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

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year 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.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid