Pilgrimage from rock

My spiritual pilgrimage from rock music to the Rock of Ages is a painful story of addiction, self-destruction, and final redemption.

My parents were Seventh-day Adventist missionaries. Therefore it would seem almost absurd that their youngest son, brought up in the heart of Africa, would turn up in the world of rock. Yet, it did happen.

Not suddenly, but gradually. It all began with just joining friends and listening to some music. One song led to another, and eventually my natural talents for music and art were channeled into the swirling, psychedelic “pipedream” of rock. I got hooked. The power, the clothes, the fame, and the sheer global presence of the rock revolution captivated me. Soon I found myself being severed from the world and religious faith of my parents. A new era, a new culture, had taken center stage in my life—as it had done in the lives of so many others.

I soon found myself in a state of rebellion. In the words of rock star David Crosby, “I figured the only thing to do was to swipe their kids…By saying this I’m not talking about kidnapping, I’m just talking about changing the value system, which removes them from their parents’ world very effectively.”1

Rock music did remove me effectively from my parents’ world. While still a teenager, I ran away from boarding school and from home; I was arrested for drugs and stealing; and I fought, sometimes physically, with fellow students and teachers.

My dream was to learn to play the guitar, which I was doing with haste, so that I could work my way into the glamorous world of “sex, drugs, fashion, and rock ‘n’ roll.” Of course, I knew that this was what “rock” was all about. Even the manager of the Rolling Stones had stated unequivocally: “Rock is sex. You have to hit teenagers in the face with it!”2

Rock music and popular culture preached to my subconscious that there was nothing wrong with premarital sex. The result became evident in 1980, one year after finishing high school, when I became a father of a baby girl.

Establishing on the music scene

I established myself on the local music scene in South Africa. The band I was with, “Front Page,” appeared on television, and our music was played on some popular music radio stations. My connection with a producer soon added new moves in my career. I became a good friend of Manlio Celloti, of HI-Z Studios. Soon he formed a new three-member group. After recording for a year in the studio, we were ready to leave for overseas.

Within three months of landing in Germany, our pop rock band, “The Reespect,” signed a contract with Polydor Records in Hamburg. Polydor released our record, “She’s So Mystical” in September 1986. This release opened new doors of opportunity. Our band was invited to appear on a German compilation LP with such artists as Janet Jackson and Elton John.

Life became a constant mirage of performances, studio sessions, interviews, women, drugs, and still more drugs. By this time, my moral state had deteriorated to such a point that no type of vice was beyond me. Meanwhile, the success of our recording caused dissensions among our band members and eventually we broke up.

One day after a marathon studio session and a huge drug binge, I found myself face down on a cold bathroom floor, in the home of a female vocalist in Hamburg. I was drowning in my own vomit, fighting for my life. However, I was conscious enough to call out to the God of my youth, whom I had forgotten long ago.

But He had not forgotten me or forsaken me. Something miraculous happened that day. My spiritual journey had taken an important turn, but this was only the beginning of a tortuous trip, during which I would experience many relapses into rock music, before gaining complete freedom from its addiction.

Return to sanity

I returned to South Africa, determined to break away from my sinful past and forge a new life. I decided to follow the example of Contemporary Christian Musicians by using my musical talent to adopt a modified version of rock music as a witnessing tool.

Soon I realized that there is no significant difference between secular rock music and its “Christian” version, irrespective of its lyrics. Contemporary Christian Music that conforms to rock’s essential criteria, in any sense, cannot be legitimately used for church worship. The reason is simple. The impact of rock music is through its music, and not through its lyrics.

This lingering attachment to rock (through its “Christian” cousin), proved to be my downfall. I began compromising on the kind of music that I was performing. The compromise was easy because all I had to do was to change the lyrics. The music style remained the same. I found myself gradually spiraling back into complete darkness. But I quickly re-established my rock career in Cape Town.

At one of my live performances, I met Sue, who was to become a very important part of my life. Sue and I attended the Prophecy Seminars held in our town. As a result, we were baptized into the Adventist Church. The new-found truth satisfied our deepest convictions. Yet, three months later we were out of the church. Rock music was still in my soul. Before I knew it, I was once more slipping into the popular music scene.

At this time I formed my own band called “Project Cain,” a fitting name for my spiritual despondency. I was busy recording with the popular keyboard player, “Duncan Mckay” of the famous band “10 CC,” when I was called to go to Port Elizabeth, 700 miles north of Cape Town. The contract called for a three-month performance. I was hired as a solo artist performing six nights a week at one of the top night spots in the city.

Port Elizabeth became the final turning point of my spiritual pilgrimage. I rented a cottage in the country, near a beautiful, isolated beach. Since my performances were at night, I had time during the day to wander along the beach and reflect on all that had been going in my life for the past few years. I sensed the Holy Spirit speaking to me as never before. I examined the innermost recesses of my confused mind. At times the hidden truths of my wounded soul were too hard to face. I would break down in shameful anguish and allow the tears of repentance to wash away the stains of my sins. Sometimes I would sense the chiding and consoling of the Spirit, bringing spiritual healing to my life.

The door of God’s acceptance seemed wide open. I boldly walked through it, leaving behind my dark past. Upon my return home, in June 1994, Sue and I made the decision that by God’s grace there would be no turning back into the world of rock. I cut all my working ties with rock music. Six months later we were married, and since then we have dedicated our lives to a special ministry on behalf of those who seek deliverance from the hypnotic power of rock music.

Making good musical choices: Some questions to ask

  1. Does the music really have something worthwhile to say? Is there some real moral substance and depth in the message of the music, both lyrically and instrumentally?
  2. What is the intention behind the music? Does the music send out a positive or negative message? When you listen to the music, do you find that it conforms to the criteria that Paul spells out in Philippians 4:8?
  3. Is the intention of the music being communicated effectively? If an atmosphere of reverence is being conveyed, then is the musician doing an adequate job?
  4. Are you seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit in your choice of both secular and religious music?

How to make radical decisions regarding music

  1. Decide on what constitutes good music on the basis of real information, and not of peer pressure. You will not have to sacrifice your personal taste or special preferences. They will simply have to become sanctified and refined.
  2. Consider your new musical choices to be an adventure, a process of discovery. Take time to define and refine your taste. You will discover that what you considered the only option in music was only a small fraction of the good music available.
  3. Listen carefully to the lyrics to determine whether or not they are biblically sound. Although there is a distinction between the music and lyrics we use for worship and for personal relaxation, the basic concept of choosing that which is pure and ennobling, remains the same (see Philippians 4:8).

Brian Neumann resides in South Africa. He has conducted seminars on music appreciation in Africa, Europe, and North America. His e-mail: neusue@lando.co.za The full story of Neumann’s musical pilgrimage is included in the book The Christian and Rock Music, Samuele Bacchiocchi, ed. (Berrien Springs, Michigan: Biblical Perspectives, 2000). Address: 4990 Appian Way; Berrien Springs, Michigan 49104; U.S.A. E-mail: sbacchiocchi@qtm.net

Notes and references

  1. In Peter Herbst, The Rolling Stone Interviews (Rolling Stones Press, 1981).
  2. See Time (April 28, 1967), p. 53.