News / USA

New Book Explores Secret Ancient History of Rock 'n Roll

Author Christopher Knowles says fast, loud and wild music dates back to the ancient world

Multimedia

Audio
Faiza Elmasry

Rock and roll evolved in the United States and gained popularity in the post World War II era. However, a new book by Christopher Knowles proposes that this genre of music is part of the wider human story, dating back to ancient cultures, 2,000, 4,000 even 10,000 years ago.  

Rock 'n' roll, says Knowles, has its roots in the mystery cults of the ancient world.

In his new book, 'The Secret History of Rock 'n' Roll,' author Christopher Knowles says this genre of American music is part of the wider human story and dates back to ancient cultures.
In his new book, 'The Secret History of Rock 'n' Roll,' author Christopher Knowles says this genre of American music is part of the wider human story and dates back to ancient cultures.

"The mystery cults were really a reaction to the coldness and almost the inhumane nature of the official state cults," Knowles says. "In Greece, of course, it was Zeus. In Rome, we had Jupiter, and in Egypt, we had Amon-Ra. These official state cults were sort of alienating to the general public because the official state cults had become formalized, and so rigid. So the mystery cults started around, usually, a god of fertility and it all stems around the idea of fertility, and the seasons and the cycles of life. People really felt a very strong need to connect with something greater than themselves."

The music played during the rituals and ceremonies of these cults was fast, loud, and wild - very similar to rock and roll.

"The ancient Egyptians, they had temples where they had pop divas who became the pop stars of their time," he explains. "They would have these festivals where they would get together. They would drink beer and they would have music. They would have their own heavy metal bands. They had these guys who would come out dressed on leather armor and would bang time with their swords and shields and scream at the top of their lungs."

And just like modern rock and roll, Knowles says, ancient cult music provided a much needed escape for people.

"Human beings need excitement," he says. "They need relief. They need a sense of catharsis. We see this all around the world. It's not only rock and roll; it's not only the ancient mystery cults. We see this in cultures everywhere. It is really necessary and very badly needed part of human existence, to break the rules for a while, to break out of our ordinary consensus reality. So culture might change on the surface, but there are all these lines of continuity that stretch over time because they speak to basic human needs."

In both ancient and modern times, he adds, new trends started as a counter to mainstream culture.

"At first, it was not very well received," Knowles says. "The mystery cults were seen as counter-culture at best, and a challenge to authority at worst, particularly in Rome. So people met in secret, often out of necessity because they were not approved officially. So this is a process where it starts off being counter-cultural and rebellious, but over time it becomes more acceptable. The greatest parallel, of course, is rock and roll. When rock and roll starts off, we have record burnings, we have all sorts of controversies in the media, but eventually it's accepted. So I think it is an interesting process that repeats itself throughout history."

In his book, "The Secret History of Rock 'n' Roll," Knowles also follows the evolution of rock 'n' roll from an expression of youthful rebellion to a symbol of American culture.

"It's really an amazing process because it all starts off as rhythm and blues," he adds.  "R&B is combined with country swing and then it becomes rock-a-billy, which becomes rock and roll. Then, we see soul music. We see psychedelic rock in the 1960. That sort of opens this Pandora's box where things began to multiply. We see heavy metal. We see punk. We see art rock. We see progressive rock, and we see glam rock.And the interesting thing is that when you look back in the ancient world, they had their own glam rockers. They had their own heavy metal bands. They had their own punk rock bands."

But are modern rock stars aware of the resemblance between themselves and ancient rockers?

"We've got to start with Elvis and the interesting thing about Elvis is that he really was very conscious of this process," knowles explains. "He presented himself looking like Apollo, dressing like a superhero with the cape. The Beatles have become gods into themselves. John Lennon is sort of a rock and roll martyr. Every religion sort of needs a martyr. Elvis Presley died young. That first wave of rock and roll, we had lots of martyrs. We had Buddy Holly, Jim Morrison, Eddie Cochran, all sorts of these 'live fast, die young' kind of martyrs to rock and roll. Jim Morrison knew all about these cults and talked about them. But I don't think most people involved in hard-core punk today really have that cultural understanding."

In fact, Knowles asserts, rock and roll today is not what it once was.

"The golden age of rock 'n' roll, I sort of identify it starting in 1965 with the Beatles' album Rubber Soul, in which rock 'n' roll really became an art form, not just another form of dance music," he says. "It sort of unfolds on MTV in the 1980s. Rock 'n' roll was really everywhere you went in the 1980s. you would hear music, you would see music videos. Today, certainly music is everywhere. Rock 'n' roll is everywhere. It's on every commercial you hear, on every kid's TV show, but it's not as important to listeners, especially young listeners."

But the author of "The Secret History of Rock 'n' Roll" stresses that music is a process, and there will be a new golden age of rock and roll. The music, he says, has always been with us and always will be.

You May Like

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid