On rock star deaths

I never thought that Jesus had much to do with rock and roll, but according to some, the Good Shepherd intervenes regularly to cut short the sinful lives of some of our best-known and best-loved musical celebrities. Dial-the-Truth Ministries has compiled a list of dead rock stars at www.av1611.org/rockdead.html. The site tracks some 300 rock-star deaths, attributing about half to high-risk behavior like drug use and the remainder to natural causes like heart attacks and leukemia.

The implication is that while some rock stars kill themselves with their lifestyles, many others are struck down by God. According to the site, rock stars live half as long as regular citizens. Preachers have long told us that listening to rock music is playing with fire; this study claims that performing it is stepping directly into the flames.

Even outside of art, early death plays a huge role in Western society. Christianity sticks in our memories in part because of its own early deaths: Jesus ascended into heaven at 33, a full 3.9 years sooner than the average Dial-the-Truth rock star. Sure, there was a vast increase in life expectancy over the millennia — but was it not Jesus’ own lifestyle and celebrity status that brought him before Pontius Pilate?

Of course, there are differences between rock stars and Jesus. I mean only to point out the cultural significance of the demise; how we take an early, unexpected death, and remember it. We try to ascribe the death to cause and effect, try to find reasons why someone died before he or she should have. But coping with an untimely death is different than using it to send a moral message. A person’s life ought to be more than a political or evangelical tool, and those who manipulate the lives of the departed demean both themselves and their faiths. If we were to reduce Jesus’ life to its end, all we would have is a warning against bucking the system, not the rich and diverse set of teachings conveyed through the rest of His life.

Those who believe that rock music is an inherently evil force do not understand that rock music is simply a mode of expression. Just as language can be used both to denounce the Holy Spirit and praise the Lord, electric guitars and robust bass lines can be used for good, evil, or neither. Both religion and music can celebrate what makes us human, albeit in different ways. Rock music at its best articulates what it means to be alive, and in its own way can help us extend beyond our raw animal selves into the world of the mind and spirit.