Explores the visionary, mystical, and ecstatic traditions that influenced the music of the 1960s
• Examines the visionary, spiritual, and mystical influences on the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, the Incredible String Band, the Left Banke, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, and others
• Shows how the British Invasion acted as the “detonator” to explode visionary music into the mainstream
• Explains how 1960s rock and roll music transformed consciousness on both the individual and collective levels
The 1960s were a time of huge transformation, sustained and amplified by the music of that era: Rock and Roll. During the 19th and 20th centuries visionary and esoteric spiritual traditions influenced first literature, then film. In the 1960s they entered the realm of popular music, catalyzing the ecstatic experiences that empowered a generation.
Exploring how 1960s rock and roll music became a school of visionary art, Christopher Hill shows how music raised consciousness on both the individual and collective levels to bring about a transformation of the planet. The author traces how rock and roll rose from the sacred music of the African Diaspora, harnessing its ecstatic power for evoking spiritual experiences through music. He shows how the British Invasion, beginning with the Beatles in the early 1960s, acted as the “detonator” to explode visionary music into the mainstream. He explains how 60s rock and roll made a direct appeal to the imaginations of young people, giving them a larger set of reference points around which to understand life. Exploring the sources 1960s musicians drew upon to evoke the initiatory experience, he reveals the influence of European folk traditions, medieval Troubadours, and a lost American history of ecstatic politics and shows how a revival of the ancient use of psychedelic substances was the strongest agent of change, causing the ecstatic, mythic, and sacred to enter the consciousness of a generation.
The author examines the mythic narratives that underscored the work of the Grateful Dead, the French symbolist poets who inspired Bob Dylan, the hallucinatory England of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, the tale of the Rolling Stones and the Lord of Misrule, Van Morrison’s astral journeys, and the dark mysticism of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. Evoking the visionary and apocalyptic atmosphere in which the music of the 1960s was received, the author helps each of us to better understand this transformative era and its mystical roots.
|Publisher:||Inner Traditions/Bear & Company|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Christopher Hill has written about rock and roll music in the pages of Spin, Record Magazine, International Musician, Chicago Magazine, Downbeat, Deep Roots Magazine, and other national and regional publications. His work has been anthologized in The Rolling Stone Record Review, and he is the author of Holidays and Holy Nights. Currently a contributing editor at Deep Roots Magazine, he lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
Read an Excerpt
An Experience of Power
The Unsuspected Immigrant and the Invisible Institution Musicologists have devoted a lot of energy to the question of where the name rock and roll comes from. A likely source is the ring shout. When the shout takes on its own momentum, they are rocking. “I gotta rock, you gotta rock” says the shout “Run Jeremiah Run.” When the spirit is really moving through the congregation, they are rocking the church.
But waithaven’t we always heard that to “rock and roll” means to have sex? Yep. So does it mean sex? Yes. Does it mean religious ecstasy? Yes. One of the gifts of the Black Church to spirituality in general is the insight that the sensual and the sacred are, in a mystery, the same thing. It is this that made the transit from church to jukebox not simply a case of parlaying sacred tradition into hits, as if the spiritual part of the music was a clearly marked zone that the performers could just step out of. In turning from gospel to soul the musician is not so much moving from sacred to secular, leaving his calling for the World, but shifting the emphasis from one part of the spiritual spectrum toward another.
The standard narrative about the origin of rock and roll as a music is that it came out of the encounter of country music and the blues. This isn’t exactly wrong but it almost willfully ignores the glaringly obvious affiliation with gospel music.
The blues are often regarded as the primordial source of black American music, indeed of modern American popular music in general. But the blues are not the primordial music of African America. The blues and gospel music started to gain popularity in roughly the same eraaround the turn of the twentieth centuryand, for that matter, were both heard as novelties at the time. In the long story of African-American music, the sacred precedes the secular. The roots of gospel are in the spirituals, which date to the earliest slave culture, generations before anyone sang anything that people called the blues. A truer picture is to see the blues and rock and roll as related offshoots of African-American sacred music.
As musical forms, the blues and rock and roll are very similar, but the performance of rock and rolland the audience participation inspired by itis modeled, consciously or unconsciously, on the liturgical practices of the gospel church. What most distinguishes rock and roll from the blues is what most links it to gospel musicthe pursuit of ecstatic release as the goal of the performance. The gospel belief that music and motion can effect a change in consciousnessas well as the conviction that the congregation/dancers are getting a purchase on freedom that might outlast the performancereappears more obviously in soul and rock and roll than it does in the blues.
In support of the gospel origins of rock and roll we can call on some of the great names to testify. Elvis Presley tells us in his 1968 “Comeback Special” that his rock and roll is essentially gospel. While young bohemians in London were hunting out Elmore James records in the early ’60s, up in Liverpool the Beatles were apparently not listening to the blues at all. Aside from early rock and roll, the stuff the Beatles seemed to like, based on the songs they covered, was black pop that had a church lineagesoul music and girl groups.
Gospel music is the elephant in the room when it comes to rock historiography. The blues is a medium of individual artists, outlaw heroes, easier for bohemians to admire and identify with than a faith community. For most rock critics, the juke joint is easier to negotiate (at least imaginatively) than the storefront church. And for many white intellectuals, there is a double barrier to empathy with gospel musicboth race and religion.
The blues could be detached from its cultural matrix and listened to as pure music more easily than gospel. The blues were a genre of entertainment. Gospel music underpinned a society and a way of life.
In any decent history of rock music you will of course find blues musicians discussed, but you’ll have to look harder for gospel singers. Gospel may be cited as an influence, but individual artists are almost never dealt with at length. There are some seventeen blues musicians represented in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There are two gospel actsMahalia Jackson and the Soul Stirrers.
The future historian of ecstasy will come to see that spiritual impulses are transmitted along unpredictable and paradoxical paths. By the late 1950s young white Americans were dancing en masse to music that was a product of centuries of African American spiritual practice. The lesson that what is trivial through one lens can be mighty through another will be another valuable discovery by our ecstatic historian.
The music began to teach these young people to expect an experience of the embodied spirit in their dancing and to look for a kind of truth and consequentiality in their music. They absorbed the gospel knowledge that liberation and ecstasy could come by way of popular music, and that it could leave an imprint on history as well as on the individual soul. That the music in this lineage could connect the divine and the mundane was a message that never left the music. It carried the code through every change and crisis. Sometimes the power was more potential than actual, but it was always there. The promise was not lost on the cohort of young people who would create the 1960s heyday of rock and roll.
Table of Contents
A School of Vision
1 An Experience of Power
The Unsuspected Immigrant and the Invisible Institution
2 The Isle Is Full of Noises
The Meaning of the British Invasion
3 The Western Rim
Los Angeles, San Francisco, and the California Apocalypse
4 The Chimes of Freedom
Bob Dylan, Folk-Rock, and Deep America
5 The Vision of the Beloved
Troubadours, Love Songs, and the Pretty Ballerina
6 Earthquake Country
The Grateful Dead, Acid, and the Mythic Life
7 Saving England
The Beatles and the World of Sgt. Pepper
8 My Name Is Called Disturbance
The Rolling Stones and the Lord of Misrule
9 The Sorrowful Mysteries
Van Morrison and Astral Weeks
10 The Proverbs of Hell
The Journey of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground
11 The Vision of Childhood
The Incredible String Band and British Psychedelia
12 An Experience of Power
Zenta New Year, 1968, the Grande Ballroom, Detroit