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

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    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.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.