Music

Wednesday Mini-Book Review: Body Piercing Saved My Life

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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.

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  1. 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.

    ========================================
    I don’t think you can blame Beuajon for that one. As a Christian, I’m ostensibly part of the built-in audience for this type of thing, yet I can hardly stand most of it. I enjoy a little of the worship music as part of my spiritual practice, but very little beyond that is even tolerable.

    Pedro the Lion is a lyrical genius, though.

  2. Christian Rock. That’s unpossible!

    When will those crucizombie-worshippers realize that Rock ‘n Roll is the Devil’s music, and that’s just how we like it?

    They get to be judgemental pricks; we get to rock out with our cocks out. That’s the way it is. anything else makes about as much sense as wearing a pork bikini to Mecca.

  3. Everybody knows all the good bands are affiliated with Satan.

  4. I thought Alan Vanneman requested Jewish rock in the previous discussion?

    Don’t you guys know how to do requests?

  5. Christian rock is sex with fat chicks. Once a hotter chick shows some interest, bye bye fat chicks.

    But who am I to judge? There’s a certain comfort in a built in audience that doesn’t care how bad your songs are.

  6. I think one of the most ridculous mentalities is how some harder Christain bands try to come off as edgy and cool. It is hard to be threatening when the worst that you do when someone pisses you off is that you forgive them.

  7. Hank Hill said it best on the King of the Hill episode Reborn to be Wild:”You aren’t making Christianity better, you’re just making rock n roll worse”.

  8. Most music which is “manufactured” specifically for the Christian audience is terrible, but most of mainstream pop music is also terrible, so I’m not sure there’s a lesson to be drawn from bad music aimed at the Christian market. There is also some very good music which is made by bands with a Christian orientation. Those are the groups, however, which are simply making good music within the context of their personal worldview as Christians, NOT the groups which are trying to be evangelical or the ones whose message is being tailored to sound right to church kids. (“I’ve never seen a Christian guitar,” one such musician once said.) You can find deep and interesting modern music from Christians, but you won’t find it being played on religious radio stations, for the most part.

  9. Jars of Clay has one really good song, “Flood,” and one not-bad (but warning: more overtly religious) song, “Liquid.”

    The rest of the genre sucks.

  10. Gainesville, eh? I just sent my cd’s out to Bowers a coupla weeks ago. Along with Prindle, they make up the only two contemporary rock critics who matter.

    There were only two Bowers in the Gainesville phone book. One of the CDRs came back yesterday, unopened. Hopefully that was the other Bowers who is not a critic.

  11. Back in the era when MTV played music, I used to hear and read that U2 began as a “Christian” rock band, but I never saw (nor sought) any evidence of that.

    Then again, my definition of Christian and that of the G_dless Commie music media may differ 😉

  12. “The real battle just begun,
    To claim the victory Jesus won.”

    etc.

  13. The real sign of the lousiness of “Christian rock,” I think, is what happens when a genuinely talented rocker, a Bob Dylan or a Van Morrison, cuts a Christian-themed album. It’s Christian, it’s rock, and it’s good — so no one calls it Christian rock.

  14. Jesse Walker,

    I much prefer Robert Zimmerman to Bob Dylan, double-plus much!

    IIRC that Dylan boy said his Ghospel album was a joke although it received good reviews.

  15. One genuinely scary Christian rock band (scary as in Cannibal Corpse, not as in Debbie Boone) is the Australian Christian death metal band, Mortification.

    They seemed to have taken the whimpiness criticism to heart and created some extremely brutal music, albeit with Christian themes.

    The title of their album generally acknowledged as the scariest, Scrolls of the Megilloth, refers to the section of the Tanahk that contains Songs of Songs, the Book of Ruth, Ecclesiastes, none of which are terribly scary.

  16. As someone who listened to Christian rock exclusively growing up, I can tell you that 90 % of it is crap. But there are some good bands out there, generally the ones who’ve been at it for a while and don’t care about what others think about them. They’re no longer trying to be cool, they just want to make good music with some Christian content.

    Unfortunately, the list of such bands is short. The 77’s and the Choir have been around since the 80’s; the 77’s almost made it semi-big in the wake of The Joshua Tree (they were signed to Island Records), but nothing came of it for reasons I can’t remember. They’ve still continued to put out good music, if not great, and Michael Rowe is an excellent lyricist. The Choir has found a niche singing some of the best love songs I’ve ever heard, as adult alternative rock. Again, good lyrics, written by their drummer.

    Sixpence None the Richer is good, despite the sugar of their popular hits. Again, their lyricist (Matt Slocum) is very good, in a very poetic vein. Their middle two albums, This Beautiful Mess and Sixpence None the Richer (the one with “Kiss Me” on it) are their best.

    An obscure band named Chagall Guevara might have been the best Christian rock band of all time. It was formed when five people (only one of whom had made it big in Christian music) got fed up with the Christian music industry and left their jobs, formed a band, signed to MCA, and put out a gem of an album (self-titled). Sounds quite a bit like the Clash, who were one of their big influences. Their lead singer, Steve Taylor, is one of the few people in Christian music who has a good sense of humor. He and his producer (Dave Perkins, one of the guitarists of Chagall Guevara) called themselves the Beaufort Twins on his last Christian album in the 80’s, after the crossdressing couple in Black Adder I. Steve Taylor is basically unafraid to acknowledge his secular influences, whether they be “Christian-friendly” or not. And he called out the evangelical community for their devotion to Oliver North just because he’s a “Christian,” made fun of nutcases who bomb abortion clinics, made fun of Christian music for being “happy talk, no rock, non-stop easy listening.”

    Finally, the Prayer Chain is good, but only one album is anything spectacular. Their earliest stuff is pretty standard early 90’s alternative rock, but their last album, Mercury, is excellent. They blend in Arabic and Indian music influences, keep their lyrics overall very vague (only one refers to Jesus directly, and that’s probably the darkest song on the album), and just generally make good music. This and Chagall Guevara might be the only Christian album I’d really recommend, since the other bands I’ve mentioned generally play to a very niche audience.

    If anyone actually wants to try listening to any of these albums, be warned: Mercury is one of those albums that grows on you. I started out hating it; now it’s my favorite album (followed closely by Tool’s Lateralus, just to prove that I have some taste). The rest of them are pretty accessible, if you like their genre.

    So out of all Christian music, five bands that I can think of. I’m sure there are a few more that don’t completely suck, but those are the only ones that I can think of offhand. DC Talk made a few non-sucky songs, but most of their stuff was pretty bad. Hmmm . . . maybe Stryper, but I never liked hair bands, so I’m not qualified to judge one way or the other. If I thought I could find maybe two or three more.

  17. Back in the era when MTV played music, I used to hear and read that U2 began as a “Christian” rock band, but I never saw (nor sought) any evidence of that.

    The chorus “Gloria…in te domine / Gloria exultate” not quite overt enough for ya?

  18. grylliade, you seem to have excellent taste. 🙂

    To your list, I’d add Daniel Amos (a group, not a person) and solo works by its lead singer, Terry Scott Taylor. Taylor also has a side project called the Lost Dogs with Michael Roe (of The 77s) and Derri Daugherty (of the Choir). Oddly, their work in this group is sort of an alternative/roots blend which is different from any of the other groups’ sounds.

    Chagall Guevara’s one and only CD was a brilliant album that got very good mainstream reviews. Unfortunately, label management changed right after that and the group got no support (or a second album). Steve Taylor is a brilliant producer and lyricist who had a string of very good albums with funny and hard-hitting lyrics before joining Chagall Guevara. He was challenging “sacred cows” in the church in very, very direct ways for a long time, and a lot of people hated him for it. (He was also the one who had a lot to do with giving Sixpence their start when he ran Squint Entertainment, if I remember correctly.)

    Some of Caedmon’s Call is also very good, although they’re not as well-known as Sixpence. There are a few others, but not many. Now I’m off to find Mercury. I’m not familiar with Prayer Chain, and I’m always thrilled to find music by Christian artists which might be worth listening to. It doesn’t happen very often.

  19. Lazlo,

    Were you the GTA4 audio producer that I had to endure for 45 min. to prosuce 20 sec. of game audio?

    Like I said, G_dless Commie music folk do not have the same concept of Christian band than I do.

    Expanding, a few utterances of G_d and Jesus do not a Christian band make.

    Same to whomever posted lyrics from “Pride in the name of Love”

    Your idea of a “Christian band” is similar to calling poney riding children “jockeys” or hippies in Ryder trucks “truckers”.

  20. “The chorus “Gloria…in te domine / Gloria exultate” not quite overt enough for ya?”

    Quite frankly, no! I hope you are kidding. Is Mr. Mister a christian band? Kyrie Eleison overt enough for ya?

  21. “They seemed to have taken the whimpiness criticism to heart and created some extremely brutal music, albeit with Christian themes.”

    i.e., they seem to have stolen the extreme vanity of death metal and used it to make crappy christian death metal. Death metal is like the old saying, Those who can play play, those who can’t are critics, and those who can’t play and are too stupid to be critics end up in a death metal band.

  22. If you can listen to October and not hear any evidence of U2’s Christianity, you have some fairly significant comprehension problems:

    Gloria:

    I try to sing this song / I, I try to stand up / But I can’t find my feet
    I try, I try to speak up / But only in you I’m complete

    Gloria in te domine / Gloria – exultate
    Gloria – gloria / Oh Lord, loosen my lips

    I try to sing this song / I, I try to get in / But I can’t find the door
    The door is open / You’re standing there / You let me in

    Gloria in te domine / Gloria – exultate
    Oh Lord, if I had anything, anything at all
    I give it to you / I give it to you

    Tomorrow:

    Open up, open up to the lamb of God / To the love of he who made the blind to see
    He’s coming back – he’s coming back / I believe it – Jesus coming

    With A Shout:

    Oh, and where do we go? / Where do we go from here? / Where to go?
    To the side of a hill / Blood was spilt / We were still looking at each other
    We’re going back there / Jerusalem, Jerusalem

    I want to go to the one / To the side of the one / To the feet of he who made me see
    To the side of a hill / Where we were still / We were filled with a love
    We’re gonna be loved / Jerusalem, Jerusalem

    Puh-leaze.

  23. Lazlo:

    What about Kyrie Eleison? Highly Christian in content, but Mr. Mister is on record as saying that the lyrics just kind of sounded cool to them. Heck, I’m an atheist and I use biblical imagery all the time. It doesn’t mean anything.

  24. Thank you G. Mills for the Mortification reference…

    Another Christian hardcore band that will annoy the shit out of Christians is Chicago’s Headnoise; click on ‘MEDIA’ and download the MP3 ‘Building a Better Mousetrap’. No prosthelytizing, but a brutally honest view of religion as industry.

    Generally, ‘Christian Rock’ is about as enjoyable as chug-a-lugging a bottle of Karo syrup. I usually fire up an Emperor CD to get the taste out of my mouth… Really, I don’t need my faith confirmed by listening to the inane, testify-at-all-costs drivel pumped out by most ‘contemporary Christian’ musicians. K-Love radio sucks, and not in a good way.

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