Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul.
– Plato, The Republic
Music has always played a huge role in my life, even when I was a little kid. At about age seven I began listening to pop and disco music, and then in middle school began venturing into harder acts like KISS and AC/DC. I discovered Def Leppard in 8th grade and was immediately hooked on their hard yet melodic sound. They opened up a whole new world of music to me. By the time I’d begun high school I was listening almost entirely to heavy metal. At least this is what it was called it at the time. Purists would probably term it pop metal or glam metal, or the awful term “hair metal.” I wasn’t into the heavier bands like Metallica and Megadeth and definitely wasn’t into the death metal or thrash scene.
From early in the morning to late at night music has always been an essential part of who I am. In middle school I felt so grown up staying up late at night with the volume cranked up on my headphones. I’ve always identified mostly with heavy metal and disco, the music that has provided the anthem to my life. I’ve often imagined my life as a movie or a music video, with intense, high energy music accompanying the images on the screen.
Things began to change for me, however, after I became a Christian as a sophomore in high school. I soon realized that the heavy metal I was so involved with was not honoring God. I couldn’t reconcile my new beliefs with metal’s rebellious and often violent message, so I gradually quit listening to it. My bedroom walls had been plastered with pictures I had cut out from Circus and Hit Parader. Soon I took down all these images of the bands I idolized.
Less than a year after accepting Christ into my life I felt a strong conviction to remove all secular pop and rock music from my life. I had attended a presentation that vividly illustrated the darker side of rock music, including sinful and satanic-inspired song lyrics, backward masking (I still don’t know if I believe that was a real thing or not), and simply the hedonistic beliefs and lifestyles of the musicians themselves. I also read a couple of books covering basically the same subject: the evils of rock music and the negative impact it has on those who indulge in it.
I ultimately threw out all my records and cassettes of the music I’d loved, and also changed the presets on my car radio. Jazz, classical, and easy listening became the music that filled my ears and my life for the next few months.
The combination of my new Christian beliefs and my simultaneous separation from pop and rock music put a definite strain on my relationships. In particular, my old friends, the ones with whom I used to drink and carry on, did not understand my choices. I made a lot of mistakes with those friends during this time, and probably came off as someone holier-than-thou who looked down on them.
Through a series of events I ultimately began listening to pop music again. I had been totally out of the loop on current music for several months. I vividly remember the first time hearing “Conga” by Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine. While it was new to me, my friends were already familiar with it. For a while afterwards I’d occasionally hear a song that I thought was new, but that everyone else already heard. I’d then realize that it had been released during the time when I had had no exposure to popular music.
The reason for so much detail on these events is because this pop music/no pop music cycle has recurred several times throughout my life. Without fail, at those times in my life when I rededicated my life to God I would ultimately renew my commitment to abstain from secular pop and rock music. It’s never been easy. In fact, during those times without hard driving music, I’ve usually felt a void in my life at some level.
More than once, after only listening to jazz, classical, or Christian music for a number of months and then making the decision once again to tune into a rock station, I’ve suddenly felt very alive and vital upon hearing the old familiar sound again. It was as if energy and vibrancy were suddenly injected into me.
One time in particular, my radio landed on Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen” after an extended period of only listening to Christian music. I happened to be driving down the highway at about 60 or 70 mph when it came on. It felt fantastic not only to hear rock music again, but to rock out to one of my all-time favorite songs while cruising down the road. It was almost like an addict getting his drug of choice after a long period of sobriety.
In this repeating pattern the quality of my spiritual state and closeness to God have determined to what degree I’ve listened to secular pop and rock music (or even wanted to listen to it). Just as I realize in my heart that I need to remain close to God and walk with Him every day, I also realize that when I really search myself, deep down I realize that I shouldn’t expose myself (my heart and my mind) to the messages found in the world’s pop and rock. If in my heart I didn’t see a problem with this music, why else would I shun it when I’m at my closest with my Creator? I’ve been unable to get this thought out of my head all these years.
Unfortunately, this thought/conviction has never been strong enough to keep me away from pop and rock entirely. In recent years I’ve rocked out to a lot of music that I should have avoided: Motley Crue, Poison, Scorpions, AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses, Whitesnake, Billy Squier, Def Leppard, and many others. Those are the harder, edgier acts that have dominated my listening over the years, but I have also dedicated much ear-time to a myriad of more mainstream pop music acts that have been popular since the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. The struggle has been very real for me over the years.
A sampling of Prince commemorative editions
My journey with secular music contrasts somewhat with that of Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian. I found her recent article concerning the death of pop icon Prince very interesting, although somewhat troubling. The premise of the article is her description of how his death helped her overcome a restrictive upbringing that prevented her from experiencing secular music. By her admission, she had had no real exposure to Prince and naturally didn’t know any of his songs before his death.
Ms. Allen-Ebrahimian tells us that she was raised in “a kind of conservative American Christianity that eschews what it calls ‘secular culture’”, including music. After experimenting with listening to popular music several years ago, including Linkin Park, Staind, Rihanna, and Beyonce, she concluded that pop music isn’t so bad after all. She writes, “Some of the lyrics moved me to tears. Some made me feel like dancing. Others made me feel like I could conquer the world.” I completely understand where she’s coming from. Lyrics can be very powerful stuff. Hence my decades-long struggle reconciling my actions with my convictions.
She writes how she watched some of Prince’s videos on YouTube for the first time. This was the troubling part of the article to me because of her use of religious imagery in describing his music. She tells us that Prince’s guitar solo on “Purple Rain” sounds “like a revelation from heaven”. Fans crowded around the stage at his performance at Super Bowl XLI are described as “penitents.” These fans sang with Prince “like the faithful gathered together after the Day of Judgment, singing songs of praise forevermore as one.”
Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’m far from perfect. However, I hope that I would never attempt to elevate pop music performers to the status of spiritual figures, especially given what I know and believe to be the truth about God and Christianity — the same knowledge that I’m sure Ms. Allen-Ebrahimian also has, given her apparent upbringing.
Perhaps she isn’t placing Prince on the same level as God. Maybe it’s that God is a big and easy target to imitate. I hope this is the case.
Going back to my own struggles for a moment, if I really believe that God doesn’t want me to listen to secular music, and particularly heavy metal, I have to ask myself why this is the case. Since I was a teenager and first felt convicted of listening to this music, I’ve realized how damaging and downright evil some of this music is.
A day or so after reading Ms. Allen-Ebrahimian’s article I came across this article by Jeffrey Steinberg. It really made me stop and think.
One of Steinberg’s premises is that there exists a well-organized, global, leftist, Marxist faction bent on using mind control to create a cultural paradigm shift in the world. Children, in particular, are the targets of their efforts.
Steinberg’s entire article is quite thought-provoking, but two very interesting quotes in it stand out. Steinberg provides a lengthy quote by Lord Bertrand Russell from Russell’s 1951 work, The Impact of Science on Society. Russell was one of the main players in the Frankfurt School, an extremely left-leaning group with Marxist/Freudian beliefs that was formed early last century and remains very active to this day.
In the quote used by Steinberg, Russell describes how Pavlov’s and Freud’s work in physiology and psychology opened the door for using science to help bring about the desired cultural paradigm shift mentioned above. Russell believed that mass psychology would become quite important in the political arena, and that in fact modern methods of propaganda had already increased the importance of mass psychology. Russell says of these methods:
Of these the most influential is what is called “education.” Religion plays a part, though a diminishing one; the press, the cinema, and the radio play an increasing part…. It may be hoped that in time anybody will be able to persuade anybody of anything if he can catch the patient young and is provided by the State with money and equipment.
Then consider the following quote by Theodor Adorno concerning modern music. Along with Russell, Adorno was also a major figure in the Frankfurt School. Steinberg quotes Adorno from Adorno’s 1948 work The Philosophy of Modern Music:
It is not that schizophrenia is directly expressed therein; but the music imprints upon itself an attitude similar to that of the mentally ill. The individual brings about his own disintegration….Its concern is to dominate schizophrenic traits through the aesthetic consciousness. In so doing, it would hope to vindicate insanity as true health.
According to Steinberg, Adorno is arguing “that the purpose of modern music is to literally drive the listener insane.” That’s a harsh statement, but it would seem justified if these quotes truly represent the intent of the Frankfurt School and its fellow Marxists. What should we do with this information if it is indeed true?
Reading Steinberg’s article and pondering these quotes certainly makes me stop and think about the music I’ve lent so much of my mind and body to over the course of my lifetime. Exactly what is popular music’s true intent? Is there an insidious design behind the music of Prince and Boston? Does listening to Taylor Swift and Drake unconsciously influence me to adopt a more liberal/Marxist paradigm of thought? This might provide a whole new depth of meaning to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.”
Finally, consider this seemingly very well-conducted and well-documented science project by 17-year-old David Merrell from Virginia. His two experiments over consecutive years illustrate the apparent impact that different music has on mice trying to learn a maze.
In short, over a four-week period mice exposed to Mozart dramatically cut their average maze run times to around 18% of their baseline measurement. The control group (which listened to no music at all) also greatly improved, cutting their average times roughly in half. A third group of mice listened only to hard rock (Anthrax to be specific), and over the same four-week period their average run times tripled from their baseline measurement.
David admittedly made several mistakes the first time he ran the experiment, but there was one significant finding from that first flawed attempt. He had divided the mice into three different groups, but kept the mice from each individual group confined together. He actually had to end the first year’s experiment after only three weeks because the hard rock group had become so violent that only one mouse out of the original six was still alive. In his remarks given at a symposium on using classical music in education, David said:
It was rather interesting, because the mice, they just – they seemed to be so discontent, one with another, and they would separate themselves from the other mice. And then, they’d just turn around, and kill one of the other mice. Whereas, the Classical mice and the Control mice, they were perfectly fine with one another. They didn’t have any problems whatsoever. It was interesting.
David revised his methods and ran the experiment again the next year, analyzing the data with the help of Dr. Michael Doviak, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Old Dominion University. Key differences this time were that he used a larger number of mice to allow for statistical analysis, and that he kept all the mice in individual cages.
An interesting and significant observation about this second experiment is that a week after it was complete, the hard rock mice still fought with each other if they were all put in one cage. The classical and control groups did not. David remarked, “it [hard rock] seemed not only to affect their ability to learn, but their ability to cope, one with another.”
Here’s one final remark by young David Merrell. It was a real eye-opener to me:
Something very interesting is that these mice could not understand the lyrics, but the music alone was bad enough, much less the lyrics, which the people are subjected to, but the mice weren’t. And, that’s something that I think is pretty significant as well.
If hard rock/heavy metal can apparently impact mice so dramatically, what does that mean for me? For you? Should we all listen to more classical music to improve ourselves and those around us? I’ll admit that I don’t have the answers, but I hope that Slate is wrong with their outlook on classical music.
I’ll end by saying that I disagree with Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian. I do not believe that most secular pop and rock music is completely harmless to the individual. Certainly no one knows to what extent today’s music is engineered (if at all) to produce certain changes in beliefs, attitudes, and morals to suit those with insidious purposes. It is, however, not a question that I will dismiss from my mind anytime soon.