TOWARD THE 2012 MEETING/Rock and desire for the infiniteEverything that lives is holy; therefore, even rock can be so. Irish journalist John Waters tells us how this is possible.
By Erika Elleri
To cross the threshold: this is the invitation that John Waters, the main curator of the exhibit “Three chords and the desire for Truth. Rock ‘n’ roll as search for the infinite”, wants to extend to us. Rock is desire for the infinite? It would seem like a contradiction but for John Waters it is not. At the condition that we do not use the word ‘rock’ in its commonly understood sense. He does not like it. “It seems to me to be a reduction,” he tells us, “suggesting a certain category of music only, a bombastic, exhibitionist kind that seems designed for the purposes of exhibitionism and narcissism and it seems to exclude the fragile and sensitive music, the old and wise music, the gentle and questioning music – all of which are what attract me to this area.” Why do we use the term rock ‘n’ roll in the exhibit? “The term ‘rock ‘n’ roll,” Waters says, “is more ironic and therefore more open. But even this does not convey its true substance and stands as a barrier against many who might become interested and excited if they could get beyond the threshold.”
You mentioned before a kind of music that poses question, is this what generated in you the passion for this musical genre?
Music entered my world, my life, when I was a teenager. The musicians we listened to and followed seemed to understand our feelings and thoughts more than anything else. This told me instantaneously that everything might be completely different than the way I had been told it was. And yet this music did not solve everything, it did not exclude my experience – on the contrary, it entered my experience and opened it up, and I recognized this at once as a truthful occurrence. I am talking about how music influences our lives, how it seems to come out of our interior world and cannot be recognized by the people around us. The first song that made me make this journey was “Ride a White Swan” by Marc Bolan’s band T Rex, but also pieces by John Lennon, especially after the break with the Beatles, or the ones by the Elvis Presley, who created that extraordinary fusion of black music and white experience that enthralled the crowds as never before. Those on the outside who harbor prejudices about this music tend to feel that it distracts and misleads the human sense of freedom, and of course they are, in potential terms, correct. But firstly it awakens the desire for freedom, which can only be a good thing. When you begin to think of it like this, almost everything in the music begins to change its meaning from that which is given to us in conventional culture. Even the simplest love song becomes an expression of yearning for the infinite and the great.
How did the idea of the exhibit originate?
It wasn’t really a "decision" – more of a question concerning a question: "is it possible that, not matter how misunderstood this can become, everything man embarks upon doing or saying has its origin in his desire for something infinite?" It seems to me that if we can demonstrate this with rock ‘n’ roll we can make the proposition radically more plausible and more real in everything and everyone. I want the observer to enter into the awareness that I speak of, to have this confirmed if it already exists in them as a question, and to have them become more open to it if it does not already exist.
Which musicians will be at the exhibition?
We haven’t decided on the full final list, but they will mainly be the obvious ones: Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Coldplay, U2, Leonard Cohen and others.
At the presentation of the exhibit you stated that rock, despite being such a modern way of expression, is an instrument of man’s religious dimension. What do you think about the state of rock music today and the environment around it?
Of course this is both the "problem" and the very phenomenon that we seek to describe. Rock ‘n’ roll has seemed to become, culturally speaking, detached from man’s fundamental searching, being appropriated by commerce to manufacture distraction and diversion and even what might be called "deviance". But in this is closely follows the line of much of reality. The question then is: must the surviving religious imagination of man simply accept that most of reality has deviated from it, and that the only recourse of "religious" man is a decline into piety and detachment? Or are we simply misunderstanding the codes, the languages, by which the same desires as inspired the Apostles still live in the hears of man and are excited by different things. Is "holiness" always going to be recognizable as a particular form of reverence? I think of a line used by Bono of U2: “Never trust a righteous man who looks like one.” This is really the objective of the exhibition: to make visible that, as William Blake said: “All is holy.” Well, almost all.