Friday, March 8, 2013

Witchcraft, Rock 'N' Roll, and Mission Lore

The Rock 'N' Roll Fireside was possibly the most enduring urban legend on my mission. Elders spoke of it in hushed tones. Some claimed to have heard it, or to having a previous companion who'd heard it, or to know a missionary who had a companion that had it on CD. Everyone seemed profoundly affected by it, although nobody I spoke with ever seemed to own a copy. Most missionaries agreed that it was simply insane, though a few took it very seriously. Demons. Witchcraft. Devil worship. Sorcery. Dungeons & Dragons. Ouija boards. And rock 'n' roll. For the longest time I doubted that it even existed. Sure, I was certain that somewhere out there was a recording of a speaker denouncing popular music. Two minutes on Google helped me find this from then-apostle Ezra Taft Benson, so clearly fear of rock 'n' roll is an established, if somewhat outdated, component of certain strains of Mormon thought. Surely, though, the rest of the lore surrounding the alleged fireside was just gossip and exaggeration, two things missionaries are very good at.

Then I heard it. I'd been on my mission for a long time, maybe twenty two months, when one P-day, in the course of whatever conversation we were having, an elder in my district mentioned that he had a copy of the infamous Rock 'N' Roll Fireside. Well, that was that; regardless of our other plans we simply had to listen to it now. We did. The stories weren't exaggerated. Demons. Witchcraft. Devil worship. Sorcery. Dungeons & Dragons. Ouija boards. And, yes, rock 'n' roll. I was now an initiate: no longer a second-hand repeater of myth, I was a witness to the madness. The legend was real; I knew it for myself! Unfortunately, my time was short and I had few chances to spread the word. I don't know how many times the missionary who owned the recording shared it after that, or whether stories of the Rock 'N' Roll Fireside persisted. Maybe elders there speak of it in hushed tones today, maybe it's been forgotten.

Missions are strange like that, with missionaries arriving, leaving, and moving around so quickly that the mission's reality seems to exist outside of history in a kind of premodern mythological state. Besides the 18-24 months a missionary serves, his or her main connection with the mission's past is stories told by older missionaries, which themselves only go back a year or two before becoming stories those missionaries learned from even older missionaries, and so it goes. Facts get blurred quickly. Missionaries tell competing, sometimes conflicting stories. Institutional memory fades quickly. Members can sometimes fill in gaps, but they also exist too far outside the world of the mission to contribute to its past meaningfully. Thus, history easily blends with legend and myth, and it's impossible to guess how long any particular legend will survive.

Still, the missionaries whose time on the mission overlapped with mine still know the legends of our day. Some were fellow Rock 'N' Roll Fireside initiates. On a whim, I recently set out out to find the fireside again. Luckily, the world of Facebook allows for much quicker investigation than the old missionary communication system of zone or district meeting gossip (or, if you were really savvy, schmoozing the office missionaries). Although my inquiries initially seemed to prove that the fireside is as chimeral today as it was on the mission, I finally found it after messaging twenty or thirty people. If there's a word that combines "awesome" and "absolutely bonkers," the fireside is just as that as I remembered.

Having rediscovered a small part of my mission lore, I present it below for public consumption. It's an incomplete recording that cuts out in a few places, and I have no idea who the speaker is except that he refers to himself as Brother Bryson. Mission legend states that this individual got himself excommunicated, but I have no way of verifying that. I don't know when or where the fireside was given, although I'd guess it's from some time in the mid 80s. If you happen to know more, share in the comments.

Now, prepare to be stunned (or at least incredibly bemused) to learn about the great sorcerers John Lennon and Adolph Hitler, about the hidden satanic messages embedded in Stairway to Heaven and Hotel California, about the evils of spellcasting in D&D books (did you know that they contain the same spells Pharaoh's priests used?), about the mass suicides of Helter Skelter, and about the importance of not taking advice from floating tables. Sadly, the recording abruptly ends just as it starts discussing the dangers of bisexuality and Boy George, but maybe the ending is out there somewhere, part of another mission's lore.

The Rock 'N' Roll Fireside
Click to play mp3:
Part 1 | Part 2
At least listen to part 2 to fully enjoy the insanity.

Update: The individual responsible for this recording has also been discussed here and here; see the comments section on those posts for more.