This book offers an in-depth look at the Christian music industry and the Christian music indie scene from someone on the outside who is not a Christian and yet respects several key players in the scene.
Beaujon is a senior contributing writer for Spin…and a PK (preacher’s kid). He is not a believer and in “Body Piercing Saved My Life” (a reference to a popular t-shirt sold at Christian music festivals which shows the pierced hands of Jesus above the slogan) he presents a non-Christian perspective of a Christian industry. Seeking to answer, “Why do Christians need their own music?” He comes out of this quest not as a Christian but as one who is “a fan, not just of the music, but of Christians, and of Jesus himself.” Beujon visits many key Christian festivals and events in search for an answer; he also travels off-the-beaten-path to visit a number of indie labels and in order to introduce readers to the likes of Pedro the Lion and The Psalters.
There are a number of “Christian Rock Lifers” interviews which break up the book—and ultimately do just that—they break up the flow of the narrative. Not that the interviews are bad (he speaks with Doug Van Pelt, Steve Taylor, Jay Scwhartzendruber, Bill Hearn, Mark Salomen and others—it’s just that they would serve better as appendices.
Beaujon does a great job traveling not only geographically, but taking the reader back in time. In the second chapter, “No More LSD for ME (I met the Man from Galilee” he jumps back in time to the “early days of Christian rock music” notable for “the smell emanating from the musicians, reconstructed hippies crammed into a station wagon, lying on the top of amps as they traveled from church to church. They loved Jesus. They didn’t shower much.”
As I mentioned early he visits a number of musicians and those who run independent Christian labels. His quest includes a stop at Calvin College’s Festival of Faith and Music. Really, through the first half of the book he heaps praises on the indie spirit of early Christian musicians and highlights of the alt-Christian acts on labels like Tooth and Nail that are creating interesting music that appeals to non-Christians like himself. Then he heads to GMA Week.
The chapters on his time in Nashville for the Gospel Music Associations main event are highly amusing. It is there that he gets baptized into the world of “worship music.”
Here is an excerpt to give you a taste of his approach to this topic:
Worship music is Christian Music, and it’s rock music, but, confusingly, it’s not quite the same thing as Christian rock. Most good size evangelical churches have their own worship bands, which lead the congregation in a sort of amplified folk mass. Worship music has ‘hit songs’ that appear on compilations like Worship Jamz and are licensed to individual churches through Christian Copyright Licensing International, a company that also keeps track of the most performed songs in churches and pays songwriter royalties, much like ASCAP and BMI.
… If you’ve seen that TV commercial for Time-Life’s Worship Together Collection, you’ve heard worship music. Much—not all, but enough to tar the whole genre—of it sounds like Christian pop scrubbed of any remaining hint of menave. It’s usually an updated form of folk-rock, anchored by drum loops and crystalline acoustic guitars, reminiscent of artists like Counting Crows or Hootie & the Blowfish, but with earth-shattering choruses that make those artists look like amateurs.
This conversation continues a few pages later…
…I’m not saved and don’t think I ever will be, but if such a miracle were to take place, I can’t imagine anything worse than being forced to pay for my salvation by listening to worship music for the rest of my days.
Worship music is the logical conclusion of Christian adult contemporary music—not just unappealing but unbearable to anyone not already in the fold. Every song follows the same parameters. It opens gently, with tinkling arpeggios or synthesized harp glissandos that portend the imminence of something celestial in glacial 4/4 time. In the second verse, the band—invariably excellent players—soft-pedals in, gaining in volume to the bridge. And then the chorus. Heavens, the choruses. They could put U2 out of business for good, they’re so huge. Another verse. A middle eight. Then, a breakdown when the audience takes over singing. Another massive chorus. Fin.
This isn’t music to appreciate; it’s music to experience. People at a worship service close their eyes and, as ecstasy spreads across their faces, begin to rock rhythmically, arms out, mouthing the lyrics. It’s more than a little sexual and a tad uncomfortable if you’re sitting next to an attractive person who’s been overcome by the Spirit.</i>
Body Piercing Saved My Life offers an in-depth look at the Christian music industry and the Christian music indie scene from someone on the outside who is not a Christian and yet respects several key players in the scene. This is a book worthy of dialogue between believers and unbelievers. Beaujon also drops a number of names of musical artists who I had not heard of and have since added to my collection. I highly recommend this very insightful book.
Some questions worth discussing out of all of this: Why do Christians need their own music? What defines “sacred” over “secular” music? Can all styles of music be assimilated for worship? Or are some styles of music more worshipful than others? Are some Christian music artists more tolerable than others in your eyes? Why is this so? Personal preference? Musical ability? Is a rock musician who is Christian a Christian rock musician?
If you’re interested in more on this topic you might find Charlie Peacock’s insider look Christian music industry interesting. This he presents in his book “At the Crossroads” (Broadman & Holman, 1999).