Friday, March 31, 2006

"What Was I Thinking?" The Top Five Hall of Shame Songlist - Number 1: Christian Rock

Darko proposes another three-way exchange of lists, and Pattie seems game: this time, five of the most shameful musical pleasures you indulged in as a youth, but can't stand hearing now. I hesitate to walk down this path of sorrows, but after careful consideration I think the honorable and most healing thing to do is to commit.

Two years ago, a friend of mine was trying to persuade me to give Dave Matthews a listen. This was over an exceedingly long but pleasant dinner in Old Montreal, and although the spirits were generous, I was having a difficult time giving his proposal due consideration. I finally stopped him in mid-pitch and said, "If you want to know the truth, it's become physically impossible for me to listen to anyone of intelligence. I can't do it. The only stuff I'm capable of listening to anymore is mullet-head rock and roll with stoopid, stoopid lyrics. Led Zep, Acca Dacca ... that's pretty much it, really. I've become a lamentable rock & roll casualty."

My friend is a lovable mutt, so he came right out and said the magic words: "You know what your problem is?" (Do tell.) "Your problem is, when you were a horny adolescent you listened to Daniel Amos. And they ruined you. They ruined you for music."

He and I grew up in the same environment -- an Evangelical church with a Youth Group and a Youth Minister. His words (and the whisky) got me grinning, and he stayed on the offensive. "I had friends who listened to Daniel Amos. They wanted me to listen to Daniel Amos. They all seemed smarter than me, and Daniel Amos seemed smarter than them. And I tried to listen to Daniel Amos, but I just couldn't do it. You, though -- you didn't just listen to Daniel Amos, you liked it."

Guilty as charged. Daniel Amos hooked me because the band's leader, Terry Taylor, wrote lyrics that ought to have been heavily annotated. Hell, the band's name should have been annotated (two of Taylor's favourite biblical prophets). So DA fed my zeal with an ideal product: rather than pore over all the (dubiously) Satanic references that "secular" rock bands garnished their lyrics and album covers with, I pored over all the biblical, Christian and literary references that Taylor very consciously chose. Taylor started small, with Ron "Rich Christians In An Age Of Hunger" Sider, but quickly moved on to T.S. Eliot, Czeslaw Milosz and Frederick Buechner (the latter clearly becoming a big, big favourite of his).

I don't want to get hung up on DA, though, because the truth is their music never caused me much embarrassment. The milieu I discovered them in, however, is quite the opposite. And this is the most shameful secret I must admit to: in my earnest youth I devoted significant energy, passion and money to the burgeoning field of Christian Rock.

Actually, in the 80s, it was a rare Evangelical who could muster the chops, nevermind the attitude, for genuine rock and roll: the industry chose to dub itself "Contemporary Christian Music", and the product was about as much fun to listen to as the moniker suggests. I was intent on doing the right thing by my Saviour, though, so I spent unconscionable sums of money (CCM records were typically twice the cost of better-sounding "secular" records) on this fledgling genre. Which is to say I blew a lot of dough on, and listened to, an awful lot of crap.

I'll leave the list of suspects and their supposed crimes for another time. Again, occasionally hearing them played doesn't grate on my ears, because I'm still rather fond of the guy I was at the time. The acts I followed were (I believed) mirror images of who I was: a sincere pup intent on doing the right thing, who didn't want to hurt other people or inflict much damage on myself. You end up doing both, of course -- and you always hurt to the ones you love. The music you listen to can't change any of that. But thanks to DA, I grew increasingly impatient with any "Christian" product that didn't employ at least a little intelligence. Consequently, it wasn't long before I ditched CCM altogether.

There was one defining moment in my tender evolution of consciousness that came courtesy of one particular band and one particular album: Soldiers Under Command by Stryper. Disillusionment had already set in and simmered at a low boil when I brought this album home and lowered the stylus. When I heard the first few cuts off the album, I thought, "I'm giving up Van Halen, AC/DC and Judas Priest for this?! Who am I kidding?"

The end of an era; the beginning of a great adventure!

Hall of Shame Song #2.

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dan h. said...

Man... and you even had to go and post a pic of Stryper!!! I could have gone without seeing that again for an... eternity.

Much better said than my rant a few weeks ago. I feel your pain. :)

DarkoV said...

Quite an awesome start for this gathering of Songs of Shame. I'm not sure which was worse (for me) in that teenage time. My willngness to listen to glop or my self-delusion that it was cutting edge. Two sides of the embarassment coin, I guess. I'll be sanding down my teakwood needle at my end and preparing medicinal powders and brews to make it through my first entry. See you at the anonymous end.

Cowtown Pattie said...

WP - What? No secret Three Dog Night albums under the covers?

Guess I better get my truck in gear...

Duke said...

Yeah, I hear you WP. DA ruined me for music as well. I also was into the CCM scene in my teens, but the depth and intelligence of Terry Taylor and DA stood in sharp contrast to most other "Christian" rock. As I look back, not much else besides DA stands the test of time. Glen Kaiser (Rez Band), Steve Taylor, Mark Heard and Phil Keaggy can still hang in there with the best, but as for the rest. . .
As for Stryper, you can only imagine the controversy they caused at the extremely conservative Bible school I was attending (a single acoustic guitar was about as contemporary as it got). "With hair like that, they can't be Christians. . . Too loud. . . Too "worldly". The final word on Stryper has to be dr. Edward Daniel Taylor's hilarious schput on "heavenly" metal, Sprinkler Head.
Ah yes, the folly of youth.

Trent Reimer said...

WP, your personal forgiveness of Terry Taylor for slighting his number one fan is truly magnanimous. On the plus side, he seemed to have something for your athletically built female friend which should impute some honour upon yourself, no?

Whisky Prajer said...

Good comments, all. It's so nice to be loved for who I am! Or who I was. Or who I am when I remember what I was...

DH and Duke - I should confess to feeling a bit guilty over singling out Stryper. As Duke points out, those guys were shit on by absolutely everyone. Headbangers loathed them, Evangelicals (their own team!) loathed them ... they just couldn't win! And history simply does not favor hair like theirs.

CP - TDN was juuuuuust a day or two before my time, I'm afraid. But just try to keep me from singing along to "Joy To The World"!

TR - get thee behind me, dude! You refer to the past, which is dead and gone (besides, my female friend was indeed athletically built, which can account for all manner of otherwise inexplicable behavior).

Jon Trott said...

It is almost 1 in the a.m., and I've just read all five of your top worst music picks. Except for Def Leppard, whom I simply missed out on somehow but sensed from a distance were lame, I thought your picks were hilarious and pretty much on the money. I'd have a different list, of course, but that's the fun. But you would bring up Daniel Amos... "the band that won't go away" as one of their songs put it (oh, actually that was their "Swirling Eddies" incarnation). Whatever... thanks for the fun and now I must go to bed and try to forget the Imperials absolutely HORRIBLE song you cited. Egads! But I'll top you a Dave Boyer song, "Come On Home," which though far less offensive lyrically, was sung with such a bizarre mix of gospel fervor and night club schlock I used to walk around the Cstone office singing it... yes, in mockery! But also in what amounted to an ironical sort of admiration... I mean, the guy had the guts to actually stand up there and sing like that! It makes me laugh thinking about it even now. Of course, someone else listens to old RE albums with a similar ironical attitude. And 'round and 'round the aesthetic snobbery goes (guffaw!). Blessings, and thanks one last time.

Jon Trott said...

Uh, RE was supposed to be "REZ" -- sigh. Tired, ya know.

Whisky Prajer said...

Well, no-one disses REZ within my earshot! Thanks for dropping by JT.