A few weeks ago I got to do something that I had wanted to do for years: I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. My mom was in charge of dropping me back off in West Virginia after my Easter break, so she decided to change up our usual driving route to include a stop in Cleveland. We spent about an hour and a half there on the Saturday before Easter. I took pictures. I geeked out over the U2 memorabilia. I got sad that I didn’t really see any Led Zeppelin stuff. A good time was had.
Given the fact that my current tastes in music tend to fall in the folk and indie spectrums, it surprises some people that I also love classic rock and roll. Truth is, I grew up with the stuff, and I’ve been listening to it longer than any other kind of music. I remember listening to the more mellow sounds of Billy Joel and Roy Orbison right around the time I was fangirling over 90s boy bands and pop stars. I have fond memories of singing along with songs like “Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty, “Behind Blue Eyes” by The Who, “London Calling” by The Clash, and “Arnold Layne” by Pink Floyd with my dad. I’ve liked music from a young age, but U2 was the band that changed everything for me and made me truly love it, and they’re the band that inspired me to pick up the guitar. And the movie School of Rock captures my imagination now as much as it did when it was released more than 10 years ago.
Strolling through the exhibits and memorabilia at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was a nostalgic trip, in more ways than one. I got excited about all of the things I saw, as if I was discovering the music all over again. It was such a joy to see so much of the music I love in one place, being preserved and celebrated for rock and roll fans and for future generations of music lovers who want to see the roots of their favorite music. And it reminded me how culture creates music and music creates culture. Videos playing in some exhibits told the story of the rise of punk in NYC and London, grunge in Seattle, and the hippie movement in California. They told of the social and economic backdrops that shaped them and the people that the music shaped in turn. These styles of music gave people a voice. They gave people a crowd to fit into, a way to define themselves, an escape from their trappings and stresses.
And I felt conflicted as I realized that. On one hand, as much as I like some grunge and punk music, for example, the things that the music stood for when it was in its heyday clash with my personal faith and values. As a person who is growing in her faith and wanting that to be the primary way I identify myself and who also loves music, I am toeing the line between simply enjoying music and letting it define me and feed me the way I think God should.
On the other hand, I realize that classic rock and roll did indeed shape me when I was growing up. It was how I learned to be comfortable in my own skin. I was a bit of a misfit as a pre-teen and into my teen years—I was quiet, making friends didn’t come easily to me, and I always had different interests than most of my peers. Finding rock and roll, beginning with U2 and snowballing into other artists, helped me to own that sense of being different, though. It made me realize that I didn’t have to be like everyone else. Minus the morally questionable mindsets and behaviors that it sometimes brought about, my experience with rock and roll wasn’t much different than that of the people who clung to it in their formative years some 30, 40, 50 years ago.
So I’m grateful for all the music that shaped me but especially for rock and roll for kick-starting that formation in the first place. Here’s to the music that made us. To the music that moves our feet and our souls. To the music that taught us how to feel and how to sing or dance or air-guitar without caring who sees. Thanks, rock and roll, for being that music for me.
What about you? What music do you have a history with? What music formed you? Feel free to share in the comments!