Tag Archives: Christian Music

Bono & Christian Music

“I think the most important thing, the most important element in painting a picture, writing a song, making a movie, whatever, is that it be truthful,” said U2’s Bono in a Mother Jones magazine interview in 1989. Art is about truth. Which is why Madeleine L’Engle described art as an incarnational activity. Too bad Christians often muck it up.

“I think carrying moral baggage is very dangerous for an artist,” Bono said in a Beliefnet.com interview in 2001. “If you have a duty, it’s to be true and not cover up the cracks. I love hymns and gospel music, but the idea of turning your music into a tool for evangelism is missing the point.”

It’s not as simple as the Contemporary Christian Music scene would have us think. Anyone could tell you — and the Rolling Stone critics gladly will — that the number of Jesus’s per minute is not proportional to the greatness of a song. Glossing over the doubts and the difficulties of faith does no service to Christianity.

“Rock ‘n’ roll, and the blues, they’re truthful,” says Bono, again in the 1989 Mother Jones interview. “It says in the Scriptures, ‘Know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ So, there is this feeling of liberation in the blues for me. There is salvation in the blues.

“[But] Gospel music is about a step of faith, which is a whole different concept. The idea is that you step into a world where, if you like, the kingdom has come. You step into it, and you affirm that. You step into that and you sing! You know, people singing gospel music, they crowded into the churches from the ghettos, to make that ‘Joshua fit the battle of Jericho/And the walls came tumbling down’ step of faith. In their real life, they were living in leaky, rainy conditions, they were living in a sewer. So that’s not the truth of their own experience.

“The blues is the truth of their own experience, therefore closer to this idea of ‘knowing the truth and the truth shall set you free.’ In the Psalms of David, there is this powerful wailing against God. You know, ‘You call yourself God!’ and ‘Where are you when I need you?’ The Psalms of David are the blues, and I get great comfort from that.”

Modern Christian music often seeks to step into that kingdom come and look beyond the sewer of our current conditions for the hope that comes from above. And that’s all well and good. Some days we need to say, “I could sing of your love forever.” But where Christians so often fall short is in admitting that sometimes they don’t feel like singing of God’s love. We don’t sing the blues. We’re afraid to admit our doubts, we’re afraid to show weakness, we’re afraid we’ll look like we don’t have it all together. Which is completely true. And rather than making us look strong in our faith, it makes us look that much weaker.

“I like the anger of the blues,” Bono told Beliefnet, “I think being angry with God is at least a dialogue.” Christians are often too afraid to dialogue with God, something the Bible is full of. Something Jesus did in the garden the night before. We’re too afraid to dialogue with God, and we’re too afraid to dialogue with the unbeliever. Bono went on to say that anger with God and questioning God is all through the blues, and it runs right up to Marilyn Manson. Few Christians would be willing to acknowledge that someone like Marilyn Manson is asking honest questions of God. But Manson great up as Brian Warner in a youth group and a Christian school that lacked the grace to sufficiently answer Warner’s questions. We create our own enemies.

“These are big questions,” Bono said. “If there is a God, it’s serious. And if there isn’t a God, it’s even more serious.”

The Consolidation of Christian Music

It really frustrates me that all the best things seem to die. Just when you think you’ve got something good going, you lose it. For those of us into Christian music, such a time is upon us. Let me clarify that, those of us who like good music that also happens to have decent, God-honoring lyrics. I’m not referring to the cheese that is much of contemporary Christian music.

And when I say cheese, I’m talking about much of the stuff that flows out of Nashville, the well-known capital of country music, and the little-known capital of Christian music. Most of this cheese is drivel, void of originality, free of any hint of freshness, and lacking in basic musicianship and decent song writing. As an example, adult contemporary group 4Him. For ordinary people that example would be enough. 4Him? What kind of a name is that? But it gets better. Their new album? Walk On. It just so happens to be the title of a hit U2 song from their newest record, which came out one year ago. Coincidence? Or cheese? You decide.

Squint Entertainment, former home to such respectable–no admirable artists as Sixpence None the Richer, Burlap to Cashmere, and Chevelle. All three bands earned major mainstream accolades, and I won’t even get into Squint’s non-mainstream successes, Waterdeep and PFR. Not to mention the band Squint was toting but had not yet released an album, L.A. Symphony, a highly acclaimed rap group from the West Coast. Well, say goodbye. Squint records unfortunately closed their doors, sending their bands packing. Last word was, Nashville cheese-inspired record company Word was picking up the assets and would continue the tradition of Squint, adding many of their alternative artists to the Squint label. Word’s record for alternative acts is a little weak. Most of them release one album and disappear, perhaps a second and then fade into oblivion.

Although there is hope. I recently heard that PFR had signed with Rocketown Records, the slightly more respectable Nashville label owned by dyed in the wool-CCMer with one time mainstream power, Michael W. Smith. Rocketown is also home to the CCM-adored Chris Rice, the extremely promising Ginny Owens, who played Lilith Fair dates after releasing her debut album, and newcomer Shaun Groves, who has the intelligence and song writing chops to make a real dent in the Nashville cheese.

The other Squint bands are up in the air or on their own. Burlap to Cashmere appears to be with Brooklyn Beat/Squint Entertainment, according to their latest newsletter. Sixpence is shopping around, and I smell major label deal. Chevelle has been awfully quiet lately in the CCM circles, probably because they just signed with Epic Records for an early 2002 release, while Waterdeep will probably languish on a Nashville label that doesn’t understand their indie appeal.

Add to the list of cool labels in question 5 Minute Walk Records, home to the status-quo-crushing Five Iron Frenzy, folk-rocker Justin McRoberts, and former home of the meteoric W’s who are no more. 5 Minute Walk has been the California label, bringing a wave of fresh air to the Nashville crowd. Apparently 5 Minute Walk’s future is uncertain, which is a major blow to those of us who hoped Christian music could actually be cool. Apparently it’s not a financial decision either, which makes the whole thing even stranger.

Unfortunately that doesn’t leave us with much. There’s Essential Records, the young upstart that somehow snagged all the cool bands, Caedmon’s Call, Third Day, Jars of Clay, and then keeps throwing out these so-so money bands that are only following the crowd (read: FFH and True Vibe). There’s Forefront Records, the decidedly younger version of every Nashville CCM-label. Everything they release seems to have a CCM-friendliness, with the exception of those who’ve been around to earn the right to say what they want — dc Talk. Of course there’s always the Tooth and Nail conglomerate, which includes the mainstream friendly BEC, the rap/hip-hop Uprok, and the loud SolidState. Of course Tooth and Nail bands are consistently underground favorites that seem to languish around with a few hits here, a few flops there. The BEC bands usually have the most potential lately they haven’t seemed to garner much mainstream attention.

Alas. Sometimes you need to vent and long for days gone by.

My Changing Musical Tastes

I’ve said this before in various musical tirades (tirades about music, not set to music), but I think I grew up in the back closet of the music world. My family had little or no musical talent. The closest my brother and I came to playing instruments was the recorder in third grade. Between you and me, I sucked at it. A piano sat in the corner of our house for 20 years, and for most of those years it was out of tune. My mom was the only one who could ever play it and I don’t ever remember that happening.

When it came to recorded music I was still in the closet. My musical education began with what was popular. A stint of <a href=”http://www.mtv.com/”>MTV</a> watching in second and third grade made me a fan of Bon Jovi’s <i>Slippery When Wet</i> and the Beastie Boys’ <i>License to Ill</i>. But then the New Kids on the Block (see the Backstreet Boys of the late 1980s) hit it big I was disgusted. I turned to Weird Al Yankovic for relief, and my musical education consisted lesson by parody—I rarely knew the original. There was the occasional popular song that I heard and liked (for some odd reason): the Beach Boys’ “Kokomo,” Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” But for the most part I wasn’t a big music fan.

Then I discovered Christian music. I listened to <i>Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out</i> and I was shocked. Church music with guitars and drums? At first I thought it was a bit much. But then the rebel in me screamed for more and I was hooked. A dozen Petra albums later I was a true Christian music junkie. I have a collection of over 150 CDs I don’t listen to anymore to prove it. I even had a Christian Rock radio show in high school. I basically missed out on the entire music scene in the 1990s.

So when I came to college and lived for four years with roommates who were proud <a href=”http://www.u2.com”>U2</a> addicts, it was only a matter of time. I had heard of U2, but I knew nothing about them. If I heard one of their songs on the radio I couldn’t have identified it as U2. It took two years of U2 roommates and it began to sink in. During my senior year I finally caved in completely.

And I discovered a world of some of the best music I’ve ever heard. It’s easy to get over-dramatic about U2 being the best band in the world, but there’s a lot of truth in that statement; especially when you’ve spent the last eight years listening to Christian rock.

Tomorrow I’m going to my first U2 concert—the Elevation Tour. The tickets just about wiped out my entertainment budget for the year. My wife and I will have to cram ourselves into the closet with a stereo to simulate another concert experience this year. I’m looking forward to the show, which isn’t exactly an understatement. I know it will be good, but I’m trying not to get my expectations too high. It’s easy to expect too much and be let down. I’d rather be genuinely impressed.

What I most respect about U2 is their ability to confront God. They don’t have an evangelistic message. All four members aren’t even Christians. Yet God still comes out in their lyrics, as if he were an undeniable part of life. U2 simply accepts this and lets the Spirit come out in some amazing music. They don’t try to package a message in four easy steps. They don’t shoot for a specific JPM (Jesus’s per minute). They just sing about life—all the ways that life can suck, and all the ways that life is beautiful. It’s refreshingly honest.

I guess you could say I’m a fan. We’ll see how the concert goes.

The Most Honest Christian Band Ever

The new U2 album, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, came out today. Ordinarily I wouldn’t comment on this, but recently I’ve been reading a biography about U2. Put that along side my roommates’ intense love for the band and a weekend spent actually listening to some of their songs and you have more than enough reason to sit up and take notice of the four men from Ireland.

Before coming to college and rooming with U2 fans (every year) I couldn’t name a U2 song. If one was playing on the radio, I wouldn’t have known. I was raised on Christian music (by my own choice, certainly not by my parents’ will) so I had an extremely limited knowledge of mainstream music. Oddly enough, my strict desire to hear only Christian music kept me from hearing what has to be the most honest Christian band I’ve ever heard.

Continue reading The Most Honest Christian Band Ever

Original Music

Are we spoon-fed Christianity? How often does it seem that the basics of the faith are repeated and repeated and repeated. The stereotypical Christian song doesn’t express anything new, it simply rehashes what we already know. This is where Christian music has taken a lot of hits. Certainly not all Christian music is like this, I can think of numerous examples that don’t. But so often the lyrics seem just a little simple. Doesn’t Paul call us to move beyond the simple matters of faith? When I was a child I talked like a child, but now I am a man and should act so. Shouldn’t we be moving beyond this spiritual baby food to something more substantial. Intelligence is one of the greatest gifts that God has given us, and it’s a shame that it often goes neglected. I could even extend this critique to the Christian book industry, but I don’t think you want me to go there. I applaud the efforts of Christians who use their minds. A song by the group Silage comes to mind. It’s called Original, and you can get a high quality MP3 version of the song by following that neat little link. The lyrics are rather biting, so I decided I’d put ’em all here:

“Original” by Silage:

Let’s get lost in an original sound / I heard a band that was better / Than the last one around / So, take my time, my line, my beat down / I serve a God that doesn’t judge me / By a new sound / Ok, honestly, it’s coming too easy / I’m makin’ up an old used verse, chorus, key / This has not been done before / This hasn’t been done before

That’s it, get down, we’re lookin for / Some new ground / Gotta break through with the break through / New sound / And that won’t happen ’cause it’s / Time to get down / Here’s a tune, where’s the truth / Inside, we found / It’s almost, it’s almost, it’s almost, it’s almost / it’s almost over and I haven’t said a word yet / That hasn’t been done before / This hasn’t been done before

Breakdown / Gotta have a breakdown / Build it up / Back to the verse and / It’s alright to write a song that / Sounds like everyone else’s song so

Let’s get lost in an original sound / I heard a band that was better / Than the last one around / This hasn’t been done before / This hasn’t been done before