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Posted in: Fandom,General by Tom Beaudoin on February 23, 2009

Part of popular music fandom is the “finding” and “creating” of a specialized vocabulary with which to communicate the revelatory character of the pleasures of musical practice. And since I am on a minor Rush jag with my posts, let me take Rush again as my example. For many years, a regular occurrence on one Rush Internet group, a consortium of hundreds or more Rush fans around the world, was the discussion of so-called “tingle moments” in Rush songs. The meaning of “tingle moments” is usually left undefined, though they seem to be moments in Rush songs when a feeling of numinousness, a breath-stopping redirection of attention inward or outward, or a sudden clearing away of the fog of conscious life announces itself.

I have found it provocative that for Rush fans, no matter how many times this discussion is rehearsed, the list of “tingle moments” continually returns to a few dozen paradigmatic song moments (though the band itself has a catalogue of well over 100 songs). These moments achieve then some sort of pseudo-canonical status, and discussants continue to achieve surprising consensus on what those “tingle moments” are. (Perhaps this is also true for fans of Rage Against the Machine, the Beatles, Metallica, Veruca Salt, Jane’s Addiction, or Janis Joplin.)

To return to the “in” question: there is typically little reflection on how those tingle moments happen (is it the music, the lyricist, the listener, the producer?). (This mimicry and avoidance of the conventions of academic analysis is, as Matthew Hills in Fan Cultures argues, part of the rhetoric of fandom.)

There is even less reflection on the spiritual implications of a lifetime of experiencing music in this way. For me, this suggests two things of theological significance: first, that as Ignatius Loyola and Karl Rahner saw, however differently, the deepest movements of our spiritual lives take place at a level not fully available to conscious awareness. (This is why to me Christian rock is such a bizarre phenomenon. Changing a few words around but keeping a rock aesthetic is merely window dressing—as if what is conscious and intentional, the lyrics, are the most interesting and important parts of the spiritual significance of music.) But second, this lack of reflection on how those tingle moments happen should also remind us that rock music, particularly under the influence of consumer capitalism, has no ready-made system of evaluation, judgment, or self-reflection. There is almost no entity in the rock economy providing avenues for critical musical or theological judgments about their musical praxis and its implications for a wider spiritual-political life. Not that we must have one or we are lost, I hasten to add.

In Christian theology, anyway, I think we are still searching for a mature, secularly-aware, and sufficiently complex sense-making of popular music in general and rock in particular. Such understanding is essential if we are to allow religious traditions to fully appreciate, learn from, and make nuanced judgments about the theological value of rock music today. If for no other reason than the spiritual quest and formation of a great many in the contemporary world depends on it.

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York



  1. Rush effects me very differently from you, Tom — but your last two paragraphs hit the nail on the head. As a vast pool of theologically-alert fans relish the dominant musical genres of the last fifty years, we still have made only rudimentary steps toward articulating a serious assessment of the significance or the ethical character of that joy.

    Are you coming to the SBL meeting, by any chance?

    Comment by AKMA — February 24, 2009 @ 6:47 am

  2. Augh! Make that “affects”! (wishing for “edit” options for this commenting system)

    Comment by AKMA — February 24, 2009 @ 6:47 am

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