What if Rock and Roll is actually religious experience? Community, communion and the power of coming together….

It was my first full blown transcendent experience- a literal religious revelation that life could feel this good, this connected to the collective, this full of aliveness- this visceral, this sweet sense of belonging was like nothing I’d ever come close to. 

It was my first stadium rock concert!  I was 13 at Guns n Roses in London’s Wembley stadium with 72,000 other people (including my friend’s Mum who was supervising us there).  I swear to goddess, that shared spiritual sadhana is not Gun’s n Roses raison d’être!  Mindfulness for the mainstream was so not their mission! They were singing about whiskey, women, doing drugs and dropping’ out; guitars, guns and living the masculinised hideously misogynistic make-the-most-of your-gang(bang)-of-groupies good life! Not a “sermon” you’d ever feel likely would change your life for the better! 

Yet that day truly touched me forever.  Somewhere on that central London football-field there was a group unified-field of bass -fuelled big belonging like I’d never felt before. Lighters held aloft, to stomach churning sound, under wide open skies.  It was a tribe of misfits and mavericks, of a place to be truthful about being angry, confused and deeply disillusioned with the corporate promises of coming adulthood.  

Music in our teenage years has some hold on us – as we differentiate from our parents and seek to individuate into adulthood, music is a road map, a container for our collective pain and pathway seeking. Lyrics are potent poetry. Album art captures and shapes our psyches. Musicians can hold the daring, the speaking up, the stepping out that we wish that we could find in ourselves. We literally look for rock n’ roll role models,  for well known north “stars” that we can navigate our way by;  artist who can take in the collective psyche and sing it back to us- holding up a mirror to our collective mind.

For the sake of our ear-drums (as well as our wallets!) at some point we get to find collective group experience in other ways than literally bone-shaking loud stadium rock.

A few short years later I was using fake ID”s to get me into London’s dance floors – place of wild wonder and regularly available ways to deliver that same “feet in the beat”, giant group field of full-bodied fun that so fulfilled. 

London’s wave was rising: drum and bass, techno, house, acid house. Big names and even bigger sound  systems were sweeping through the city. The cult of the DJ was in full force.  Hell, we even had a self appointed ministry of sound! People were explicit about using music to express themselves.  I imagine that the early 90’s rave days in London we’re a little like the sixties in San Francisco. Something substantial was happening, the underground secret scene was going overground! Thatcher and money-making as a the main mode of societies worship was being laid to rest and there was some kind of calling in within the collective consciousness of something else. 

So I found that same soul-satisfying stadium-shaking sensation happening again and again amongst the multitude of basement clubs hidden across the city; often housed in warehouses or under railway arches- the rave scene inhabiting the sweet underground spots found underneath the infrastructure of industry.

The group field was once again undeniable.  It was like a generation of lost souls looking for something to believe in and finally finding it for a few short years. Self expression was coming to the forefront with crazy couture costumes and phosphorescent performance pieces. 

London’s thriving gay clubs were my safe place, a sanctuary of sanity and self expression. As a small group of way-too-young-to-be there female friends we could go and dance and dance and dance amongst friendly faces; scantily clad, uninhibited, uninterrupted and safe from strange straight men trying to pick up on our blatantly underage, unsupervised asses. So we went there whenever we could  -seeking the salvation it seemed that only all night dancing could bring. Ecstasy and MDMA was rife and real part of the party-scene then-  it’s a substance that I’ve never tried so I cannot speak to that (although the “contact high” of joy in those rooms was real enough- and I’d happily take in the atmosphere -whilst totally content to be avoiding the “comedown crash” that many who partook fell pray too come Monday morning…) 

I do know that many natural endorphins piled through my system in response to some lilting 128bpm melody mixed with the relentless tempo of dum and bass, drawing me ever closer to my own totally substance-free embodied ecstasy. Personally speaking I swear that there is so.much.god to be found in dirty baseline!  The sense of us all dissolving into one single beat-seeking breathing sweat-soaked body, literally cleanses some part of my psyche and soul-  in some deeply satisfying way that a sage smudge stick never quite has done to the same extent!

God bless London’s safe and sane all night public transport system and the fact we could travel the 30 miles home on a shiny red double decker night bus for £3 at 2am when everywhere shut down for the night! The city was crime free and carefree enough then that we were blessedly always ok in our pre-mobile phone meanderings there. We we were unfolding, unfurling and unleashing our adolescent sensation-seeking within London’s multi-cultural global grooves. They were wonderful days of awakening! Music was taking me places I couldn’t take myself, and I was blessedly far too young to let a lover in to my life, to take me there in those under-aged times.

Decades, about a billion dance floors, a fair few hundred festivals, several countries and some two continents later, music can still so get me there! Efficiently, enjoyable, with full emotion and sometimes that sense of the deeply ecstatic comes to visit when I dance in a big group field (be that a big field or a big group- or both!)  Music is a true mistress to me- I love the way she can turn me around, spin me upside down, touch me deeply, take me through landscapes that I’d never otherwise have seen.

Music remains a muse to me, a must have, a momento-mori that takes me back to places and loves and lives that I have long since lost. It is my minstry and my way of moving with the mystery. Music calls forth hope within my heart, it still speaks truth to power, lyrics legitimising our dismay, despair, desire for a better way. Music unifies -calls some aspect of ourselves forth. Dance is still my dharma. I still pray most profoundly at around 100 decibels on big sound systems! I daresay in mid-life I “should” start to think about sitting down and shutting up, take up some sedate hobby and hobble away quietly, content with the life I’ve led! Sorry it-s not going to happen! I came here to dance! 

May we continue to be moved! May music keep motivating us. May we we turn toward our aliveness and whatever calls it forth from us. May beat, and bass and melody and harmony keep tending to our dear hearts. May you find communion, community, music that call you forth- whether that is via techno or harp, dubstep or folk-rock. Whatever floats your boat! (My palate has progressed considerably since those awkward teenage rebel rock years!) I wish you listening habits that bring you inspiration; tunes that touch you in places that suprise and stir you.  I wish you a rock and roll rebellion, an uprising of longing-for-life within your heart that keeps you daring and dreaming and dancing on through… May your desires disturb your day to day regular rut, may you follow your feet, may you settle only for heart-swelling, stadium-shaking soul-satisfaction in your life! May the piper-of-pop lead us out to the fields so that we may dance again- feeling free under those wide open skies…

Published by WildWords

Blog by Tess Howell. Tess is a 5 Rhythms dance teacher specialising in working in the woods and wilds, a Spirit Rock trained mindful movement teacher, an accomplished international dance producer and a specialist in environmental dance and eco-somatics. You can find more info at www.wildmoves.org "If I am an advocate for anything, it is to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river." Anthony Bourdain www.wildmoves.org

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