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When rock concerts are a spiritual experience

PicMonkey CollageI don’t go to church. For me, a good rock concert is more of a spiritual experience than church.

The last time I set foot in a church was when I was about 15 and finishing Year 10 at my Catholic High School. I was glad to see the back of those boring, drawn-out Masses, to be honest.

I was baptised a Catholic as a baby, so I didn’t get much say in it. I wasn’t one of those babies who pissed on the priest, but it didn’t take me long to begin questioning things, say at around five years of age.

I went to three Catholic primary schools and one Catholic high school. There were things I liked about going to Mass. I found the whole premise of the religion completely confusing and disturbing, but I actually enjoyed aspects of being a Catholic. Such as being able to go to Confession and tell the priest all my ‘sins’, then have him forgive me. Just like that.

I remember walking out of there feeling on top of the world. Squeaky clean and ready to continue sinning.

While I always felt the Bible was mostly made up and quite macabre in a lot of places, I made the most of having to go to Mass every Sunday. When our family moved to Katoomba in 1982, I was amazed to discover Saint Canice’s church accepted girls as altar servers. Very progressive.

If I had to be sitting in that church for an hour of my life every Sunday, I wanted to be doing something constructive. So I became an altar server along with my brother. Our tasks were to light the candles, get the Bibles ready for the priest, fill the chalice with wine and the other chalice with ‘the body of Christ’, and sit to the side of the altar during the Mass, getting stuff for the priest when he needed it.

There were long stretches between jobs during the Mass, where my brother and I sat holding white candles in our white robes to the side of the altar, in full view of the congregation. We entertained ourselves by pouring hot candle wax on each other’s hands.

It was fun, in a sort of sadistic way.

The one spiritual experience I got from Mass was the part at the end when everyone shook hands and said, “Peace be with you.” “And also with you.” It was partial elation that the Mass was nearly over, but also the feeling of true benevolent connection with other human beings that lifted my heart and soul.

That kind of mass connection with other human beings on a large scale has mostly happened for me at major music events. Because I’ve always been into rock music, it has mostly been at rock concerts, but it has also happened at operas, symphonies and other events where the audience becomes united with the musicians and you can feel a palpable sense of connection to the entire universe – or at least something greater than yourself — through the music.

It is a true spiritual experience.

I have had that experience twice now in the past four months. In November last year, it happened at the Radiohead concert at Brisbane Entertainment Centre. I read newspaper articles by journalists saying they ‘saw God’ at that concert.

I did too. And I don’t even believe in God, in the traditional sense. I felt something even greater than God at that concert, and I was totally peaking and operating on some sort of higher plane for weeks afterwards.

The second one was last Saturday night at the Bruce Springsteen concert at the same venue. That took me by surprise, since I’ve never been a Bruce fan. I went with my partner, Herrin and his mum. Herrin has long been a fan and we took him for his birthday. It was a three-hour set with no breaks and I only knew four songs: Down to the River, Blinded by the Light, Born to Run and Dancing in the Dark. I was so hoping he would play Because the Night, which he wrote and Patti Smith made her own.

Despite not knowing most of the songs, I was deeply moved by the way Bruce baby connected with the audience.

It was a 12,000 capacity crowd. Throughout the show, Bruce walked out into the crowd and touched people. No, not like that. He touched them emotionally, spiritually. And the elation on people’s faces was so uplifting. Seeing their hands pat his back as he moved past them brought a tear to my eye. Seeing a moving bed of arms hold him up as he crowd surfed his way back to the stage made me smile.

It made me wonder why every rock star, every rock band, does not connect with the audience in this way. They are missing such a great opportunity.

Herrin made the comment that it wouldn’t suit every band to do this. For example, if at a Pink Floyd concert, Roger Waters or Dave Gilmour went running out into the crowd to give everyone high-fives, it would just be weird. They, like Radiohead, connect with people by tapping deeply into the collective sense of alienation many people feel in life, and doing it in such a highly artistic way it becomes transcendental. They do it in a way that relieves the alienation and connects people.

Something else I loved about Bruce’s show was when he got an 11-year-old boy up on stage who was wearing the outfit from the Born in the USA cover: the white T-shirt, the jeans, the red handkerchief in the back pocket. He handed the kid the microphone and the kid sang to the crowd with such jubilation that we all felt it. Then Bruce took him by the hand and they did a big stage slide together. The applause was deafening.

That kid will never forget that experience as long as he lives. None of us will forget the experience of being united with 12,000 people enjoying the music of a working class folk rock singer-songwriter who has never forgotten where he came from. Never forgotten what’s important in life. Connection with people on a heart and soul level, showing your humanness even when you are one of the world’s greatest rock stars. Showing people they are just like you.

That to me, rather than priests on pulpits in robes, is what being truly spiritual is all about.

16 thoughts on “When rock concerts are a spiritual experience”

  1. LOVE what you’ve shared about your experience at the Bruce concert. I have been a lifelong fan of Bruce Springsteen, since I first saw him at Asbury Park, New Jersey in the summer of 1975 at a FREE concert…he was in the very first “bloom” of being what he has become and long, long before the BOSS he became.
    I then followed him when I still lived in usa, seeing him in concert 6 more times. Moved to Australia 14 years ago and have not seen him in concert since. I have however followed him and his music and own and LOVE each and every CD he’s recorded. This is also one of the great things about him…his has continued to write and record on an ongoing basis over the years….if you don’t know some of his newer music seek it out and have a listen! (Say, from the past 10 or 12 years…)
    To say I was ready and excited to see him is an understatement. I totally relate to your “spiritual” experience….the energy, the love, the power of what he gives and REALLY gives is beyond anything you can really share unless you’ve been there. So, so inspiring.
    (My funny little aside note:…I went with a girlfriend and after dropping her off I continued thru’ Maleny at about 1:30 am in the morning, of course dead still and quiet at that time of nite…got to the top of town and got pulled over by TWO Maleny police…of course i had a bruce cd on full volume, and when i rolled the car window down, the BOSS could no doubt be heard from one end of town to the other….when i explained I was on my way home from the concert, they were all ears and wanted to know all about it. they just breath-al-ized me (I had not had a drop all nite) and i went on my way….) I, too Love my little town of Maleny!

    1. Thanks for sharing this Renee. Wow, how amazing to have seen him in 1975. I would have been 3! And that story is great about the coppers. Yes he gave an incredible amount of himself at that concert, and I can imagine he would have done that at all his concerts over the years. What an amazing songwriter, performer and man. I liked that he supported the Brisbane charity too, the one that takes food that is going to be thrown out of restaurants and gives it to homeless people. He likes to find out about the smaller charities in each city that need help. He just seems like a bloody good bloke.

  2. Wow! Leigh, Thanks. You just helped me relive it all over again. He is just such a generous human being on so many levels. When you have 12,000 people totally captivated and connected to an entertainer of and for the people, it is truly a spiritual experience. Love your work. Faye

  3. Another great read, Leigh!
    Funny, it brought back the memory of attending my first (and only) mass as a teenager, when a friend took me along once.
    At the end of the service, when the old guy next to me leaned close and said “Peace be with you”, I lit up like a social butterfly and replied with “..Oh! I’m fine thanks! My name’s Karen..”

    Doh!

    He suddenly had a glint in his eye that decidedly marked my moment to exit the congregation.
    I went home to my little bedroom, adorned like a shrine with 80’s rock stars and music icons, who’s simple presence in my own sacred space seemed to raise me to the heights of my dreams, and line my world with it’s own wild divinity.
    Nothing’s ever what it seems in this world…

    Rock on Bruce baby!

  4. LOL Kaz, I can so imagine you saying that to the guy in church! I think my bedroom was the same as yours. They don’t call them Rock Gods for nothing. x

  5. i was also at the concert that saturday night. i dragged my avowed non-springsteen-fan partner with me. as a long time springsteen fan i sang along to every song and brooooced between each song until i was hoarse. my partner was completely taken up with the energy and the vibe and, despite my fears that he would hate it, he absolutely loved it. what a great show and thanks leigh for bringing it back home to maleny for me.

    1. Ha ha, ‘brooooced’ between each song. Yeah I didn’t know what that ‘brooooocing’ was about, I had to ask my partner. It was great wasn’t it? Thanks for sharing your experience x

  6. Last Sunday I went to Mass in a small chapel in Avignon it was beautiful even though I didn’t follow the french.
    If you havent heard Van Morrison’s “in the garden” , “listen to the lion” and countless others – have a listen 🙂

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