Wisdom from Lester Bangs
Last night I introduced one of my roommates to Almost Famous. This movie is one of my favorites. It’s an honest look at the prevailingly decadent industry of rock music in the mid 70’s. The main character, William Miller, is a 15 year old emerging rock journalist. William joins Stillwater on their tour in hopes of completing an assignment for Rolling Stone magazine.
Woven through the movie is an ideological struggle between those who love rock music for what it is, and those who wish to exploit for their own purposes. Lester Bangs, editor of Creem magazine, warns William of this struggle.
They [rock stars] want you to write sanctimonious stories about the genius of rock stars and they will ruin rock n roll, and strangle everything we love about it. They are trying to buy respectability for a forum that is gloriously and righteously dumb. You’re smart enough to know that. The day it ceases to be dumb is the day it ceases to be real. Right, then it just becomes and industry of cool. I’m telling you, you are coming along in a very dangerous time for rock n roll. The war is over. They won. 99 percent of what passes for rock n roll, silence is more compelling.
The antithesis of Lester Bangs is Stillwater’s appointed band manager who counsels the band to lie to Rolling Stone to maintain their image. He reminds the band of what they are in this for and its merchandising, money, and fame.
I resonate strongly with these themes. I’m not a musician but I feel this struggle parallels one that I find between church and kingdom life. If I were to rewrite Lester’s rant it would go like this.
They [church leaders] want you to write sanctimonious stories about the effectiveness of their ministry and they will ruin Christianity, and strangle everything we love about it. They are trying to create respectability for a forum that is gloriously and righteously beyond them. You’re smart enough to know that. They day ceases to be God is the day it ceases to be real. Right, then it just becomes and industry of success. I’m telling you, you are coming along in a very dangerous time for the church. The war is over. They won. 99 percent of what passes for ministry, silence is more compelling.
In the realm of rock music, the rock industry pressures the people involved to serve themselves rather than create genuine art. In church the carrot of ministry success and the tradition of our institutions slowly and subtly trick us in to serving ourselves more than serving God.