refer to drugs, 4) Words that suggest an anti-establishment attitude and 5) Words that refer to religion. p. 45 

Which do you hear most about in your run-of-the-mill rock song? Songwriters today aren’t writing what Christians feel. I’m speaking of those who are writing rock, pop, and the like. These fellows, many of them members of rock combos, are writing the thoughts of their own unregenerate minds. p. 46. 

Some songs very bluntly exalt sin; there are others that disguise it. The use of double meanings and innuendos is nothing new either. There have always been little words and phrases that can be taken two ways. Real clever, that technique. Then if you get caught saying what you shouldn’t be saying you can always reply that you had never thought of taking it in any other way. This style of writing in modern pop rock music is becoming more and more popular. As new words and phrases are invented and passed around, the more fun it is to fool people who aren’t aware what they’re singing. Perhaps I should refer to the lyrics that talk about drugs at this point. There has been a wave of “drug numbers” that has hit the market over the past five years that has put its message not in bold print but between the lines. Not only have the implications been sexual in double-meaning phrases, but they have promoted the philosophy, “tune in, turn on, drop out” that we’ve heard so much about. Using terms that are “code names” for drugs, pushers, prostitutes, pimps, and hundreds of other words, these song-writers, many of them “hopheads” themselves, have tucked messages away having to do with drugs, sex, and revolution that have been received by many impressionable young minds. p. 48. 

Not less than three days previous to this writing, I read two newspaper articles about “drug messages” in rock music. The first was a report of a speech given by one of the highest ranking officials in our country who accused many rock songs most of adult America regards as harmless as latent drug culture propaganda that is brainwashing American youth. He attacked “creeping permissiveness” in American society and urged the nation to “move hard and fast” to combat the problem. He called the message of many popular songs “blatant drug culture propaganda,” and cited several “catchy tunes” that carried innuendos with reference to drugs. p. 49.

The author also speaks of a group of rock songs which are “religious” in content. This is another aspect of the problem. But we shall wait with discussing this till next time, D.V.