No Sympathy for the Devil

Paul Harvey

Those of you who know Randall know that one of his hobbies is collecting quotations from evangelicals hysterically opposing the newfound demon of rock-n-roll music in the 1950s and 1960s (maybe Randall will post a few of those here for us), part of his research on the reaction of evangelical to rock in its early days. Going a bit further: I once saw Julian Bond give a great talk about civil rights and popular culture, starting with one of those overwrought quotations, which sounded like a typical screed against rock coming from some straightlaced white evangelical ca. 1957 -- but as it turned out came from Martin Luther King, who could preach the anti-rock message with the best of them.

Obviously a lot has changed in the relationship of evangelicals to popular musical culture since then. And I expect to see that explained thoroughly in this forthcoming text, that I think a lot of you are going to be interested in this one when it comes out (pub. date is listed as April 2011): David Stowe, No Sympathy for the Devil: Christian Pop Music and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism.

Stowe, who teaches English and religious studies at Michigan State, previously authored a book about big band jazz in the New Deal Era (Swing Changes), and more recently (and relevantly for this blog) the really fine study How Sweet the Sound: Music in the Spiritual Lives of Americans (Harvard Press, 2004), an exploration covering topics from hymns to hip-hop, and from Jewish cantors to Native American chanters.

I look forward to digging into this one soon; information from the book's website is pasted in below.

In this cultural history of evangelical Christianity and popular music, David Stowe demonstrates how mainstream rock of the 1960s and 1970s has influenced conservative evangelical Christianity through the development of Christian pop music. For an earlier generation, the idea of combining conservative Christianity with rock--and its connotations of nonreligious, if not antireligious, attitudes--may have seemed impossible. Today, however, Christian rock and pop comprises the music of worship for millions of Christians in the United States, with recordings outselling classical, jazz, and New Age music combined.

Shining a light on many of the artists and businesspeople key to the development of Christian rock, Stowe shows how evangelicals adapted rock and pop in ways that have significantly affected their religion's identity and practices. The chart-topping, spiritually inflected music created a space in popular culture for talk of Jesus, God, and Christianity, thus lessening for baby boomers and their children the stigma associated with religion while helping to fill churches and create new modes of worship. Stowe argues that, in the four decades since the Rolling Stones first unleashed their hit song, "Sympathy for the Devil," the increasing acceptance of Christian pop music by evangelicals ultimately has reinforced a variety of conservative cultural, economic, theological, and political messages.


Randall at: February 5, 2011 at 8:02 AM said...

Gotta get this book!

This is from Jack Van Impe. Before he became a prophecy expert he was an anti-rock prophet. I think he's being a little too hard on Herman's Hermits!

"Threats to physically abuse me always followed my expose of rock music. Here is what I said 15-20 years ago. 'I maintain that the music of Herman's Hermits, the Beatles, and all these rock groups is garbage!'"

Come on?! Garbage? Inane maybe: "Mrs. Brown, you've got a lovely daughter / Girls as sharp as her are something rare / But it's sad, she doesn't love me now / She's made it clear enough it ain't no good to pine."

I need to track down some of Van Impe's spoken word records. Don Yerxa, my colleague here at ENC and HS, received one of Impe's preaching-against-rock records from his parents around 1970 when Yerxa was a college student here at ENC. I'm sure that he and his friends in the dorm had some good laughs about it.

Anonymous at: February 8, 2011 at 10:03 AM said...

Wow,.so many books keep piling up on the "must read" list. This is one of those! Every time I teach a survey course on Religion in America in the 20th Century, I end with one titled "Jammin' with Jesus: Evangelicals and the Contemporary Christian Music Industry." It is always fun to teach. Students respond and discuss these issues in the most interesting ways. Perhaps this might be just the book I've been looking for as I know of no book that entirely satisfies me in its treatment of this theme.

Curtis J. Evans

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