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Stebbing, Great Dunmow, Essex, United Kingdom
The occasional blog of an Anglican priest in rural Essex

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Father and Son (or, why the subculture is pants)

Before we listened to the Obama stuff on the radio yesterday in the car, I was talking to my son about guitar music. He is learning the guitar and is not very motivated to practise, but he likes the electric guitar that is played in church. I thought therefore that I would play him some electric guitar music on the car CD, and talk about it. So I put on "Back in Black", by AC/DC which is hardly the most edifying spiritual material (e.g. "If God's on the left then I'm sticking to the right" from "Hells Bells", mind you at least they get God's politics right and acknowledge his existence!).

It does however contain some excellent riffs, and good examples of the interaction between lead and rhythm guitars, which we in due time talked about, using largely non-expert terms as I am not musical but like to listen to loud guitars and have done for some several decades now.

Then last night as I watched their gymnastics I was reflecting that a lot of the kind of music that I enjoyed as a young man wouldn't be very appropriate for the vicarage stereo today, as much of the sexism, phallocentricism and anti-God stance of (say) 1970's and 80's heavy metal goes against what I believe in when it comes both to human relationships and to God, yet here I was playing it to my son., because I wanted him to have the chance to hear it, and the thought came to me that the same thing happened to me when I was a kid.

My dad was a successful business lawyer, very involved in the Thatcherite boom, very into capitalism etc, yet when I was a kid I was raised on records by Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Leadbelly etc which was what he listened to as a young man, even though much of the message of that music went against where he stood then (and stands now.)

I didn't go to church at all until I was 20; my musical tastes were informed by secular music entirely. I had no idea at 20 that there was a whole subculture of music and art that agreed that the devil shouldn't have all the good music, and proceeded to make Christian versions that were morally and spiritually uplifting but still had the same riffs etc. Without wishing to disparage the musical integrity of these people, it has always struck me that this is an unnecessarily cheesy and isolationist approach to the relationship between music and spirituality.

The riffs of secular rock music in themselves are not satanic, but are the result of gifts and talents that I would say are God-given (even if to the producer rather than the musicians). When it comes to the lyrics I can only say that I'm glad I grew up on vinyl and cassettes, which made the words harder to work out, especially at high volume! So yes there is some stuff that I would switch off (or skip on the CD - had a mini epiphany yesterday in the car - "O blimey, that's about oral sex!" (a pint for the first person to guess correctly which song I was listening to!)) But why is it we have a tendency in the church to say that musical ability is only a God given gift if it is used to glorify God?

And why should I buy a CD just because it is by a Christian group when I prefer the music of the secular originators ? (being careful not to mention any names so as not to offend!)

The subculture is a con. Some people I have known use Christian versions of lots of things from holidays to plumbers to window cleaners (my window cleaner happens to be a jehovah's witness but I didn't employ him on that basis!) Its a con because it tricks us into ivory tower mentality - living in a safe world where only nice things and friendly godly people are around us. This effectively disables our mission by preventing us from ever actually meeting anyone who isn't a believer.

My kids live in a vicarage (some of their less enlightened school friends think they live in the church) but I want to make sure that they are free to experience as much as they can of modern culture and music. And if I have created the next Lemmy Kilminster then so be it.


  1. I believe the ac/dc song you are referring to is 'Give the dog a bone', do I win the pint? Personally I preferred them with Bon Scott singing.

  2. I'll buy it for you at some (hopefully imminent) diocsean event involving a bar.
    My son thought Brian Johnson was a girl, but he has got a bit growlier on "Black Ice".


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