13) SENSUAL: Is music good if we “like” it? If one believes that music gives them a blessing does that mean that it is good for them? If music appeals to our sensual appetites is it good? Can music be addictive?

Questions Answered: Is music good if it is attractive to our physical desires, if we “like” it? If one believes that music gives them a blessing does that mean that it is good for them? If music appeals to our sensual appetites is it good? Can music be addictive?


Prophetic Statements

Harold B. Lee

Music is the language of the soul. Someone [has] said, “Music is the language of the soul.” I remembered what the Lord said in a revelation to Emma Smith, the wife of the Prophet, “For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads” [1]. There is truly no finer companion to true religion than great music.

At the same time music can be prostituted to Satan’s purposes. Napoleon is quoted as having said, “Music of all the liberal arts has the greatest influence over the passions and is that which the legislator ought to give the greatest encouragement.” May I paraphrase and say, “Music in the Church of Jesus Christ is that to which every leader of youth should give his greatest concern to see that the wrong kinds of passions are not aroused by our introduction of sensuous music into our youth programs.”

Your test of greatness, whether you be youth or whether you be adult, is not to be measured by the question about your wealth, how much you are worth financially speaking, or how much knowledge you have gained in the world, or what great talents you have, but your measure of greatness or just mediocrity, or less than that, may be measured by your answer to one simple question, “What do you like?” Do you like pornographic pictures rather than pictures of great art? Do you like to go to vulgar shows rather than The Sound of Music? Do you love the sensuous music rather than to hear great symphonies or the work of the masters? You answer to yourselves and then see what your youth like and you will have the answer to their souls, for music indeed is the language of the soul, whether it be uplifting or otherwise. It is the index to where we are today. [2]

Avoid evil. The truth that we have to know in order to guide us is that we’re children of God. We’re winged for heavenly flight. Have you ever gone out to a bonfire party late at night? As you build the bonfire you see moths come winging in around the fire, and if they get too close they fall singed to their death, or if they’re able to fly away they’re maimed forever after. That’s exactly what you have in life. The hellholes of Satan are always made very attractive. [They feature] enticing music of the kind that appeals to the lower senses. Now, there may be good rock music—I don’t know what it is—but there’s damnable rock music that appeals to the lower senses of man, where the offbeat is just as vile and abrasive to human thought as it can be. We say it to you, we plead with you to listen to the beautiful things, if you want to be on the right side. But be careful you don’t choose the wrong things; you shun those things just as the moths should have shunned the white fire. [3]

Spencer W. Kimball

Musical sounds can be put together in such a way that they can express feelings-from the most profoundly exalted to the most abjectly vulgar. Or rather, these musical sounds induce in the listener feelings which he responds to, and the response he makes to these sounds has been called a “gesture of the spirit.” Thus, music can act upon our senses to produce or induce feelings of reverence, humility, fervor, assurance, or other feelings . . . [4]

Music and instruments should induce appropriate feelings. Musical sounds can be put together in such a way that they can express feelings — from the most profoundly exalted to the most abjectly vulgar. Or rather, these musical sounds induce in the listener feelings which he responds to, and the response he makes to these sounds has been called a “gesture of the spirit.” Thus, music can act upon our senses to produce or induce feelings of reverence, humility, fervor, assurance, or other feelings attuned to the spirit of worship. When music is performed in Church which conveys a “gesture” other than that which is associated with worship, we are disturbed, upset, or shocked to the degree with which the musical “gesture” departs from or conflicts with the appropriate representation of feelings of worship. . . .

When people are invited to perform special numbers in sacred meetings, whether ward members or others, it is important to know in advance what numbers will be given and that they are devotional in character and in keeping with the spirit of worship. To be avoided are love songs, popular ballads, theatrical numbers, and songs with words not in harmony with the doctrines of the Church. Persons invited to perform should be specifically urged to remain throughout the service. [5]

Ezra Taft Benson

May I quote from Richard Nibley, a musician who for many years has observed the influence of music on behavior:

Satan knows that music hath charms to sooth or stir the savage beast. That music has power to create atmosphere has been known before the beginning of Hollywood. Atmosphere creates environment, and environment influences behavior-the behavior of Babylon or of Enoch.

Rock music, with its instant physical appeal, is an ideal door-crasher, for the devil knows that music has the power to ennoble or corrupt, to purify or pollute. He will not forget to use its subtle power against you. His sounds come from the dark world of drugs, immorality, obscenity, and anarchy. His sounds are flooding the earth. It is his day-a day that is to become as the days of Noah before the Second Coming, for the prophets have so predicted. The signs are clear. The signs are here in this blessed land. You cannot escape this mass media environment which is controlled by financial censorship. Records, radio, television, movies, magazines-all are monopolized by the money managers who are guided by one ethic, the words wealth and power. [6] [7]

To escape Satan’s snares and booby traps by following the Lord is our assignment.

It is not an easy one.

Using life as a laboratory, we can observe and study the lives of others as we might through a microscope. Observe that the man of God is a happy man. The hedonist, who proclaims “Do your thing,” who lives for sinful, so-called pleasure, is never happy. Behind his mask of mock gaiety lurks the inevitable tragedy of eternal death. Haunted by its black shadow, he trades the useful, happy life for the bleak forgetfulness of . . . rock.

A study of Satan’s method can alert us to his seductions. In his cunning he knows where and how to strike. It is in youth when his victims are most vulnerable. Youth is the springtime of life when all things are new. Youth is the spirit of adventure and awakening. It is a time of physical emerging when the body can attain the vigor and good health that may scorn the caution of temperance. Youth is a time of timelessness when the horizons of age often seem too distant to be noticed. Thus, the “now” generation forgets that the present will soon be the past that looks to a life left in waste or a past rich in works. These are the ingredients in youth that make Satan’s plan of “play now and pay later” so irresistible. Yes, the devil uses many, many tools. [8]


Rock Artists

Supporting Statements

Allan Bloom

Nothing is more singular about this generation than its addiction to music. . . Today, a very large proportion of young people between the ages of ten and twenty live for music.

It is their passion; nothing else excites them as it does; they cannot take seriously anything alien to music.

When they are in school and with their families, they are longing to plug themselves back into their music.

Nothing surrounding them–school, family, church–has anything to do with their musical world.

At best that ordinary life is neutral, but mostly it is an impediment, drained of vital content, even a thing to be rebelled against. . . . It is available twenty-four hours a day, everywhere. There is the stereo in the home, in the car; there are concerts; there are music videos, with special channels exclusively devoted to them, on the air nonstop; there are the Walkmans so that no place–not public transportation, not the library–prevents students from communing with the Muse, even while studying. . . .

Symptomatic of this change is how seriously students now take the famous passages on musical education in Plato’s Republic.. . . Students today know exactly why Plato takes music so seriously. They know it affects life very profoundly and are indignant because Plato seems to want to rob them of their most intimate pleasure. The are drawn into argument with Plato about the experience of music . . . The very fact of their fury shows how much Plato threatens what is dear and intimate to them. They are little able to defend their experience, which had seemed unquestionable until questioned, and it is most resistant to cool analysis.

Yet if a student can–and this is most difficult and unusual–draw back, get a critical distance on what he clings to, come to doubt the ultimate value of what he loves, he has taken the first and most difficult step toward the philosophic conversion. Indignation is the soul’s defense against the wound of doubt about its own; it reorders the cosmos to support the justice of its cause. . . .

Plato’s teaching about music is, put simply, that rhythm and melody, accompanied by dance, are the barbarous expression of the soul. . . . Music is the soul’s primitive and primary speech and it is alogon, without articulate speech or reason. It is not only not reasonable, it is hostile to reason.

Even when articulate speech is added, it is utterly subordinate to and determined by the music and the passions it expresses. . . . Music, as everyone experiences, provides an unquestionable justification and a fulfilling pleasure for the activities it accompanies: the soldier who hears the marching band is enthralled and reassured; the religious man is exalted in his prayer by the sound of the organ in the church; and the lover is carried away and his conscience stilled by the romantic guitar. Armed with music, man can damn rational doubt. Out of the music emerge the gods that suit it, and they educate men by their example and their commandments. . . . Plato teaches that, in order to take the spiritual temperature of an individual or a society, one must “mark the music.” . . .

Rock music has one appeal only, a barbaric appeal, to sexual desire–not love, not eros, but sexual desire undeveloped and untutored. It acknowledges the first emanations of children’s sensuality and addresses them seriously, eliciting them and legitimating them, not as little sprouts that must be carefully tended in order to grow into gorgeous flowers, but as the real thing. Rock gives children, on a silver platter, with all the public authority of the entertainment industry, everything their parents always used to tell them they had to wait for until they grew up and would understand later. Young people know that rock has the beat of sexual intercourse. . . . an enormous industry cultivates the taste for the orgiastic state of feeling connected with sex, providing a constant flood of fresh material for voracious appetites. Never was there an art form directed so exclusively to children.

Ministering to and according with the arousing and cathartic music, the lyrics celebrate puppy love as well as polymorphous attractions, and fortify them against traditional ridicule and shame. The words implicitly and explicitly describe bodily acts that satisfy sexual desire and treat them as its only natural and routine culmination for children who do not yet have the slightest imagination of love, marriage and family. This has a much more powerful effect than does pornography on youngsters, who have no need to watch others do grossly what they can so easily do themselves. . . . All they need is encouragement.

The inevitable corollary of such sexual interest is rebellion against the parental authority that represses it. Selfishness thus becomes indignation and then transforms itself into morality. The sexual revolution must overthrow all the forces of domination, the enemies of nature and happiness. From love comes hate, masquerading as social reform. . . . These are the three great lyrical themes: sex, hate and a smarmy, hypocritcal version of brotherly love. . . . Nothing noble, sublime, profound, delicate, tasteful or even decent can find a place in such tableaux. There is room for only the intense, changing, crude and immediate. . . .

The continuing exposure to rock music is a reality, not one confined to a particular class or type of child. One need only ask first-year university students what music they listen to, how much of it and what it means to them, in order to discover that the phenomenon is universal in American, that it begins in adolescence or a bit before and continues through the college years. It is the youth culture and as I have so often insisted, there is now no other countervailing nourishment for the spirit.

Some of this culture’s power comes from the fact that it is so loud. It makes conversation impossible . . . With rock, illusions of shared feelings, bodily contact and grunted formulas, which are supposed to contain so much meaning beyond speech, are the basis of association. . . . the meaningful inner life is with music. . . .

They [the parents] cannot believe that the musical vocation will contribute very much to that happiness.

But there is nothing they can do about it.

The family spiritual void has left the field open to rock music, and they cannot possibly forbid their children to listen to it.

It is everywhere; all children listen to it; forbidding it would simply cause them to lose their children’s affection and obedience.

. . . avoid noticing what the words say, assume the kid will get over it.

If he has early sex, that won’t get in the way of his having stable relationships later.

His drug use will certainly stop at pot.

School is providing real values.

And popular historicism provides the final salvation: there are new life-styles for new situations, and the older generation is there not to impose its values but to help the younger one to find its own.

. . . The result is nothing less than parents’ loss of control over their children’s moral education at a time when no one else is seriously concerned with it. . . .

The first sensuous experiences are decisive in determining the taste of the whole of life, and they are the link between the animal and spiritual in us. . . . Rock music encourages passions and provides models that have no relation to any life the young people who go to universities can possibly lead. . . .

Rock music provides premature ecstasy, and in this respect, is like the drugs with which it is allied.

It artificially induces the exaltation naturally attached to the completion of the greatest endeavors–victory in a just war, consummated love, artistic creation, religious devotion and discovery of the truth.

Without effort, without talent, without virtue, without exercise of the faculties, anyone and everyone is accorded the equal right to the enjoyment of their fruits.

In my experience, students who have had a serious fling with drugs–and gotten over it–find it difficult to have enthusiasms or great expectations.

It is as though the color has been drained out of their lives and they see everything in black and white.

The pleasure they experienced in the beginning was so intense that they no longer look for it at the end, or as the end.

They may function perfectly well, but dryly, routinely. Their energy has been sapped. . . I suspect that the rock addiction, particularly in the absence of strong counterattractions, has an effect similar to that of drugs. . . But as long as they have the Walkman on, they cannot hear what the great tradition has to say. And, after is prolonged use, when they take it off, they find they are deaf. (Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, p. 68-81)

This strong stimulant, which Nietzsche called Nihiline, was for a very long time, almost fifteen years, epitomized in a single figure, Mick Jagger. A shrewd, middle-class boy, he played the possessed lower-class demon and teen-aged satyr up until he was forty, with one eye on the mobs of children of both sexes whom he stimulated to a sensual frenzy and the other eye winking at the unerotic, commercially motivated adults who handled the money. In his act he was male and female, heterosexual and homosexual; unencumbered by modesty, he could enter everyone’s dreams, promising to do everything with everyone; and, above all, he legitimated drugs, which were the real thrill that parents and policemen conspired to deny his youthful audience. He was beyond the law, moral and political, and thumbed his nose at it.

Along with all this, there were nasty little appeals to the suppressed inclinations toward sexism, racism and violence, indulgence in which is not now publicly respectable. Nevertheless, he managed not to appear to contradict the rock ideal of a universal classless society founded on love, with the distinction between brotherly and bodily blurred. He was the hero and the model for countless young persons . . . Everyone else was so boring and unable to charm youthful passions.

Jagger caught on. [9]

  1. D&C 25:12
  2. Harold B. Lee, The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, edited by Clyde J. Williams [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], 203
  3. Harold B. Lee, The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, edited by Clyde J. Williams [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], 104
  4. Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 519
  5. Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 519
  6. BYU Ten-Stake Fireside, Provo, Utah, 7 May 1972
  7. Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988], 326
  8. Ezra Taft Benson, God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1974], 246
  9. Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, p. 79
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