“Give me the beat boys, and free my soul. I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away..”
W.I. Thomas, a sociologist stated that religion is what the participant says it is. Under this statement, religion is Catholicism, Judaism, Buddhism. Religion can also be the Raalians, the Heaven’s Gate Cult, or even a man in a field worshipping a wooden statue of a cow. Religion can be found in conventional places like churches, synagogues and temples. Followers of the religion read the words of the Qu’ran, the bible, the torah, and other holy scriptures and find spirituality within the sacred words. However, I found no solace in these books. I often thought of myself as being without religion. I attempted to adopt the belief in Judaism like my parents had. I tried so hard to believe the teachings of the Torah, the stories of the 10 plagues and Jacob and Esau. I just couldn’t believe no matter how much my parents wanted me to.
After realizing I could never connect with the Jewish faith, and resigned myself to the label atheist. After reading Emile Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of Religious Life, and Sociology of Religion, I have realized there is religion in my life. I can now proudly state when someone asks what religion I am, that my religion is music. It would be simple to justify music as a religion by using simply the situational approach backed by W.I. Thomas that all religions are true as long as the participant believes in it. However, by using Durkheim’s theories of religion, my belief in music can be more thoroughly examined.
Just like in conventional religions, Christianity for example, there is secularization. There are Catholics, Protestants, Methodists, and Baptists. This is also true in music. There are metal-heads, punk rockers, hippies, indie kids, gangster rap fans, and other groups which revolve around the music that they devote themselves to. This relates to Durkheim’s theory that God equals Society. In this case the music which is favored by the group spawns an entire society around
it. Fans of the music will dress in the fashion set forth by the musicians that they listen to. They will modify their body with tattoos and piercings to help identify themselves with the genre of music that they listen to. Go to any mall and you will see people dressed to identify which musical sect they belong to.
Within each society money is spent on c.d’s, t-shirts, concert tickets, and various other music related paraphernalia to help support the music. They will make mix tapes in the hopes that they can get other people to enjoy the music that they love. Many people within a church will donate 10 percent of their salary to support the church. They will participate in fund raisers, attend church functions, and proselytize to get people to join the church.
Durkheim states that within each church lies a charismatic spiritual leader. In Baptist churches, this means usually a minister who will speak with such power and intensity that it causes people to rise up out of their chairs and cry out praise to the lord. Each music genre has its own spiritual leaders, who are so powerful that they can cause someone to react so strongly simply through the lyrics to their songs. I attended a concert by an acoustic indie rock band called Dashboard Confessional. As I looked around, I noticed everyone in the audience was singing along to every word of every song. During one particularly sad song, I sobbed as I sang along with the lyrics. This may seem like just one incident, but I looked around and many other people around me were singing at the top of their lungs while tears streamed down their faces. Chris Carrabba, the front man for Dashboard Confessional, had his entire audience captivated and moved through his music. Carrabba had created what Durkheim calls collected effervescence. He created the music which uplifted the entire audience, some to the point where they could only express their joy by emitting tears as they sang along.
Kurt Cobain is perhaps the strongest point in conveying Durkheim’s idea of a spiritual leader. He was such a dynamic, revolutionary figure that he spurred an entire generation’s worth of music. He became the musical icon of a generation, much like the Pope is to Catholicism. When he commited suicide, it caused such an impact on his loyal fans that some of them took their own lives aswell. He is still thought of by many of his diehard fans as a martyr, much like Jesus is seen as a martyr by the followers of Catholicism.
According to Durkheim a religion has its own sets of rules and beliefs which are sacred. This too is true in music. At a concert, it is always certain that after the band finishes its last song, the stage darkens and the audience screams for more until the band members resurface for an encore. All the members of the different communities have very similar beliefs. Fans of the folk music in the 1960’s had strong beliefs against the Vietnam War. They valued peace, and love, and equality and they held these beliefs very close to their hearts.
Music to me has always been the source of my escape, my spirituality, even my salvation. When all was wrong in the world, I turned to music, and I was able to find the strength inside me to carry on. It has had more power over me than any recognized religion ever had. I can understand if someone is skeptical about how music can be my religion but as J.M. Barrie said, “One’s religion is whatever he is most interested in.”