Truth About Rock: Shattering the Myth of Harmless Music, by Steve Peters and Mark Littleton (Bethany House Publishers, 1998, 205 pages, $14.50 CAD).Reviewed by Paul Tuns
The Interim

Many if not most people would say that rock music is just another option on the entertainment smorgasbord; that going to a rock concert is no different from attending the theatre, and the Beatles are no different from Beethoven.

When people do fuss about rock it is usually over the coarser forms of heavy metal, rap and hard rock. From devil-worshipping heavy metal in the ’80s to profanity- and violence-filled rap in the ’90s, certain artists have always caused controversy because of their offensive lyrics and theatrics. Ozzy Osbourne reportedly bit the heads off bats, and Marilyn Manson simulates sodomy and oral sex on stage.

But as Steve Peters and Mark Littleton illustrate, rock music is not necessarily harmless. In their readable and thoroughly researched book,Truth About Rock: Shattering the Myth of Harmless Music, Peters, president of Solid Rock Ministries, and Littleton, president of a communications firm, expose the self-destructive lifestyles of many rock musicians and describe the overall tendency of rock music to undermine social mores.

Rock began before Elvis Presley, but even Presley, a seemingly benign cultural influence 40 years later, represented, in the words of Arnold Shaw in The Dictionary of American Pop/Rock, “the expression of a young generation in conflict with, and in rebellion against, the older generation.”

Peters and Littleton note that Presley “was changing the way young people looked at life” – and not for the better, as “Suddenly, the triumvirate of school, family and church had lost meaning.”

A major portion of the book is used to catalogue musicians and summarize their messages and note the use of offensive, sexual or violent lyrics. This section, a total of 90 pages, is far from comprehensive, but is still useful as an indication of which musicians may use lyrics that undermine traditional values and offend religious beliefs.

This is an excellent aid for people who don’t want their children and grandchildren listening to music laden with sex, profanity, violence, despair or misogyny, and for people who want to know about the music which is influencing young people today.

On the lyrics of Canada’s Sarah McLachlan, the guide says, “There is clearly a longing for true communion marked by openness and vulnerability of soul … Some might feel she does not adequately resolve the painful issues she broaches.”

The authors conclude “it is probable that only those of mature heart and developed mind are capable of discerning and evaluating the contents and meanings of McLachlan’s lyrics. Some contain profanity.”

The authors recognize that it is not always profanity or sex-filled lyrics that are a problem. It is also the world-view that is presented.

The rap group Kris Kross, the book warns, have lyrics that show a “belief in self at the expense of truth and wisdom.” Another rap “artist,” Coolio, suggests kids reject sexual abstinence and use condoms.

Looking at the alternative band Bush, the authors say their “lyrics are offerings to nihilism and misery.”