This last Sunday night I did a religion-themed show. No, I didn't try to save souls, but I did try to point out some music themes that come from religion and also to explore why people go to religion. I don't know if I did such a great job of exploring the topic, though. I mean, hell, there's a lot that could be said. The one thing I'm convinced of is that so much of religious history involves some really cool metaphors and images (isn't religion made up largely of metaphors?). So of course great rock would find a way to incorporate some of that--if something works great for creating connections and understanding, why try and reinvent the wheel, right? I guess the difference might be in what we are trying to connect to. If the intention is to connect to something transcendent, then both religion and rock are ripe with language and sensory input to light up the connection. If the intention is to bind us to other people, then both do that, too.
I think the challenge has grown up around religion creating so much order and having so many rules for living. Some rules might be really necessary (you know, don't kill folks or don't steal stuff). But maybe religion (all of them to some extent) end up looking sanctimonious or self-righteous when they telling everybody what's wrong with them, where they will spend eternity, or how they can get in good with God. I mean, does anybody really own the market on goodness? Does religion absolutely make us better people? I don't think so. In fact, that self-righteousness can get right in the way of some neat teachings and insights about life. The knock against so many of the religious folks is that they want everybody to look and act just like them and that they want to "clean up" how the world looks.
Rock music, on the other hand, tends to value wide-open expression, no matter how messy it is. Of course, rock has at times been just as sanctimonious about our beliefs as the most self-righteous fundamentalists. Witness the classic rock folks who refuse to admit that Pearl Jam, Nirvana, AIC, or Soundgarden are classic. Witness the grunge folks who got mad at those same bands accusing them of selling out early (when I think it's pretty damned awesome how they all had to reimagine themselves (even Nirvana made dramatic shifts between Bleach and In Utero). Witness the layers of conflict about what constitutes quality metal music--do we get to call Redlight King metal? Even I have my purist moments: I struggle to understand some of the music that we call alternative because it just sounds like auto-tuned, quantized, pop music.
So I guess my point is that maybe it's good to have some standards from time to time. I don't want to connect to a machine that has a preset response to emotion. The reason that great music is great is because it connects us to real human emotion. That doesn't mean that neat sounds aren't neat or that computers are bad for music, but I prefer the closest connection to the emotion that generated the song in the first place. It's those raw emotions that make rock music as useful for connecting to something transcendent, outside of ourselves as any religious doctrine or teaching (this of course, opens up a question about what constitutes a religious teaching--is "love your neighbor as yourself" a religious teaching? Maybe since it's in the Bible somebody will say it is, but why do we have to be limited? One reason I love rock is that it asks questions that real and messy and true, even though religious folks aren't always allowed to ask them out loud.