Rock My Religion

Another gem from the Ubuweb RSS feed.

Image from the Rock My Religion documentary/thesis

Dan Graham’s Rock My Religion (1982-84)
1982-84, 55:27 min, b&w and color, sound

Rock My Religion is a provocative thesis on the relation between religion and rock music in contemporary culture. Graham formulates a history that begins with the Shakers, an early religious community who practiced self-denial and ecstatic trance dances. With the “reeling and rocking” of religious revivals as his point of departure, Graham analyzes the emergence of rock music as religion with the teenage consumer in the isolated suburban milieu of the 1950s, locating rock’s sexual and ideological context in post-World War II America. The music and philosophies of Patti Smith, who made explicit the trope that rock is religion, are his focus. This complex collage of text, film footage and performance forms a compelling theoretical essay on the ideological codes and historical contexts that inform the cultural phenomenon of rock `n’ roll music.

See preview velow and find the full video on Ubuweb here.

Some fascinating fodder for the historical theory that all great American social movements (think the two awakenings, the Civil Rights movement , etc.) are at their root religious. Some amazing early Sonic Youth forms the soundtrack of this video, not to mention some great footage of Patti Smith, Black Flag, and others. Additionally, there is some great mash-up action between 1950s religious revivials and the punk scene.

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3 Responses to Rock My Religion

  1. Brian says:

    I’ve always been struck by the connections between heavy metal and Christianity. The use of the iconography (think Ozzy and his crosses), and even the prevalence of Satanic themes in metal suggests that the culture accepts the literal truth of the Christian framework on some level.

    I’d be willing to bet that metalheads are more likely to come from Christian families than, say, punkers… and it metal is certainly huge in the Bible Belt.

    The documentary Dream Deceivers (about those kids who attempted suicide allegedly due to backward masking on a Judas Priest record) is very much worth watching — the relationships between metal and fundamentalism are pretty explicit:

    Even the myth of backward masking implies some form of literal belief in the power of The Word.

  2. jimgroom says:


    Growing up a Catholic on Long Island, occasionally I would attend the youth outreach sessions held at the local church. One in particular I remember was the Monsignor playing Heavy Metal songs for all of us in order to analyze the demonic messages in the lyrics. It makes me think of this literal belief in the power of the word you suggest so nicely above.

    The event was kind of wild (an as is often the case more appealing that frightening) for he had an accompanying slide show that captured the demonic imagery of Iron Maiden’s Eddie, all things Ozzie, as well as bands like Slayer (check out this image). I had already been exposed to these bands by that time thanks to my brother, and the fact that the church was talking about them (even if in terms of fear and terror) made that establishment feel somehow more relevant in my mind. Strange that I found the choice not to go to church as I got older associated with my affinity towards something like Heavy metal or punk music. I guess the movie Footloose does have a powerful moral at its core.

  3. nathan rein says:

    Great post. If I weren’t currently in hiding from my wife and kids, sitting in a cafe with wifi trying to write a lecture, I’d actually watch the video and post something substantive. Maybe later. Thanks for posting!

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