Rock My Religion

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Rock My Religion

Dan Graham. Rock My Religion. 1983-1984. Video (black and white and color, sound), 55:27 min. Purchase. © 2014 Dan Graham. Courtesy Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York

The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 41

This video documentary is an assemblage of stories, music, text, and film that examines and reconstructs the relationship between alternative religions and rock music in their development and practice. The video opens with punk musicians wildly shaking their bodies onstage to the sound of an electric guitar, alternating with woodcut illustrations of Shakers, members of an eighteenth- and nineteenth-century religious movement named for the fervent dancing and writhing they performed to purify themselves of evil.

The opening soundtrack layers and alternates between Graham's voice telling the story of Ann Lee, the Shaker who believed she was the second coming of Christ, and the music and voice of Patti Smith, an innovator of punk-rock music who has compared rock culture with religion. Rock My Religion continues by exploring historic American religious practices, including Native American, Puritan, and Shaker rituals, and the emergence of rock musicians like Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, and The Doors. Rock is interpreted as a religion with the potential for communal transcendental experience, but one that inverts traditional pieties with sexualized religious dance. Graham focuses on the social and sexual origins and implications of rock and roll, and his historical reconstruction provides a framework for the interpretation of the rituals of rock and punk culture as forms of religious practice.