Saturday, December 03, 2005

Christian Rock

Seinfeld fans will remember the episode where Elaine dumps her car salesman boyfriend when she drives his car one day and finds all stations tuned to some form of Christian rock music. (Having lived in New York, not the city but the state, for a while I find it difficult to imagine that NYC has that many Christian stations, but who knows?) Well, my own car experience happens every time I get the privelage of borrowing Mr. Dr.'s car, invariably tuned to Houston's own KSBJ.

It freaks me out every time. What is wrong with my husband? More ask, "What is wrong with YOU Melissa, that such decadent, hedonistic, vulgar music appeals to you and uplifting Christ-centered music does not?" Here is my answer, base as it may be.

Sex, drugs and rock and roll, ah..... so rotten, so youth and so American. You are simply not a teenager unless in the thros of angst laden lyrics and gonad squeezed falsetto.

It has been thus for the last fifty years of American history. There is nothing new under the sun, so I suppose teens everywhere have rebelled and seduced whether to Bach or the Beatles.

Enter the new millenium in the US of A. Just say no to drugs, be abstinant (not obstinant) and listen to opera or classical music. Wait, hold up on that last one.

Today, be a rebel by listening to Mercy Me (I kid you not) and Third Day, two well-known Christian bands.

One popular lyric to a Christian song is, "I am so in love with you." It is sung over and over like a whiney, pleading mantra to a very detached Jesus. That is the intent, no doubt. But when I hear it and I'm in church hearing it, all that my mind pictures is a sweaty teenage boy lusting through the window trying to engage a vapid, conceited girl. It feels far from spiritual, closer to sensual and maybe just sickly sweet or just plain sick. Like poison.

Music, because it involves the hearing which is our most primal and emotional sense and the first sense to develop and the last to go before death, sways us in many ways.

Rhythm driven by the cadence, timing and beat of the music provides the foundation. Sing sweet lyrics, put dolci notes in proper places but layer these on a march foundation and the message of the music is war not love, not lullabye.

All music possesses a melody--the theme that rides the rhythm. It carries the piece. Like rhythm, a message is delivered with the melody. A major key or minor key determines mood. Is this a happy victorious march or a sad march consumed with loss?

How is this music conveyed? Do we hear one lone wind instrument crying in the night? Does the trumpet drive the point home? Will the full force of a 80 instruments back the message? A single voice can carry power or loss and hold both at the same time. It is a gift few hold and not always the best vocalists or musicians either--Elvis, Sinatra, Yo Yo Ma, Itzak Perlman, Diana Krall, Whitney Houston, Kelly Clarkson, Andrea Bocelli, ... The ability to infuse the music with emotion--to give the notes meaning, depth.

Back to Christian Rock now. My position is that the rhythm, the melodies and the medium deliver a much different message than the lyrics--although sometimes the whole package including the lyrics deliver a crazily congruent message, one that to my ears is far from spiritual.

Am I some prudish Church lady? Well, maybe that should be a goal I strive for more, but no. In fact, my music tastes run from rock-n-roll to opera to jazz. Speed metal might be the only type of music that holds no interest for me whatsoever.

There's a good example though. Speed metal, the domain of nihilist eastern Europeans and self-absorbed Americans who pretend to share rage against "the man", is an angry medium. The message (since it can't be discerned in lyric or melody) is rage. Screaming, incoherent, banging anger--the equivalent of a napless, toddler gone wild with a microphone. And yet, there is "Christian" speed metal. Bull. The message is chaos and unchecked emotions. Screaming "Satan you suck!" versus "Satan is my main man!" matters little. The message people hear, in the music if you can call it that, is the same.

Am I a reactionary? Is the only music fit for God Handel or some humble old hymn? No, I don't believe this at all. In fact, modern rock, in some part can trace back to negro spirtuals, hymns from Penecostal and Baptist churches, sung with a feeling not transmitted by people who had not been enslaved in the same way. The messenger charged the message.

Gospel and rhythm and blues and jazz and then crooners who came out of church and sang music that caused something other than the spirit to soar. Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, The Supremes, Aretha Franklin all transferred their talents to jazz, blues and rock-n-roll.

So why should I object to Christian boy bands? Why should I object to a John Mayer wanna be?

Because this music is imitating imitators--bad ones. Grating, superficial music with tinny melodies and bombastic base and little lyricism and simplistic rhymes provide the foundation for praising God? Some say, "We're reclaiming this music for Jesus!"

Oh no, please no. Tell me we are not going to be singing some gooey supplicant song to the tune of "I want to get in your pants" and change the words to "I am so in love with you Jesus." I don't want to hear a human man entreat me (even a very cute Justin Timberlake look alike) that way, the thought of Jesus being entreated that way makes me want to hurl. A lot. Chunks.

As this is written, no minds will change. I know this. The teenage girls in my church will swoon over the dopey boy band singing for Jesus, wowed that they evangelize at the end of each concert. "They are so committed and so cute!"


That sexy beat, simplistic melody line, pained expressions, the piercing falsetto of a boy in need belongs one place--rock and roll. These same ingredients with "Christ-centered" lyrics is dischordant itself. Like clangy brass or tinkling cymbal, or as a modern analogy like nails on a chalkboard, the music's message clashes with the intent.

Christian rock is an oxymoron. Rock in itself tells a message and God has nothin' to do with it.
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