Pretty cool title huh? Ex-Christian rocker tells all, type of post…well, sort of. You see, the truth is that I was in a Christian band in the late 80’s. We were kind of an 80’s smash up of Fleetwood Mac and U2. If you’re thinking to yourself, that you can’t quite figure out how that would work? Then don’t worry, because it didn’t work! Simply put, we were not very good. We were entertaining in the sort of way that America’s Funniest Home Videos are entertaining, but great music it was not.
I played electric guitar and I had dreamed of live gigs ever since I began playing. My first live gig was in Asbury Park, NJ. The starting point for famed rocker, Bruce Springsteen. I was convinced that my foray into rock and roll would be just as impactful, maybe more so, because we were on a mission to make Christianity cool-not just true.
As we set up for the gig, I grew extremely nervous and excited. We were in a nice ballroom, filled with around 300 graduating seniors of the class of ’87. Everyone was dressed to the hilt and I couldn’t wait to rock their socks off! As we neared the stage, we gathered as a group (there were 6 of us) and prayed for God to bless this gig. We then broke to our parts of the stage and launched in to a rocking up tempo stadium rock tune ,to kick off the set. I was so nervous that my hands were sweating and my fingers shook as I struggled to stay cool. Somehow, I manged to pull off my guitar solo without a hitch. Looking up from time to time, I had expected to see something like Beatlemania breaking out around the stage, instead I saw 300 well dressed high school students sitting down and looking a little bored…they were enduring us. You see, this was a Christian High School event, and dancing was forbidden. But in an attempt to meet the students half way, they had hired a low rent Christian rock band. And we were that band….
At one point we played an instrumental we had written. It actually was an interesting song, but being our first time live in front of an audience, it went horribly wrong. It started when I got lost and couldn’t figure out where we were in the song. Instead of just dropping out a few bars to figure it out, I nervously tried guessing what chords were to be played, by looking at the bass players hands across the stage. I couldn’t quite find the groove, and soon enough the bass player was looking back at me wondering if he was playing the wrong chords. Since I was playing different chords than he was, he decided to start looking at my hands to figure out where we were…it was a true comedy of errors, as the two of us blindly led each other to a new chord, in a desperate attempt to find musical cohesiveness.
It must’ve sounded really weird, because at some point everyone was looking and shaking their heads, not sure what to make of this musical menagerie that we had concocted. Finally, we somehow managed to end the song, but it was a snapshot of how most of our gigs would end up. Confusion would reign, arguments would ensue at a later practice, and we would continue to peddle in mediocre live performances, with the utmost sincerity that we would someday make a huge impact on the rock world, under the guidance and banner of Christ. We were not good, but were earnest, to the point of delusion.
We did shine a couple of times! One memorable gig was at the Jr. High School in our hometown. We sold hundreds of tickets to our friends and actually pulled off a fun show, filled with a mostly cohesive set of originals, sprinkled with a couple of cover tunes like “Lean On Me”, “Pride (In the Name of Love)”, and “Sunday Bloody Sunday”. A couple times folks did rush the front of the stage to dance, and a good time was had by all. It was the only time my parents ever saw me rock out. When I asked my mom what she thought of the show, she dryly replied ,that she was glad none of the girls were throwing their undergarments on stage. Other than that, I think she was happy to see me living my rock dreams, surrounded by other earnest Christian youth that wanted to share the Gospel and be cool at the same time…not sure we ever got to cool, but we did talk briefly about God most sets. Revival never did break out like we expected. Maybe the mullets had something to do with that, but I digress…
The best part of the whole show was an accident….the drummer was on a riser, around 6 feet above the stage. The sax player and I had walked to the top of the riser and were jamming with the drummer. At some point the smoke machine kicked on to enhance the light and laser show (and when I say laser, I mean we had one single little laser beam). The smoke machine was misfiring and our stage manager couldn’t get it to turn off. Pretty soon we were engulfed in a large cloud of stage smoke, and it was literally beginning to choke us (stage smoke is nasty stuff). I realized that I needed to get down from the riser if I wanted to continue to breath. Faced with suffocating and unable to see the stairs to walk down, I impulsively jumped off the riser, out of the cloud of smoke, and nearly fell off the stage into the orchestra pit. I literally thought I was going off the stage because the boots I had on had no grips. Somehow, I managed to stop…at this point, whole crowd leapt to their feet and began to cheer and dance wildly. All they had seen was me disappear in a cloud and then leap out onto the stage to start a guitar solo….little did they know I had almost died!
That wouldn’t be that last time the smoke machine would jam. One other time, we just about suffocated a whole youth group, before someone finally threw open all the doors to allow everyone to breathe again. But the smoke machine jamming and choking the people we played to, is an apt metaphor for what was happening to us and our audience.
On the one hand, we were just a bunch of kids that loved music and were trying to find a way to tap into the mysterious powers of rock and roll. But the other side of it, we were trying to use the appeal of music to sell the message of Christianity. If the music was cool, maybe people would think Christianity was cool and check it out. At least that was assumption we were working under…and this approach, this emotional appeal through cultural vehicles, is the way that almost all of Christianity attempts to be “relevant” to the culture at large. The idea that the Christian message needs to be repackaged into a newer, more culturally relevant style is really an indicator that the message alone, is not compelling enough for most people to believe it.
At the time, this thought had not occurred to me. Years later and over 20 years spent in the Christian music scene convinced me that the message is not true, no matter how you dress it up culturally, you still have to deal with the contradictory and unbelievable claims of the Bible. And this is something that no amount of rocking music can make up for….