I’ve heard that you occasionally listen to rock music.
Oh sure. My favorite viewing, and this is the first time I have ever admitted it to anyone, but what I love to do, when I don’t watch evangelicals, when I can’t read or write and can’t go out walking, and don’t want to just tear my hair and destroy myself, I put on, here in New Haven, cable channel thirteen and I watch rock television endlessly. As a sheer revelation of the American religion it’s overwhelming. Yes, I like to watch the dancing girls too. The sex part of it is fine. Occasionally it’s musically interesting, but you know, ninety-nine out of a hundred groups are just bilge. And there hasn’t been any good American rock since, alas, The Band disbanded. I watch MTV endlessly, my dear, because what is going on there, not just in the lyrics but in its whole ambience, is the real vision of what the country needs and desires. It’s the image of reality that it sees, and it’s quite weird and wonderful. It confirms exactly these two points: first, that no matter how many are on the screen at once, not one of them feels free except in total self-exaltation. And second, it comes through again and again in the lyrics and the way one dances, the way one moves, that what is best and purest in one is just no part of the creation—that myth of an essential purity before and beyond experience never goes away. It’s quite fascinating. And notice how pervasive it is! I spent a month in Rome lecturing and I was so exhausted at the end of each day that my son David and I cheerfully watched the Italian mtv. I stared and I just couldn’t believe it. Italian MTV is a sheer parody of its American counterpart, with some amazing consequences—the American religion has made its way even into Rome! It is nothing but a religious phenomenon. Very weird to see it take place.
Early '90s MTV made me, to a completely bizarre extent, but I can neither remember ever seeing its content in those terms nor deny what he's saying. This was right before the Irony Turn, which I guess was when belief in a beauty sure to come to one alone began to be doubted, or perhaps the possibility of its communication became doubtful.
The 1991 MTV best video award nominees:
C+C Music Factory — "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)"
Deee-Lite — "Groove Is in the Heart"
Divinyls — "I Touch Myself"
Chris Isaak — "Wicked Game (Concept)"
Queensrÿche — "Silent Lucidity"
R.E.M. — "Losing My Religion"
Can't say these aren't gnostic in the sense he means, though C&C Music Factory in perhaps a different mode (remember: the music takes control, your heart and soul unfold, your body is free and behold!). The dancing can take place on a crowded floor, but it's something happening to and for you, no one else being noticed as it takes hold. Divinyls is of course going for comedy but it's a gnostic comedy: I lose myself: I want you to find me; I forget myself: I want you to remind me. There's this knotty world and a light shining into it from outwhere, a you, that we access only alone.
I loved all those songs.