The Secret History of Rock 'n' Roll: The Mysterious Roots of Modern Music

Anyone who's ever been to a really great rock and roll concert can probably tell you... it's more than “just a concert”. No. the good ones can border on a sort of mystical experience where magical things happen and time seems to stand still, albeit just for a moment... even if it's a sober moment.

I'm a firm believer that rock concerts can be quite magical events. I don't think I'd go to nearly as many if that weren't true. I've actually spent a fair amount of time thinking about why music and concert events can have such a powerful effect... why they're almost religious, mythic events. Looking back now, it seems like the connection to mythology is almost two obvious... the parallels too much to be mere coincidence.

It's that connection between rock and roll and the ancient mythologies, mysteries, religious cults and rituals that Christopher Knowles is trying to bring to light in his book The Secret History of Rock 'n' Roll: The Mysterious Roots of Modern Music. I consider myself fortunate to have recently given the opportunity to check out this book. I actually thought it was quite a fascinating read and pretty entertaining as well.

Knowles starts out with part 1: a bit of a crash course in ancient religions, cults, mysteries, secret societies and more ranging from the Egyptians and Christianity to the occult and the Masons. The connections between these past organizations and the rock and roll scenes throughout the years start becoming quite apparent right from the start... or at least they did to me, but I spend a fair amount of time studying rock and roll history already. Knowles doesn't explicitly spell everything out but does make the connections to kind of wet your appetite and get your mind thinking. Part 2 is more of a direct correlation between the various music scenes, even down to individual bands as their music, imagery and symbolism as they relate to particular mysteries. Knowles also does a bit of a brief trace through the history of rock and roll as well to sort of put things into context along the way, but as expected, the focus is more on the relationship between mythology and rock and roll than a true historical survey.

Overall I think the concept of rock and roll as an extension of ancient myth and mystery is quite natural. This is actually an idea I've thought about, albeit just slightly, before on occasion because I do enjoy music and concert events on such a visceral level. Now, I can easily see the comparisons between rock and roll and something like a religion. I mean there's gatherings, strange rituals, a sense of community and at times even some blind devotion and violent defense of one's “gods”... that sounds a bit like a religion (or a cult if you prefer) to me.

Knowles is going one step further with this book though. Not only is he making that comparison between rock and roll and “something like a religion/cult” but is citing specific documented examples from history in relation to specific past and present music scenes. These comparisons aren't just similarities either, but are so fascinatingly accurate right down to the rituals, symbolism and social norms. As Knowles suggests, it speaks of a sort of universal consciousness, something consistently present amongst all cultures that rock and roll has tapped into. It is this connection that not only shows some of the roots of rock's more interesting rituals etc, but also provides insight into why this music continues to be so popular and commands such loyalty.

Although there's plenty of evidence to support these connections presented, to me it really feels like Knowles just scratches the surface and that this is really more of an introduction to the ideas than a real thorough exploration. The second half in general seemed to move quite quickly to me and perhaps could have benefited from a little fleshing out in some cases, but as an introduction to the topics it works quite well. The fact that it moves quickly is not necessarily a bad thing though, as although we are talking about rock and roll here, there's also a fair amount of historical fact, mythology and even psychology throughout. By keeping things a little more on the light side, it makes these concepts a little more accessible and engaging right off the bat. I will admit at the end I was left wanting to know more, but I guess that's the sign of a successful introduction to the topics discussed... thought provoking to the point that I've been inspired to explore them further on my own.

Knowles casual and conversational tone throughout also makes things a little more accessible for someone who perhaps hasn't explored rock and roll as a more intellectual topic before. It makes for a fast read and some quite amusing moment, but at times might come off as a little too casual at times to take serious for some readers. I think it works on one level though because we shouldn't forget that rock and roll is rarely all that serious, but on another the overall topic is pretty intellectual so at times the combination can seem a little strange. These “too casual” moments aren't too frequent though and I don't think they detract from the overall read, nor the intelligence of the message. Knowles passion for both rock and roll and these historical mysterys is quite apparent throughout, so I think it ever seems like he's making light of the topics he's presenting, even when he does take a more amusing tone.

Overall I found The Secret History of Rock 'n' Roll: The Mysterious Roots of Modern Music to be a good read... entertaining and thought provoking. Anyone who's interested in rock and roll, especially it's history, I expect will enjoys Christopher Knowles book. It may be somewhat brief at times, but serves as a great introduction to these topics really making you think about what's behind this rock and roll we love so much. I kinda hope Knowles or other authors expand on these ideas a bit in the future as I think a lot of rock and roll fans would find that pretty fascinating.

If you're interested, check out this book directly from Amazon here: The Secret History of Rock 'n' Roll


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