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The Annals of Rock Snobbery

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His Holiness John Paul II was the closest a pontiff could come to being a Rock Snob: he met with Bono and Bob Dylan, attended a Rome benefit concert at which Lou Reed performed, and waved his arms encouragingly at some breakdancers who were spinnin’ and poppin’ on the floor of the Vatican.

His successor, however, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger—who, as of today, goes by the vaguely hip-hoppish tag of Benedict XVI—is defiantly anti-rockist. In a small volume published in 2000 called The Spirit of the Liturgy, itself an expansion of an essay Ratzinger wrote in 1986, the future pope argued,” ‘Rock’… is the expression of elemental passions, and at rock festivals, it assumes a cultic character, a form of worship, in fact, in opposition to Christian worship. People are, so to speak, released from themselves by the experience of being part of a crowd and by the emotional shock of rhythm, noise, and special lighting effects. However, in the ecstasy of having all their defenses torn down, the participants sink, as it were, beneath the elemental force of the universe.”

Well, before we dismiss the new pope as an out-of-it fuddy-duddy, let’s parse his words. He only seems to be talking about rock “festivals” with “special lighting effects,” which, generally, are as dreadful as he says. And one of his pet peeves, the implementation of quasi-rock music into the liturgy at some churches, is indeed an abomination, as anyone who’s ever sat through a Rockin’ Mass with amplified guitars can attest. (Tony Hendra, the Benedictine monk turned gonzo humorist, and the guy who played Ian Faith in This Is Spinal Tap, wrote a brilliant essay on this subject for GQ some years back.)

Nevertheless, Pope Benedict’s blanket condemnation of rock as a whole is tin-eared and unfair. We expect Bono to “open a dialogue” and rectify this situation ASAP.

Meanwhile, over here at Rock Snob HQ, the conclave we’re puzzling over is the one at Roger Taylor’s Surrey mansion at which it was determined that Paul Rodgers should fill Freddie Mercury’s tights in the 2005 touring version of Queen.

April 19, 2005 More Rock Snobbery »

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