Gimme That “Rock n’ Roll” Time Religion

February 17, 2009 at 12:45 am (Uncategorized)

I don’t remember a time when religion, and in my case Christianity, was not a part of my life. From the age of 5 to 18 me and my family attended church just about every Sunday (morning and night), some Wednesdays, and, for a while at least, on Tuesday nights for AWANA. But, like a lot of kids growing up in a religious setting, I was not at the time terribly excited by the faith that had been imparted to me. The concept of God was fairly appealing to me. However, I found the people at church pretty odd and was never at all comfortable around them. There were some kids my age there, but we just seemed to inhabit two totally different and incompatible worlds. And, I kid you not, there were seriously three major things that made us so different from each other and thus prevented us from ever connecting: 1) movies  2) music  3) profanity. You see, my parents, though they took their faith very seriously and still do, never really put a whole lot of prohibitions on my brother and I. I’ve watched R rated movies since the 6th grade, listened to “devilish” rock music since stumbling upon my Aunt Terry’s shoebox full of cassettes at our summer camp in 1986, and  I never-ever got scolded for my foul mouth.  I liked 1, 2, and 3 and I still do. My truest self has never considered such things in themselves wrong. There’re a ton of R rated movies that have changed the course of my life for the better, and plenty of PG rated family films  that made no impact on me whatsoever, other than their provision of mindless entertainment. I’ve  always had an obsession with rock music, which I will take with me to the grave and, God willing, into the New Heaven and New Earth, or New Jerusalem, or whatever you want to call it. Then there’s the whole swearing thing. Call me lewd, rude, what-have-you, but sometimes “shit” just feels like a more honest response to dropping a 20 pound typewriter on your bare feet than exclaiming, say, “poodily poop.” Plus, vile language has been an inseparable part of the Stover family, and I’m assuming this goes way back into our history. So, far be it from me to challenge this. Now, without sounding like a conceited turd, I have to tell you, because of these three things my life was much more interesting and fun then that of the other church youngins’. Ya see, most, if not all, of them could only watch movies on television, since the filth was edited from them. I don’t think any of them were allowed to listen to rock music period; probably not even Christian rock, though at the time I didn’t even know that existed. And I’m sure that, had I ever sworn in front of them or even made a fart joke (gay jokes were fine), they would have told their parents immediately, thus getting myself and my own parents chastised. Looking back on it all, I think perhaps the reason why I never felt connected to church growing up was because movies, rock music, and words like “dick”  were openly frowned upon. 

Now, to bring the topic of this blog entry back into focus, during the summer before my senior year of  high school I came under the odd conviction that secular rock music was not something Christians should listen to. I cannot for the life of me remember what sparked this. I think I was having a lot of problems with my girlfriend at the time and thought that I had to sacrifice my one ‘idol’ in life in order for God to fix her and I’s relationship. Or maybe I actually paid attention to some anti-rock sermon. I’m really not sure. Anyways, it led to me destroying all of my “secular” cds (and boy, did I have some good ones), then replacing them entirely with Christian music. I couldn’t stand most of the Christian music I had heard up to that point. However, a couple dear friends of mine (neither of whom were against non-Christian music) introduced me to a subculture that was totally unbeknownst to me before: namely, Christian Rock. Now, much of what I heard was pretty terrible and I didn’t deny this. See, a majority of the bands were simply sanitized sound-a-likes. Instead of Blink 182, there was Relient K. Same sound, same topics to some extent (granted Relient K’s relationship songs brought Jesus into them)…the only difference was that Relient K didn’t make any dildo jokes or name their albums “Take Your Pants Off and Jacket.” Some Christian book & music stores even had charts that said things like “If you like Outkast, then you’ll LOOOOOOOOOVE Steven Curtis Chapman,” or some other absurdly inaccurate “sinner and saint” comparison. I don’t think this trend in Christian pop/rock has changed much. To be honest, I think one reason Contemporary Christian music has become so lucrative of an industry is because they’ve directly marketed themselves to and provided an alternative for kids who want to listen to Staind but their parents, or conscience, prevents it. Regardless, during my senior year of high school I did manage to find a lot of “Christian Rockers” who were actually quite good. The majority, if not all of them, were not part of the much more mainstream Contemporary Christian Music scene. They were bands who played in bars, school gyms, Christian festivals such as Cornerstone and Creation, and non-Christian festivals such as Warped Tour and even Ozzfest. They were on small labels, had limited distribution and promotion, and, most importantly, had at least SOME relationship with their fans that wasn’t just a “we make CDs, you buy CDs” type thing. And though a lot of these bands have disbanded and faded away into obscurity, many of them are still at it and doing quite well. As much as I regret throwing away my secular CDs back in 1997, I do think that there is a direct connection between the obsession I developed with under-the radar Christian rock in high school and my ongoing obsession with indie-rock that began in college. That being said, I’d like to share with you some of those bands/artists that I was into. You should also check out them out on Amazon, where you could buy there CDs for as little as 1 cent. Have fun.

Five Iron Frenzy

miniaturegolf I don’t care if ska ended up sucking (and I don’t think it sucks nearly as bad as people claim), Five Iron Frenzy is hands down the most courageous band that ever worked under the umbrella of Contemporary Christian Music. And even if they did work under that umbrella, it was never to simply protect the people underneath from the rain of “the world” but, rather,  to shake it, poke holes in it, dangle it off cliffs,  and, in the end, leave the umbrella behind and construct a different one altogether. Formed in Boulder, Colorado and led by the goofy, incredibly outspoken genius Reese Roper, FIF wrote catchy-as-hell ska ditties where they spoke out against everything from homophobia (check out the song “Mr. Fahrenheit,” an apology note to Freddy Mercury, from 1999’s All The Hype That Money Can Buy) to manifest destiny (as heard in the opener “Old West” from 1997’s Upbeats and Beatdowns), and a whole lot in between. The first time I ever heard them was at a life performance of theirs in the basement of John Baptst High School in Bangor, Maine. There were about 40 people in attendance, and I think myself and the youth group kids I attended it with were the only ones without our entire faces pierced. This remains one of the most exciting concert experiences I’ve had. 

Here’s a youtube recording of their track “Giants”, which tackles corporate greed and, to a great extent, foreshadows the inevitable outcome of unfettered globalization.

Silage

images-5 Silage, while not nearly as lyrically subversive as Five Iron Frenzy, put out what remains one of my all-time favorite albums (the self-titled one pictured to the right). I like Silage for no other reason than they knew how to craft a good pop-song. Now, there songs were so all-over-the board that I don’t think they would have survived too long on Top 40 radio (though they did receive some brief MTV play). Another reason why I liked them was the fact that they were fairly overtly Christian, but neither preachy nor obnoxious; truly an impressive, and rare, feat. I did see them perform at Creationfest in 1998. My dad took my friend Mike and I to it for a graduation present, and we somehow ended up hitching a ride to it with the Passadumkeage Church youth group, led by the too-cool Rick Snell. Mike and I went to see Silage and, I kid you not, the entire crowd was jumping in the air for the entire show. It was totally unbridled and youthful and I’d love to be there right now.

Here’s the video for my favorite Silage song, “Watusi”

 

Danielson Family

Danielson Famile (1998) “Sometimes in the church people will say, ‘Oh, they were just offended by the name of Jesus,’ or something. But it’s actually…it’s much more the delivery that’s offensive… I wish there was a real Christian music industry, or a real Christian music scene…I wish there was one. Because then what they would be doing is they would be selling CDs for $8, they would be, you know, giving full artistic license, encouraging creativity; they would be really doing the things Christ did and continues to do.”

The above is a quote from a conversation Daniel Smith, frontman of Danielson Family, had with the great studio engineer/producer Steve Albini. Early in their career, the Danielson Family tried eagerly to make it in the whole Christian music scene. They put on nurses uniforms, dressed as trees, and sang songs about boyfriends who swear a lot. It was different and wild and received zero interest from that very scene. They did, however, win the interest of SPIN, Rolling Stone, Jeff Buckley, and eventually Steve Albini. Albini, who produced Nirvana’s In Utero and countless other classics, helped push them onto the front stage of the whole indie-rock scene and they have been a favorite ever since. Daniel Smith has since started a very successful indie-label, Sounds Familyre, brought indie poster-boy Sufjan Stevens into the limelight, and the Danielson Family is still playing strong. Good for them. Man, I love that quote above. I think it’s great to see a very openly Christian artist like Daniel Smith admit that he is as annoyed with CCM as the rest of us. Yet, he offers something of a corrective for those artists who want to write songs about their faith and live in a way that is conducive to that. The other part of the quote I like is his mention of an industry that gives “full artistic license” and “encourages creativity” in the name of Christ. And anyone who has listened to and seen the Danielson Family perform has definitely heard and seen plenty of creativity. I love how they dress up in ridiculous outfits, bang out ridiculous songs on whatever weirdo instrument happens to be lying around, and fill their audience with joy. The Danielson Family remind me of the ragtag bunch of Jesus-followers in the musical Godspell. In that musical Jesus and his people run around the slums, painting their faces and singing at the top of their lungs. I think if Jesus were walking around today he’d do the same thing, and would probably get a real kick out of the Danielson Family. Roger Ebert has a great quote that speaks along these lines in his review of Godspell. He said, “The movie characters, like the stage characters, are given little watercolor designs on their faces by Jesus. A girl gets a little yellow flower, a boy gets a tiny red star, and so on…It occurred to me, about an hour into the film, that maybe young people will pick up on this. Tattoos were big in the ’70s–little butterflies and stars–so why not face-paint zigzags and pinwheels and flowers? Anything to brighten up this miserable world…”

Here’s a video for their lovely tune “Did I Step On Your Trumpet”:

Also, I’d highly recommend that you Netflix the documentary on this great band, titled “Danielson: A Family Movie [or,  Make a Joyful Noise HERE].” Seeing the family’s way awesome dad alone makes it worth renting (seriously, if there is a hipper, more lovable father on earth, other than my own, I’ve not yet met him). Here’s a preview of it:

 

Moving on, there was a slew of great bands in the late 90s that apparently listened to a whole lot of My Bloody Valentine. I like to call them “Shoegazers for Christ.” No, that’s about as CCM sounding as you can get so let’s leave that be. On second thought, it’s kind of funny. Anyways, here they are:

Starflyer 59  

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This was, and continues to be, basically the solo project of the remarkably prolific multi-instrumentalist Jason Martin, who is also a part time truck driver. He plays all, I mean ALL, of the instruments on his albums. I have not seen them live, but hear very positive things about them. He’s had some excellent musicians play with him at these shows, such as Richard Swift, David Bazan, and others. I remember 6 or 7 years ago being genuinely pissed when I found out Jason Martin is a smoker. Then I took up smoking for a year and totally understood the appeal. Anyways, here’s the rather Bergmanesque  video of Starflyer 59’s totally fab “No New Kinda Story.”

Morella’s Forest

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These Ohio-based shoegazers made two or three ultra-rad records then disappeared off the face of the earth. Their videos weren’t half-bad, either, about as 1996 as you can get: lots of pink, blue, and yellow with weird words popping up on the screen for no good reason and plenty of good ol’ fashioned senselessness. So enjoy their definitely-not-a-hit but still awesome video for “Here” (and no, that’s not the girl from The Cranberries):

Velour 100

This was SUCH a talented bunch. They had that sort of ethereal Cocteau Twins tone that just makes me giddy and a little high. What’s most amazing about Velour 100 is that if they were around today they’d be like a anti-CCM supergroup. Seriously, here’s some of the people who were in it: Rosie Thomas, David Bazan, Trey Many, led by the angel-voiced Amon Krist (daughter of Detroit-folkster Jan Krist). Apparently after Velour 100 disbanded Amon joined the Detroit Art Institute. Rosie Thomas, David Bazan, and Trey Many have all done incredibly well on their own with promises of more great music to come. There’s no good video footage of the band, so here’s a link to their Myspace. Check out the song “Shine” and I promise you’ll become a fan. 

David Bazan a.k.a Pedro the Lion

I cannot emphasize how much I love this fellow and his music. I’ve met him several times and, I tell you, the words “genuine” and “truthful” aren’t nearly potent enough to describe him. Actually, I’d just assume not say anything about him at all. Just watch:

If you got this far, God bless you. I mean it. This is the most fun I’ve had writing anything in years. I hope there is something here that you connected with.

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