As a kid, I was crazy about rock and roll. Not unlike most of you, I would imagine, but most definitely unlike most of you, my dad was a farmer 6 days a week and a Church of Christ minister 7 days a week. Old school, too. No drinking, no smoking, no dancing, no playing cards on Sundays. Once, in the dead of winter, waaaay too cold to go outside, we were hanging around in the house, trying to amuse ourselves. Mom was at the kitchen table, working on a quilt or some knitting or something, and it wasn’t going too well. Completely frustrated, she threw her hands in the air and screamed, “Heck! Heck! Heck!!” My dad, who was passing through the kitchen, stopped and gave her a reproachful look. “Mother – stop your swearing! In front of the kids, even!”
I never once heard a curse word pass my father’s lips – the closest he ever came (when I was in earshot, at least) happened when I was 9 or so, and he was fixing the combine – head, shoulders and arms inside the maze of belts and turbines and pistons under the hood. I was fooling around in the cab, pretending I was driving, when I accidentally started it up. I never heard such an unholy noise – it was my dad, screaming. I jumped down to see what had happened, thinking I’d killed him. Visibly shaken, he glared at me with a mix of terror and intense anger in his eyes. “Daaaa- aaaaah- AAAAHHH!”
I got the message. He didn’t need to put the “mn” on the end for me to know that was the worst thing I’d done in my young life. It still freaks me out thinking about it, and to this day, if I’m getting an oil change and I’m sitting in the car while someone is under the hood, keys out of ignition – end of story.
It was tough trying to get my fill of rock music, though. He once humiliated me immensely while I was standing in line at the Zellers checkout, waiting to pay for a Steve Miller Band record. He walked up and asked “WHAT are you BUYING?”
“It’s the new Steve Miller,” I said, meekly. “It’s on sale.”
He snatched it out of my hand and strode back to the record racks. “Yup, it is, but not for you.” Chuckles ensued in the queue, me, red-faced…
He must have heard the “black panties with an angel’s face” line somewhere and decided that no son of his was gonna own that record. It was no small victory when he told me a few years later that he actually liked “King of Pain” by the Police. I thought the tide had turned and we were gonna start hanging out in my room listening to records together, but for some reason, that never happened, probably because I tried to extol the virtues of Zeppelin IV to him, and that was the end of that.
I gotta hand it to my parents, though – they saw they were losing the battle with rock and roll, and so they decided to join the dark side and buy me some Christian rock tapes. Selection in my hometown was limited, so they just went into the Christian bookstore and asked for the most popular titles – Whiteheart, Petra, Rez Band, Amy *cough* Grant, etc.
Thing is, I’d heard all that stuff and dismissed it. They were sheep in wolves’ clothing (Stryper, anyone?). I had been subjected to soooo many Johnny Bible-Thumpers trying to “reach the youth” by attempting to be “relevant” to us (me), that I was not buying the shuck-and-jive acts with their rock and roll hair and loud guitars – they were still just preaching at me, and I figured that I got enough preaching in church on Sunday, whether I liked it or not. Why would I choose to listen to some bonehead in tight pants telling me that Jesus died for my sins, when I was willing to die to see Van Halen live?
“Runnin’ with the devilllll”
When I left home and came to Calgary, it was to attend bible college. To say that I went there with a purpose would be stretching it, and I felt like a fish out of water there (well, anywhere, really). I didn’t understand what the big deal was when I performed a Prince song in chapel service one Thursday night. “It’s about God!! Whatsamatter?!?!?”
I was one mixed-up kid, and often the only thing that made any sense to me was my record collection. I put on a brave face and acted the part of the good young Christian, but really, I had no idea what was real or true, or what I believed. About anything. Anything except rock and roll. A cliche? Yes (I hear a Springteen song playing somewhere), but for me it was real, and it was true. My tastes had gotten more sophisticated as I neared the end of my teens (Steve Miller and Van Halen long disappeared from my stax o’ wax), and I furiously devoured all radio, TV and print that had even the most remote chance of turning me on to something new to listen to.
There were a couple cool guys at the college who seemed kind of “into” music, and one day, one of them shoved a tape into my hand. “You gotta listen to this. You’re gonna love it.”
“I’m not into Christian rock”, I said, flatly.
“This is different. They’re on Island.”
Whoa. A Christian rock band on Island Records, home of U2 (who were vaguely Christian enough to be deemed acceptable by the Church… ummm… tastemakers… ?) and Nick Drake and the Slits? I had to check it out.
To say that the 77’s self-titled Island debut knocked my socks off on first listen would be a lie, but there was one song that stood out. The title at first put me off, as I recognized it from many hours spent at Bible Study. I reached for my NAS and looked the phrase up. Yup, I was right – 1 John 2:16. Oooofff. Not a good sign. Let’s start the sermon, shall we?
“Well I feel like I have to feel something good all of the time
With most of life I cannot deal but a good feeling I can feel
Even though it may not be real”
Whoa (again). Here’s a guy – a Christian guy – singing about how he feels? No proselytizing, no “Yay God!”, no by-the-book-Jesus-style-nursery-rhyme dreck? What’s going on? And, to boot, the band is good! It’s a good song!
(I admit, I like the sad-bastard tunes – they get me through rough times. The record really grew on me and is now a favorite, and has gotten me through many dark days, and given me great joy…)
Obviously, I was young and naive, and was just beginning to discover that there were thoughtful and passionate artists out there who just happened to believe in God. The difference with the 77’s was that they didn’t play ‘Christian Rock’, they were Christians who played rock music. Of course, their lifestyle and beliefs would color their music (just like Marilyn Manson’s are reflected in his, um, songs), but I got (and still have)
the feeling that these were regular dudes who liked being in a band, and their singer, Mike Roe, was a pretty smart dude and had some interesting things to say.
Now, I’m not gonna delve into some religious discussion here – that would take far too long to get through, and besides, there would be no hope of resolution, and the word ‘religion’ makes my skin crawl. Suffice to say that in regard to the God question, I’m still as screwed up as the 18-year-old that came to the city to go to Bible college. I’ll admit that for a long time (in my Angry Young Man phase) I viewed Christianity with a healthy amount of disdain, choosing to judge the book by its Jerry Falwell/PTL/Pat Robertson cover. I would put on the 77’s and think they were the exception to the rule back then, but now I just think there’s no rule. Say what you wanna say, do what you wanna do, believe what you wanna believe, and if you’re an idiot, you’re an idiot. Listen – I’m a male, White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. You could paint me with a pretty ugly brush…
I was in a coffee shop one time when I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation at the next table. This mohawked vegan punk rocker who had just kicked the bass player out of his hardcore band for eating a piece of cheese (it was a long, loud and very entertaining conversation) was complaining about and ridiculing Christians for being “so fucking dogmatic” – his exact words – and I thought to myself (amongst other things), “This guy needs to hear the 77’s”.
Too bad I didn’t have a tape to press into his hand…
“The Lust, the Flesh, the Eyes and the Pride of Life” by the Seventy Sevens
(Click on the Play button beside the song title to launch the music player
or right-click on the link to download it to your computer.)