Sunday, October 5, 2008

Music

I'm sick of music.

I'm serious. I can't deal with it anymore.

Seems like it's either one or the other. Either it's a wave of mediocre secular stuff that, while often structurally sound(speaking of the arrangement and compatibility of lyrics unto one another) is boring and meaningless and was obviously written to sell a record, OR it's a creeping biomass of Christian and Gospel music that's... the same thing. Except it's about Jesus.

Where's the GOOD stuff? Written by artists who give a flip about what they're saying, and are talented enough to keep me interested while they say it? Actually there's a lot of it. You just have to wade through sewage to find it.

But we're not talking about music as a whole today. Oh no, that's not what we're talking about. Today we're discussing Christian Music, and the neutered steer it's become. That's where my beef is and that's where we're going.

Christian music spent a few centuries as a being comprised mainly of monastic chants and hymns. All of it, while often beautiful and written with all due sincerity, became less and less relatable as the world did what's commonly known as changing(something the church has a real problem with). So then the 90's and 80's rolled around and we got stuff like, "Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music"(A song which answers it's own question), and then artists like Steven Curtis Chapman and Michael W. Smith showed up. Also Steve Green (*shudder*).

Then Christian Music was what's still known as contemporary. Oh snap, we can play drums and light rock in church? That's okay? Well, no, not if you ask the church elders, but in some places you were able to get away with it.

And now here we are, 2008, and as far as what's changed, there isn't much to say. We have Christian rappers now, that's nice, and a few Christian metal bands. Well good. Maybe the sinners will buy those albums by mistake and come to a saving and redemptive knowledge of Jesus Christ.

What? No? They won't? Using popular media as a cop-out for actual sincerity and earnest faithful living won't work? Especially because we stock all that crap in the "Christian & Gospel" section at all the retailers? Oh. Okay. Well, let's keep doing it anyway.

This is my problem in a nutshell: Christian music, hell, Christian media in general, is unoriginal. It's either an imitation of itself, or an imitation of popular secular media. Ever heard of KJ-52? He's the Christian Eminem(I actually kind of like some of his stuff, in all fairness, contrived as it is). Ever listen to Demon Hunter? They're the Christian(insert angry metal band here). How about Krystal Meyers? She fills her role as the Christian Avril Lavigne quite dutifully, and recently, has even taken a few bold steps onto Katy Perry's turf(minus the songs about homosexuality of course. We all know God hates the queers[this is sarcasm]).

And here's the problem, here's what gets me, and here's why I haven't said anything before now - there's nothing necessarily wrong with any of this. If a bunch of Christians get together and want to form a heavy metal band, and they JUST SO HAPPEN to write songs with religious significance, then what the hell, do it. If Krystal Meyers can't decide whether she likes being Avril or Katy more, then sure, be both. Lord knows enough secular artists blatantly rip each other off every day, so why shouldn't we be able to get away with it?

The issue, the crime is that we were never called to sit by, watch popular culture, and then create our own version of it so that we could reap the entertainment value while still keeping our Sunday pants on.

The following is an exert from God's Blogs by Lanny Donoho. It's a really good book and if you ever get the chance to read it, I highly recommend you do so. This of course from a guy who hasn't finished it. I got it for free at a youth worker's convention back in '06, but it's a damn good book.

"Bubbles are thin layers of film made of liquid and soap that hold pockets of air. All the air inside the bubble is separated from all the rest of the air outside the film. Most of you know all that. As I mentioned in a previous post, it's pretty natural to want to burst a bubble when you see it.
There is one that I would like to burst. I have a strong desire for My children, the ones who love Me and claim Me as their father, to be who I made them to be and to relate well in a culture that doesn't yet know me.
Some, however, have chosen to build a wall or a bubble around themselves to keep them away from the culture. They focus inward and tragically don't want outsiders in there with them. It seems kinda silly to Me when I see anger and rejection flare up inside your bubble because some of your artists decide to perform or write for the folks outside of your bubble.
Here is a thought...
Artists who are Christians have a better shot at changing the world than "Christian artists."
You now have your own Christian stores and books and singers and mints. You have created your own clothing and music and lingo, and you have isolated the rest of the world.
You have built a bubble around yourselves and used insider thoughts to try to influence outsiders... and they aren't getting it. As a matter of fact, they see your bubble and your actions inside that bubble and they hear your words and they are choosing not to get in there with you. And that is a wise choice. I didn't send My Son to die so you could form a club and dance at your own recital. I did it so all people could see Me and experience Me and understand forgiveness and grace and mercy and love, and so everyone would dance at My recital... and so I could dance at everyone else's.
The world has become dark, and bubbles can't be seen in the dark. Sometimes I want to take a God-sized pin and burst your bubbles

and hand you all a light instead.
"


This is exactly what I'm getting at. Rather than try and summarize it I thought you just outta read it.

Not too long ago this guy named Brian "Head" Welch(You know that one band, KoRn? They're a little bit popular. Just a little bit.) left his drug and sex laiden lifestyle behind, saying that "I believe I would be dead right now if I continued using Meth, but instead, I chose to surrender my life to Christ and die to myself so He could share His resurrection with me". He left KoRn and is now a Solo artist producing a sound similar to that of his former gig, but instead of KoRn's message of... well, you know KoRn... he's telling HIS story and helping other drug addicts to escape from the lifestyle that he himself was trapped in. The above quote might sound Churchy to the un-churched, but don't be fooled - this is not your typical celebrity conversion. Consider the following, Welch's new music video for the song Flush,



Oh my God.

Of course the conservatives flipped out, and a bunch of retailers actually pulled his CD from the shelves. Welch said the following in response,

"The video for FLUSH is about Crystal Meth addiction and the crazy things anyone addicted to Meth will do while they’re high or to get their fix. Everything the models were doing in the video is what I was wrapped up in while I was addicted to Meth. The video is a very realistic look at the addiction and where it will lead you if you get hooked. I understand the images of the models may be too much for some people, but honestly, I was just trying to be real with what happened in my life and show where I was, as well as where I am at now...

...I totally understand that the video may be a bit too much for some conservative people and I respect everyone’s choice. But to me, taking my CDs off the shelves because of a music video (that isn’t being sold with the CD) is a bit too extreme! There is a huge message of hope on my CD and I believe those retailers that are pulling the CD from their shelves are robbing someone spiritually by taking it off of the shelves. But, thank GOD for iTunes!...

...I’m not called to be a Sunday School teacher obviously….I mean, just look at me….(Smile)…..I’m called to speak to people that understand my language and I’m gonna be as REAL as possible. The CHEESE has to disappear from the Christian media. I challenge the conservative Christians to start thinking “outside the box,” and get real with how they try and connect with the masses!!
As for me—I’m going to do everything I can do to KILL RELIGIOUS MINDSETS THAT CONTINUE TO BE PIGEON-HOLED IN THEIR THINKING!! DIE!!! RELIGION!!! DIE!!!!!!!!!!

Oh yeah….one more very important thing….I love you all….Even you conservative nit pickers!!!
-HEAD
"

How beautiful. How perfectly and eloquently put. Mr. Welch has a greater understanding of what it means to SHARE Jesus with the rest of the world than most(and I mean most. I'd guess at eighty percent) of the self proclaimed "Christians" I've met in my years as a church goer(twenty years now, eight of those spent asking myself just what the hell is wrong with us[twenty one if you count the months prior to my birth hahah gestation reference]). And even in the face of ignorant, bad-mouthing censorship, he has the caliber, the heart to say, "I love you all"

Holy God.

How many of the people who condemned him for the content of his video said the same? This is just a guess but I'm going with zero. I'm gonna go buy his album on iTunes as soon as I'm done with this first draft.


Christianity Today and Patrol Magazine recently commented on the sound of Christian music. I have to say that both make valid statements and I understand exactly what they're talking about.

I work at FYE(For Your Entertainment, a property of Trans World Entertainment), which is a music and movie(and usually) video game store. We have a bunch of TVs mounted to the walls and they play music videos all day(sometimes they play The Nightmare Before Christmas). We play a wide variety of stuff, from rap to rock to screamo to pop to... Christian.

Three Christian songs are included in our current playlist(I won't name the artists), and I'd never heard the songs before I started working there. Literally, three chords in, I said to myself, "That's [artist name]". Another one started up a half hour or so later and I thought, "That's probably a Christian band". 'Nother half hour later, "Gotta be a Christian song." I didn't look at the monitor, I promise. I didn't even hear the lyrics(with the exception of the third one. She got two lines in before I made my first approximation).

All three times I was right. All three times. 3/3. That's what's known as 100%.

And that's not because I have an encyclopedic knowledge of Christian music, it's not because I'm a musical expert, and it's not because I work in a record store. It's because Christian Music(and all other Christian media) is doing the same thing it did for decades and centuries before it tried to modernize with light rock just a short time ago - rehashing a tired and overused formula, doubling back on itself, and inbreeding, producing a myriad of lackluster content aimed at selling records to the people who will, inevitably, spend money on them. Although, at the writing of most hymns, record stores didn't exist.

I realize that Secular music does the same thing. Secular media does the same thing. Been to the movies lately? You've seen it all before. I suppose it's not even the rehashing that bothers me. The PROBLEM is this idea, this apparent need to be separate from everything else, and to designate things as "Christian" and "non-Christian".

Rob Bell was recently interviewed by Patrol Magazine(I really like these guys, both of them) and made the following statement,

"I would argue that if you need to add a label to it, than you have missed its inherent goodness in the first place. So when people tack "Christian" as an adjective onto things, it's a misunderstanding of Genesis, that creation is already blessed, it doesn't need your adjectives or labels to somehow make it blessed. "
(You can read the interview here, which I strongly advise that you do)

I have a friend who's a huge music buff. He's really picky. He listens to just about everything, genre wise, but if something sucks(in his opinion), he doesn't listen to it. He has an ear for what's good and what's bad.

A year or so back he really got into Tracy Chapman, specifically the song "Fast Car". He made the remark once, "I could worship to that song."

You'd have thought that he just claimed Jesus was a gay space alien and that we were all his action figures.

Our youth pastor at the time started talking about how horrible that was and how far from God this friend of mine must be. This was of course to myself and several other parties, not the person who made the initial statement.

I nodded my head and went along with it at the time, but looking back I find myself asking just what exactly the big deal was. A human being felt inspired and expressed it through musical, God-given talent, and another human being saw God's beauty through that talent. And this is somehow wrong? Don't even think about reminding me of Chapman's sexual orientation. I don't care and neither should you.

Don't mistake me - "Christian" music is important. We need Tomlins and Hillsongs and Newsboys just as much as we need Switchfoots and Welchs and Chapmans.

But what we don't need, what we need to be without, is this construction of our own culture, our own society, somehow removed from everything else that's going on. We were called to be in the world and not of it, not outside it and of ourselves.

I believe that this is a prime example. Commercialism with a sweet sugary coating of Jesus Music. I'd love for somebody to explain to me why this is necessary, and don't tell me that Christian kids should have their own Guitar Hero because the other one has "bad" music in it. Nothing in Guitar Hero is going to drag our kids to hell or get them hooked on drugs. I promise.

I don't know if there's a solution to this or not. What I do know is that Christian media has a problem, and maybe over time things will start to change. Plenty of people in the industry have already realized it, but it's going to take a lot more than that.
I'm not telling you to stop buying Christian CDs or boycott Chris Tomlin. All I'm saying is that art is worship, and music is art. That in mind, do we really need our own industry?


Special thanks to Patrol Magazine, Christianity Today, Rob Bell, and Brian Welch. None of them will probably ever read this, but that's alright.


I want your opinions. Agree, disagree, or anything in between. We've need to start talking about this stuff.

(PS - I did buy Welch's album, and it's great.)

15 comments:

Murex Brandaris said...

Yes. YES. THANK YOU. I actually wrote this gigantic comment for the last blog touching on music saying pretty much this, that all the Christian artists do (or at least the ones I hear, and are therefore apparently "popular") is recycle the same uninteresting styles over and over again. It's all la la light rock ninety-nine point three CHANGE THE CHANNEL. That's what I think when I hit the Christian station when music's playing. My experience with faith-based music involves some airy chords that are meant to change nothing and then some guy or girl goes, "huwooooooooo-ooowhoa" and by this time I've stopped listening. It's uninventive, uninteresting and yeah, maybe part of that is the (for me) unrelatable subject matter. But I do know this: I love "Flush". It was actually played on WJRR albeit at midnight on the Rubber Room (a show where they debut new music coming out). I completely forgot Head became a Christian (used to be a big Korn fan), but that didn't matter, because what was coming into mine ears was good. I wanted more! And the fact that this guy is really into both his faith AND his music is nothing but a good thing. When you create art using your inspiration, you want to do your best to show how inspired you are and he seems to be doing it.

Orphaned Land is an Israeli metal band. They have an album called Mabool which is about the biblical flood. And it's not the goofy, wishy-washy flood from Sunday school. It's an epic, sweeping, inspired work that actually does justice to the subject matter. It's really quite beautiful, especially the Yemenite chanting bits. My point in bringing all this up is that Orphaned Land is sold in the "metal" section. It's not even in Foreign Music. Metal. Just Metal. Because that's what it is. Why can't Christian music just be classified as what its music is, and not its subject matter? If you tear down the bubble, I think faith-based music will begin to wake up. Albums from those artists will start moving or not based on their actual musical merits, rather than a select group of individuals that zoom to the back corner of the shop to pick up the newest album churned out by the Jesus Machine. I'm sorry if I offend anyone with that comment, but it's almost like a Scientology level of isolationism in terms of publications: music, books, movies, and video games.

Why not a Christian pack for Rock Band, like Tycho suggested? No, we've got to have our own, inferior (but wholesome!) Guitar Hero! I just looked at the user review for it. 7.5: "A great family-friendly alternative for GH skeptical Christians." Sure, GHIII had images of devils and skanky dancers. It's not really aimed at five-year-olds. Music-wise though, what is really so offensive? The only thing that comes to mind is Dragonforce's terrible lyrics (ZING!).

I've rambled. I need to trim my comments down for real. I've written like a mini-blog here. Sorry bout that bro. Sometimes I just get so angry...

Ryan said...

it didn't suck. by any means.

Terri G said...

Amazing, relevent, and completely true. I'm sick of tuning into Christian radio and hearing the same thing over and over. Not that secular radio is much better...

I must say that I'm extremely guilty of staying in my bubble. I can't stand the messages in the secular stuff that comes out these days, so I cling to my "Christian artists". I read my Christian novels. I wear my Christian t-shits. I create my Christian graphics on Photoshop and post them to the web... I have to learn to step out and reach others on a level playing field too.

Tanks for posting this.

Murex Brandaris said...

@ryan: You're probably, right. Maybe I'm a bit too harsh on Guitar Praise (if that's what you're talking about). It's probably not terrible. But all I've had to go on for Christian video games is stuff like Bible Adventure, The Bible Game, and Left Behind: Eternal Forces.

@terri g: I don't think there's any problem with flying the flag, no matter what the flag is. The bubble thing bothers me though. It's not just Christianity, either. I mean how ironic is it when I walk into Hot Topic with an opaque t-shirt that fits me and strapless jeans, and people shun me? Oh, I'm not in your little Nightmare Before Christmas Slash Cradle of Filth Fan Club (meetings in xXDeathxAngelx666Xx's family game room), so feel free to give me the stinkeye! Not from everyone, of course, but you know how those kids disapprove of anything approaching normal as much as they love making dead baby jokes.

I guess my point here is that if you love something, love it. Express it, wear it, read it, listen to it. Just have it meet your standards. After all, there's a reason I don't wear atheist shirts or stuff from Landover Baptist: because I think all their apparel is retarded. Except for the Sarah Palin "You Betcha" shirt.

Richard said...

AJ, I complete 100% agree with every letter you have posted. Need I say more?

@Murex brandaris - The only other thing I can think of that was particularly bad in GHIII was the Iron Maiden track "Number of the Beast", when you are thinking of Christian folk being skeptical of GH. Also, I really like Orphaned Land's Mabool too.

Terri G said...

Murex Brandaris-
Trust me, by no means am I going to abandon my Christian stuff. In fact, I rather like spreading the message through my Photoshop work and tshirts... Gives people something think about. I just need to realize that not all "non-Christian" stuff is crap. The last few days have been filled with scanning the secular music and sorting through the garbage to find the hidden goodies. :) It's a step.

Aaron said...

Now this is more like it. Spread the word, or something.

Ryan said...

@murex brandaris: I wasn't talking to you at all. I was talking to AJ because before when he said he was doing a post about music, I told him not to make it crap. I was saying his post didn't suck, by any means. :)

James said...

Glad to hear that other people feel similarly about pop Christian music. My family has had a hard time understanding why I can't stand the stuff, but it has nothing to do with what is being said in the lyrics. That's because I can't even get past the awful sound to listen to the lyrics.

We need to remember our Augustine--all truth is God's truth. And, by extension, all beauty.

StrangelyNormalSteph said...

Agree absolutely 100%. Most Christian music is just fluff, and there is NOTHING fluffy about the love of Christ. And thank goodness that there are guys like Head who are willing to...
A. Show what sin is REALLY like through his music. Yeah, it's dirty, it's horrifying, but that's the reality...life apart from God is a hellish existance.
B. Stand up to those numbskulls who want to stop people who might be helped in their relationship with the Lord just because they think a music video is "too controversial". Yeah, and what do they think Jesus was? He was EXTREMELY controversial and polarizing, otherwise He wouldn't have a bunch of religious leaders trying to kill Him!

And I'm SO sick of music bearing God's name being cruddy. Wow, you think if God is everything to you then at least you could try a little harder to come up with something original and well, good to worship Him with! How ironic that a God of such great innovation has people who in general do not even make good art. Also, it's best not to get me started on the knock-offs of GH, DDR, etc. What's next, a Christian Rock Band? Hey, why not throw in a Christian Wii while we're at it!

Aaron said...

Thanks for the comments, Steph and James. Great to see some new faces on the site.

_ said...

Someone from Patrol read it...well put.

- jkurtz@patrolmag.com

Aaron said...

Holy crap, it's Jordan Kurtz. This is like Christmas.

Murex Brandaris said...

Oh! Sorry Ryan, my mistake.

Timothy said...

If we are going to talk about secular music how about Michael Sweet and Stryper joining up with boston to cover their song Peace of Mind. I think when I seen the video on you tube that if I close my eyes and just listen that I could actually envision Brad Delp singing his famous trademark vocals on the song.