“Scientology is the very thing that artists need.”
So said Chick Corea, the US jazz musician best known as a member of Miles Davis’ 60s band, echoing the sentiments of many musicians that have embraced the Church Of Scientology.
But why have so many musicians turned to Scientology, and what affect does it have on their art? Why are fans unable to separate the artist from their personal beliefs, often leading to boycotts and vitriol?
Scientology has somehow come to influence some very high profile and influential people, and musicians are no exception.
In an interview with Tone Deaf, Vicki Dunstan, the Church Of Scientology’s Australian president, says the religion “addresses the spirit”.
“Scientology is not a dogmatic religion in which one is asked to accept anything on faith alone. On the contrary, one discovers for oneself that the principles of Scientology are true by applying its principles and observing or experiencing the results,” Dunstan says.
But according to many others, Scientology is based on beliefs of aliens and other mythical beings, and argued to be a money-grabbing scam, one that uses these high-profile celebrity musicians to further recruit members.
Whatever your opinion, since the High Court of Australia’s ruling in 1983, Scientology is officially recognised as a religion in this country, and whether you view it as a valid belief system or solely as a business, it has long-reaching connections and influencers in the music industry.
It’s very creator, L. Ron Hubbard, was an avid musical theorist and multi-instrumentalist, and released two albums himself, one, The Road To Freedom, which featured an array of Scientologist musicians such as John Travolta and Chick Corea, and the other Mission Earth, for which Hubbard wrote the lyrics and music, which were interpreted by Edgar Winter.
While in exile in the 1980s, Hubbard also wrote soundtracks to his own science-fiction books, as well as essays analysing various genres. Corea claims that Hubbard was “a great composer and a keyboard player as well…he was a true Renaissance Man”.“Artists who use Scientology principles and follow its philosophy soon find that their ability to communicate rises and they are more free to explore their creative abilities.”
Dunstan further states that “certainly this tradition of music is upheld in Scientology with musical performances at major events and also music is incorporated into Scientology films, events, and Church services…this has been part of Scientology for a considerable time”.
So it seems, from its very beginnings, music was deeply entrenched in Scientology.
It is well known that The Church Of Scientology uses high-profile ‘ambassadors’ of sorts, such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta and the like, to promote its cause, and it also has a number of well-known musicians subscribed to its beliefs. A handful are open and upfront with their allegiance, unafraid to answer the hard-hitting questions, but most attempt to keep this secret, proving to be the touchy last question of a brave journalist, one that often can lead to an abrupt end to the interview.
When asked why so many musicians are drawn to Scientology, Dunstan stated it was “because Scientology can and does rehabilitate the artist in a very real and practical way.
“Scientology addresses some basic fundamental principles concerning creativity,” she continues. “Many artists who use Scientology principles and follow its philosophy soon find that their ability to communicate rises and they are more free to explore their creative abilities”.
Beck is probably the most well known and prominent Scientologist musician, who was raised by Scientologist parents, educated at a Scientologist school, and undertook over a dozen Scientologist courses in his teen years. Despite this constant association with the Church, his beliefs were only confirmed in 2005; a testament to how much of an impact these revelations can have on a musician’s career and the interpretations of their music.
But Vicki Dunstan does not agree with this, stating that “any artist who is a Scientologist may not necessarily advertise their belief, but it does not mean they hide their beliefs”.
Beck has commonly dodged questions regarding his faith, and despite this long history with the Church, it wasn’t until a 2005 interview with The New York Times that it was finally confirmed.
In a revealing interview with the Irish Sunday Tribune, also in 2005, Beck finally confirmed it all, stating that “Yeah, I’m a Scientologist…it’s unbelievable the stuff they are doing…when you look at the actual facts and not what’s conjured in people’s minds, that’s all bullshit to me because I’ve actually seen stuff first hand”.
Beck’s revelations were met with a startling amount of vitriol, including oaths to never listen to the man again. Some highlights include an anonymous forum user stating that “I used to listen to Beck. I thought his lyrics were abstract. After learning about Scientology and his upbringing I realise his lyrics are merely stupid”. Beck’s lyrics didn’t change, but this individual’s perception of them definitely did.
But that’s the beauty of music, even if Beck’s lyrics do relate to Scientology, anyone and everyone can interpret it in their own ways, and can freely enjoy the music without its possible connotations.
The musician and his beliefs have also been the subject of articles such as a gem entitled ‘Is Scientology To Blame For Beck’s Mediocre New Songs?’ , which draws a ridiculous and non-existent link between the trajectory of Beck and Tom Cruise’s careers, blaming the perceived mediocrity of recent material on The Church. Others state that they have “deleted Beck from [their] iPod”, and vow to never listen to his music again.
For many fans, it sometimes does irrevocable damage for a musician’s religious beliefs to be revealed as differing to their own, and in many cases, this is met with more outcry than when other celebrities, such as actors, ‘come out’ as Scientologists. But why is it that musicians are met with more indignation, abuse and derision, along with oaths to “never listen to them again”?
Why is a musician’s private beliefs and affiliations such a sticking point for fans?
For one, musicians have much more direct control over the end product, subsequently making it easier for them to impart their own messages in the art, than an actor for example, who faces the middlemen of the writer, producer, director and so on. Music is seen as an almost complete form of self-expression, and many become so connected with an artist, that they cannot separate the music, from those that create it.“Music accompanies all of the religions of man and perhaps all music retains this spiritual element which is why it of all the art forms is acknowledged as able to touch the soul directly”.
Many other notable and influential musicians are known Scientologists, including Chick Corea, Doug E Fresh, Isaac Hayes, and Australia’s own Kate Ceberano.
Similarly to Beck, many fans of Corea’s fans have also been entirely unable to disconnect the musician from his personal beliefs. A reviewer of Corea’s album To The Stars absurdly claimed that it “cries out for warning stickers – this album contains dangerously high levels of Scientology”. This album was widely critically acclaimed by the majority of critics, ones that overlooked the multi-instrumentalist’s private life, and further displays the vitriol and assumptions that these musicians can be faced with.
According to Dunstan, “some of the most beautiful music around is religious”, and people “should not care what the religion of their favourite music is”.
“Religion and music have always gone hand in hand throughout time,” she continues. “Music accompanies all of the religions of man and perhaps all music retains this spiritual element which is why it of all the art forms is acknowledged as able to touch the soul directly”.
Australia’s most prominent Scientologist musician is Kate Ceberano, who is a third generation member. From various interviews, it’s obvious that it’s a very touchy subject for the songstress, such as when a daring interviewer from The Daily Telegraph broached the subject, leading Ceberano to reply with “that’s inappropriate”, while wearing a “frosty smile”.
In another interview on Enough Rope, Andrew Denton asked Ceberano to describe her beliefs and was met with the confounding statement of: “the ability to be, to, um, predict behaviour in oneself and others so that one can better learn how to operate in a situation” . Descriptions like these from influential entertainers probably don’t do much to help Scientology’s cause, with Ceberano herself seemingly not all that familiar with its ideals, and clearly not comfortable discussing them.
But should she have to? Other religious performers aren’t hounded for their beliefs. Just look at Sufjan Stevens, an openly Christian folk singer whose music is pervaded with religious imagery and themes. While he is commonly questioned about it, there are very few people, if any, boycotting his music because of this. In fact, this is commonly seen as adding another layer to his already brilliant and complicated music, but one has to wonder if this reaction would be the same if he outed himself as a Scientologist.
In response to these accusations following the reveal of a musician’s Scientology affiliation, Dunstan said she would ask one question of these boycotters: “Would you stop listening to Mozart because he was a Freemason or Mahler because he was Jewish?”.
Rapper Doug E. Fresh has claimed that he is the “first hip-hop artist to do” Scientology, while singer-songwriter Isaac Hayes quit his role on South Park following the animated show’s episode that derided The Church. Hayes said that “there is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begin”, to which South Park creator Matt Stone eloquently rebutted: “He had no problem – and he’s cashed plenty of cheques – with our show making fun of Christians”.
Even Leonard Cohen dabbled in Scientology, briefly being a member of the Church, and referencing the belief of the state of ‘clear’ on ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’, with the line “Did you ever clear”. Cohen’s reasons for joining the religion are perhaps more superficial than his countless peers, with the esteemed artist saying that he had heard it was a “good place to meet women”.
For as many musicians that support Scientology and reference it in their music, there are just as many using their art as an avenue to question, investigate, and openly insult the religion.
Frank Zappa’s ‘A Token Of My Extreme’ offers a non-too subtle swipe in an allegorical fashion, with a protagonist that “pays a lot of money to L. Ron Hoover and the First Church Of Appliantology”, a religion that cooperates with a “malevolent totalitarian regime”.“Would you stop listening to Mozart because he was a Freemason or Mahler because he was Jewish?”
While Zappa was more metaphoric with his derision, Tool took a more direct root on ‘Anema’, and just straight up said it: “Fuck L. Ron Hubbard / Fuck all his clones”. The band had a further run-in with Scientology when they discovered that a venue they were scheduled to play at in May 1993 was owned by The Church, something that clashed with “the band’s ethics about how a person should not follow a belief system that constricts their development as a human being”. The band eventually performed the show, but according to witnesses, most of the set consisting of them “baa-ing like sheep at the audience”.
Scientology also had its very own broadway play titled ‘A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant’, which took a satirical journey through Hubbard’s life, and won an Obie Award for its troubles.
Music is commonly incorporated into the Church Of Scientology’s daily practices, and it has its own production company, Golden Era Productions, with its headquarters featuring numerous full-size sound stages. According to Dunstan, however, this production company is purely for these in-house activities, saying “the Golden Era musicians compose and play music for our Scientology films and Church events”.“Are fans doing themselves a disservice by completing disregarding music just because of the creator’s personal beliefs?”
This is perhaps best typified in the confounding Scientology-themed rap song by ‘Chill EP’, inspiringly named ‘Dauntless, Defiant, And Resolute’. The film clip, which was originally meant to only be circulated amongst already loyal followers, probably doesn’t accurately reflect the expansive nature of their production company, and the lyrics include lines that lay the gauntlet down to the entire psychiatry industry: “We ain’t never gonna back down / Leave town, play the clown / Psychiatry and SPs you know we take ‘em down”. The closing lines also feature the ever-inspiring “So I wanna see you up your status / Yeah you and you and you and you too”.
A brilliant 90s video also surfaced recently, which saw the Church Of Scientology leader David Miscavige, along with an array of members, singing what seems to be their answer to ‘We Are The World’.
A musician’s personal beliefs should only become a problem for fans when they are unwittingly led to donate or somehow promote this cause that they may not support. This issue was raised at a Beck benefit concert in Los Angeles in 2009. The proceeds were listed as going to ‘Educating Children International’, leading the LA Weekly’s Randall Roberts to point out “evidence to the assertion that the non-profit organisation to be the beneficiary of the $35 cover to tonight’s Beck show at the Echo…is indeed affiliated with the Church of Scientology”.
If these allegations are true, this is a definite step over the line, from observing particular beliefs in an artists own time, to forcing these beliefs on unknowing fans. It is only in these possible situations where it should become a serious issue what religion a musician follows, at all other times, it’s none of our business.
Regardless of how ridiculous or confounding you may find a musician’s personal or religious beliefs, their work deserves to be respected and judged as a piece of art aside from these ideologies. Fans are doing themselves a disservice by completing disregarding music just because of the creator’s personal activities, and individuals must be allowed to have their music separate from whatever they follow in their private lives.
Unless it somehow subconsciously influences the listeners or unwittingly leads them to donate to a particular cause, a musicians religious beliefs should be of no concern to us.
Music should be viewed as something independent to whatever the individual creator may practice in their private lives, because, as the Scientology creator himself stated, “Music is indeed the universal language”.