Body Piercing Saved My Life: Inside The Phenomenon of Christian Rock
by Andrew Beaujon
Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2006, 271 pp., tradepaper.
If you take away the reasonably priced food, the utter lack of security concerns, and the sober teenage virgins, Cornerstone is just like any other rock festival (13).Beaujon starts with Christian rock history, going back to the early days of Larry Norman, Rez, Amy Grant, and U2, then moving up through Stryper, DC Talk and others to Switchfoot and the Tooth & Nail label. I appreciated how fair he was, and that he seemed to genuinely enjoy the people he met in his quest to understand this odd phenomenon.
I enjoyed the seminar, but I left the room wondering whether I'd just driven seven hundred fifty miles to hear Christian kids get the okay to listen to Eminem (120).At times, he found it difficult to follow without the Christian subcultural references many of us take for granted. He listed some of his notes from a David Dark (husband of Sarah Masen) lecture, including this line:
Frank Brady books? JCT? This present darkness political worldObviously "Brady" is actually "Peretti"--go ahead, say "Peretti" quickly and you can see how someone unfamiliar with Peretti might hear "Brady." I'm not sure what "JCT" means, though.
It is about a love affair with the King; it is not about merchandising the Kingdom!" to a roar from people paid to do just that (153).Beaujon then headed off to a women's audio Bible meeting promising free lunch. Reading his description resulted in one of my laughing fits that roused my wife from her vacation slumber:
A stout guy in an argyle polo shirt in front of me kept making a weird hissing noise. At first, I thought he was trying to ask a question, but as the stories of life-changing miracles were related, he started raising his right hand, wiping away tears, muttering. I realized he was saying, "Yes, Jesus. Yes." Some of the women on the CDs...sat on stools taking turns reading...As they got going, tinny Chariots of Fire-style music filled the room. I looked around the room, trying to figure out what jerk forgot to turn off his cell phone, before I realized it was background muisc being piped in for effect. It's on the CDs, too.If that didn't make you chuckle, try reading it after midnight in a Swiss hotel after several days of sightseeing on foot. I guarantee you'll laugh out loud.
Worship tunes tend to evince an adolescent theology, one that just can't get over how darn cool it is that Jesus sacrificed himself for the world...Moreover, it's self-centered in a way that reflects evangelicalism's near-obsession with having a personal relationship with Christ. It's me Jesus died for...the Jesus of worship music is a mentor, a buddy, a friend whose message is easily distilled to a simple command: praise me. Not "feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner." Simply thank Him for His gift to you (and make sure to display copyright information at the bottom of the screen so royalties can be disbursed) (159).Ouch. Far too accurate for comfort. After wandering through a few workshops, Beaujon made the evening Tooth & Nail/BEC showcase at the Nashville Hilton, where my daughter and I were near the front enjoying the bands, including our friends in Hawk Nelson,
a group of well-scrubbed Canadian lads who played their Christian-radio hit "Letter to the President"...and closed saying, "Thank you! Eat your carrots! And smoking is a very bad idea!" (164).And I have the video to prove it. Sadly, Beaujon left before KJ-52 played, and thereby missed out on an amazing bassist who banged out some lead guitar-style solos on his bass. Back at the hotel, Beaujon was getting fed up with GMA:
I was sick of good-looking, clean-cut kids who made music that took all its cues from a world they wanted no part of, I was sick of artists who profited from the low expectations of their audience, I was sick of white rappers, and I was really sick of fat front men with minibeards (165).Hard to argue with that observation. The chapter concludes:
There was no doubt that a lot money was around Christian music, but it was a lot less cohesive, and a lot less evangelical, than I'd expected...The day before, Anthony brought me to meet Josh Niemyjski, Jon Madison, and Jae Choi, who run a Christian hip-hop indie label called Illect...As I left, Choi asked me if I was a Christian, and when I said no, he handed me a tract. I was on the plane home before I realized that I'd been working on this project for six months, and it was the first time anyone had tried to evangelize me (168).Let's give Illect Records some credit for being consistently evangelical. The GMA Awards night followed. I attended in 2004, but had my fill at that time (even though the press room buffet ran out way too soon). These were the 2005 awards, with Jeremy Camp winning for songs recorded in 2003 and Switchfoot staying away despite eight nominations:
The next awards were a blur of absent Switchfoot and a baffled Jeremy Camp piling on albums for moldering albums.A running joke at GMA was that Jeremy Camp won New Artist of the Year every year. He's a great guy who seems as confused as everyone else about the arbitrary eligibility standards.
...Chris Tomlin and David Crowder, backed English worship leader Matt Redman on his worship hit "Blessed Be Your Name," which is so catchy it rocketed through my head weeks afterward (175)... Rebecca St. James had an idea that single-handedly revived my faith in the Christian music industry. "Shall we sing a hymn?" she asked. A capella, she led the entire room in Rich Mullins' "Awesome God," its minor pentatonic melody filling even the space between the rafters where I was sitting (177).Another interview follows, this time with Bill Hearn, whose father founded both Myrrh and Sparrow, labels that blazed the trail for all of us back in the 70s.
I got worship music during a sound collage during the last number, "Rescue is Coming," when Crowder bent down and started fiddling with an effect pedal so that his guitar was feeding back in an interesting loop, so engrossing, in fact, that I didn't even notice that he'd disappeared completely for a minute or so.I almost got teary-eyed when I read that. Maybe it was because I've been to DCB concerts that ended that way, and maybe it was because I was reading at 1:30 AM, but mostly it was because I saw a glimmer of truth shine into Andrew Beaujon's life. If he ever becomes a follower of Christ, I'm sure that will be one of the signpost moments along his journey.
nbspc;nbspc;And that, friends, marked my conversion to, or at least the end of my enmity to, worship music. Here's a guy surrounded by rabid fans...consciously removing himself from the spotlight. There was only one star at that evening's show, and he hadn't been onstage at all.
At Christian rock festivals, it's the adults who dress wacky--turning out in full kilt dress, for instance, or an Oompa Loompa outfit. These people are youth pastors...there's a freedom in embracing uncoolness, and Christian youth pastors are, by all appearances, extremely free (247).Beaujon then refers to a artist talking about kids making fun of his band or cussing, and how that's okay because Jesus said we'd be persecuted:
Sorry, dude, but a drunken idiot shouting "Satan rules" when you play in a bar isn't quite the same thing as being nailed to a tree...the idea that there's some kind of widespread danger facing Christians in the United States of America in the early twenty-first century is ludicrous. Early Christians were stoned, fed to lions, and set on fire--hardly the equivalent of someone dubbing in fart sounds over a video of Robert Tilton preaching (250, 251).The chapter continues with Jay Bakker, son of Jim and Tammy Faye, and his issues growing up in that dysfunctional home. Beaujon then admits that his biological father was a disgraced Episcopalian priest, and that he became an atheist as a youngster. After sharing that he believes everything ends at death, he writes:
This is the kind of talk that makes my Christian friends unbearably sad, and that's what I love about them--they really, really, really don't want anyone to die, and that's why they can sometimes be such a raging pain in the ass. So next time a Christian tries to save you from the fate that awaits you, don't get irritated--remember that it's because they care about you. Seriously. If you take nothing else away from this book, remember that (254).There's a hope in that--even while documenting some of the absurdity, hypocrisy and even inanity of Christians and the Christian music biz, Beaujon found a sincerity and love that appealed to him. That's worth something.