Only if you lose yourself can you find yourself? This is the message of the eternal orgy of spring. Is Dionysus really the god of rock n’ roll?
The god, superhuman power, force of nature,call him what you like, known to ancient Greece as Dionysus was an interloper in the serene band of Olympians. Although Zeus and Hera, Apollo, Aphrodite, Hermes, and the rest of the immortals had recognizably human passions and failings, there was always something respectable about them. They had impeccably non-human pedigrees going to back to such comfortable abstractions as Time, Darkness and Chaos. Dionysus broke into the club like a “nouveau riche” cad.
Homer mentions Dionysus as an ominous figure stirring up trouble in Thrace, a wild and barbarous country to the north of Greece. Worse still, Dionysus was only half divine. Zeus, in one of his many unions with mortals, slept with the daughter of King Cadmus, Semele. Most of Zeus’s illegitimate children became gods or demi-gods, but the child of Zeus and Semele became Dionysus, the god of wine, who could tame snakes, make the earth spout milk and honey, and force mothers to tear their sons limb from limb.
Dionysus was a worker of miracles, but the greatest miracle of all was his survival. When Semele found she was with child, she prayed to see the child’s father face to face. Zeus warned her that it was dangerous. Semele insisted. Zeus granted her prayer and the pregnant Semele was incinerated along with her bridal chamber in a blast of lightning. But Dionysus lived. Zeus snatched him out of his mother’s womb and carried him to Olympus, where he spent the rest of his prenatal life in Zeus’s thigh.
Robert Christgau: The music whose spirit Nietzsche thought uniquely worthy of the Greeks was that of his soon-repudiated beau ideal Wagner. But Apollo-versus-Dionysus has since been taken up by Stravinsky, Britten, and most prominently Richard Strauss–whose greatest hit was named after Nietzsche’s signature Also Sprach Zarathustra–as well as analyses of Beethoven, Liszt, Bizet, on and on. It surfaces frequently in jazz commentary too. So rock has competition for the wine-bringer. …But Beatles Stones Velvets Zep Patti Ramones Pistols Nirvana PJ Harvey Smashing Pumpkins–hell, why not? Tori Amos likes to throw the word around. Phish’s corporate arm is called Dionysian Productions. LA’s Dionysus Records has been purveying “the finest in Garage – Surf – Rockabilly – Exotica – and more” since 1984.
…Rock’s champion Dionysian, however, is that egotistical degraded existentialist idiot Jim Morrison, dubbed Bozo Dionysus by either Lester Bangs or Lester Bangs’s headline writer. Morrison is said to have named his band during a bull session about The Birth of Tragedy. And in Arnold Shaw’s The Rock Revolution, he sums up the history he gleaned at UCLA: “In its origin, the Greek theatre was a band of worshippers, dancing and singing on a threshing floor at the crucial agricultural seasons. Then, one day, a possessed person leaped out of the crowd and started imitating a god.” This is a little garbled, but its dancing and singing and leaping and god act are clearly where rock’s Dionysian claims reside–all evoke a Doors concert better than a performance of Also Sprach Zarathustra. Yet here’s the odd thing. Not only do both Morrison and Nietzsche, with their intense commitments to different kinds of music, validate that commitment by reference to literature, but neither bothers to guess how the original Dionysian music might have sounded or, really, functioned. …Read More:http://www.robertchristgau.com/xg/music/dionysus-emp.php a