During my 29th year, as I prepared for marriage, I wrote a short novel about a failed Christian rock musician. The central character was an Angelino by birth, whose youth consists of moodily keeping track of Nixon's fall, and smoking pot whenever he gets the chance. This unremarkable tedium is dramatically altered when he attends a youth rally, and answers the altar call.
Now that he's "born again", things get seriously weird. In a pinball explosion of Charismatic encounters, our hero gets annointed to head up a Christian punk band, christened to save souls from the satanic mosh pit. He and some recent acquaintances assemble their band, pull together a few chops, scrawl lyrics on sheets of foolscap, practice jumping around while playing, then set out to claim the country's youth for Christ. Coffee-houses are booked, and the misadventures begin.
The environment is all wrong for a Christian punk band. Coffee-houses book the band, expecting the sort of Kumbaya fare that's become the staple of "Contemporary Christian Music". Meanwhile Christian kids don't know what to make of punk music, nevermind their parents. Christian record companies won't touch them, and their mission/career looks seriously compromised.
Rather than pack it in, our hero follows the Spirit's leading and introduces the band to the bar circuit. Now their notoriety starts to grow by leaps and bounds, thanks to the free publicity of zealous televangelists publicly campaigning against the growing scourge of Christian Rock. Just as the group gains a following, our hero starts writing lyrics with depth and critical bite, frequently targeting televangelists, and the religious music industry that rejected him.
Now he and his group are hedged in by moneyed enemies at all sides. Thanks to this pressure, and a particularly ill-advised misadventure, his fate is sealed. Before his 35th birthday, his marriage is in ruins, his bandmates are fed up, and he is driven from the Promised Land of the California coast to the barren wilderness of Michigan. When we catch up to him in his late 40s, he has remarried, and is making a modest living producing musical tracks for video games.
For the last 11 years, this story has sat in a drawer with two other novels and the usual collection of short stories. I dusted it off the other day, and gave it a quick look. It's not bad, if I don't say so myself. Were I to shop it around, I'd probably ramp up the laugh factor a bit, but other than that, it holds together, and I'm happy with it.
An easy story with obvious parallels (more than one, actually, as I loosely based it on the perilous career of a living Christian rocker). I hadn't thought of it in years, but with my 40th birthday upon me, it was the only project I was drawn back to. This entry was meant to be yet another list, this time the soundtrack to my 30s. I may get back to that, but as I was compiling it and mulling over the obvious embarrassments - so many profoundly guilty pleasures, from AC/DC to POD - I realized that music, rock music particularly, constitutes such an intimate pleasure that I struggle to share it with the public at large.
This isn't self-gratification I'm talking about, either - at least, not entirely. When I was in my teens, I had my passion for rock (even the wholly toothless Christian rock) set straight by an earnest counselor at a Bible camp. It was a base music, unbecoming of the Creator or His children, and I was well advised to leave it alone. Instead, I went home and did my research. Gradually, circuitously, I got to dispensing with the whole notion of a sacred/secular delineation, and for the most part got on with enjoying what I enjoy. This experience is the chief reason why I'm unlikely to ever bend my knee to a proposed "Christian aesthetic."
Ah, but the echoes reverberate! I wonder if there isn't a pivotal adolescent encounter drilled through the inner identity of every adult? For my atheist friends, it's their first emotionally honest conversation about theodicy. Another popular bone of contention in church youth groups is "Following The Will of God" – that's sure to generate discussion among a bunch of hormone-ridden teens! Then there's sexuality: it's a rare person whose initiation into sexual experience isn't clumsy and messy, and not a little confusing, even if they wait for the honeymoon (Oscar Wilde on Niagara Falls: "It's the young bride's second disappointment!"). If sex is indeed a sacrament, it's the most primal of the bunch.
Those generally aren't the echoes that plague me, however. Mine reverberate to three chords on a Gibson - an embarrassing obsession I briefly gave voice to, once upon a time. An assumed persona, foolishly bent on doing the right thing, and expressing every earnest and naïve hope I'd never admit to. Unless, of course, I was under the influence - surely the most appropriate conditions for proper rock & roll.