A few weeks ago, I talked about how much fun I had going to the Rock of Ages concert. All of that rockin’ and reminiscin’ took me waaayyy back (again) to one of my first critical conversations about faith. I was in my early 20s (which is why it was waaayyy back), working full-time and attending at Miami-Dade Community College at night. On the weekends, my friends and I spent a lot of time on South Beach. The conversation was with a friend of mine and we were talking about Life, the Universe, and Everything after watching a band. Or maybe it was after a performance by my band (I was the frontman for a rock band). The details are foggy — and I guess irrelevant. But I’m cruising down memory lane here and thought I’d share the (foggy) view. Either way, I’m pretty sure we were talking after a medianoche (a Cuban “midnight sandwich”). This conversation was during my hard-core agnostic phase. A phase that gave me the freedom to think outside conventional faith — the only kind of faith I had been exposed to until I went to college. “I just don’t believe there is a man in the sky that determines my fate during and after life,” said my “recovering Catholic” friend. That’s what he called himself. “I still think there’s something beyond humanity. I just don’t believe it has to be divine,” was my response.
It wasn’t until this memory was triggered that I realized how much the music I listened to as a kid and as a young adult greatly affected my thoughts about the faith and social convention. While I enjoyed radio rock (like Def Leppard), the bands that really moved me were:
None of these bands talked overtly about having faith of any kind, though Rush talked about not having it. This was a big deal for me as a kid. I’d never thought about agnosticism or atheism until I was exposed to Rush in my tweens and teens and their critical-thinking lyrics. I’d never thought about not being conventional (which at the time, meant being Christian).
You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose Free Will — “Freewill” by Rush
Yes was influential, too. They made (and make) music that makes me feel like I’m melting into something greater than myself, like I’m mind-melding with Spock or something. I mean, this is a band whose 1973 concept album Tales from Topographic Oceans was based on an interpretation of four Yoga scriptures. Yes made me feel spiritual without making me feel religious.
Fleetwood Mac taught me at a tender age (7 years old) that bands actually sang about sex. Granted, they certainly weren’t the first band to sing about sex, but they were the first band I heard singing about sex. The shock value of hearing those words (after one of my siblings explained what they meant) and knowing everyone else was hearing them, too — like my mom and dad (Ew! They didn’t have sex!) — made me realize it was okay to talk about things. Things that maybe felt inappropriate on the surface, but weren’t really bad after all. I mean if mom and dad let me listen to Fleetwood Mac, then they must not be singing about something taboo. It started my wheels turning. What else wasn’t really taboo?
When times go bad
When times go rough
Won’t you lay me down in tall grass
And let me do my stuff — “Second Hand News” by Fleetwood Mac
I felt the same way about Jimmy Buffett. He said “damn” in one of his early songs (Margaritaville). I think it was the same year I heard Fleetwood Mac sing about sex. My mom let me sing along — even though there was a bad word — but only because it was part of the lyrics. Wow. My parents let me listen to songs about sex and sing bad words! No wonder I’m not a conventional gal. 😉
Wastin away again in margaritaville
Searching for my lost shaker of salt
Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame
But I know it’s my own damn fault — “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffett
“Margaritaville” was also an early influence on my ideas about self-responsibility and self-accountability. I mean, this guy was admitting his life was shit because he was screwing up, not because of something someone else did or because of something that happened to him that was outside of his control. That really stuck with me.
Prince was another influence from my teens. He was (and is) a religious person and sang about God. But he also sang about condoms and sex and masterbation (among other sexual content). I’d already learned by then singing about sex was okay. But the idea a musician would want to sing about God AND sex was bizarre to me. But hey, I figured Prince was a complex guy. And he if wanted to sing about heaven on high in one breath and gettin’ on down in another, who was I cast dispersion? Prince taught me having faith is not unidimensional; he taught me that human impulse (specifically sex) and being a good person are not mutually exclusive.* Having desire didn’t make me a bad person and didn’t make me a sinner. Listening to Prince helped me re-imagine the idea of sin and consider whether or not it was something I wanted or needed as a guide in my life.
I knew a girl named nikki
I guess u could say she was a sex fiend
I met her in a hotel lobby
Masturbating with a magazine
She said howd u like 2 waste some time
And I could not resist when I saw little nikki grind — “Darling Nikki” by Prince
In the beginning, there was God
He made the earth, and the heavens
He gave us light to rule the day
And another light to rule the night — “God” by Prince
Heart and Pat Benatar were major influences less because of their lyrics and more because they were (and are) just badasses. Hearing the power in their voices and the confidence with which they sang inspired me to find my own voice as a girl and as a young woman. When Ann Wilson hits that high note in Alone, reality is suspended for a moment. That’s the kind of power I’m talking about, the kind of confidence. I practiced and practiced singing Heart and Benatar songs until I could nail them. This was an early accomplishment that I was really proud of. No one made me do it. No one helped me do it. If I could sing like them (sort of), how else could I change or improve if I set my mind to it?
I’m not suggesting I became Pagan because I listened to rock and roll. I’m suggesting these musicians played a not-so-minor role in helping me develop my world view. A view that would lead me to Paganism in my 30s. A faith that makes me happy and healthy and a faith where I am still rockin’.
What about you readers? Did the music you listen to early in life shape your world view?
* Not that I think Prince was (is) a saint or anything. But I do think he is a good person. Quirky, maybe even odd, but I don’t remembering hearing that he’s done anything illegal or underhanded. Indeed, I have a lot of respect for Prince for taking a stand against Warner Bros. because he wanted artistic and financial control of his work. And, of course, I respect him because he is dripping with talent.
+ Featured image, Fleetwood Mac from the Rumors album.