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Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Friday, January 19, 2007

Musical Tastes: My Personal Adventures in Music (Pt. 4)

My Brush with CCM Celebrity

I have been reviewing the development of my personal tastes and convictions with music. In my last post in this series, I recapped how I was introduced to Contemporary Christian Music (CCM).

As I began collecting the albums of various CCM artists, I had mixed feelings about my new found musical interest. On the one hand, as a church attending kid who wanted to take his faith seriously, I thought I must listen to CCM exclusively because it honored the Lord. Yet, on the other hand, I was a bit embarrassed by the quality of CCM. Though some of the songs were spiritually uplifting, the music had an amateurish, syrupy, bland sound and I could not, with clear conscience, recommend CCM to my unsaved friends as an alternative to their secular music.

I can remember reading a comparison chart some Christian youth magazine put together where many of the CCM groups were listed and declared as suitable matches to specific secular bands. So, if for example you liked the secular groups Duran Duran and Journey, then you would equally enjoy the CCM groups Whiteheart and Petra. The problem, however, was that neither Whiteheart nor Petra sounded as good as Duran Duran and Journey. The entire chart was dishonest because none of the CCM groups listed sound anything like their matched secular counterparts. I started to see similar lists posted in the music section of Christian bookstores and I secretly thought they were a lame attempt to make these groups to sound better than they really were.

I figured my fate as a young, music loving Christian was to suffer with mediocre sounding CCM. Then, a Southern California metal hair band by the name of Stryper came on the music scene.
Now, it was not that Stryper was the absolutely best rock band, CCM or secular, ever to play. They certainly had their share of problems. For instance, the goofy yellow and black spandex outfits and the ridiculous attempt to justify their goofy outfits by tying their band to Isaiah 53:5. Yet, in spite of these "flaws" they were just way above sounding syrupy and bland, at least in my mind, and I liked the metal edge.

By the time I discovered their existence, they had released two albums: The Yellow and Black Attack and Soldiers Under Command. I had to special order them from a rinky-dink Christian bookstore a Pentecostal couple had set up in two back rooms in their house. The lady behind the register seemed a tad troubled that such Christian music even existed, and a bit shaken some punk who lived in her town would order it to begin with. Another local music store carried full sized wall posters of the Stryper guys, so while other teenage boys hung posters in their rooms of a bikini clad Heather Thomas or Janet Jones, or big rock bands like Van Halen and RATT. I had posters of four long-haired pretty boys dressed up like bumble bees.

I collected all of Stryper's albums up to In God We Trust, the album they released before they had their year of so of "backsliding" and released a secular oriented album called Against the Law. By this time, my interest in Stryper as a group was waning, because God had genuinely saved me at the end of my college freshman year, and I was becoming more interested in spending my money on theological books rather than CCM. Plus, my true conversion was maturing my interest and conviction in music which I will chronicle in more detail with the next post.

Even after the guys from Stryper failed commercially as a secular band because their Against the Law album was not well received by anyone either Christian or worldly, and even though they made a testimony tape with Matt Crouch, son of Paul Crouch of TBN, apologizing and asking the CCM fans to forgive them for their few years as backsliders, I was no longer interested in their music.

During my first year in college, there was a smart mouthed guy named Steve Wiggins who lived in my dorm. I would often see him down in the lounge area of my dorm playing rock classics like Stairway to Heaven or Sweet Home Alabama on his guitar. He was quite talented for a smart mouthed punk. I had some classes with him and he was a favorite with all my other class mates because he was... well... a witty smart mouth.

As I noted above, God was pleased to save me the final week of my freshman year of college, so I went into my summer break a brand new Christian and when I returned for my sophomore year, my focus on life had been totally shifted. I attended church and was active in my college youth group before I was saved, but now I had a renewed commitment.

On one Sunday evening, during the "invitation" time at my SBC church, I noticed the smart mouth Steve Wiggins walking forward to speak with our college pastor. I perked up and watched him get counseled and pray a prayer. I filed the moment in the back of my mind. A few months later, I was gathered with some friends for a time of fellowship, and the host of our gathering informed us Steve was going to stop by and play some Christian tunes for us that he had written. I thought to myself, "Steve Wiggins the smart mouth?" Sure enough, he did come, and he did play, and it was outstanding. He also told us a little about his testimony and how he came to know the Lord.

After that, we began to develop something of a friendship. We would say "Hey" to each other on campus, talk a bit at Bible studies and church, and I especially enjoyed when he stopped by my place and told me, "Hey man, I wrote a new song I want you to hear." His music was excellent and the lyric content profound. We always encouraged him to make a demo tape and see if any music studio would be willing to record him. Steve did take up our encouragement, and he made a demo tape, and he sent it to a studio in Memphis that was interested in recording him.

Before I knew it, close to the last year or so before I graduated, Steve moved to Memphis to start a recording career with Ardent studios. He originally recorded under his name, Steve Wiggins, but after he recorded his second album called Big Tent Revival, he and the fellows who played with him took the name, Big Tent Revival, as the name of their group. They quickly became popular and were consistently nominated for a Grammy for the best gospel album each year they released an album. I always tried to call and congratulate Steve on being nominated and we would catch up a bit as to what was going on with each other.

In 1997 I received a phone call from Steve and he told me he was going to be in Anaheim to perform for a Harvest Crusade. He wanted me to come down to hook up after the show so we could talk. He told me he would get me VIP seats and all I needed to tell him was how many folks were coming. I invited a friend and his wife, and we drove down on a Saturday when Big Tent was performing.

Per Steve's instructions, we arrived an hour early and entered a special entrance that allowed us to by-pass the long line of crowds. Once through the special entrance, we were escorted to the VIP section where a young gal checked our names and took us to our seats. My friend and his wife left me for awhile to look for his cousin who attended Greg Laurie's church. While I was sitting there reading my Bible, I noticed three long, stringy haired guys enter the VIP section. A moment later, another long haired guy showed up and joined them. His hair wasn't as stringy as his pals. In fact, it was neatly permed like a woman's.

The young gal escorted the four of them to the row of seats immediately behind me. Even in the VIP section, the rows between the seats were exceptionally narrow, so that the knees of the guys were right up against my head. The permed haired guy sat behind me and I remember as I looked slightly to my right, I would see his zebra skinned boot as he sat with his left leg crossed. When he went to switch crossing his left leg to his right, he would bump my shoulder and I would hear this, "Sorry about that bud." To which I would reply, "No problem."

In addition to putting up with zebra boots bumping my shoulder, I had to listen to their inane conversations about pseudo-Christian topics. They prattled with each other over the infallibility of backward Bible codes in the book of Daniel and whether or not we were on the verge of the end times with the Clinton presidency. They also talked insistently about how great Van Halen was in concert when they played in Anaheim.

Eventually my friends returned and the show started and Big Tent Revival performed wonderfully. After everything was finished, my friends and I made our way down to the center stage and got Steve's attention. We spoke a bit and he told me he wanted to go get something to eat. He invited us down into the locker room area where all the other CCM bands were getting their belongings. We were again escorted with Steve, and when we went down into the locker rooms, he introduced us to all sorts of CCM folks like Crystal Lewis and Audio Adrenaline.

While Steve and I were speaking with the guitar player for Audio Adrenaline, I noticed the four guys who had been sitting behind me coming into the locker room. I immediately recognized the zebra skin boots on this little fellow with the pretty, woman-like hair. I told Steve about the guy in the zebra boots bumping me all night long, and their goofy conversation about Bible codes. The guitar player from Audio Adrenaline says, "Are you talking about him?" as he pointed to zebra boots. I replied, yep, that's the guy," and he responded, "Oh, that's Robert Sweet, the drummer from Stryper."

I was stunned. "You mean to tell me that the drummer for Stryper was kicking me in the back with his zebra skinned boots and discussing the nonsensical "theology" of Bible codes? I use to listen to their music!" I all of the sudden felt honored to have my shoulder kicked.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Robert said...

That's a pretty good story...but how does it end? I remember hearing "two sets of Jone's" at a marriage conference and it really had me balling. Thanks for reminding me of Big Tent Revival.

P.S. Please check out my evangelism blog at streetfishing.blogspot.com

--Rob

12:34 AM, January 21, 2007  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Sorry Robert,
I didn't mean my post to be anti-climatic. I just wanted to hit on how I use to like stryper, then after I gave them up, how I bumped into the drummer like I explained. Nothing really ended, per se. Those guys left and I went to Carl's Jr. with Steve and my friends.

Fred

5:31 PM, January 21, 2007  
Blogger Daniel said...

I chuckled. What makes the story great is that life is so like that. I remember seeing a famous wrestler on the street one day when I was out walking with a friend, and he and I looked at one another and said, "hey, isn't that so and so?" "Yeah!" So we went over and asked, "Hey, are you so and so?" "Yeah." "Wow.. er, hello. We um, um. know your name, and think you do ...uh, I mean, hey! Um, nice to meet you!" "Yeah."


We walked away realizing that he was just a guy, but we were clearly inarticulate idiots.

7:54 AM, January 22, 2007  
Blogger Fundamentally Reformed said...

Fred,

I really enjoyed reading the posts in this series! Question: would you say that CCM as a whole has gotten better? As in better quality in comparison with secular stuff? I don't listen to much secular stuff (not that I am against it, but I am new enough to Christian Contemporary Music, having been an hyper fundy for such a long time, that I don't feel the need to pursue secular stuff--at least for me right now). But would Casting Crowns, Mercy Me, Steven Curtis Chapman, and etc., compare favorably in quality of style?

Just wondering.

Looking forward to future installments.

Blessing in Christ,

Bob Hayton

3:57 PM, January 27, 2007  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Bob,

I am glad you like my series. I will go into more detail about how I have established my convictions about the kind of music I listen to as a Christian in the future. I will say that I don't think Christians HAVE to listen to CCM or the boring, poorly made music fundamentalists insist their youth should listen to, though I am unsure what that would be to begin with seeing that most fundy critics of music never suggest any positive alternatives.

At any rate, I ceased listening to CCM in general many years ago. It is primarily due to my personal quirks. Most of what I listen to is either sermons, apologetic podcasts, movie soundtracks and classical. I did go into a Johnny Cash frenzy when the "Walk the Line" movie was released last year and I picked up a box set of his music at Costco I have enjoyed immensely. I would also like to pick up some Frank Sanatra standards after listening to one of the shared I-tune libraries at work.

My wife still likes some CCM and I would certainly say the musical quality has improved a bit since I used to listen exclusively to it. But we are both drawn to the lyric content more than necessarily the sound, though the sound is still important for me. We enjoy Fernando Ortega, Caedmon's Call, and the folks you listed.

I will go into this more, but I am such a theological stickler that even if the band sounds good, if they have sappy, muddled theology in their lyrics, I turn my nose up to them. It is difficult to listen to a group decidedly "Christian" who sing about bad doctrine. Its like the nails on the chalk board for me.

Fred

3:57 PM, January 28, 2007  

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