Rock my Religion: where Shakers & Patti Smith meet?

Derek Graham’s Rock My Religion, a remarkable early ’80s documentary of sorts, contends that evangelical revivals and American rock music — which we usually think of as having come together starting only in the last couple of decades — were linked from the start.

Graham formulates a history that begins with the Shakers, an early religious community who practiced self-denial and ecstatic trance dances. With the “reeling and rocking” of religious revivals as his point of departure, Graham analyzes the emergence of rock music as religion with the teenage consumer in the isolated suburban milieu of the 1950s, locating rock’s sexual and ideological context in post-World War II America. The music and philosophies of Patti Smith, who made explicit the trope that rock is religion, are his focus. This complex collage of text, film footage and performance forms a compelling theoretical essay on the ideological codes and historical contexts that inform the cultural phenomenon of rock `n’ roll music.

(Thanks to Michael Aaron Lee, who unearthed the clip at Ubuweb, “a treasure trove of artsy video miscellanea.”)


Newsletter Signup

Subscribe to my free newsletter, Ancestor Trouble.


You might want to subscribe to my free Substack newsletter, Ancestor Trouble, if the name makes intuitive sense to you.