The pleasures of piety are infinite and exquisite and probably nowhere more easily had these days than in the rock 'n' roll business, or in Hollywood. On record, and on stage, and up there on the big screen, people are not only encouraged but also handsomely rewarded for being morbidly fascinated with themselves, with their every movement, their every utterance, with the tiniest flicker of an eyelid or the slightest suggestion of a thought - a self-regard and obsession with the self usually only available to religious novitiates, madmen or very young children. Fame, with all of its fleshly temptations and attendant despairs, is an obvious incitement to grace; thus, George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh, and Rock Against Racism, and Live Aid, and Farm Aid, and Red Wedge, and Rock the Vote, and Live 8, Coldplay, U2, the late and the later John Lennon, and perhaps almost as many good causes as there are actors. It can only be a matter of time, surely, before Eminem turns, however briefly, to Christ and begins to walk in the way of righteousness, as Alice Cooper, Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Kris Kristofferson, and Natasha and Daniel Bedingfield have variously done before him. The father, of course, the Abraham, or at least the son of the father, the Avraham ben Avraham Avinu, the Charlton Heston of redemption rock, is Johnny Cash, a man of intense spiritual certitude, and enormous wealth and fame, who, in death as in life, remains an example of what it might mean to live as a Christian in an age of celebrity and superabundance: his aims were high and lofty; his life was an absolute mess.
LRB 9 March 2006 | PDF Download