Losing my religion

Bucking television‘s traditional God slot ethic is a series putting the rock ‘n‘ roll in religion. Damien Love speaks to broadcaster Torn Morton about the potent mix of religion and music.

“The waste t/rat/il/ed any town or ('in he entered was not the tnusie oft/re saints. but another ntusie. infernal. w/tie/t glorified lust and held rig/tteousness up to seorn . . . ' (lo 'Iell It On lllt’ .llountain. Jatnes Baldwin

God. yeah. you might say. give me some of that. However. the horrified attitude of Baldwin‘s

travelling preacher toward the city dance hall jaw. of the 40s. can be taken as generally sunmring up the Christian (‘hurch's perennial view of popular music. This. though. hasn’t prevented various attempts by Christian emissaries to use secular music as a kind of Trojan horse to smuggle their messages across to the great unwashed in general. and the yorrrrg in particular.

For broadcaster. journalist and author Torn Morton. this is personal territory. Following an adolescence ‘in love with pop music and in love with (iod‘. Morton spent several years earning his living as a full-time. gospel-singing evangelist. in The Roek 'I'lrat Doesn 'I Roll. a sis—part series nrade for Scottish 'l‘elevision. Morton. now healthily lapsed. examines the strong. confused and often contradictory relationship between ‘The ('hurch‘ and "The Devil's , Music'.

jacket. jumper. acoustic guitar and - (iod help us a

.\. Tom Morton: lapsed rock 'n’ roll preacherrnan


As a starting point. the series cites the pioneering efforts of the l‘)th centrrry Salvation Army hands that hijacked bawdy contemporary drinking songs in an attempt to woo the working classes. l’rom here. of cotrrse. one can draw a straight litre to the Trendy Priest. lie is a staple horror of arty ('atholic upbringing: a youngish ligurc. usually with leather

[’2 song book. sent into schools to show the kids that

Jesus rocks too. albeit in sanitiscd ways.

‘1 think that's just stupidity. and a very short sighted view of vv hat the nature of art is all about.‘ says Morton. "l‘hat's certainly something I‘ve had personal cvperience of: the priest would sing his trendy songs. wear a leather jacket and think that's all he had to do. But all of its who really care about music believe that’s just so crass and pathetic. And there are people trying to produce spiritual music. which nobody worrld look at arid say: "Oh. that‘s propaganda. or naive". The danger is. when the I

Church gets its hands on something it sees as a tool they can use to convert people with. then they do so.‘

'He struek the piano one last. wild note and I/rren' up

his hands . . . then be was on Iris/eel. turning blind. . i . His head snapped downstairs. /1is sweat loosening

the grease r/ra/ slieked down his hair . . . lris I/tig/rs nrot'ed terribly against the (‘lU/ll of/iis suit. his heels beat on t/Iefloor and ltisfists moved beside his body

3 as t/toug/i he were beating his own drtnn . . . ' (1o Tell

It ()n The Mountain. James Baldwin.

A central theme of the series is an obvious one. which nonetheless might have escaped the more puritanical Christian elements: almost all forms of popular music. rock 'n' roll. country and soul have their foundations in the C hureh. The above passage isn’t a description ofJames Brown fronting the Famous Flames. btrt of a church rnetnber going into a ‘shout‘ - the pcntacostal worship dance-trance. from which the lsley Brothers/Lulu song took its name.

‘Nearly all the moves of rock 'n' roll performers are taken from the black church,‘ says Morton. ‘We talked to Willie Mitchell —- producer of Al Green. who went from the gospel scene into straight soul singing and is now the minister of his own. rather bizarre church in Memphis.

‘lZven Elvis was offered a place in a gospel quartet before Sam Phillips gave him the chance to record at Sun. All the people at the Million Dollar Quartet session Elvis. Jerry Lee Lewis. Johnny Cash. Carl Perkins —- sang nothing but gospel. So there's a highly important link between the Church and secular music: James Brown pure gospel. This is paralleled in white country music. People like Tammy Wynette. who we interviewed in Nashville again all their early experience of singing came straight from the Church.‘

As the series moves on to examine the battle between the sacred and the profane raging in the heart and souls of performers like Marvin Gaye and Hank Williams. it seems a pity Scottish Television has consigned it to the Christian ghetto time slot of Sunday morning TV. Says Morton: ‘lt‘s unfortunate. because I think it‘s far rrrore interesting than that. It's not airrred at a church audience.‘

The Roek T/Illl Doesn 't Roll begins at noon on Sunday 23 July on Seottis/t 'Ielevision.

Get a life

the problem with shows about teenagers is that the angst of adolescence isn’t half as interesting as adolescents think it is. They’re just so self-absorbed; all they ever do is whine, whine, whine . . . and run up phone bills.

My So-Called Life, made by the producers of the definitive baby- boomer serial thirtysomefhing, was conceived as an ‘authentic’ take on teenage years from the perspective of a middle-class, suburban kid called Angela Chase. So did they give her acne, lank hair and dental braces? 0f

3 start driving her to school,

course not. Angela’s peaches-and- cream complexion shines from the screen, while her ‘crimson glow’ hair- colouring stays just the right side of kooky. Her home life is almost as perfect too, with two loving parents

? and the obligatory cute younger sister. But as a determined Generation X-er, , Angela still reckons she has it tough;

high school’s ‘a minefield for your heart’ with hormonal cherry-bombs going off at every turn, while at home her nice, liberal parents are just so over-protective. ‘I wish we could put her in a bubble,’ says doting dad, on

hearing about a minor gun incident at ? Angela’s school. ‘Maybe we should

he muses

E to Mom. ‘Like, noooo way!’ yells

My So-Called Life: wall-to-wall teenage Angela. Just an average evening’s angst : discourse round the dinner table chez


The show is already a big hit in America, despite the ABC network’s year-long dither about how to pitch it. Executives were concerned that it was too serious to appeal to the teen audience, and too adolescent to appeal to fhirfysomefhing fans. By opting for an 8pm timeslot, they managed to capture both. In this country, My So-called life may be just too American, with none of the escapist Californian gloss that makes Beverly Hills 90210 a cult hit. Listening to kids talking earnest psycho-babble about their feelings, without any hint of irony, is just so un- British. What’s wrong with stink bombs and ink pellets? (Eddie Gibb)

My Sa-Balled life starts on Monday 26 July on Channel 4.


The List l4-27 Jul 1995 75