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Written Writing

March 7, 2016

written by Brian Shesko

“Music is my religion,” said Jimi Hendrix, or at least that quote is attributed to him. More likely, this is a bumper sticker-quality distillation of a longer quote from Jimi about live music performance:

“When I get up on stage – well, that’s my whole life. That’s my religion. My music is electric church music, if by ‘church’ you mean ‘religion’. I am electric religion.”

That is arguably the most late-60’s, psychedelic rock thing anyone has ever said. It is also the type of quote that Christians tend to respond to with either pity or indignation: either a feeling of sadness that this was the best “religion” he could experience, or taken as an affront to Christianity as true religion. Either reaction is understandable to a point, but taken even at face value, I think his quote is quite close to the truth. It says as much about the transcendent nature of music and the power of a live performance as it does about Jimi Hendrix’s beliefs.

Approximately how much of your day are you listening or connected to music? Just observing the number of people walking around wearing headphones or with earbuds plugged in, the answer is probably “around half the day”, after subtracting out time spent in class, sleeping, and eating. That degree of musical connection is less like listening and more like soundtracking, with the songs you play functioning as a score and your everyday life is the movie. But is that much music really a bad thing? No, unless it is a ploy to avoid talking to other people. Music affects us so deeply, we want to be near it as much as possible. It is simultaneously comforting and enlivening, reaching into the deepest parts of our being, and at the same time, carrying us somewhere outside and beyond our immediate existence, and this is what undergirds Jimi Hendrix’s quote.

It is understandable, then, why he said what he did about live performance, which is where I think this should ultimately lead us. Whether or not he meant any hostility toward “church” or “religion” (I doubt that he did), the sentiment pulled from his statement is often used that way now; music is the anti-religion religion, and concerts are the non-church church. But even trying to distance oneself from religion by way of music and the performance of music requires the use of religious and spiritual language. Jimi Hendrix professed no particular faith during his short career, but had to use such language as a comparative point to what he did and experienced on stage. Author Chanon Ross speaks of concerts as revealing a “profound longing for transcendence, ecstatic experience, mutuality, and even incarnational metaphysics”, experiences most Christians (hopefully) seek and find in the local church. I think everyone wants that kind of connection or experience, and concerts are the closest thing many people will ever get to it. Music is a gift, but the live music experience makes it a gift in a truer sense: it becomes a shared experience between the maker of that gift and its recipients, and a way for those recipients to share in the experience together.

I am not advocating here for live music as a church substitute. But consider this an exhortation simply to pursue the live music experience. As a Christian, you are able to see it for what it is, a gift, and able to understand the spiritual depth of that experience, without needing it to be a substitute spirituality.

At Student Activities, this is a big part of what informs our decision to bring in artists, both large and small, and we hope that you will participate in our concert events. Check out all of our upcoming concerts and be sure to follow us on Twitter for concert announcements and information.

Approximately how much of your time listening to music is spent in discovery or exploration? That is, how much time do you give to listening to artists or genres with which you are unfamiliar?