The Ministry of Rock
Philosophy and Spirituality in Rock and Pop Music

CAN MUSIC SAVE YOUR MORTAL SOUL?

American Pie

 

 

 

 

[or] CAN (ROCK) MUSIC SAVE YOUR MORTAL SOUL?

(Don McLean”American Pie”; Lou Reed, “Rock and Roll”; Elvis Costello “Radio Radio” — see lyrics below)

 

 

        I got into rock music at age 11, the year I started going through puberty.  Before that I basically listened to everything except rock, though I had heard and enjoyed the Pop Rock that was on the Pop stations.  How did I get into it? One of the things that got me into listening to rock was peer pressure: One afternoon a kid on the school bus asked me sneeringly what kind of music I listened to (as if he knew what it would be, I was so homely looking). When I told him innocently that I liked the Little River Band (“Night Owl” was out at that time), he and his buddies had a good, sneering laugh at my expense.  I had also heard kids talking about Rock music and I was curious and wanted to be cool like them, so one day when I got home from school I decided to tune in to one of the Philly rock stations, WMMR or WYSP, the two main ones at the time. 

 

   At first and for some time after, many of the sounds I heard coming out of my little Sharp radio were jarring and cacophonous to my ears.  It was not very appealing to me, but I kept listening.  It wasn’t long before I had acquired a certain taste for these new sounds and was inspired to pick up an old acoustic with only like four strings that my grandmother had around the house (first song I learned? “I’m Free” from the Who’s Tommy).  I started to become very conversant with the different groups and artists, partly by tuning in while doing homework, partly by reading magazines like “Cream” and anything else I could find.  I was definitely getting hooked.  What had just a short while earlier seemed strange and not a little bit taboo was now feeling a lot more homey.  I had taken a proverbial walk on the wild side, only to find out that once I checked in (to Hotel Kalifornikation?) and checked it out, I could never again check out.  It wasn’t long before I too began to take on that “Pop music sucks” attitude that the kids on the bus had, and of course there was that certain drive to be “cool,” but there was also a genuine fascination with rock music and the artists who made the music — to the point of reverence, of course.  Rock stars were my heroes, replacing my parents.

 

      Now, would I have said, as Lou Reed has “Jenny” say that “her [my] life was saved by rock and roll”?  I recall hearing Reed’s song at that time and feeling that it was true for me to some extent.  Not that I fully understood the song at that time (and wonder how Jenny would have at “just five years old”), but yes, it resonated with me at some level.   A little later in my teenage years, Reed’s words “two t.v. sets two cadillac cars/ ahhh, hey, ain’t help me nothin’ at all/not at all,” would definitely ring true.  If I had been given a choice between any other mortal, material pleasure and music, I would have chosen music hands down.  I still feel this way.  Music has been my way of connecting with Spirit, with the Divine (the non-material world), though I would not have put it that way until my mid-twenties.  I was just obsessed with it, it was a nearly all-consuming passion.  

 

      I guess I loved it so much that one summer, after attending music camp for guitar and trumpet, I suddenly decided to put my beautiful black Gibson Les Paul Custom, that for two years I had loved and cherished and played for hours a day, in the closet — for good.  Why?  Many reasons, but it all boils down to: I had to kill it, because I loved it too much.  Too much to not be better at it than I was, too much to not be able to give it more time, too much, basically, to let it and myself down.  Now, for my age, I was pretty good, I was precocious.  I could definitely jam, particularly with 12-bar blues.  For three years I had been emulating all the great guitar gods of the previous generation — Hendrix, Clapton, Beck, Page, Townshend, etc., and with a pretty good ear, I was able to pick up a lot just on my own.   And after my first year of just noodling with it, I started taking lessons with a guy at Medley Music, and then in the summer that I put the guitar in the closet, with a teacher at a music camp my twin brother and I had attended. 

 

          And suddenly it was all over.  

 

       The guitar went in the closet.  I didn’t play it again for 4 years — until the second semester of my first year in college.  During those four years, I was borderline psychotic, just going through a lot of shit.  I went through periods when I would spurn all things of the flesh, and music perhaps most of all, because I saw it as a sign of weakness.  It wasn’t an intellectual thing, because I was more feeling than thinking at that point.  It was visceral.  There were times when I just hated music, and I hated any weakness in myself, or in others.  Or put another way: The weakness I hated in others was the weakness I hated in myself.  There was a deep part of me that was longing to transcend the world.  I was like the teenage kid in Little Miss Sunshine, only I wasn’t nearly as coherent as that kid is in the movie.  I wasn’t into Nietzsche at that point, though I was a budding philosopher.  There was just so much going on, it would take a coming-of-age tale and then some to do it justice, so I’m not going to try, but just say I was going through some very heavy stuff there.

 

        There was a part of me, also, a deeper part of me, that loved music so very very much that I wanted to live without it for some time, just so that I could come to it again for the first time with fresh eyes and ears.  People who fast for some time and then break the fast have this experience with food, as does anyone who does any kind of self-denial or ascetic practice.  It’s a seeing something as if for the first time, like the now proverbial “stranger in a strange land.”   I had realized early on that too much of any material pleasure, music included, kills the music, deadens the spirit.  Or rather, it can.  For me it did.  And returning to music and the guitar — fully embracing them again when I was 19 — was in so many ways worth the wait.  

 

        I’m not finished, of course, but that’s already a long-winded way of saying that yes, music, and rock music in particular, did save this mortal soul, as they have that of many a fragile youth (I read Don Mclean’s question in “American Pie” was rhetorical).  Which is really why I’m writing all of this.  I’m an adult now, nearly 40 years of age in earth years, but I really feel the desire to give back and pay homage to the music that in many ways helped me to heal, and also led me to inquire and to research certain things that, if I hadn’t looked into them, I would be still lost in illusion and searching in a lot of ways.  And I hope that these words reach you, whoever you are, you who feel confused, lost, struggling to discover who you are and your place in this vast universe, and I say this without any guile.  I know from personal experience how hard it is when you’re growing up, and especially if you are sensitive and don’t feel like you completely fit in. 

 

         [Note: The night after I was working on this little piece, I watched the clip of Elvis Costello singing "Radio" on Saturday Night Live.  It's an interesting thing he does: He starts singing another song, and then tells his band to stop and says, "There's no reason why we need to sing this song on this show."  Then he lauches into "Radio Radio," which is a jab at the music biz.  I've noted that many rock musicians have tended to eschew radio (listen to REM's "Radio Song," Tom Petty's "The Last DJ" etc.), but then you have songs like Lou Reed's which kind of glorify it - or at least glorify the music for which it is the messenger/medium.  I have mixed feelings about radio, too, but there are so many choices these days, it hardly seems to matter anymore.  In general, though, I would just affirm that some of the best music is not played on the mainstream stations.]

 

 

 

 

 American Pie (Don Mclean)

A long, long time ago…I can still rememberHow that music used to make me smile.And I knew if I had my chanceThat I could make those people danceAnd, maybe, they’d be happy for a while.But february made me shiverWith every paper I’d deliver.Bad news on the doorstep;I couldn’t take one more step.I can’t remember if I criedWhen I read about his widowed bride,But something touched me deep insideThe day the music died.So bye-bye, miss american pie.Drove my chevy to the levee,But the levee was dry.And them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and ryeSingin’, “this’ll be the day that I die.”this’ll be the day that I die.”Did you write the book of love,And do you have faith in God above,If the Bible tells you so? Do you believe in rock ’n roll,Can music save your mortal soul,And can you teach me how to dance real slow? Well, I know that you’re in love with him`cause I saw you dancin’ in the gym.You both kicked off your shoes.Man, I dig those rhythm and blues.I was a lonely teenage broncin’ buckWith a pink carnation and a pickup truck,But I knew I was out of luckThe day the music died.I started singin’,”bye-bye, miss american pie.”Drove my chevy to the levee,But the levee was dry.Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and ryeAnd singin’, “this’ll be the day that I die.”this’ll be the day that I die.”Now for ten years we’ve been on our ownAnd moss grows fat on a rollin’ stone,But that’s not how it used to be.When the jester sang for the king and queen,In a coat he borrowed from james deanAnd a voice that came from you and me,Oh, and while the king was looking down,The jester stole his thorny crown.The courtroom was adjourned;No verdict was returned.And while lennon read a book of marx,The quartet practiced in the park,And we sang dirges in the darkThe day the music died.We were singing,”bye-bye, miss american pie.”Drove my chevy to the levee,But the levee was dry.Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and ryeAnd singin’, “this’ll be the day that I die.”this’ll be the day that I die.”Helter skelter in a summer swelter.The birds flew off with a fallout shelter,Eight miles high and falling fast.It landed foul on the grass.The players tried for a forward pass,With the jester on the sidelines in a cast.Now the half-time air was sweet perfumeWhile the sergeants played a marching tune.We all got up to dance,Oh, but we never got the chance!`cause the players tried to take the field;The marching band refused to yield.Do you recall what was revealedThe day the music died? We started singing,”bye-bye, miss american pie.”Drove my chevy to the levee,But the levee was dry.Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and ryeAnd singin’, “this’ll be the day that I die.”this’ll be the day that I die.”Oh, and there we were all in one place,A generation lost in spaceWith no time left to start again.So come on: jack be nimble, jack be quick!Jack flash sat on a candlestickCause fire is the devil’s only friend.Oh, and as I watched him on the stageMy hands were clenched in fists of rage.No angel born in hellCould break that satan’s spell.And as the flames climbed high into the nightTo light the sacrificial rite,I saw satan laughing with delightThe day the music diedHe was singing,”bye-bye, miss american pie.”Drove my chevy to the levee,But the levee was dry.Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and ryeAnd singin’, “this’ll be the day that I die.”this’ll be the day that I die.”I met a girl who sang the bluesAnd I asked her for some happy news,But she just smiled and turned away.I went down to the sacred storeWhere I’d heard the music years before,But the man there said the music wouldn’t play.And in the streets: the children screamed,The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed.But not a word was spoken;The church bells all were broken.And the three men I admire most:The father, son, and the holy ghost,They caught the last train for the coastThe day the music died.And they were singing,”bye-bye, miss american pie.”Drove my chevy to the levee,But the levee was dry.And them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and ryeSingin’, “this’ll be the day that I die.”this’ll be the day that I die.”They were singing,”bye-bye, miss american pie.”Drove my chevy to the levee,But the levee was dry.Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and ryeSingin’, “this’ll be the day that I die.”  

Jenny said, when she was just five years old
You know theres nothin happening at all
Every time she put on the radio
There was nothin goin down at all
Not at all

One fine mornin, she puts on a new york station
And she couldnt believe what she heard at all
She started dancin to that fine-fine-fine-fine music
Ooohhh, her life was saved by rock n roll
Hey baby, rock n roll

Despite all the amputation
You could dance to a rock n roll station
And it was all right
It was all right
Hey babe

Jenny said, when she was just five years old
You know theres nothin happening at all
Two tv sets, two cadillac cars
Ahhh, hey, aint help me nothin at all
Not at all

One fine morning, she heard on a new york station
She couldnt believe what she heard at all
Not at all

Despite the amputation
You could dance to a rock n roll station
It was all right
It was all right
Oh, now here she comes now-now

Jenny said, when she was just five years old
You know theres nothin happening at all
Yeah, every time she put on the radio
There was nothin goin down at all
Not at all

Then one fine morning, she put on a new york station
And she couldnt believe what she heard at all
She started dancing to that fine-fine music
Ahh, her life was saved by rock n roll
Rock n roll

Despite all the amputation
You could dance to the rock n roll station

Its all right, all right
All right, all right
All right, its all right
All right, all right
Baby, baby
Baby, baby, ooohhh

                                  Radio, Radio (Elvis Costello) 


I was tuning in the shine on the light night dial
Doing anything my radio advised
With every one of those late night stations
Playing songs bringing tears to me eyes
I was seriously thinking about hiding the receiver
When the switch broke cause its old
Theyre saying things that I can hardly believe.
They really think were getting out of control.

Radio is a sound salvation
Radio is cleaning up the nation
They say you better listen to the voice of reason
But they dont give you any choice
cause they think that its treason.
So you had better do as you are told.
You better listen to the radio.

I wanna bite the hand that feeds me.
I wanna bite that hand so badly.
I want to make them wish theyd never seen me.

Some of my friends sit around every evening
And they worry about the times ahead
But everybody else is overwhelmed by indifference
And the promise of an early death
You either shut up or get cut up;
They dont wanna hear about it.
Its only inches on the reel-to-reel.
And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools
Tryin to anaesthetise the way that you feel

[chorus]

Wonderful radio
Marvelous radio
Wonderful radio
Radio, radio…

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4 Responses to “CAN MUSIC SAVE YOUR MORTAL SOUL?”

  1. I dont know if music can save you mortal soul but I does put me in my happy place after a busy day at work.When Im stressed out and play a CD I love it soothes me.
    When Im taking my walks it motivates me to keep moving.When I make someone a mix and they hear a song they love and it puts a smile on their face I know Ive done something good through thats right folks..music!
    Ive had friends come and go but the music has always been there.
    Music is my motivator, my counselor and most of all my nearest and dearest friend!

  2. Unfortunately nothing can save your mortal soul except you. The Tiny Unskinny Big Bopper was killed in a plane crash in 1959 and the music never died, there is still “nothing like a big eyed girl”……..

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  4. Akkuschrauber Makita…

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