God: The Third Rail of Rock and Roll
By Mark RodgersGod is the third rail of Rock ‘n Roll, according to Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins, as well as its future.Several years ago, I got to spend time with Billy after he launched his solo project, Zwan. He had gone from a more nihilistic outlook expressed through the angst of the Pumpkins’ album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness to a more hopeful, spiritually oriented perspective in Zwan’s Mary Star of the Sea. In an interview with CNN’s Talk Asia program, Corgan was asked what he is exploring musically right now and responded, “God. I think God’s the great unexplored territory in rock ‘n’ roll music.”To his credit, Billy has been exploring God for some time, even launching a website entitled Everything from Here to There in 2009. “We begin with the idea that there is a God,” he wrote in the website’s introductory essay.Billy is right that God is the future of Rock and Roll, but God is also its past and its present.There is something about being made in God’s image and something about His nature that can only be expressed and encountered through art and the imagination. And music.Our earliest artistic expressions were often efforts to explore the unknown, the mystery of the universe, our place in it, and to commune with God. C. S. Lewis wrote that “Reason is the natural order of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.”Elvis Presley was rooted in Gospel. Sister Rosetta Tharpe recorded in the 1930s and 1940s, and her gospel recordings mixing spiritual lyrics and early rock and roll, influenced not just Presley but Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Johnny Cash.From the Rolling Stone’s Sympathy With the Devil, the Beatles’ flirtation with Eastern mysticism and Peter Gabriel’s Your Eyes, early pioneers acknowledged the spiritual dimension to our lives. U2, of course, has taken this to a new level, but echoes of “the third rail” are salted throughout the music of Bruce Springsteen, Train, Kanye and even Kid Rock.I’ve been struck with the dramatic increase in the disaffiliation of young adults, called the "nones”, from organized religion. At the same time, with a world in constant turmoil from Syria to the Navy Yard, with progressive hopes for the advancement of the human condition through our endeavors and the inevitability of evolution dashed, with suffering in our streets neighborhoods and brokenness in our homes, with materialistic expectations unfulfilled or unfulfilling, their effort to find meaning will drive their imaginations, possibly through Rock and Roll, to God.In Sting’s new album that serves as a prelude to a 2014 play of the same name, The Last Ship, he explores “reckonings between fathers and sons and a labor uprising … with crosscurrents of economics and faith.”In a recent interview, he said he doesn’t “think there’s any difference between creativity and a spiritual practice. I think it is a spiritual practice to . . . to look to understand the world and to express yourself within that parameter. So I don’t see a difference . . . You know, I don’t go to church, I’m not sure I can subscribe to what churches stand for, and yet I feel a sense of awe and mystery about the universe and ah, a sense of gratitude and a sense of reverence so that’s what I feel. I hope in my daily life that I represent that.”If, in the future, the “nones” listen and look for Him in art, they will find Him. He was there all the time.