Thursday, September 20, 2012

Disgusting Worms , the 77s, Daniel Amos, Steve Taylor and a Life of Authentic, Honest Creativity

Welcome to truth custom made
Come in and have some lemonade

Reality will readjust while we evade
I discovered the 77s and Daniel Amos in the early 80s and used to go to the store every payday for a new Christian cassette. I started with Petra and Rick Cua, which were great, but when I picked up Ping Pong Across the Abyss and All Fall Down, I knew I'd found something different, something with spiritual "brass ones" so to speak. "Some people preach and they do very well, take all your money and you could go to hell, and that's all" jumped out at me and grabbed me by the throat.

As I grew up in faith, a lot of the more cutesy turns of phrases in Christian music got old and trite, and even worse, the constant targeting of it all to the teenage listener so that it was all milk and no meat, no real soul searching, just repetitive stuff we all learned in the first year of two of youth group just to placate the "but we want to listen to some rock and roll and still be Christians" type of listener (the kind who actually enjoys the premise of “why should the devil have all the good music” – which does imply that church music throughout the ages hasn’t been good – but I digress).

So I moved on from a lot of the music but couldn't let go of 77s, 88, or Pray Naked because they said something to me as an adult believer who had grown beyond summer camp spirituality. The same went for DA's stuff like Doppelganger, Fearful Symmetry and Darn Floor, Big Bite -- and Steve Taylor's Limelight and I Predict 1990. These held songs that spoke about bigger issues than just coming to Christ. They said something about what it meant to live by faith in a culture that thinks we're fools to believe such "myths" and in a subculture that wants to hide away from the world at large instead of be salt and light. These were songs that flew in the face of culture but also had the respect to address it with honesty and authenticity.

In not-quite earth, in not-quite heaven
I'll imitate love like lovers do
In not-quite art, in not-quite living
I'll pray that writing it down is part of loving you
Flash forward a few years to when I'm working at national denominational missions agency. After five years there, I began work on a comic book (I'm a writer and a musician on the side of holding down full-time jobs on the side as needs necessitate, although this was the instance that started me on that path; up to then I simply wrote on the side and worked at the missions agency) that hit a PG-13 market. The story addressed the idea of what one person is willing to sacrifice in order to do good for the masses, even to the point of sacrificing his very identity, which is a Christian act of humility. However, the PG-13 content bothered my employers, and we came to the decision mutually that if I was called to impact culture and be salt and light, I needed to have the freedom to take risks and write the next Matrix which had all kinds of real people talking about spiritual symbolism and the role of Neo, etc. rather than preach to the choir by writing the next Left Behind or Christian “thriller” complete with sanitized cops and robbers to avoid offending the churched sensibilities.

So I left and have done just that for several years now, even to the point of writing a “vanity of vanities” type story for Gene Simmons of KISS in his comic book line that shows the emptiness of certain lifestyles. Not an evangelistic message I know, but most assuredly a biblical one based in truth. Everything I write is filtered through my faith and beliefs, even a zombie short story I just did for DAW books about a man and wife trying to honor their promise before God in marriage when one dies and comes back. How selfless is that love? *grins*

I’m currently working on a Tarantino-esque retelling of the Book of Hosea in which a preacher is commanded by God to marry a hooker and rescue her from the mob where she has been lured back into her old life. More on that as I find a publisher willing to take that kind of risk.

One pile waits with their god in a box
The other pile nervously mocks heaven
Misfits lost in the dryer, take heart
Maybe there's a place up in sock heaven
Even as a fan of horror films, I’ve applied my faith as I watch them and write scripts to pitch for new ones. I even maintain a list of horror flicks (and other films too) with redemptive story lines and/or themes that demonstrate biblical principles. I couldn’t see those themes without the foundation I learned through music and scripture that helped me see things honestly rather than through rose-colored stained glass windows (thank you, Petra). And the ones I write always focus on the way good will always conquer evil because good understands the beauty and power of a sacrifice so that others can live. (“While we were yet sinners… one might say.)

I’ve also applied all this during my time as a bass player and singer for the band 22FIVE. After several years of doing the Christian music thing in the late 80s and early 90s it would have been easy to just settle into a comfortable role of just happy pop songs about how wonderful it is to follow Jesus, and by-the-numbers praise and worship songs, I tried really hard to keep the music we wrote honest and authentic. It was a battle sometimes, with others and within myself, but it was a fun one.

Perhaps the most honest thing I’ve been able to say with our music so far is that God is incredibly, unfathomably huge and perfect, and I'm just a disgusting little worm in the grand scheme, but He picks up that worm and says, “You’re My son, and I’m your Father.” Without Christ’s photo inside me filling me up, I’m just an empty frame still (great metaphor, Mike!). And as long as I have a background of that kind of honesty, I can’t help but thank the folks like Mike and crew, Terry and crew, and Steve Taylor, who helped me look beyond church stuff to see what real faith looks like and sounds like in the real world instead of the fluffy warm subculture.


  1. I always draw back to the 77's. They'll probably hate that I say "I was brought up" with them, as that might date them (and me, but I don't give a...) But that is the case. I to this day crave to hear their music - and maybe whatever resonated with me back then is still with me. I always want to hear more. And more. And it's really difficult to describe to anyone why that is.. Just is.
    So that's all I can ever say: "It just does. I hope you one day understand that-but I every day know that you can'." - or won't.

  2. thanks for sharing i only liked the title song on lead me on and didnt think steve teylors squint album was that great,daniel amos seems good i plan on trying him.