Evangelicals and the Devil’s Music

The Devil’s Music: How Christians Inspired, Condemned, and Embraced Rock ‘n’ Roll by Randall Stephens is a must-read for those who dig the connection between faith and pop culture.

“Much of what animates evangelical churches in the twenty-first century,” maintains Randall Stephens, “comes directly from the unlikely fusion of pentecostal religion, conservative politics, and rock and pop music.”

“The only thing that would make this book better is if it actually played the music,” writes Professor John Turner in a book review. “Stephens makes the history of American evangelicalism fun again. But you really can’t go wrong in a book centered around Elvis, Jerry Lewis, Little Richard, and Larry Norman. There are heroes and anti-heroes, troubled souls and those troubled by those troubled souls.”

“The Devil’s Music is full of spot-on observations about its subject matter,” Turner writes. “While Stephens is not the first to notice the pentecostal origins of rock ‘n’ roll, he devotes sustained attention to the importance of Pentecostalism in this story.”

“The sensuality and driving rhythm of rock ‘n’ roll owed much to outsider pentecostal church worship,” Stephens explains. Pentecostal “churches tended to welcome revved-up music and instrumental innovations,” he adds.

“Rock musicians and Penetcostals were both known for the babel of unintelligible sounds, though the enlightened could understand everything perfectly clearly,” Turner writes. “Jerry Lee Lewis (and his cousin, Jimmy Swaggart), Elvis, Johnny Cash, James Brown, and Little Richard all had Pentecostal roots, some deeper than others.” To read Turner’s complete article, click HERE.

Eric C. Miller does a worthwhile interview with Stephens, particularly when asking about why Christians were so quick to demonize—and racialize—rock?

“Well, they demonized it, in many cases, because of what they saw as a sort of sinful appropriation,” Stephens responded. “Black and white Christians accused Ray Charles of blasphemy because of how he was secularizing sacred music. Blues legend Big Bill Broonzy certainly believed Charles had gone too far. A former pastor in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Broonzy claimed that Charles had ‘got the blues,’ but ‘he’s cryin’ sanctified. He’s mixing the blues with the spirituals.’ Or, as the critic Hollie West said about Aretha Franklin, whereas she ‘once said Jesus, she now cries baby. She hums and moans with the transfixed ecstasy of a church sister who’s experiencing the Holy Ghost.'”

Stephens went on to say, “There were some white Pentecostals who thought that rock and rollers were thieving from church music. One of these, the Pentecostal youth pastor and author of the Cross and the Switchblade, David Wilkerson, called it ‘Satan’s Pentecost’ and portrayed rock ‘n’ roll concerts as a kind of inverted Pentecostal worship, with demonic speaking in tongues. A lot of this was in the vivid imagination of believers, of course, but it shows that, for many of these observers, there was a thin but important line that was being crossed. In the 1950s, white and black conservative Christians worried that even their church music was becoming too “worldly” or too vulgar.”

Regarding race, Stephens looked at the “white Southern Baptist Convention, Southern Presbyterians, and Southern Pentecostals, and found that their reaction to rock was almost uniformly negative and very often racialized. They attacked rock as ‘jungle music,’ ‘congo rhythms,’ and ‘savagery.'”

“In some cases this is ironic,” Stephens points out, “because these are some of the very things that Pentecostals were criticized for themselves—for race mixing and having “debased” music in their services, whether that be Hillbilly, boogie-woogie, or some kind of hybrid black and white styles. So there were all of these interesting, and specific, interconnections that I thought deserved more attention.”

Read full interview HERE.

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Anyone who picks a fight over tiki drinks is missing the point

From left: The Saturn, Port Light and Stolen Mercedes cocktails; (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post; food styling by Kara Elder/The Washington Post)

By M. Carrie Allen, Washington Post

From their origin in California in the 1930s, first with Don the Beachcomber, then Trader Vic’s and countless imitators since, tiki bars have long been a kind of tropical fantasia, a rum-soaked refuge from postwar anxieties and the daily grind. But they clearly provide no refuge from the age of trolls. …Within every subculture — be it Star Wars buffs, vinyl aficionados or lovers of Siamese cats — there is a sub-subculture so obsessed with arguing about the subject that they’re willing to risk ruining enjoyment in the name of dogma.
Tiki drinks, says Martin Cate, owner of San Francisco bar Smuggler’s Cove and author of a James Beard Award-winning book on rum and tiki, are meant to delight, not challenge. They’re “not there to pick a fight.”
But moreover, tiki culture — the 20th-century American style, not the Polynesian mythology it’s loosely drawn from — is by nature a pastiche, borrowed from other cultures in ways that are sometimes informed and respectful, sometimes problematic. Some argue that certain elements of tiki iconography exploit genuine elements of Polynesian and other “exotic” cultures, turning them into escapist kitsch. These days, one can slurp from a bowl bedecked with scantily clad island girls or vaguely “African” idols for only so long before sensing, beneath the pulse of rum, that these things should make you go “Hmmm” — and give you pause before launching attacks based on tiki “authenticity.”
A fan of real tiki should know the history and be clear about what’s classic and what’s new. But tiki has long taken charming strangers into its embrace, and modern tiki can afford to open its doors — to welcome new and charming guests, and throw some older aesthetic baggage (and some trolls) out in the street.

To read her entire column, click HERE.


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RIP Anthony Bourdain

Nothing like waking up to heartbreak on a Friday morning. Brewing the coffee and rubbing my eyes as they announce that Anthony Bourdain has taken his own life in Paris. Crushing. Bourdain was the greatest punk rockish storyteller on television — his prose was dagger sharp, his disposition was brooding and snarky, and yet he took great joy in exploring the world through sharing a savory meal with smart and interesting people. Television anchors are a dime a dozen. Blah! But, Bourdain was part Keith Richards, part James Beard, part Hunter S. Thompson. He had a unique gift of transporting us to locations around the globe where he was really the only suitable tour guide. May he find rest for his troubled soul.

Bourdain: “Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”

RIP Anthony Bourdain

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On Eating Alone in Paris

Rue Montorgueil, a pedestrian thoroughfare lined with specialty food shops, gives the solo traveler an opportunity to pick up picnic provisions, or a sweet treat. CreditJoann Pai for The New York Times

By Stephanie Rosenbloom, New York Times

France has its share of fast-food chains. Still, the French have historically spent more time eating than the people of other nations — more than two hours a day, according to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. As the writer Alice B. Toklas wrote, the French bring to the table “the same appreciation, respect, intelligence and lively interest that they have for the other arts, for painting, for literature and for the theatre.”

Eating alone, however, in Paris and beyond, has soured plenty of appetites. Nathaniel Hawthorne cherished his solitude (“It is so sweet to be alone,” he wrote to his wife in 1844), but not at mealtime. “I am ashamed to eat alone,” he noted in his diary. “It becomes the mere gratification of animal appetite … these solitary meals are the dismallest part of my present experience.”

Solo dining even prompted the Pope to look for company. Vatican tradition had called for the pontiff to eat by himself. But in 1959, during Pope John XXIII’s first year as the spiritual ruler, the Daily Boston Globe published the headline: “He Shatters Tradition, Refuses to Dine Alone.” “I tried it for one week, and I was not comfortable,” the pontiff explained. “Then I searched through sacred scripture for something saying I had to eat alone. I found nothing, so I gave it up, and it’s much better now.”

To read the entire article, click HERE


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Clarence Fountain, Leader And Founding Member Of Blind Boys Of Alabama, Dies At 88

Clarence Fountain, founding member and longtime leader of The Blind Boys of Alabama. The singer died June 3, 2018 in Baton Rouge, La. (Photo by J. Shearer/WireImage)

By Andrew Flanagan, NPR

Blind Boys of Alabama, originally called the Happyland Jubilee Singers when the group was founded in 1944, played a large role in shepherding gospel music into mainstream popularity. Largely due to Fountain’s holy dedication, the band forever resisted calls to transition into the more commercial genres it helped birth: R&B and rock and roll. “There was no way we were going to go pop or rock,” Fountain is quoted in a press release confirming his death. “Who needed it? Our bellies were full, we had no headaches, we were happy. At least I was happy, singing real gospel.”

To read entire NPR article, click HERE

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Huelo Lookout, Road to Hana, Maui

Huelo Lookout. Steve Beard.

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Haleakalā National Park, Road to Hana, Maui

Haleakalā National Park. Steve Beard

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The Father of Gospel Music Wanted to Be a Secular Star

By Kathryn Kemp

Thomas Dorsey was 33 years old and had a flourishing career in secular music. In the previous 15 years, the Georgia native had moved to Chicago, completed his musical studies while picking up an endless number of side jobs, and eventually found a way to support himself and his expectant wife as a full-time musician. But it wasn’t to last. In the next months, Dorsey would lose his spouse and newborn son, a tragedy which spurred him to heed the advice of those closest to him. He would leave the secular music scene behind and fully dedicate his musical gifts to the church.

Over the next 60 years, Dorsey became known as the “Father of Gospel Music,” penning hundreds of songs and redefining the genre in beat, rhythm, and tempo. As The Voice reported, the Chicago musician dubbed his work “songs with a message.”
A prolific songwriter throughout his 93 years of life—Dorsey died in 1993—he nevertheless kept a soft spot for the hymn that catapulted his gospel career, calling it “the greatest song I have written out of near four hundred gospel songs.”

“The price exacted for ‘Precious Lord’ was very high,” he said at the age of 70, alluding to the loss of his first wife and son. “The grief, the sorrow, the loneliness, the loss, the uncertainty of the future, but I was requited or repaid with double dividends and compound interest.”

Read entire article HERE

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U2’s Songs of Experience: A Liturgy for Existentialists

By Tim Neufeld, @U2

It’s been a long time since a U2 album has had this kind of staying power in my soul. Songs Of Experience taps something primal in me. While I appreciate it as a great collection of singable, feel-good lyrics and tunes, it’s the depth of the album as a concept project, and the collective synergy of its songs about fear, doubt, insecurity, death, life and love, that entices me.

Existentialists ask the kind of big questions about our existence that are addressed on U2’s latest. Questions such as, “Why am I here?” “What is the meaning of life?” and “What is my place in the universe?” The architects of existentialism, including Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Sartre and Nietzsche, were dissatisfied with rationalism and reacted against a “science will save us” attitude that dominated the Age of Enlightenment. Rationalists ask, “How does this work?” In contrast, existentialists ask, “Why do we exist?”

Bono has quoted Nietzsche numerous times over the years. On the Vertigo tour we heard a paraphrase of the philosopher’s famous aphorism, “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.” Nietzsche also said, “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering,” and “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

Victor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor who suffered in Auschwitz and Dachau, wrote his famous book, Man’s Search For Meaning, after he was rescued. He concluded that people are capable of finding meaning even in the most horrendous conditions of death, despair and darkness. He wrote, “What is to give light must endure burning.” Existentialists argue that meaning can only be found by authentically experiencing life itself, especially in the darkest of hours.

Songs Of Experience could have easily been titled Songs Of Existence. The search for purpose is seen throughout. Undoubtedly, Bono’s “brush with mortality” colored his own experience. In the liner notes for SOE, he says it left him “clinging on to my own life like a raft.” He continues, “…it would feel dishonest not to admit the turbulence I was feeling at the time of writing.” This kind of here-and-now honesty about mortality is paramount for existentialists.

The flow of U2’s latest album is rhythmic chaos, like a liturgy exploring existence, moving through experiences of doubt, anger, confession and ultimately resolving in hope. Here’s a look at SOE through the lens of existentialism.

Read Dr. Neufeld’s entire analysis HERE.

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Robert Williams Lives the Dream as Big Sandy

Photo by John Gilhooley

By Taylor Hamby, OC Weekly

“I never imagined in a million years where the music would take me to or the places it did,” confides Robert Williams, dressed to the nines in a crisp, black, 1950s suit with a subtly rainbow-flecked vintage shirt he picked up from Elsewhere Vintage in the Orange Circle. His hair is neatly combed and slicked-back, and the sharp lines of his attire and hairdo contrast with his soft face and gentle smile. “But man, what a ride.”

We’re tucked into the far-right corner booth of the Fling, the legendary old-school lounge, not unlike how the dive bar itself is tucked into the far corner of a blue-collar strip mall in a working-class neighborhood of Santa Ana. A few shots of Patron tequila in, and Williams is getting sentimental. He can’t help it—he was practically born nostalgic. And he’s a romantic at heart. As much as hopeless romantics are compelled to put on a good show, it always comes back to matters of the heart in the end.

“The band has been my romance,” Williams confides. “And it’s cost me a few romances, too.”

Read Taylor Hamby’s complete article, HERE

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