You have to excuse me, but I just met the great Richard Dawkins, the famous biologist-evolutionist and I even talked to him! So I would find any excuse to write about him on a music blog… There is actually a story in his new book ‘An Appetite for Wonder’ that has a music connection, and it concerns Elvis Presley.
Young Dawkins loved Presley, and even fell a bit for religions because of the King:
‘And it all came together when I passed a shop window in my home town of Chipping Norton and saw an album called ‘Peace in the Valley featuring a song called ‘I believe’. I was transfixed. Elvis was religious! In a frenzy of excitement I dived into the shop and bought it. Hurrying home, I slipped the record out of the sleeve and on to the turntable. I listened with delight – for my hero sang that every time he saw the wonders of the natural world around him, he felt his religious faith reinforced. My own sentiments exactly! This was surely a sign of heaven. Why I was surprised that Elvis was religious is now beyond me. He came from an uneducated working-class family in the American South. How could he not have been religious? Nevertheless I was surprised at the time, and I sort of half-believed that in this unexpected record Elvis was speaking personally to me, calling me to devote my life to telling people about the creator god – which I should be especially well qualified to do if I became a biologist like my father. This seemed to be my vocation, and the call came from none other than the semi-divine Elvis’.
So the champion of atheists was almost converted because of his adoration for Presley’s music! But in the next sentence Dawkins admits he wasn’t ‘proud of this period of religious frenzy’, and he is happy to say that it didn’t last very long. Soon, around the age of 16, he discovered Darwinian evolution, and became strongly and militantly atheist.
I was raised in a religious environment, and like Richard Dawkins I had a sort of belief in a creator when I was young, and like him it didn’t last very long, although I never had a religious-Presley-like experience. But I wonder, do artists we like and admire have a strong influence on us? Do we share the same ideas on religions with the artists we like? Probably! Religions are parts of people’s personal identity, that’s why people are so sensible when someone dares to criticize their religion, and I have to really ask myself if I could like an artist who is a true believer and extensively exposes it in his/her art. I guess no, I couldn’t. I totally tolerate a bit of God-Jesus and other religious figures in lyrics, especially if they are metaphoric, but I can’t stand Christian rock! The incessant god-is a-savior, jesus-will-cure-everything, or even worst the repetitive it’s-god’s-will in the lyrics are kiiiiiiiling me! It’s not even good theology, it’s simplistic propaganda. I enjoy a bit of Gospel, but its different gospel comes from another place, a place of suffering.
I even wonder whether part of my lack of interest for bands like the Killers or Kings of Leon isn’t due to their religious background, or rather I don’t wonder, I know it is! I am not even mentioning the Jonas Brothers because they had never been in my radar, but The Killers’ frontman, Brandon Flowers, is a Mormon and the Kings of Leon had a strong religious upbringing as the children of a United Pentecostal preacher and they have declared this will always be part of their lives. I know it’s not very objective of me, but what can I do?
I can’t even stand U2 and Bono’s messianic complex, and I have never appreciated Lenny Kravitz, more or less for the same reason – he has admitted to be a devout Christian and has a large cross tattooed on his back… scary! Sure, they are exceptions, I kind of like Sufjan Stevens, a true Christian, and probably others who are not too obviously religious despite their faith, but who can tolerate Cat Stevens’ 1977 conversion to Islam as Yusuf Islam? I can’t listen to him the same way, and I will not even apologize! Remember, it’s not a question of freedom, these people are all free to believe and worship the superstition of their choice, but this has consequences, and in the case of Islam some of the worst ones. I know that he tried to explain himself at length since, but he sent this letter of complaint to the publishers of Salman Rushdie’s book, ‘Satanic Verses’ in 1989 saying: ‘I wish to express my deepest outrage at the insensitivity of Penguin Books in Publishing Salman Rushdie’s book, ‘Satanic Verses’, [sic] This book is clearly blasphemous in nature and so deeply offensive to the Muslim Community … I urge you to give the contents of this letter your most urgent attention and take a responsible decision.’ Whether he supported or not the fatwa against Rushdie, this was ridiculous! If you belong to this religion, you support its action, its terrible oppression of women, its production of suicide-bomber-children, or you have to clearly speak against it. But you can’t or you wouldn’t be a Muslim anymore… and Christians are not better with their endless condemnation of homosexuality and abortion.
So you could say why not condemning George Harrison and his endorsement of Hinduism? True. Hinduism is often perceived more as a philosophy than a real religion in our Western world, and this is probably how Harrison was perceiving it, a spiritual quest rather than a religion, but there is some real bad stuff related to Hinduism too! Such as the caste system and reincarnation, which justifies suffering– as if you suffer, it’s because you probably did very bad things in a previous life! Awful. Hinduism came up with karma, the most stupid thing ever.
So I wonder whether Dawkins still enjoys an Elvis’ record once a while. Probably, the same way that I truly enjoy to Harrison or Cat Stevens, Yusuf hasn’t been so prolific anyway. But I still prefer my musicians free spirited, a bit blasphemous, anti-authority and rebellious!
return to the top of country
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