Longform’s Guide to Christian Rock

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Sept. 22 2012 7:15 AM

The Longform Guide to Christian Rock

Jars of Clay, Pedro the Lion, and—yes—Bob Dylan: a collection of stories about music’s most mocked genre.

Bob Dylan performs onstage.
Bob Dylan and Christian rock

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images.

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Perhaps the most mocked genre in music, Christian rock has been the subject of some serious critiques. What caused its explosion? Who listens to Jars of Clay and DC Talk? Wait ... Dylan’s involved? From disillusioned fans to conflicted bands, Christian musicians to musicians for Christ, here are five stories on Christian rock.

Meghan O’Gieblyn • Guernica • July 2011

When Christian music and ’90s mainstream rock collided:

The Music Trendsetters Study coined the word “pessimysticism,” an attitude that expresses “a simultaneous dissatisfaction with the inauthenticity of commercial music, and a search for higher emotion and expression in music.” For most of my high school years, I noticed an odd disconnect: everyone at church was bemoaning the fact that kids were no longer interested in spirituality, and yet all I heard on MTV was stuff about God. As CCM [Christian contemporary music] strove to keep up with an industry teens resented for its spiritual vacuity, MTV reached the acme of its marketing genius: its ability to take its audience’s disenchantment with commercialism, repackage it, and sell it back to them.

John Jeremiah Sullivan • GQ • February 2004

A report from America’s biggest Christian music festival:

I wanted to know what these people are, who claim to love this music, who drive hundreds of miles, traversing states, to hear it live. Then it came, my epiphany: I would go with them. Or rather, they would go with me. I would rent a van, a plush one, and we would travel there together, I and three or four hard-core buffs, all the way from the East Coast to the implausibly named Lake of the Ozarks. We'd talk through the night, they'd proselytize at me, and I'd keep my little tape machine working all the while. Somehow I knew we'd grow to like and pity one another. What a story that would make—for future generations.

Jessica Hopper • Chicago Reader • July 2009

A Christian rock star questions his faith.

As front man for Pedro the Lion, the band he led from 1995 till 2005, Bazan was Christian indie rock's first big crossover star, predating Sufjan by nearly a decade and paving the way for the music's success outside the praise circuit. But as he straddled the secular and spiritual worlds, Bazan began to struggle with his faith. Unable to banish from his mind the possibility that the God he'd loved and prayed to his whole life didn't exist, he started drinking heavily. In '05, the last time he played Cornerstone, he was booted off the grounds for being shitfaced, a milk jug full of vodka in his hand. (The festival is officially dry.)

Kurt Loder • Rolling Stone • June 1984

Dylan talks faith, music, and politics.

People have put various labels on you over the past several years: "He's a born-again Christian"; "he's an ultra-Orthodox Jew." Are any of those labels accurate?
Not really. People call you this or they call you that. But I can't respond to that, because then it seems like I'm defensive, and, you know, what does it matter, really?

But weren't three of your albums — Slow Train Coming, Saved and Shot of Love — inspired by some sort of born-again religious experience?

I would never call it that, I've never said I'm born again. That's just a media term. I don't think I've ever been an agnostic. I've always thought there's a superior power, that this is not the real world and that there's a world to come. That no soul has died, every soul is alive, either in holiness or in flames. And there's probably a lot of middle ground.

What is your spiritual stance, then?

Well, I don't think that this is it, you know — this life ain't nothin'. There's no way you're gonna convince me this is all there is to it. I never, ever believed that. I believe in the Book of Revelation. The leaders of this world are eventually going to play God, if they're not already playing God, and eventually a man will come that everybody will think is God. He'll do things, and they'll say, "Well, only God can do those things. It must be him."

Jon Ronson • Guardian • October 2010

A puzzling confession of faith from an unlikely band.

ICP have been going for 20 years, always wearing clown make-up, which looks slightly lumpy because it's painted over their goatees. They've been banned from performing in various cities where juggalos have been implicated in murders and gang violence. ICP have a fearsome reputation, fostered by news reports showing teenagers in juggalo T-shirts arrested for stabbing strangers and lyrics like "Barrels in your mouth/bullets to your head/The back of your neck's all over the shed/Boomshacka boom chop chop bang."

All of which made Violent J's announcement a few years ago really quite astonishing: Insane Clown Posse have this entire time secretly been evangelical Christians. They've only been pretending to be brutal and sadistic to trick their fans into believing in God. They released a song,Thy Unveiling, that spelt out the revelation beyond all doubt.

Robyn Jodlowski is a contributor at Longform.

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