Christopher Knowles's "The Secret History of Rock N' Roll is a hit." When I first read the book's premise, which is that the musical genre of "rock and roll" is significantly based on and related to ancient mystery cults, I thought, "Interesting angle--I'm waiting to be convinced." As a scholar of ancient religion and mythology, I could sense where Knowles was going but I had not seen the specifics of his viewpoint. Cutting to the chase: Christopher presents an intriguing case for his unusual observations and thesis. Because of his scholarly research, which I found illuminating, and of his clear and concise writing style, Knowles's argument is convincing. I'm not sure every last detail represents precisely how this fascinating development may have occurred--such a feat would be impossible to accomplish--but overall the hypothesis appears to be sound. Logical enough, in fact, that one is tempted to slap one's forehead and exclaim, "Doh! Why didn't I think of that?"
Basically, Knowles's premise is that rock and roll's secret history represents "the startling evolution of rock music itself and how it has acted as an outlet for deep memetic currents that were once thought to have been consigned to history." (94) In a nutshell, rock and roll is a renewed expression of the deeply rooted ancient mysteries, such as those of Orpheus, Cybele and Attis, Isis, Mithra, the Druids, etc. What Knowles essentially describes could be deemed an "ancient rave," loud music and drugs included.
In his quest, Christopher's citation of ancient authorities such as Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, Strabo and Plutarch demonstrates evidence of his thesis from ancient times, putting together many important elements from the mystery schools and doctrines. The abundant use of these ancient voices gives the thesis a certain degree of credibility, while to establish a concrete link we need to factor in modern voices within not only the music industry but also the disciplines of cultural anthropology and psychology, among others--a study that could produce an unwieldy amount of data. Fortunately, Christopher Knowles has a knack of distilling down large quantities of material, making it accessible and interesting to the average reader.
As part of his analysis, Knowles discusses the role of Christianity in the religious traditions and mysteries transmitted to us in modern rituals and rites of passage. In this regard, I found his depiction of the gospel story to be puzzlingly literal, especially in consideration of my own work, with which Christopher is familiar, and of the knowledge that the mysteries--which share so much in common with Christianity--do not revolve around a literal, historical godman. Nevertheless, I appreciated his frank account of the later rise of the Christian faith under Constantine, during which time "any bishops or clergymen who disagreed with the prevailing orthodoxy were tortured, exiled, or beheaded--sometimes all three." (59)
This section immediately caused me to think about what we are currently seeing in the rise of Islam globally, as a much-dreaded possible return to the Dark Ages--Inquisition, torture, witch-burnings, genocide and all.
NATURE WORSHIP AND ASTROTHEOLOGY
The gods of antiquity were recipients of the kind of adoration and adulation reserved in modern times for politicians and other celebs, including and especially rock stars in their heyday. In fleshing out this comparison, the phrase "rock and roll gods" takes on a whole new meaning, particularly when we look at the esoteric significance of the ancient myths and mysteries. As Knowles points out, the myths and mysteries were often based on nature worship, including the observations of the seasons, which also incorporated what is known as "astrotheology," i.e., the reverence of the sun, moon, planets, stars and constellations.
Along the way, naturally, we also find discussion of the "drugs" part of "sex, drugs and rock 'n roll," with a comparison between the rampant psychedelic drug experimentation of the modern era and the evidently fairly common consumption of similar "entheogens" ("God-generating" chemicals) in antiquity, especially in mystery school initiations.
In fact, Knowles provides a thorough summary of the use of such mysterious sacraments, which are thought to constitute various psychoactive substances, depending on the time and place.
In the case for ancient myths and mysteries finding their way into or representing the hidden roots of modern music, fascinating facts jump off practically every page, such as that the Beatles' early Liverpudlian venue, the Cavern Club, had been a Mithraeum or sanctuary of the Perso-Roman god Mithra during Roman times. Knowles's insight about club and theater names such as Apollo, Palladium, etc., is also intriguing.
In his endeavor, Knowles uses categories of mysteries and gods to sort some of rock's individual musicians and musical groups, placing Tina Turner, for example, in the class of "Earth Mothers: The New Eleusinians" and identifying Bruce Springsteen as an "Apollo."
In the many examples Christopher gives he generally doesn't spend much time on why each fits into its section, which may be because of space consideration. I would have liked to see more about that factor, as concerns actual songs and their possible inspiration from the ancient mysteries, religion, spirituality, nature worship and astrotheology.
One downside: As a scholar, I felt the lack of citations and bibliography to be unfortunate, because parts of the book truly are good enough to be cited in other works.
In the end, "The Secret History of Rock 'N' Roll" is a "wish I'd read this when I was younger"-type book. Indeed, it is a well-written tome positing an unusual thesis not without precedent but uniquely expressed and detailed here in a learned yet friendly manner.
D.M. Murdock/Acharya S is the author of the controversial books The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold, Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha and Christ Unveiled, Who Was Jesus? Fingerprints of The Christ, Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection and The Gospel According to Acharya S. Her work can be seen in the religion part of the hit internet film "ZEITGEIST," which has been viewed over 100 million times worldwide. Murdock's books and articles on comparative religion and mythology can be found at TruthBeKnown.com, StellarHousePublishing.com and FreethoughtNation.com.