Monday, May 31, 2010

The religion of Hard Rock Cafe

Don't get me wrong, I love Hard Rock Cafe. When visiting a new location of a particular size, my first mission is to locate the Hard Rock Cafe there. I have developed a collection of shirts from these establishments which double as markers to indicate the major cities to which I've traveled. I have shirts for Cologne, London, Rome, Amsterdam, Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. However, yesterday during my latest visit, something sort of struck me - the religion of Hard Rock.

There were many things I saw during my meal which seemed religious. First, you see the unmistakable logo for the restaurant, the same as at all locations. Underneath is what may be seen as the great commandment of the chain: "Love all. Serve all." It has a very religious slant to it. It's not "We love hard rock music" or "Come play guitar and drums", in fact it's not related to music at all. It's more of a religious or philosophical commandment: Love All. Serve All. It sounds like the words of a holy person, and similar to the teachings of Jesus.

Once you enter, you hear music playing. It's a particular type of music - hard rock. It's not simple background music. It's meant to be all encompassing. Everyone is unified through the music. Similar to the organ which plays in a church. All around, I notice something very peculiar. Instruments, posters, even clothing worn by music stars. Perhaps this is a stretch, but these items seem like relics. If you go to a Catholic Church, you can find small pieces of fabric, tools or instruments, and other things used or worn by saints. These items are called relics. In a very similar way, these personal items are displayed for all those in this establishment. People look with amazement at these objects, perhaps even with veneration!

Then it's someone's birthday, but rather than celebrating alone or even with the server, the entire population of the restaurant is encouraged to join in a chant, repeating happy birthday. Something like the responses given by the congregation of a church. While I'm eating, I notice a book beside me named "icons". Of course, icons in Christianity are paintings of saints.

Finally, Hard Rock is not satisfied with being a local phenomenon, but rather is seeking to place a store in all major cities around the world. It has an almost missionary zeal to spread to every corner of the globe. Yet, like cathedrals, there are never two in the same city, and they only appear in major cities. They do not become like McDonald's, but rather like pilgrimage sites. Then comes the t-shirts, like the reward for a pilgrimage well done.

Of course, many would say I am exaggerating and that most people just view Hard Rock as a restaurant. And for the most part, they are correct. I would say though that many people have no particular religion, but that does not mean they are not religious. In a world where organized religion is sometimes frowned upon, many seek other outlets for their worship and spiritual fulfillment. Hard Rock Cafe may not be a religion, but it is certainly not just a place to eat, either.

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