This Week's Comment from Network 7 News 

Edition 367 – July 10, 2004.  

 This weeks  was written by AWR's  English Language Service Director, Victor Hulbert.  The full programme can be heard in Real Audio on our web-site.

50 Years of Elvis?

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Like him or loathe him, you probably cannot have avoided hearing him this last week – particularly last Monday when, at the press of a button at the Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, over 1,200 radio stations around the world started playing the Elvis hit, “That’s Alright”.  It was his first professional record, recorded 50 years ago and, according to musicologists, it changed the face of popular music.

Kevin Kane, director of the Memphis tourism bureau told the Washington Post that, Elvis would be the first to say he didn't create rock 'n' roll. . . .  but there was a defining moment that took place on July 5th, and we just figured this is as good a time as any to celebrate it."

Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records, died last year, but shortly before his death he told Undercover Magazine about that early recording session. It seems that after an unsuccessful rehearsal, the others were packing up their equipment when Elvis just kept his guitar on, and almost messing around started playing “That’s alright.”

Sam Phillips was surprised.  He didn’t know Elvis knew the song because it had been a hit by Arthur 'Big Boy' Cruddup, a black artist in the south, six or seven years earlier. But it was what he was looking for and he was mesmerized. 

Phillips states that if it hadn’t been for that impromptu playing then Elvis might have become a Gospel singer instead of a rock star – and the history of popular music would have been quite different.

As a child I was somewhat bemused that someone who could produce songs such as “Jailhouse Rock” and “All shook up” could also sing “Amazing Grace”, “He’s only a Prayer away”, or “It is no secret what God can do”.

My father, for one, could easily produce arguments that the two musical genre were totally incompatible – and made sure that my tender ears were protected from the continued advances of rock and roll through the ‘60’s and early 70’s.

I guess in a sense I did the same with my children.  They grew up in a home where they were exposed to lots of music, but most of it was Christian.  It was only as they became teenagers that I then found myself exposed to what they and their friends wanted to listen to – and I’ve spent my life having my ears deafened ever since.

We have a good family relationship which means we do discuss what we like and don’t like, and such discussions have helped modify my musical tastes and somewhat guides theirs.  I’ve always felt it’s better to listen to and discuss their music then to condemn it out of hand.  They do get fed up of me pointing out the meaning and lyrics of certain popular songs – and I do point out that the dress code and body language of most pop-videos more to do with sex then with relationship.  I’m glad my children know the difference.

That’s part of the challenge for Christians who take the prayer of Jesus seriously to be active in the world yet to be protected from evil influences (John 17).  That is the tension the Christian will always face.  It is the tension Jesus himself faced as he shared his life and ministry with the outcasts and the underdogs of his society, while still reaching out an embracing arm towards those higher up who still had need of grace.

Elvis is not alone in having Christian credentials as a pop star.  Britany Spears, Six-pence none the richer, Neil Morse – and many others have done the same.  Some have been a creditable witness to the God they love, others have demonstrated the difficulty of walking the tight-rope of public adulation and Christian faith.

And those same kinds of tensions go on in church.  Those who believe if it is not in the hymnbook it should not be sung.  And those whose love is for the band and the video projector.  How do we reconcile such differences?  In these few short moments I don’t think we can – except to say that an expression of worship from the heart will always be acceptable to God – and to quote two short passages of scripture.

Ephesians 5’s commission to variety and praise in worship: Ephes. 5:19 (NIV) 

    “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord”

The other, a thought of tolerance.  Words of Jesus to his disciples: Mark 9:39-41 (Message)  

"No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down. 40If he's not an enemy, he's an ally. 41Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice."

Exchange “cup of water” for “sound of music”, and we may be onto some common ground.

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