Friday, October 26, 2012

Mimicking the mainstream. Music as background patina.


Continuing with the responses I received from "Christian Music Suckage," I'd like to welcome Ben H. Rome (@bhrome), a Washington, D.C. based writer, blogger and game designer (and in my opinion, also a talented photographer, but he gives props to his wife for her photo-taking skills). Here's his take:

AD: How long have you listened to Christian music?

BHR: Almost 20 years. The first Christian music album I purchased after I was saved was PFR's self-titled project and Newsboys' "Take Me To Your Leader." If we're counting mainstream music performed by Christian artists, though, it was U2's "Joshua Tree."

AD: CCM is a broad term. Which particular type of Christian music do you listen to most? Rock? Rap? Worship? Country? Gospel?

BHR: It varies, really. Mostly rock, a touch of metal, a little worship, some contemporary, and a variety of Christian musicians who produce music in other genres. I also have an extensive movie soundtrack folder, as well as techno-pop and industrial metal for when the mood strikes.

AD: I quoted a lot of folks in that post. Are there any points you agree with?

BHR: I agree with Longenecker: "Christian popular music is almost always pretty bad, but  the problem with most 'Christian' music is that it is secular music with Christian words. In any decent art style and substance are supposed to match up. The meaning and the media are supposed to harmonize."

That's more of a fundamental problem that exists in the Christian subculture. Go into a Lifeway or a Family Christian store and easily 75% of what's sold is just "Christianized" versions of what is popular in the mainstream. It's not limited to music; the fiction genre is rife with copycat material, as is the "gift" sections. For a time, it was considered acceptable to slap a scripture or a pithy religious phrase on a painting or coffee mug, making it "christian." Or to publish books that had similar themes (and even covers!) to the top sellers in a B&N or on the NYT lists.

The fiction really irks me even today. (I'm a professional writer.) A lot of it is poorly written or syrupy fluff that avoids deep storytelling in order to mimic the mainstream. (And I'll admit right up front that the mainstream does the same thing within itself: if it sells, it's going to have a copycat soon enough.)


So back to music. Same problem. There's too much focus on paying attention to what's selling on the Billboard 100 and trying to mimic it, rather than finding that unique voice that God intended to speak to the world. I daresay the "giants" in CCM today are those who stuck to their roots and persevered through the calls for mimicry. (Third Day, Jars of Clay, Newsboys, Skillet...)


Epic face palm. Picture provided by Ben, and he own's it! So no stealsies! Link.

AD: Do you listen to secular music? If no, why? Do you believe its wrong or sinful? If yes, who? What do you listen to most, secular or Christian?

BHR: I do listen to secular music. Is it wrong or sinful? Personally, no. But let me clarify why.

The essence of music comes from God; He created it. But just like everything else in this broken world, when you add broken people into the creative process, we tend to get broken music on some level. Is it right for me to listen constantly to music that isn't done fully in the Creator's vision? If you eat enough spoiled meat, you're going to get sick. The same applies to the Christian life: when you watch/listen/read enough broken media (television, movies, music, books, games, and so on), you're going to poison the soul. The danger there isn't a loss of salvation - it's a dampening of the beautiful relationship we have with God thanks to Jesus. The clutter distracts us and pulls us off the path He's crafted.


That's why it's important you make choices in what you listen to (and so on) through reflection with the Holy Spirit. Does the lyrics to this song edify or tear down? Does it challenge Christ's view, or amplify it? Many Christians would be surprised that there are a lot of songs out there that, even though written/performed by unsaved artists, still express God.


("When outsiders who have never heard of God’s law follow it more or less by instinct, they confirm its truth by their obedience. They show that God’s law is not something alien, imposed on us from without, but woven into the very fabric of our creation. There is something deep within them that echoes God’s yes and no, right and wrong." -Rom 2:14-15, MSG)


So yes, I do listen to secular music. I have songs by Metallica, Skid Row, Linkin Park, 30 Seconds to Mars, Audioslave, Dream Theater, Rush and many others because these particular works speak God to me.


In addition, there are a variety of "secular" artists who are Christian - but are not sold or marketed as "Christian music." Bill Miller and Moya Brennan immediately come to mind - mainly because I absolutely adore their music, and because they are up front about their faith when asked. Others, like U2 and Brian "Head" Welch (formerly of Korn), are equally good.


Who would you like to see collaborate together?
I would love to see a Newsboys/dcTalk supergroup concert for one night. (I know that's sort of happened now, with Michael Tait replacing Peter Furler...) But if we're talking secular/sacred, then POD with Linkin Park, or Skillet with Dream Theater.


AD: How long have you been a Christian?

BHR: "Officially" since March 29, 1995. Unofficially, I think since I was 6. But my journey from that point to my conversion 17 years later was a long, tortured, and painful path.

AD: Do you go to church regularly? If yes, what type of music is sang? Hymns? Praise & Worship?
BHR: As much as my wife and I can, we go every Sunday. They sing mostly modern P&W, with some classics on occasion.

AD: How important is music to you?
BHR: Less than it used to be. During my time as a store manager of a large Christian retailer, I listened and followed CCM news all the time. Since my path has diverged from that many years ago, music has become my background patina; it's there for me during times of exercise and commuting, and for those times of intense writing. I find that a wide range of genres work for me, based on my moods and what's going on at the time.

AD: How do you listen? iTunes? CDs? Radio? Pandora?
BHR: Radio in the car. RadioU online when at work, mixed a little with free Pandora. And my generic mp3 player (it's about 6 years old now) when I'm out and about walking.

AD: Do you have a favorite artist?
BHR: Too many to count. If I *had* to pick, I'd say Third Day because I've been a fan of theirs since the days they first came out.

AD: What would you say to those who feel CCM is weak or lacking artistry?
BHR: They're partially right. The songs that hit you at the moment you need it? It can utterly beautiful. And then bland the next time you hear it because it's not the same moment. 


AD: Do you identify as a particular type of Christian? Baptist?
Presbyterian? Pentecostal? Catholic?
BHR: I am a Christian, a follower of Christ. Religious labels suck.

AD: Are you a singer or musician?
BHR: Nope, just a writer with a lot of life experience on both sides of the Cross.

Very cool, Bro. After reading Ben's words, I couldn't help thinking if only the writers of the CCM mimicry could inject just a fraction of the truth in Ben's last statement, the cries of corniness would be silenced.

Thanks to Ben for taking the time to break it down for me (and so eloquently!), and if you want to add your two cents, feel free to email me at jumpingatthesun@gmail.com.

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