Wednesday Mini-Book Review: Body Piercing Saved My Life


Third in a series–collect them all!

Body Piercing Saved My Life: Inside the Phenomenon of Christian Rock, by Andrew Beaujon (Da Capo, 2006). I read a lot of books about music, both popular and not–it's my main literary comfort food. The vast majority of books about music are not particularly recommendable to those who don't share my vast interest in reading music criticism, history, and biography–generally, the writers bring little to the telling other than their own, presumed, interest in the topic, and often not even that. Still, especially when I'm looking for excuses to find new sections of record stores to hang around in, I often like dipping into books about music styles or musicians I am sure I don't much care for, and sometimes this leads to a (often very expensive) new obsession–my interests in 20th century art music, jazz, and the Grateful Dead arose directly from reading books about them, and have cost me between them thousands of dollars.

I approached Body Piercing Saved My Life with no deep interest in the topic, merely an ominiverous curiosity about popular music styles. But I was mostly interested in the book because its author Andrew Beaujon was himself the writer, in his '90s band Eggs, of three of my tip-top favorite songs of that decade ("The Government Administrator," "Sugar Babe," and "A Pit With Spikes") and I was curious as to what he brought to the table as a music journalist.

The basic skills, as it turns out–the ability to track down musicians from both the beginnings and current eras of Jesus Rock (I'd have enjoyed more focus on the hippie Jesus Freak small-label rock of the early 1970s myself, now being rediscovered by ever-hungry reissue rock hipsters), profile them engagingly, and even generate some interesting narrative tension out of his own successes and failures in finding and relating to his interview subjects.

You'll hit the Cornerstone festival and the Gospel Music Awards and hang with Christian-indie apostate superstar Dave Bazan of Pedro the Lion. You'll grok the difference between "worship music" and "contemporary Christian music" and "Christian rock," learn why many rockers who rock from a Christian perspective learn to feel trapped in and eventually hate the insular community of "Christian rock." (This reminded me of my very first lesson in rock journalism, when I was a 19-year-old student entertainment writer in Gainesville, Fla., from the wise and excellent Tom Nordlie , with whom I later played in the band Turbo Satan. He advised me the most tedious thing you'd hear from bands, especially when confronting them with other bands or styles they quite clearly are exactly like, is "We don't want to be pigeonholed." He suggested in any interview situation where that was said, proceed as if the earnest musician had said "We don't want to be cornholed.")

Suffice it to say, the more successful with outsiders the Christian rocker gets, the less they want to be holed in any manner. You'll learn there are Christian versions of almost all music styles, mainstream and not, and at its best get a wider, clearer vision of how big the world of popular and semipopular music is, how many needs are being met in the grand cornucopia of ideological and musical modernity that most people wouldn't even know existed–lots of worlds, little and big, that the uninterested need never intersect, with their own heroes, history, magazines, and pigeonholes, and while it was interesting to get a glimpse of it, it may or may not be a failure of Beaujon's passion and skill that I went away from this book with not a single new CD I felt compelled to hear.