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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.

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.

Something I just noticed the other day was that you can stream the entire albums from current Tooth and Nail artists. For example go to www.myspace.com/joyelectric and click on “Choose a Playlist,” it’s beneath where it says, “Downloads” on the music player. You can make your own personal playlists for your myspace profile too. Also there are links to the Amazon music store, which has non-DRM tracks.

I run a YouTube page dedicated to Starflyer 59 and Joy Electric. Recently I received a video from someone on the Starflyer message board and I’ve posted a couple of the songs online. It’s funny to see Jason Martin on the acoustic taking requests from the audience and telling them they’re offbeat with their clapping. It’s nice to see since there is no official Starflyer DVD.

I started listening to Jason Martin’s music about 13 years ago and I still enjoy it as much now as I did in the beginning. Even though the band is mostly a solo project these days Jason keeps trucking with a new recording just about every year.

The latest album is entitled: “Dial M” and the title is a takeoff off of a Hitchcock movie title. The CD is scheduled to be released this upcoming Tuesday. The songs are remade versions of the “Ghosts of the Future” demos that were released as an vinyl box set.

Overall, I enjoy the new CD because the years have taught Jason Martin how to write songs that are tried, tested and true. My favorite song “Magic” is a bonus track that is also available on Amazon. Currently you can stream the album here and I encourage you to check out my Brothers Martin YouTube page here.

This is a clip from the Joy Electric DVD “Picturebook”. I get a kick out of it because I have seen Joy Electric have serious sound problems and I know a little about what Ronnie is referencing. For more Ronnie and Jason Martin videos go to the Brothers Martin YouTube page.

I was browsing YouTube and I came across a ton of Cornerstone videos from Zao24. The videos are a little rough, but there was a lot of footage of a ton of different bands. One of the most crazy videos (embedded below) was Squad Five-O playing “I Don’t Want to Change the World…” and it’s just insane. I booked a show with Squad in 2002 and this video brought back memories from the band’s performance. You should also search for Tooth and Nail videos since the quality is better now that YouTube is doing high quality.

This is a trailer for a documentary about Christian rock. The documentary takes a different approach than “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?” by not only exploring the phenomenon of Christian rock, but also including clips from TV shows about Christian rock and discussing people who are against Christian rock. It is yet to be released, but from the trailer it appears to have interviews with key people involved with the Christian music scene such as John J. Thompson (founder of the True Tunes record store), Doug Van Pelt (founder of HM Magazine, Phil Keaggy, Michael Sweet, POD, MxPx, Bono and many others. The trailer is from 2007 and I heard the makers of Bleed into One are dealing with some funding issues, so I am eagerly waiting and hoping this will be out before 2009.

I was reminiscing over all my favorite ex-Tooth and Nail bands and I decided to come up with a playlist to remember the olden days.

Ace Troubleshooter – 2:00 Your Time
Bleach – Andy’s Doin’ Time
The Cootees – Jocks Don’t Like Us
Delta Haymax – Four Leaf Clover
Dogwood – 1983
Fine China – You Heart Was Made of Gold
Hangnail – The Sleeping Giant
Havalina – Space and Mexico
The Huntingtons – Allison’s the Bomb
Joe Christmas – Coupleskate
Ninety Pound Wuss – Responsibility
Plankeye – Open House
Squad Five-O – I Don’t Want to Change the World, I Just Want to Change Your Mind

Since the Christian music industry began there have been discussions of bands and how Christian they are or aren’t based on their lyrics and things they say from the stage. Growing up I knew of bands that talked about knowing the Lord on stage and gave altar calls for people to get saved regularly at concerts. Being a Christian band was not necessarily a big money-making profession. It was about the message and the music–in that order.

Flash forward to more than 20 years later and we have a number of artists that cross over from the Christian industry to the mainstream: groups such as POD, Switchfoot, Relient K and others. Some of these crossover groups don’t like to be called “Christian” artists because of the stigma that goes with the labeling of the music. Yet these artists started in the Christian scene and worked their way into mainstream success.

It’s always easy to badmouth your old job after you quit working there and so it is when bands leave Christian labels. I think sometimes it is a little dishonest for bands to deny their Christian roots. Maybe being in a mainstream band was their goal from the beginning, but if that was the case they should never have gotten involved with the Christian industry.

Christian rock music is a subculture and there are different circles of it. Christian Contemporary Music or CCM is often associated with Nashville, Christian radio and Christian music festivals with bands like the Newsboys or Jars of Clay. The Tooth and Nail segment of Christian music is associated with Cornerstone Music Festival and is an edgy less overtly Christian scene. Many bands that play Cornerstone don’t want to be associated with the Christian scene because Cornerstone is the only Christian concert they play the whole year.

So we have CCM bands that make big money playing music to only Christians and we have edgy bands that focus on the secular scene yet have ties to Christian rock. Both groups are considered Christian, but they feel differently about the association. The CCM industry was birthed out of the Jesus Movement in the 70s and the underground scene became known to mass audiences with the emergence of Tooth and Nail Records.

Not every band is going to be evangelistic like those bands I grew up with, but that doesn’t mean songs have to be intentionally vague where it could be about God or a girl. I think bands ought to be more honest with themselves about whether they’re in it first and foremost for the money or for God. Bands shouldn’t be ashamed to be Christians and fans shouldn’t disown a band because they’re Christians or not making music only for Christians.

Below is a video with an interview with Ronnie Martin:

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