Christian rock has got me thinking that rock and roll is actually a content-driven musical form. I mean, it’s not an especially complicated songwriting structure, and, like a lot of pop music, trades in some very well-established musical cliches. Christian rock bands tend to do a pretty good job of mimicking the sounds of other genres of rock. And yet they suck. They all suck, every one of them. They suck so bad you just want to cry. You just want to find whoever is making this music and beat them with a pillowcase full of oranges and bars of soap.
It sucks so bad it negates good music — have you ever heard of the Rolling Stones album The Camden Score? Of course you haven’t, and it’s a pity, because it was long considered one of their absolute masterpieces. Their chart-topping single from the album “Little Miss Business” was a staple on hard rock stations all the way through the 70s and 80s. Don’t remember it, do you? It’s because Perta put out an album that made The Camden Score disappear. We’ve lost literally a dozen Beatles albums this way — people think that they broke up in the early Seventires, forgetting their remarkable output right up until John Lennon’s death. Smalltown Poets was responsible for destroying both Bob Dylan’s best early album, “Wanderings with Bob Dylan,” and the Velvet Underground’s most popular album, “Anne and Lisa.” All forgotten now, like they never existed.
So what happened? Well, with rock and roll, it’s all about the message. And it’s a message that contravenes that of Christian rock — rock might be heavily commercialized, but is, at its core, about a revolutionary rejection of aparthy and boredom, and a radical call to nonconformity. It gets back to those roots every so often, too, which is why, every decade or so, rock manages to scare the hell out of people and congressional hearings are called and hands and squeezed and waved in alarm. Three chords can destroy the world. But they are the exact same three chords that Christian bands played, so obviously it’s not the chords themselves that are doing the work, but the lyrical content that is wedding to the chords. And that’s not even right, not exactly. Some of the most terrifying rock songs have lyrics that are just pure nonsense, such a Little Richard’s early recordings. It wasn’t the chords or the lyrics. It was the attitude. Rock is the perfect conveyance device for a revolutionary attitude, and it infects the listener with that attitide, and, when done poorly, does so at the service of selling band t-shirts and posters, but, when done well, does so at the service of the destruction of all that is cautious and careful and sober and a bore.
And that’s what Christian rock misses, and will always miss. They are the good kids on Halloween, dressing up as the devil, but they will never be anything more than innocents in bad costumes. The bad kids didn’t need costumes for Halloween. They just went out and kicked over pumpkins and egged houses, and people thought they were the devil. And maybe they were.