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Jagger/Swaggart

Posted in: General,Reviews,Secular Liturgies by Tom Beaudoin on June 3, 2010

File this under “rock’s Christian unconscious.” There is currently a dramatic production here in New York City called “Get Mad at Sin!”, in which the actor Andrew Dinwiddie apparently reprises a stormy 1970s sermon from evangelist Jimmy Swaggart. Being a fan of Reverend Billy and other virtual preachers — whose Christian simulacra provide the tidy irony that many contemporaries, myself included, need to gain fresh and critical vantage on both Christianity and contemporary culture — this is the kind of show I would like to see.

But I doubt I can get there before it closes this weekend at the Chocolate Factory in Queens. So I have to settle for Jason Zinoman’s helpful review yesterday in the New York Times. Therein I found an R&T-worthy paragraph:

“When inveighing against the evils of pop music, Mr. Swaggart (a cousin of Jerry Lee Lewis) seems to be aping Mick Jagger, providing a reminder that great public performances of all kinds often share certain qualities.”

But it is also a reminder, I think, of something more specific: that the Rolling Stones do what they do under the historical pressure of the Christian forms of experience that are ingredient to the birth, power, and longevity of rock and roll. As a constitutive dimension of rock culture’s unconscious, it is no surprise that Swaggart would be Jagger’s avatar, or rather, Jagger as Swaggart’s offspring.

Even the lusciously assonant surnames “Swaggart” and “Jagger” — put them together in different sonic combinations in your imagination — sound like they belong to the prayerful-pelvic gospel-rock tradition symbolized by Elvis Presley. In addition to being “public performances,” and given rock’s history, these practices are also theurgic exercises.

Tom Beaudoin
Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, United States