In Praise of Abbot Primate Notker Wolf (and His Guitar)

I've had the delight and challenge for the last several years of being involved with the Rock and Theology Project, underwritten by Liturgical Press, involving theologians who are also rock musicians and fans writing about the overlap of "sacred theology" and "secular music." And in the spirit of intra-Catholic conversation, some recent YouTube videos of the Benedictine inspiration for this project seemed like a good occasion to re-introduce Notker Wolf to the readers of this Jesuit-sponsored blog.

The initial idea for the Rock and Theology Project hit me about four years ago when a good friend of mine, a respected theologian whose continued respect probably depends on his remaining anonymous in this case, sent me a link to this story in Whispers in the Loggia about Notker Wolf, OSB, the abbot primate of the Benedictines. I had no idea that Wolf was a practicing rock musician, but there was Rocco Palmo, reporting that Notker Wolf was on the cell phone with him, singing AC/DC's "Highway to Hell." And there was a striking picture of Wolf on electric guitar to accompany the Whispers report. (In "Hungry Like the Wolf," I tell the story in more detail.)

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Notker Wolf is a practicing rock musician who records and plays shows (according to their website, as recently as two months ago) with his band Feedback. His band is often referred to as a Christian rock band, and he plays guitar wearing a pectoral cross that stylistically places him somewhere between hip-hop and metal. But according to their playlist, Feedback also covers Queen's "Tie Your Mother Down," "Fool for Your Stockings" by ZZ Top, and the slow-burning "Blue on Black" by the young blues genius Kenny Wayne Shepherd, as well as Black Crowes, Rolling Stones, and (surprise!) Depeche Mode.

I think that what drew me most to Wolf's example was his evident freedom to make something new of his religious vocation, something pertaining to his own legitimate strangeness. That freedom, yes, and also Wolf's spiritual insight to see in what others might consider "profane" works, to see in "popular," "secular" music a domain of feeling for life, of imperfect but real releasement to feeling and form, and therein to "the more" bearing up what is dignified about the consent to reality that secular/popular music, in its contemporary credibility, permits. This is the case despite -- and because -- Wolf's band seems to have a particular weakness for 1970s blues rock with more than a whiff of the carnal. My simple point is that, from a certain vantage, Notker Wolf's practices are and bear compelling theological material. So here's to Notker Wolf, OSB, the patron saint of Rock and Theology.

Here are links to some recent videos of him in performance: with Feedback playing "Highway to Hell" and with Deep Purple playing "Smoke on the Water." He has, let's say, a rather circumspect rock style.

(I could not find a video of Wolf and Co. playing Kenny Wayne Shepherd's "Blue on Black," so here is KWS and band exercising their contribution to the magis.)

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Stephen Murray
6 years 11 months ago
Surely a sign that God is with us......and even likes us!!!!!

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