ELBOW & ALBOW

The O'Nan Family Blog

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Conformity of CCM - Part II

After reading my last blog entry, my friend Adrian offered his insightful comments and recommended that I read an article by John Jeremy Sullivan of GQ Magazine. The article is JJS's personal account of his experience at a CCM festival called Creation. From what I can tell JJS is not a believer, but his insight on the CCM culture is keen. Here is a portion of JJS had to say:

"The fact that I didn't think I heard a single interesting bar of music from the forty or so acts I caught or overheard at Creation shouldn't be read as a knock on the acts themselves, much less as contempt for the underlying notion of Christians playing rock. These were not Christian bands, you see; these were Christian-rock bands. The key to digging this scene lies in that one-syllable distinction. Christian rock is a genre that exists to edify and make money off of evangelical Christians. It's message music for listeners who know the message cold, and, what's more, it operates under a perceived responsibility—one the artists embrace—to "reach people." As such, it rewards both obviousness and maximum palatability (the artists would say clarity), which in turn means parasitism. Remember those perfume dispensers they used to have in pharmacies—"If you like Drakkar Noir, you'll love Sexy Musk"? Well, Christian rock works like that. Every successful crappy secular group has its Christian off-brand, and that's proper, because culturally speaking, it's supposed to serve as a stand-in for, not an alternative to or an improvement on, those very groups. In this it succeeds wonderfully. If you think it profoundly sucks, that's because your priorities are not its priorities; you want to hear something cool and new, it needs to play something proven to please...while praising Jesus Christ. That's Christian rock. A Christian band, on the other hand, is just a band that has more than one Christian in it. U2 is the exemplar, held aloft by believers and nonbelievers alike, but there have been others through the years, bands about which people would say, "Did you know those guys were Christians? I know—it's freaky. They're still good, though." The Call was like that; Lone Justice was like that. These days you hear it about indie acts like Pedro the Lion and Damien Jurado (or P.O.D. and Evanescence—de gustibus). In most cases, bands like these make a very, very careful effort not to be seen as playing "Christian rock." It's largely a matter of phrasing: Don't tell the interviewer you're born-again; say faith is a very important part of your life. And here, if I can drop the open-minded pretense real quick, is where the stickier problem of actually being any good comes in, because a question that must be asked is whether a hard-core Christian who turns 19 and finds he or she can write first-rate songs (someone like Damien Jurado) would ever have anything whatsoever to do with Christian rock. Talent tends to come hand in hand with a certain base level of subtlety. And believe it or not, the Christian-rock establishment sometimes expresses a kind of resigned approval of the way groups like U2 or Switchfoot (who played Creation while I was there and had a monster secular--radio hit at the time with "Meant to Live" but whose management wouldn't allow them to be photographed onstage) take quiet pains to distance themselves from any unambiguous Jesus-loving, recognizing that this is the surest way to connect with the world (you know that's how they refer to us, right? We're "of the world"). So it's possible—and indeed seems likely—that Christian rock is a musical genre, the only one I can think of, that has excellence-proofed itself."

15 Comments:

  • At 11:14 AM, Blogger Charles said…

    This discussion could range out into a lot of realms of "Christian" creative endeavors, and I use the word creative in its most derivative sense.

    My biggest problem with "Christian music" is the attitude: We've got to keep all that sin out there in the world away from us, so we're going to make terrible music, terrible movies (such as anything with Kirk Cameron), terrible television stations, terrible fiction, and then pat ourselves on the back for our piousness in resisting "the world."

    Number one, sin doesn't come from out there, in comes from our own hearts. Of course, there are certain things that we just shouldn't do, because of our weaknesses. For instance, no Christian man has any business in a strip club; recovering alcoholics probably don't need to be in a bar. However, those types of limitatoinss on our intake of sensory information are very individualized. There are certain bands that I don't listen to because I associate the music with a very rebellious time of my life. However, to place a blanket rule that any media that has profanity, or depictions of unChristlike behavior, is unchristian, and therefore wrong, is wrongheaded. I could go for long time on this topic, especially profanity (because I love language), but I'll leave it here.

    There are also some fundamental ideas of evangelism and the workings of salvation that are tied up in this - which Sullivan, I think, catches on to in that article - that I may come back and discuss. Right now, I have a date with the Restatement (Second) of Contracts.

     
  • At 11:44 AM, Blogger Alex & Laura Beth said…

    Thanks Charles. I agree with you, and I too believe that this is a problem that pervades all aspects of creativity. By the way, here's a book that may be benificial for you to read (as if you have time for summer reading) - Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law and Education. And you better read the other book I recommended - Total Truth by Nancy Pearcy.

     
  • At 12:00 PM, Blogger Charles said…

    I've read that Phillip Johnson book, and I thought it was good. We need to talk about my summer job; it's the bee's knees.

     
  • At 12:13 PM, Blogger adrian blackney said…

    So did you cry at the end of the article?
    I definately choked up twice in the last couple of pages. The lost are devistating, especially when you connect with them. He shows more respect for the gospel than many believers I know.

     
  • At 1:59 PM, Blogger Alex & Laura Beth said…

    A few tears, Blackney... a few tears.

     
  • At 5:07 PM, Anonymous Josh Buice said…

    Laura Beth,

    Thought I would let you know that the information you provided for this discussion is eye opening. I will spare you from my remarks regarding this industry and the stoop that has been made in recent years (you know my opinions).

    My question regarding Christian creativity is simply this: Why does the Christian community feel it necessary to mirror the so called "worldly" industries and allow them to govern the direction of our creativity?

    Well --- back to the greek paper!

    Talk to ya soon.

     
  • At 6:48 PM, Blogger Shawn said…

    Charles, good thoughts. I love the "sin doesn't come from out there" quote...so true.

    Adrian, "The lost are devistating, especially when you connect with them. He shows more respect for the gospel than many believers I know." both of you guys are so lyrical in your thoughts, truly gifted.

    Josh, I don't think I made this clear in the comment on the prior post...but I'll try here. To say Christians are trying to mirror "worldly" industries is like saying that Geffen Records and Ashlee Simpson are trying to mirror RCA and Avril Lavigne. Of course they are...they are trying to sell records. And it's not just pop music my friends it's INDIE Rock too. Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, Scissor Sisters, etc. Who spawned who? None of these acts are copying or often times aware of each other...they've been making this music for along time (Ashlee Simpson excluded) The labels see them as filling a void in the market it's up to the artist to make good records and outlast the trend. Just because it's popular don't mean it's not creative...try writing a pop song.

    Oh and Charles, I think it's okay for Christians to go to Christian Strip Clubs...just like Christian Rock Concerts. (totally kidding)

     
  • At 9:47 AM, Blogger Bobby said…

    Laura Beth: great posts (both I and II). The comments are insightful, too.
    Adrian: We agree on the end of that article. It's haunting. Also, you correctly point out that the worship music movement is a phenomena that is not derivative of secular music. I'd say this is largely because it didn't come from the CCM power base in Nashville. I'd also say that this power base is/ will likely be the downfall of worship music, now that it is on board, churning out one generic worship CD after another.
    Also, it's great that you mentioned the Gaithers and Nichole Nordeman -- truly unique artists, as is Caedmon's Call. We need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but by-and-large, CCM deserves the criticism heaped upon it.

     
  • At 10:30 AM, Blogger Alex & Laura Beth said…

    I completely agree that other genres of music - Top 40, indie, rap, what-have-you - are all copy-catting, and that this is not a problem specific to CCM. The difference is that Christians have a higher calling. We are to make music to the glory of God, not to the success of the industry (not for the purpose of selling records). I am not arguing that everything produced by a Christian needs to be "new" or "different." What I am arguing is that everything produced by a Christian should exude technical excellence, validity (is an artist making art for the sole purpose of money or acceptance?), and intellectual content which reflects the artist's worldview (see Schaeffer's Art and the Bible). Creativity does not equal "never been done before." But creativity also does not mimic or conform to other forms for the puprose of selling records or "being cool." Jesus said "Blessed are the pure in heart." How difficult it is, even for people who have been walking with the Lord for many years, to have completely pure motives. I pray for God's grace -for me, for artists, for the music industry - that we will all seek to have pure motives.

     
  • At 12:29 AM, Blogger Shawn said…

    I just wrote a lengthy response that i reread and quickly deleted because I believe I was arguing for arguments sake, which is tiresome, not futile, just tiresome. So let me just tackle one of the points you bring up.

    You say,"We are to make music to the glory of God, not to the success of the industry (not for the purpose of selling records)."

    We do. Every Sunday, or whenever your church meets, when we sing hymns or worship songs or anytime we lift our "joyful noise" in praise of Him. But let us not forget that the industry is in place to facilitate reaching a larger audience AND to sell records. It is a business. Chic-Fil-A was founded and is still run by Christians, are they not to sell chicken sandwiches? Should that not be their goal? But by the same argument their only goal should be to make technically excellent chicken sandwiches and make them to the glory of God, while not focusing on selling or marketing those God inspired sandwiches in such a manner as to reach the largest audience possible. I guess my point is, I don't understand the demonization of the Christian music industry for trying to sell records. What about Christian literature? Should we not market and promote these books that you recommend to your friends and quote from their pages? Or should we only try to sell the books we like to read and that speak to us in special ways, while claiming all other books, their authors and publishers are not glorifying God, but are merely trying to move units, or sandwiches or records; pick your poison. Please explain your logic. I really want to understand where you are coming from.

    And let us not forget that selling records is not a BAD thing. It's simple the more records you sell the more people you impact. I have a hard time seeing how that is wrong or flawed, based soley on the argument that Christian music's purpose should not be selling records. It goes hand in hand. There are lots of bands and artists that are called to the ministry that don't sign record deals...I don't believe it makes them any more righteous or holy.

     
  • At 9:15 AM, Blogger Bobby said…

    Shawn, I agree with you to a point -- at least let's say I see where you're coming from.
    I DJ'd and was Music Director for a Southern Gospel station a few years ago. I tried to run things as professionally as possible, and I never forgot it was a business. I was hired to get good ratings and make it easier for the sales staff to bring money into the owner's coffers, so he could continue to justify my paycheck. No doubt about it. And I always cringed when people (mostly DJ's who weren't doing a good enough job, or record company execs who wanted me to play bad songs) would say, "This is a ministry."
    What they meant was, "Don't try to be too professional. It's okay to put forth a second-rate presentation as long as everyone involved loved Jesus."
    So I agree with you that the purpose of the music business (even the "Christian" music business) is ... to do business. And the cool thing is, if they are doing good business, that also means that they are getting the gospel message "out there." Well and good.
    But the criticism you're hearing is because they AREN'T doing good business. The GMA claimed Christian sales held pretty much even last year. Secular statistics indicated Christian sales were down. Even if the GMA is correct, these are hardly boom times for CCM (except, as has been mentioned in these 2 threads before, for Worship music and Gaither Homecoming productions).

    CCM is largely a joke within society because it is always two steps behind. There is too great a desire to check which way the wind is blowing and go along. Find out what sound is making headway in secular radio, then copy it. Christians should be leading the way in the arts, not clinging to the back bumper, getting dragged through the mud and muck in a desparate attempt to hang on.
    If there was a greater commitment to excellence, both as regards to stylistic experimentation and traditional forms, it would not only honor God, it would be good for business.

     
  • At 12:16 PM, Blogger Shawn said…

    Bobby...man I totally agree with you and can only speak for the projects I am involved with. As far as radio goes and what is on a stations playlist...you know better than I that it is often the station that dictates what gets played and follows the trend of mainstream radio as well as the results of single "testing." But thats a whole other discussion.

    As far as sales numbers are concerned NO ONE is doing "good business" right now and depending on who you listen to we are holding steady, gaining ground or falling off the radar. The reality it is a handful of projects that drive those sales numbers for a year and not at all a representation of the state of the industry.

    I hate looking at "CCM" as a whole, because it's so abstract. There are way to many variables and tangents within that label that completely contradict what any of us is arguing. But to your point, there are bands that are two steps behind (again not unique to CCM) and we do have a higher calling. I think the issue is is that there are a lot of people have different opinions on how to answer that calling. All I can say is that myself and those I work closely with pray for a raising of the bar and work towards that everyday of the week, and yes it is going to be a slow process that one day may look like a revolution or overnight phenomenon that simply wasn't.

    My last appeal is that I hope everyone will agree that the motives are pure. There is no conspiracy to flood the marketplace with crap. Like I said earlier people are trying to answer that calling the best way they can in their opinion, epecially people within this industry that are producing records that I would never listen to. I trust God to use everything we do to his end, he is that big. All I can say is that we all know of Christians making really good music that may or not be on CCM labels, we should support and encourage them wholeheartedly and pray for those that are behind the scenes trying to serve the artist and message as best they know how while still honoring the Lord. Anyway that's my two cents. I would like to thank you and all for your points and thoughts...iron sharpening iron.

    -peace.

     
  • At 9:30 AM, Blogger Bobby said…

    Shawn: agreed. I'd hope no one would think it was an actual conspiracy. And I'm sure you personally are doing what you can to be a credit to the gospel and to the industry. The "favorite artists" listed in your profile show that you have good taste.
    Also it's helpful to remember that the problems in CCM are problems that exist throughout the music industry.
    As a Christian, I feel that Christians should lead the way to a higher aesthetic, but it amuses and dismays me when someone starts trashing Christian music, and then, in answer to my question of what they listen to, they say "---" (fill in the blank with whatever generic Clear Channel mainstream music station pops into your head).

     
  • At 2:45 PM, Blogger cheeremy said…

    interesting. It seems that the only people reading CCM in the first place are seminary students and folks in the christian music industry. Christians are not without flaws. For every excellent/creative/innovating secular artist there are 100 really bad ones. For every excellent/creative/innovating christian artist there are 100 really bad ones. Furthermore, if these christian musicians who are supposed to be blazing the trail of the creativity in the world are anything like me (a christian who does not have everything figured out and perhaps would bite at the attempt to make money and get 15 minutes of fame playing mediocre music in front of an arena full of youth groups), they are not the saints that you think they should be. It seems that christian musicians are being held to an impossible standard. Why isnt this standard carried down to those of us who profess to be christians in the way we act or live? Just because we are christians our professional goals are going to be pure as the driven snow? Just because we are living above and beyond the 'secular' world does that mean somthing is wrong with us. (maybe) Sorry, that I know no one but the Blackney brothers, I just had a spare few minutes at work.

    Nick Hayes

     
  • At 1:56 PM, Blogger Nikki Daniel said…

    LAURA BETH!! Come back! It's been 2 entire weeks since you last posted!! Where are you?

    I miss your blog entries.

     

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