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I saw Steve Taylor this evening speak at a small gathering at a college in the western suburbs of Chicago. He signed an LP copy of “I Predict 1990” for me. The last time I received autograph from him was in 1995.

Steve’s talk was about Christianity and the Arts. He said that the Church has lost its saltiness in terms of the Arts. He stressed the need for Christians to do art honestly and originally. He also mentioned a Robert Duvall movie I need to see.

Since stepping away from music he has made two Christian films. He told the story about how Kickstarter helped him raise money for his second film “Blue Like Jazz” and then he had to call 3,000 people because he promised to call everyone who donated $10 or more.

In my view Steve’s best talent as a musician was always his incredible wit in penning lyrics and his flare for the dramatic in his music videos and live shows. Apparently he’s one of the nice former youth pastors too. I think making movies is the logical progression from his musical career. I’m hoping there will be more movies and that something of this album recorded with Peter Furler will surface. Until then I’ll just have to enjoy some Chagall Guevera and think about Lifeboat.

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If there was one place where the Underground Christian Rock scene called home it was Cornerstone. On a large farm near Macomb, IL I spent a few 4th of July weeks of my youth listening to hundreds of bands. The last time I went to the festival was nearly 9 years ago.

As a kid whose parents were saved as part of the Jesus Movement, I went to Cornerstone in Grayslake, IL at the fairgrounds sometime around 1990. I was too young to have enjoyed any of the bands though. Before I went to Cornerstone I went to Jesus Midwest a few times. It was another festival with Jesus Movement era CCM artists such as Matthew Ward.

Around 1995 I started to get into bands like The Prayer Chain, Steve Taylor, MxPx and Poor Old Lu. In 1996 in the summer before high school I got a youth leader and three friends together and organized a trip to Cornerstone. Our youth leader had drummed for a few different Christian alternative bands, so he was happy to take us back to his old stomping grounds.

It was a blast seeing a ton of bands you would never see anywhere else like Saviour Machine. I bought a Crux T-shirt that I ended up losing. I also saw Joy Electric have a terrible time with their live show. I also got autographs from Value Pac, whose singer wrote about not having a girlfriend, when he didn’t seem to have any problem having girl fans. Around that time Christian ska or skacore was also starting to take off. It was a very different time because they had moshpits and stage diving and a girl I knew broke her ankle in the MxPx moshpit on the main stage.

Every year since my last visit I have the habit of looking at the Cornerstone lineup and guessing how many bands I know of. Usually I only know maybe a third of the bands and a lot of them are hardcore. What is different now is they didn’t used to allow heavy bands on the main stage. It was more for CCM mainstream acts such as Jars of Clay, Sixpence None the Richer, PFR, DC Talk, etc. What you find know is Underoath on the main stage with a band not considered to be a Christian act such as Shiny Toy Guns. So somewhere in the last 10 to 15 years there’s been a shift in which type of bands they allow.

The best thing about Cornerstone in those days was the community. You could go there with a group of friends and it was such a blast to hang out. What separates Cornerstone from a Warped Tour or Woodstock is that I wouldn’t want to camp out with those people. Could I even trust my stuff would be there if I walked away from my tent? Most of the Cornerstone people are church kids and so there is a sense of family with other Christians. A lot of the people there can be really polite. And what a lot of the punk and hardcore kids would find there is a place to belong if only for one week out of the year. It was also great to meet the musicians who seem more like regular people sitting at the tables in the merch tents.

The festival has always been about high school kids. In fact so much so that they sent out surveys asking about when the high schools went on summer break in my area. The date has remained around the 4th of July for some time despite the heat every year. Although the ticket prices have jumped up significantly in that time. I think it was around $60 or $70 the first time I went and it’s at least $130 at the gate. Unfortunately, it seems like no matter how high they raise the prices they say they never make any money. With bands charging a fortune for their appearance I can believe that.

I avoided going back to the festival because I don’t want to feel sad about leaving all those memories behind. Honestly, the thought of camping out in the heat to see bands I’m not crazy about doesn’t get me motivated to drive down there. If you think about gas being $4.50 a gallon this summer the cost of the trip with admission for someone from my area is $250 and that does not include any food. With the increase in gas and ticket prices it makes me wonder how long the festival can go on.

I’m sure there will always be some form of a Christian Rock scene as long as there are Christians. Cornerstone and the friends from those days have gone and passed me by. But the one thing I still hold dear is the memories of praying for a guy who got hurt in a Living Sacrifice most pit or taking a dry shower at the Macomb Wal-Mart. Warped Tour or any other secular music festival can never compare to the glory days of Cornerstone Festival because those festivals don’t have any sense of Christian community.

Rock music is primarily singing about being young or pretending like Peter Pan to be eternally young. The problem is that even the biggest pretenders have to face the fact that they have families and responsibilities and they can’t just live the rock and roll dream forever.

As a fan, listening to Christian bands as a kid in high school I felt part of a community, whether it was at church or at concerts. But as I’ve grown older I’ve lost touch with most of those people and many of my favorite bands broke up years ago. Going to a show now I feel out of place standing for 3 hours and I only want to show up for the band I want to see. Forget the openers.

As everything in society seems to get more and more competitive, so too there are more bands trying to make it big in a sea of mediocrity. For example, if you look at Tooth and Nail Records the music from 1995 to 2000 is better than anything since.

Not only does most of the new music not appeal to me, but it doesn’t feel as genuine as it used to when I first starting going to shows. Throw in the scenester kids with their tight T-shirts and jeans who seemed so bored by every band. When I was younger kids loved concerts so much they could watch six bands and couldn’t wait to see six more. Some of the kids now just seem to have a glazed look in their eyes like nothing is exciting in life and nothing a band could do could really excite them. I guess the downside of technology is that it makes people impatient and constantly bored when they don’t get something really sensational to hold their interest.

The purpose of this blog is to focus on bands from the past in the Christian industry. The nice thing about the past is you can always look back to the glory days without dealing with the present. And as far as this blog goes I don’t mind being older because it gives me more perspective and I can remember a scene that no longer exists, but it is very much alive in the entries of this blog.

The Truth About Rock was a ministry started in Minnesota to educate Christian young people about the negative influences of secular rock. There was a seminar that they taught about music called “What In The Devil’s Wrong with Rock Music?” With bands such as Kiss and the more edgier metal bands of the early 80s there was more obvious anti-Christian sound compared to something you might hear off the top 40 station now.

Since that time the Christian rock scene kind of took off until what is today, which very much blurs the lines between what is mainstream and what it is music from the Christian market. There are some other anti-secular rock guys like Jeff Godwin who are also very anti-Christian rock, but he appears to have dropped off the map.

There are the anti-rock videos such as Hell’s Bells and Sounds of War. While they are fascinating videos, I don’t know how effective they are in convincing kids not to listen to secular rock.

In high school I got involved with a chapter of Rock for Life. While they didn’t get into the evils of rock and roll, they make a direct link between top 40 artists and their support of abortion and Planned Parenthood. In essence saying that if you’re supporting those bands you are indirectly supporting abortion.

I think music can be a gray area for Christians in a lot of ways, although in many ways it is less gray than people think. There are those who decry that all music that isn’t on the Christian radio is evil and there are those who don’t believe in Christian music and don’t believe that any music can be evil.

As Christians I think we need to look at the lyrical message of the songs we listen to and the type of spirit the music carries. For one Christian the Beach Boys might be a fun mix tape for the car and for another their lyrics are a subtle form of lust. Whereas someone like Marilyn Manson shouldn’t be something that any Christians listen to. Any song that the Spirit convicts us about should be avoided immediately. It doesn’t benefit you at all to listen to music that is anti-God and music like that is a negative influence. And I’m not entirely sure that adopting Marilyn Manson’s sound with Christian lyrics is the way to go either.

The type of music you listen to is important because Christians are called to make a new song to God. That doesn’t mean you have to be in love with KLove, but it does mean that you need to have a desire to worship God with music. If you think music is just for your own personal entertainment and that its ultimate purpose is not meant to be sung for the Lord, then I think you may need to re-examine your faith.

If we honestly love rock music more than Jesus it’s time to re-evaluate whether perhaps the music is an idol. And it doesn’t just stop at music. We have to look at sports, TV, food, the Internet and the other idols of Western culture and decide to put Christ first. So what you listen to is just as important as what you do with your time, your money and who your friends are. We have to look at the areas of our life and determine whether we have compromised our faith and our values as a follower of Christ. Are we truly surrendering all of our lives to Christ or are we just keeping some parts for ourselves?

When you talk about Christians and art, there are always people who are very critical of Christians who make music and other art forms such as movies. Somehow to these people they feel a need to criticize the artwork of other Christians. I do agree that Christian music and art can always be better and there is always room for improvement, but I disagree with this constantly critical attitude that some take.

I’m not one who would rather lie and tell people that I think music made by Christians is the best music ever made. But I have interviewed my share of artists associated with Christian music and I do feel that some of them have a negative attitude towards other Christian artists. Somehow people think that being critical of Christian music or Christian art is their vocation in life.

I realize that musicians want to be the best in their field just as much as pro athletes or movie stars. But what we often mistake a commitment to excellence with the need to be the best. Committing to excellence should be a goal of every Christian. But the need to be the best sounds more like the Apostles fighting over who should sit at Jesus’ right hand.

Criticism is a valuable tool to help us improve our art or whatever we work at in life. But criticism too must stay in its place. God does not give us a right to be overly critical of other people. When we make judgments against them and fail to give them the benefit of the doubt we are not doing anything beneficial.

On many levels excessive criticism can cause us to be unhappy with ourselves and other people. It can also lead us to constantly question our faith and to not hope for the best. In many ways criticism leads us to believe that we are helping ourselves and others when what we are doing is hurting ourselves and others.

What we need to achieve excellence is not more criticism, but more encouragement. More people encouraging others towards excellence instead of finding faults and putting others down. More people helping others succeed and encouraging them to give God their best.

With more and more Christian artists continually pushing the artistic boundaries there is always the issue of profanity. Some Christian artists feel that it is acceptable to use profanity in their music. Fringe Christian artists like Derek Webb, David Bazan, Sufjan Stevens and others such as Mike Knott (Aunt Betty’s) come to mind on this subject.

Really there is no justification for using profanity in the same way that it’s never justified to take the Lord’s name in vain. Yet somehow these musicians feel free to proclaim their faith on one hand and use whatever language they like on the other.

How many of us would feel comfortable if our pastor started dropping verbal bombs left and right in the middle of a service? If we wouldn’t tolerate it from the pastor, why should we tolerate less from someone who claims to be a Christian artist?

If you take someone like Derek Webb for example. He is trying to use profanity to stir up his listeners to care about poverty and other problems facing people in other parts of the globe. So basically he’s using a positive end to justify his means. Now there are people out there like Keith Green who wanted to shake up the young Christians to care about the rest of the world, but he never used profanity in his music. There are plenty of other creative ways to convey that message.

It does bother me a bit that there are Christians who think profanity is an acceptable form of art. I understand there are complications that come from being known as Christian artist and being able to make art that pushes boundaries. But I see profanity in the art as a perversion that leads to the death of true art.

As Christians our worldview makes sense of the fallen nature of mankind and the brokenness that only Christ can cure. The biggest hope for a Christian artist is for the Lord to speak through their art. But how can the Lord be expected to bless art that is corrupted?

I’m not opposed to rock music. But somewhere along the line the music at some of the churches turned into rock and roll that is all about me, myself and I. Now I can’t say the music is evil, but I do think it’s distracting. When you’re trying to focus on God and someone is beating the heck out of a crash cymbal  it seems counterproductive.

Also the focus seems to be more on what I personally get out of a worship service. How does it make me feel? The lyrics are many times biblically off-base or semi-narcissistic. I’d like to see more music that has lyrical content like hymns. I’m less concerned with the style as long as it’s not distracting. The hymns have a certain quality where you can hear everyone singing as opposed to just one voice. And honestly there aren’t many CCM worship songs that compare lyrically with Be Thou My Vision or Come Thou Fount.

I was a big fan of Imeem.com since it started. Mainly because it allowed music fans to upload their favorite songs, so other people could stream them. It was a democratic music concept if ever there was one.

MySpace initially blocked Imeem playlists and songs from its website. Of course that was because MySpace was planning to essentially copy Imeem’s free streaming model.

Earlier in 2009, when Imeem pulled the plug on uploading videos, it was “the writing on the wall”. In early December of 2009, MySpace purchased Imeem. It was the end of  a classic site dedicated to free music. Much like the recent acquisition of LaLa by Apple, the acquisition of smaller Internet companies by corporate beasts continues (i.e. Google buying YouTube). Now the only question is whether Imeem will have any influence on MySpace’s Music section, now that most of the site’s users have migrated to Facebook.

I remember when the first On the Cover came out and it was one of my favorite MxPx CDs. There were some great tracks on that one—Take on Me, Summer of 69, Drum Machine Joy, along with a Keith Green cover, a Buddy Holly cover and a song that introduced us to the Cootees. Other than the artwork and the fact that it is a cover album, the two EPs have nothing in common.

The music is more sophisticated with guitar solos and a plethora of guest stars. There is a wide variety of artists covered such as: Poison, the Descendents, the Ramones, Queen, U2 and a Japanese punk band. I haven’t heard most of the originals and I don’t know if their younger fans have either, so it’s hard to say how they stack up against the other bands.

Don’t get me wrong—this is a nice little cover album, but if I had to rate my favorite MxPx covers they would be: O Donna, Take on Me, Summer of 69, KKK Took My Baby Away, Seventeen, Rock and Roll All Nite by Kiss, No Action, Blue Moon, Zombie by the Cranberries and Sick Boy. Obviously none of these songs are on there, so I’m an impartial observer.

If you are one of those fans who buy everything the guys put out, then you should snatch this up. Otherwise wait till next year for the next album or pick up anything before Panic.

I was thinking about the Christian music scene that I grew up with and what exists today, and I came to the conclusion that most of my favorite music is in the past. I’m not saying there aren’t great bands out there now or new music that will be enjoyable, but most of my favorite music has been out for several years.  (Do a test yourself. Sit down with a pen and paper and try to think of how many of your favorite albums were released within the last year.)

The Christian scene I grew up with is mostly non-existent. True Tunes closed, the Heart and Soul Cafe doesn’t do shows that I know of and the ska scene is mostly dead. I went into a Family Bookstore the other day and asked if they had a “Christian Happenings” Magazine and they looked at me like I was from another planet. I also feel old every time I look at the Cornerstone lineup and I don’t know who most of the bands are. Thankfully the North Central College Union has saved a good part of the scene for me.

I get nostalgic thinking about bands like MxPx, Starflyer, the Huntingtons, Five Iron Frenzy and Poor Old Lu. It was a time where there were tons of cool bands and every band that Tooth and Nail signed was awesome, even the hardcore bands like Strongarm.

It seems to me that the Christian industry has become more polarized with bands either totally playing Christian venues or not playing Christian venues at all, which means it’s CCM or the bar. Sure I understand that a lot of Christian musicians are not youth pastors, but historically speaking bands in the Christian market have talked a lot during shows (i.e. Keith Green, Steven Curtis Chapman, etc…). The essence of their music was the message before the music.

I know that Christian stigma exists and that bands want to be taken seriously by non-Christians—probably mostly for their egos or record sales. But I just wonder why some bands have such a hard time talking about God. It seems like either Jesus is the product the band is selling or he has no place on the stage. I know that talking about God on a stage is awkward, but we shouldn’t ever have to feel like we’re ashamed of his name.

So I realize that I can’t go back in time, but I still like to listen to the old albums and reflect on a time when we weren’t looking at the death of the CD or the corporate ownership of human expression. Maybe there are bands that don’t tour any more, but I can still listen to their music and I can still watch them perform live thanks to YouTube and you can too.