Thrown out of church. Again. This seemed to be becoming a regular thing for my band.
We were called The Gospel Blues Band, and besides being mixed-race in 1972, we played in churches. Playing rock or blues in church in 1972 just wasn’t done. So here we were getting a tongue-lashing from the good Dr. Fredricksen on the church steps about how this “awful music” just wasn’t appropriate for the House of the Lord.
Our musical angle was to take hymns we liked and do bluesy versions of them. It was a pretty good angle, but some folks just didn’t get it and Dr. Fredricksen, who was certainly one of them, was quite proficient at expressing his opinion.
This, with historical hindsight, makes several important points. First, there were clearly different opinions and perspectives on music at that time. We saw our music as worship in the vernacular and could not understand at all why everyone didn’t love it. While many of our parent’s generation saw it as degenerate and fully intended to keep it out of their churches.
But isn’t it always that way? Don’t older people always regret and even resent the passing of their time and their ways of doing things? It seems obvious that they do, especially given that we baby boomers are now older than Dr. Fredricksen was on that day and there’s lots of today’s music that we don’t like one bit.
Why the regret and resistance to change? The secular would tell us that this is the way of the world, that people identify with the music of their youth and resist it being thrown over for whatever the kids are listening to. That has always struck me as an incredibly poor explanation for this phenomenon, given that I identified with Bach, Fauré, Copland and Dean Martin about as much as the Beatles.
So, what’s really going on? It hit me today, while thinking about my own mortality in another context. We are not supposed to die.
Our influence is not supposed to disappear from the culture. Death is an aberration; an artifact caused by sin and evil in the world. But, if we never died, in fact if people never aged beyond an apparent 25, neither would their music die. We would always be able to hear the latest from Benny Goodman, (assuming he made it there, of course). New music would be shaped and informed by all the immortals running about and would likely be far better than if it was the latest drivel, simply fobbed off on the world as “representing youth”, and aren’t the old ones out of touch anyway? Immortality changes everything and raises all standards.
Dr. Fredricksen was right. Much of the music of our youth was, and is, degenerate. Certainly, the intervening decades have taught us that, and if they haven’t, let me introduce you to Travis Scott and Astroworld. Degenerate. If you can’t say that you simply aren’t morally serious.
And then we are left with a dilemma. What about all that modern Christian music? It can’t possibly be all bad, and of course it isn’t. Some of it, as I suspected back in 1972, is simply worship in the vernacular.
If no one died, we would find the balance. Currently, yesterday’s music is replaced by music of today, because the lovers of yesterday (whether it be Debussy, Gabrieli, or Copland) are not around to object.
Some churches are finding balance anyway, blending old hymns with modern praise, and putting on the Messiah at Christmas. Others laugh at the very thought of singing old hymns in a modern church. In fact, a nearby (non-SDA) church essentially bans “old people” from both music and ministry, presenting the 50-something head pastor with a looming conundrum. There is a very small group for old folks that I often attend as a sort of spiritual discipline of humility and repentance for my own rather silly youth.
So, what happened in the years since I got dressed down on the church steps?
The story of that local church is perfectly illustrious of what happens when we fail to handle generational change well. The lovely old North Park Seventh-day Adventist church is gone. Bulldozed. Soon to be replaced with a horrible hipster apartment building. I can’t bear to watch.
Years ago, leadership, at the national level, decided to ignore the Jesus movement and the explosive growth of Calvary Chapel and other modern churches, and the literally thousands of souls they were winning. So North Park church and so many others shriveled. Attendance dropped to near-nothing, and the building was bought for a new church. A progressive social-gospel church that repainted the grand old art deco building in carnival colors installing big lights, big video screens, big sound, and tearing out the seats and the organ. They also became a punk/alternative all-ages music venue, with dancers pogoing before the cross.
So, did we boomers win that battle of the generations? Hardly. The bulldozers won. Easily. Without a single protest from anyone. It needn’t have gone that way. It’s our fault. So, next time a generational discussion arises among the saints, remember, we are among immortals and speak accordingly.
The Gospel Blues Band went the way of all flesh, with members going to college, professional schools, drugs (for one) and jail (for another), while Dr. Fredricksen (who is in his 90s now) is a grand old lion of the faith, with great-grandchildren.
How I wish I could re-visit that day and warn everybody.
Donald Cicchetti, B.A. Religion, Loma Linda University, 1978, is a retired engineer, writer, and musician.
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