Sixties Rock Music & Spiritual Influences

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Date Host Richard Syrett
Guests Christopher Hill, Tobias Churton

Music critic Christopher Hill joined Richard Syrett (Twitter) to delve into the mystical roots that influenced 1960s Rock and Roll, and how the British Invasion brought this visionary music into the mainstream. According to Hill, there are two notable precursors which created the template for Sixties music: 18th century French poet Arthur Rimbaud and African American traditional religious practices. Rimbaud was disappointed in the poetry and literature of his day, and believed he needed to alter his vision to be a real artist, he explained. The desire to push things in his art and open up to perceptions and consciousness was the model for musicians in the 1960s, including Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison, Hill noted.

The ecstatic traditions that were part of the religious practice brought by enslaved Africans informed their music as well, Hill continued. "The central practice of these African American spiritual traditions had to do with a state of trance or possession by the gods reaching a state of ecstasy," he revealed. Hill traced the origin of American popular music to New Orleans where elements of ecstatic traditions had fused with African American church culture — a mix that influenced musical artists such as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley. Hill credited the British Invasion with inspiring American Rock and Roll and the attitudes which led to social change in the Sixties. "What the British found in [African American based music] that they revived for us and brought back was the feeling of freedom that was in the music," he said.

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During the latter half of the program, author Tobias Churton examined the spiritual elements and expansive ideas that fueled the artistic, political, and social revolutions of the Sixties. According to Churton, the decade of the 1960s was a spiritual experience which led to the discovery of the sovereignty of the individual in society, and the freedom of the individual to accommodate and be accommodated in cosmic consciousness. "The spiritual Sixties could be breathed in almost every department of life — it affected everybody," he said. The idea of the expansion of space, fostered on university campuses and ushered into living rooms via broadcast television, created for many a spiritual homelessness and subsequent rush for meaning, Churton suggested, noting this reaction seeped its way into film and music of the period.

The Doors' "Break On Through (To The Other Side)" characterizes the fearsome tremors of the time, Churton continued. By 1969 the explosion of changes taking place almost obliterates everything that came before it, he suggested. Churton commented on the spiritual dimension to the widespread rebellion, and how young people were seeking a non-materialistic solution to the deeper problems of existence and mortality. The Church had become divorced from the mainstream culture, he explained, pointing out the spiritual elements of the Sixties attempted to remake the world into a better place in which to live. Churton also spoke about LSD experimentation in the arts (including The Beatles), the exaggerated influence of Hippie culture, and tension between the individual versus the community and how it was one of the cultural driving forces of the period.

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