How Rock Music Shaped my Mind

“…If there is something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music.”  Jimi Hendrix

I remember back in 1977, I was nine years old swimming at the YMCA with my friend Brad. The lifeguard had a radio in the pool area and the song “Come Sail Away” by Styx came on the radio.  It soon became my favorite song that year.  I gathered up $10, got my Mom to take me to Musicland at the Muscatine Mall and bought my first album of my life. That day set the course for the next 15 years. Musicland went out of business years later, but I assure you it wasn’t my fault.

By the time I was in my late teens I had 300 albums or tapes of so many Rock bands.  I spent most of my money on Rock music.  I was  young, impressionable, and adventurous. Music made the perfect conduit for learning about the world. Somehow, in my mind the Rock stars were the real leaders of the free world.  They had it all figured out.

Back in the 80’s there was a radio program on Monday nights at 10:30 called Rock Line with a guy named Bob Coburn.  Bob would have rock bands live in the studio for interviews, album previews, and live acoustic performances. I never missed it. Their lives seemed so interesting to me.  They were so free and uninhibited.  They appeared to have life by the tail.

I began learning so many great lessons from these guys and gals. Sammy Hagar taught me the importance of responsible driving. David Lee Roth showed me how to treat women and Pat Benatar taught me what she will do if anyone treats her like that. It was enlightening (sarcasm implied).

“Music is the universal language of mankind.”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Over the years I listened to so much rock music that I began absorbing the values and worldview of that culture.  I soon became a follower of this worldview.  The lyrics on the inside of all the collective albums became my scripture. My Sony Walkman became my sanctuary and the concert stage became my place of worship.

I used to spend many hours listening to my tunes with my headphones.  Every individual note from each instrument came alive. When I was in High School I bought a kickin’ car stereo with quadrophonics (early surround sound).  I would listen to the beat and patterns and notice how they all worked together to create one unified vibe. Live albums were especially mesmerizing because the sound was so rich and full.  It makes you feel like you were there sitting in the middle of the stage with musicians all around you. There is a reason vinyl is making a come back.

When we zone into a source of influence like music, we can get engulfed in our own imagination.  Music taps into a universal emotional need.  You  begin to feel what they feel and relate to their story.  You can get lost in an alternate reality sometimes if you let your mind go. It became my drug.

“Music is the literature of the heart; it commences where speech ends.”
― Alphonse de Lamartine

In a time I was looking for answers, Rock music gave me guidance and direction.  Here are a few of the life principles I came to foolishly embrace when I was a teenager.

• Life is short so make sure you have fun while you can.

• Don’t let anyone tell you how to live your life.  Live life on your terms.

• When you are feeling down and depressed, sex can make it all better.

• If you let me down, I am outa here. Commitments aren’t necessary.

• If it feels right, it can’t be wrong. Live for the moment.

• Beauty and wealth determine your social value.

• Freedom is more important than responsibility.

• Love stinks, life sucks!

• It’s all about the thrill of the chase.

• I am invincible. Live free or die trying.

• When life gets hard, you can always take off and start over somewhere else.

• If we have love, that’s all we need.

Ideas have consequenses. Of course there is something fundamentally wrong with each of these ideas above.

When you are young and impressionable this worldview can be quite intoxicating. I believed these ideas because I wanted to.  I could have blamed my parents, or the culture, or the lack of a moral foundation in my life.  The truth is I embraced it because it met an immediate need. It gave me permission to think and behave how I want. It’s easy to buy into a Rock worldview. It lines up with most of the things you want to believe in anyway.

Music was my hiding place, but no matter how much music I would buy it was never enough to calm my restless soul.  There was definitely something missing. The more I looked to the culture for answers the more missing pieces within me I became aware of.

Everyone has a longing to make deep connections. I connected through music, or at least listening to it.  I never learned an instrument and lack talent for singing. I was a bit  reserved when I was young. It was easier to connect with famous musicians who could not see me, judge me, or needed to know anything about me.

In 1991, after years of making a mess of my life, I realized that there was something flawed with the way I saw the world. My music mentors led me down the wrong path time and time again and I had come to the end of myself.  My heart ached from disappointment and from the weight of my own foolishness. I had to finally face the truth about myself, and somehow, let go of my flawed worldview that deceived me for so long.  I surrendered my life to Christ and traded album lyrics with real scripture from the Bible. I took nearly all my albums and tossed them in a dumpster. My entire worldview changed. I had a new fresh start and I was finally free. I begun to see the world through a completely different set of lenses. I was born-again.

I got rid of my music. I wasn’t because this music was bad (some, actually much of it was).  It was because it held a place in my heart that meant to be occupied by my Creator.  Music was an idol.  I needed a new start with a renewed focus. I needed a much better worldview that didn’t leave me empty and confused without answers.

Music doesn’t shape my worldview anymore.  I find inspirational music (secular or Christian) encourages me. I helps to reinforce my new worldview, but it is no longer an idol. Any kind of music even worship or praise music can be an idol if you value it higher than your Creator.

You may still catch me singing to a classic hit from time to time, but there is something different now.  I feel like I am on the outside looking in. Like I am visiting an old friend that I still admire but whom no longer has any control over me. I am much more discerning now about what I listen to.  The void I used to have is no longer.

Has your culture shaped your worldview?  I would love to hear your story.

4 thoughts on “How Rock Music Shaped my Mind

  1. I love your writing Joel. Not only what you say, but how you say it. You craft your life experiences into words that awaken and define the human condition, drawing it out and calling it forth to something higher and nobler.


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