I’m a product of nineties youth group culture.
I was raised in the Baptist church. For the first 12 years of my life, we attended a very strict one, the kind that prohibited dancing, drinking or attending movie theaters. The only music I was allowed to listen to was Christian rock. Even though we moved on to a more relaxed church when I hit middle school, my parents still encouraged us only to listen to music from that subgenre. My first concert was for Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Great Adventure” tour. I played dc Talk’s “Jesus Freak” until the CD wore out.
Anyone who’s read this site knows my tastes have broadened over the years and I’ve developed a healthy skepticism (and, at times, an unhealthy cynicism) of the Christian subculture. The mixture of faith and commerce is something I raise an eyebrow at, and sometimes I fear our desire to create “safe” music only serves to further isolate us and convey a false Christianity to the church. Much modern Christian music is a pale imitation of much better work, and I’ve been more deeply moved by “secular” films, books and music than I have by much modern Christian entertainment.
But man, I’m not parting with my copy of Newsboys’ “Take Me To Your Leader.”
During a recent road trip with my family, I compiled a playlist that included some Christian music from my youth. I’d initially included the music ironically, so my wife and I could have something to listen to and laugh about on the drive from Michigan to Florida. But as I listened to some of those old songs, I smiled. I enjoyed them. I found myself wrapped in nostalgia and returning to a place where life was a bit simpler and faith wasn’t as complex.
Maybe it’s just memories of youth talking, but I feel something was different about Christian music in the nineties and early aughts than it is today. Sure, some of it is dated and cheesy, but there was an openness, warmth and experimental quality to it that we don’t see in this age of worship songs, bland pop and overly produced melodies. It didn’t all sound the same; there was Christian rap, rock, heavy metal, pop, ska…any musical style had a Christian component. And while we can gripe all day about it aping the mainstream, the truth is that it didn’t feel that way. It felt like members of the Christian culture were finally free to experiment and bring their music to an audience outside the church; something that today’s modern worship isn’t really designed to do.Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s all nostalgia. But now I look back on those songs with the feelings of a married man looking back on the poppy love songs he loved as a single guy. My life and faith are more complex these days, but there’s still affection for those songs. And I wonder how many of those artists whose work was instrumental in so many lives have evolved in their faith as well over the years. What is there relationship to the industry? What stories did we not hear when we were putting them on pedestals as teenagers?
I want to hear those stories. I think many people do. That’s why I am announcing my latest project, a 12-15 episode first season of a podcast called “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Podcasts.” In the podcast, which I hope to push live in September, I will speak with men and women who’ve been part of the Christian music industry. I want to hear their stories, the good and the bad. I want to talk about the tension that comes when you make faith a commodity, and I want to learn how their faith has evolved in the years since they were active in the scene. I have a few guests lined up, but it’s a work in progress, with more info to come in the future.
But first, I need your help.
I have experience producing and co-hosting podcasts, but I want this one to be a step up. I’ve started a Kickstarter to raise funds for startup costs, equipment and any potential travel. I know that $5,000 seems a lot to ask, but when I tally up the equipment I’ll need, the cost of sending the audio out for professional work, and the travel I may need to do for some interviews, that’s what I come to. My hope is that once the season is launched, we’ll move into a donation, sponsor or Patreon mode. My initial plan is to start interviews this summer to post the first batch in the fall; the Kickstarter is active until June 30. I appreciate any help you can provide.
I look forward to this new project. It’s coming not from a place of snarkiness or naivety but from sincerity, with an eye toward having real conversations about art, faith, culture and personal growth. If there is anyone reading who has been a Christian performer, songwriter, producer or who has written about Christian music, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.
I’m eager to dig into this. I thank you all for your support! I promise once the project is live, I’ll provide links via this blog.