Dan Graham: Rock My Religion (AFTERALL)
Dan Graham's Rock My Religion (1982--1984) is a video essay populated by punk and rock performers (Patti Smith, Jim Morrison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Eddie Cochran) and historical figures (including Ann Lee, founder of the Shakers). It represented a coming together of narrative voice-overs, singing and shouting voices, and jarring sounds and overlaid texts that proposed a historical genealogy of rock music and an ambitious thesis about the origins of North America's popular culture. Because of its passionate embrace of underground music, its low-fi aesthetics, interest in politics, and liberal approach to historiography, the video has become a landmark work in the history of contemporary moving image and art; but it has remained, possibly for the same reasons, one of Graham's least written about works--underappreciated and possibly misunderstood by the critics who otherwise celebrate him. This illustrated study of Graham's groundbreaking work fills that critical gap. Kodwo Eshun examines Rock My Religion not only in terms of contemporary art and Graham's wider body of work but also as part of the broader culture of the time. He explores the relationship between Graham and New York's underground music scene of the 1980s, connecting the artistic methods of the No Wave bands--especially their group dynamics and relationship to the audience--and Rock My Religion's treatment of working class identity and culture.
Strummer performing on stage taken from Rude Boy (1980), a part-fiction, part-documentary film following a Clash fan who becomes a roadie for the band. Rock My Religion’s title appears three times in this opening sequence, in yellow capitalised font, firstly for ten seconds at 0:58; then again after an image of an etching of Shakers performing the Ring Dance; and finally for less than a second, just before Black Flag reappears, saturated by a crimson light. The author’s name, Dan Graham, can also
London: Faber & Faber, 2001, p.7. In his interview with Tony Oursler, Genesis P. Orridge elaborated on this motif. See T. Oursler, Synaesthesia: Genesis P. Orridge (1997—2001). 27 Genesis P. Orridge credited Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson of Throbbing Gristle for the name Industrial Records. Quoted in S. Ford, Wreckers of Civilisation, op. cit., p.7. 28 See Greil Marcus, Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ’n’ Roll Music, New York: E.P. Dutton, 1975; reprinted by Plume in 1997. 29 D. Graham
(1957) that omits its songwriter Otis Blackwell, Little Eva singing ‘The Loco-Motion’ (1962) and the presence of one unidentified slave spiritual about the day of Jubilee. And yet, Rock My Religion is not so much a wish fulfilment of a whitened America as a new mythology of origin fashioned from the images and sounds of working-class religious rituals. Given the political climate of Christian Republicanism in the 1980s, its preoccupation with the fundamentalist theologies of white America was
world. In this sense the One Work series, while by no means exhaustive, will eventually become a veritable library of works of art that have made a diﬀerence. First published in 2012 by Afterall Books Afterall Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, University of the Arts London Granary Building 1 Granary Square London N1C 4AA www.afterall.org © Afterall, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, University of the Arts London, the artist and the author. ISBN Paperback:
‘slave-era agrarian blues’, towards an ‘admission that the Industrial Revolution had taken place’ in order to confront rock with the ‘ugly, raw, difficult’ nature of its true mechanical origins.27 14 | Dan Graham There was a heretical dimension to this anti-historical rejection of the founding role of the agrarian blues. It signalled a desire to correct histories of rock music formulated in influential readings such as Greil Marcus’s Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ’n’ Roll Music