By: Christopher West
John Paul II warned that if chastity is lived in a repressive way, it’s only a matter of time before sexual desires explode (see Love and Responsibility, pp. 170-171). I think we find here a key for understanding the sexual revolution of the twentieth century. It was a ticking time bomb waiting to detonate in response to the prudery and repressiveness of the previous era. If a culture’s music provides a window into the soul of that culture, I think the rise of rock music in the 1950’s is very telling.
The Roots of Rock N’ Roll
Rock music seems to be an artistic expression of the explosion of all that pent-up desire. The very term “rock and roll” — coined by DJ Alan Freed in the early 50’s — came, some say, from a slang term for sexual (mis)behavior. Before you get the wrong impression, I’m actually writing as a fan of rock music — a big fan (of much of it, anyway). It’s in my blood. It’s “my” music. I can still remember my first “favorite song” from the radio. “Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes…” by David Bowie. It was 1972 and I wasn’t even three years old. Not all rock music glorifies lust and indulgence. Much of it expresses an earnest search for meaning. Neil Young “keeps on searchin’ for a heart of gold…” and Bono has “climbed the highest mountains” lookin’ for that thing he’s lookin’ for. Rock music for me has always expressed an interior longing, a search. It’s been a way of “getting out” what’s going on “within” — the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly.
As a rock drummer, myself, I can’t tell you the number of times I have pounded those skins as a form of therapy. We’ve all got bottled up “stuff” that needs an outlet. Drumming has been a great one for me. A good, driving beat not only rattles the walls, it shakes-up the soul as well. “Gimme the beat boys and free my soul, I wanna get lost in your rock ‘n roll and drift away….” If rock and roll can generally be understood as the musical expression of the sexual revolution, then I predict that as a new sexual revolution unfolds — and it is slowly unfolding with the spread of John Paul II’s theology of the body — so, too, will a new form of popular music. There are many signs, in fact, that a positive musical transformation is already quietly underway.
The Rock Music of the New Sexual Revolution
I want to point you to two of those signs: Mike Mangione and Vince Scheuerman. These two artists, whom I know personally, are part of a new breed of rock musician: both grew up on rock music; both, through hard times, came to love their Catholic faith; and both are working their tails off to make a difference in the secular world with their music. Mike Mangione’s latest CD called Tenebrae (Latin for “shadows”) has received great reviews from critics across the country and was selected as New York Magazine’s pick of the week in September of 2007. Mangione’s rock-folk-acoustic-indie sound includes haunting cello and violin. His lyrics dig deep into the human experience, expressing an eros yearning for redemption in songs like “First Time: Please Forgive Me” and hope for a culture of life in the midst of a culture of death in songs like “The Killing Floor.” You can learn more and order his CD at mikemangione.com. Also, search for his name on You Tube to see him perform “It’s Me, Not You.”
Vince Scheuerman is the lead singer/songwriter for the band Army of Me. This past summer they toured with the Dave Matthews Band promoting their new album Citizen. Their video “Going Through Changes” has been a regular on MTV. While their sound is harder than Mangione’s, the lyrics come from that same place in the soul. They express a hunger for wholeness and communion in “Two into One” and the hope of rebirth in “Rise,” a song inspired by the tsunami of December 2005. Learn more and order Citizen at Armyofmeonline.com and see their video for “Going Through Changes” on You Tube. Look closely and you’ll even see this MTV rock star wearing a scapular. If rock music was born from the explosion of sexual repression, who knows — when John Paul II’s “theological time bomb” detonates, Madonna might really and truly sing “like a virgin.”