Nick Flanagan

Christian Rock

P.O.D.
Christian band P.O.D.
Ever since Elvis jumped onto the music scene, rock 'n' roll has been an American pastime. In its early days rock 'n' roll was shunned by many religious people and was said to be "the devil's music." Much to their dismay, however, young people of every persuasion liked it anyway and rock's popularity continued to grow.

These days, rock doesn't have quite the scandalous image it had in its early days, and it's no longer frowned upon by many religious people as the "devil's music." Not only do many Christians listen to rock, but some Christian musicians have begun using it as a way to spread the word about their faith. Over the last 15 years the Christian rock genre has been "blessed" with impressive record sales and new audiences.

Crossing Over

 "Alive" by P.O.D.

And now that I know you
I can never turn my back away
and now that I see you
I could never look away
and now that I know you
I could never turn my back away
and now that I see
you I'll believe you no matter what they say

Now the lead singer either has a crush or conviction. From the lyrics, one may think the song is definitely about God, but in the video, the lead singer is making out with an apparent love interest. Hmmm.
The Christian rock scene has attracted a large following, and in the same way that underground punk and hip hop bands will blow up and hit the mainstream, many Christian rock bands are outgrowing the underground Christian rock scene and are beginning to cross over into the mainstream.

In 1997, for example, the Florida Christian rock band Creed entered the mainstream with their debut album, "My Own Prison." Two years later, they released "Human Clay," which appeared on the Billboard charts at #1 and was accompanied by a slick, Matrix-style video on MTV. Creed's lyrics are typical to Christian rock; they are ambiguous at first but obviously religious once you know the artists are Christian. In their #1 smash single, "Higher," for example, Scott Stapp sings:

Can you take me higher?
To a place where blind men see
Can you take me higher?
To a place with golden streets

creed
Creed
At first some listeners may have assumed they were talking about drugs. Or a new girlfriend? But, there are plenty of clues (like the biblical reference to blind men) and if you pay attention, you'll soon figure out that they're talking about heaven and addressing God. For some listeners it was kosher, for others it was confusing. "How can a band be so popular and be singing about God?" people wondered.

Set the calendar back 13 years before Creed and you have Stryper. Dressed in yellow and black spandex, this mid-80s metal band was known for throwing out Bibles at their concerts and for their catchy Christian-friendly songs. Stryper was openly and proudly Christian, and although they experienced commercial success (their second full-length album, "To Hell With The Devil," went platinum), they weren't considered cool by many metal fans. Stryper was always known as "that Christian metal band."

But the nineties were a different story. Christian bands became wiser to the forces of marketing and PR. Not content to stay within the Christian music market -- and wanting secular validation -- many bands began making the leap into the mainstream. Now they're taking cues from Stryper on what not to do; they're downplaying their Christianity.

P.O.D. (short for Payable on Death) is just one of the many bands that have followed in Creed's footsteps. In the '90s they sold 40,000 copies of their first three albums on Rescue Records. Atlantic Records signed them in 1998 and soon P.O.D.'s videos "Youth of a Nation," "Boom," and "Alive" were being played on MTV.

As with Creed, P.O.D.'s Christianity isn't obvious. There's no direct mention of God, church or prayer on their website, and you only pick up hints of their religion in their lyrics. They don't carry around Bibles, they rock hard, and they, well, don't exactly look like church-goers. But then again, what are church-goers supposed to look like?

In addition to P.O.D., there are a number of Christian bands and musicians in the mainstream right now such as Chevelle, Lifehouse, and Switchfoot -- bands which seem like any other music act being played on the radio and MTV, except that they have ambiguously Christian lyrics and/or got their start in the Christian music scene.

And waiting for mainstream success are Christian underground bands like Big Dismal, who play at Christian venues and gigs and have a mostly Christian following. Big Dismal has gained success in the Christian world, although Eric Durrance, their lead singer, claims that it was unintended. "We never set out to be a Christian band. We're all Christians in a band. The lyrics put us [in the Christian market] naturally." Like Creed and P.O.D., Durrance downplays his Christianity and places an emphasis on his music.

He makes a point, however, not to deny his Christian fans. "We'd definitely never turn our back on that market but we definitely want to be in the mainstream," he explains. "That's where you can have a really long career. That's what we want. It's music for everybody. We don't necessarily want to be put in one market."

Market Forces

big dismal
Big Dismal
Durrance is right. Being pigeon-holed as a Christian band will only get you so far in the music world, and many bands are faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, playing distinctly Christian music gives a band an automatic "in" or niche market. "It's a blessing that we came through this way," says Durrance. For Big Dismal, Creed, P.O.D. and other Christian bands, Christianity is a faith and a religion, but it's also a market and a network of contacts. As Durrance explains, "We've had a lot of really great contacts and shows that we wouldn't have gotten coming in through the secular bar scene."

On the other hand, the Christian niche market can limit you from becoming a real -- in other words, rich, famous, and critically acclaimed -- rock star.

In some ways, this dilemma of whether or not to build an audience through the Christian scene has given rise to different sects within the Christian music market: Christian rock, non-Christian Christian rock, and lack-of-faith-identification Christian bands. Just compare and contrast them. If you're as confused as I am, you're looking in the right place.

Big Dismal is openly Christian. P.O.D. doesn't seem to want to discuss it. Creed, interestingly enough, claims to have never been a Christian band in the first place. On their website under the FAQ section, it is clear that fans are constantly asking the band about their faith. Stapp responds, "No, we are not a Christian band. A Christian band has an agenda to lead others to believe in their specific religious beliefs. We have no agenda!" Although Stapp says that all band members believe in God, he sidesteps questions about whether all his band members are Christian, saying that it is a personal question. "Please do not limit this band to only dealing with spiritual issues," he adds.

And then, of course, there's Evanescence.

Fall from Grace

evanescence
Evanescence
Evanescence started out as a band with a strong following in the Christian underground scene, then went mainstream with their single on the "Daredevil" movie soundtrack, "Bring Me To Life." They were one of the most successful Christian bands to cross into the mainstream -- but then they revoked their Christian status.

In an April 2003 interview with Entertainment Weekly, band member Ben Moody exhibited what some might call "very unchristian behavior" and shocked the Christian world by cursing and taking the Lord's name in vain. At around the same time, Christian label Wind-Up Records, which had released the band's album, "Fallen," began recalling the CDs from Christian music stores and radio stations.

According to a letter sent out by Wind-Up Records, "band members have made it abundantly clear that Evanescence is a secular band, and as such view their music as entertainment... the band is now opposed to promoting or supporting any religious agenda." Even though they had their roots in the Christian music scene, Evanescence was now making it very clear that they were simply a band that happened to have Christian members.

Distancing themselves from their original fan base could have been career suicide for Evanescence, but in a world of MTV and Entertainment Weekly, that didn't matter. They dove from Christianity into the safety net of secular fame and fortune.

How Christian?

The difference between Christian artists and artists who happen to be Christian may be small in many cases, but it's an important distinction. There are some artists who, because they are Christian, decide to make music for the purpose of praise and worship -- like Stryper and Christian rock staple DC Talk. These bands don't write or display images about sex, nudity or drugs, and they don't use words that would offend people. The central themes for the songs are God, love, and faith. The music itself is also often less harsh and easier to listen to than many harder rock groups.

There are also artists who are religious, but their music has nothing to do with their faith. Justin Timberlake is a good example of this type of artist. He is a Baptist, but as everyone knows, his songs are often kinky and sexy -- most definitely not acceptable in the Christian music scene. It's not that one can't be Christian and sing about sex -- artists like Prince, Beyonc, Lauren Hill and Outkast would argue that you can -- but he or she wouldn't be able to sell albums in the Christian market.

Creed, P.O.D., Evanescence, and Big Dismal all fall somewhere between Stryper and Justin Timberlake. Whether they are closer to Stryper or Timberlake seems to be something that each band is constantly negotiating with labels, fans, PR people, the press, and themselves.

Fans

While a number of Christian bands are having identity crises over how to present themselves, fans and audiences feel just as conflicted.

Traditionalist Pastor Tim Sneeden of Hamilton Square Baptist Church in San Francisco, California says that "to add new words to the rock sound does not make it Christian." According to him, there can be no such thing as Christian rock. It might be the beat that repels many priests and pastors because it can be seen as suggestive, or it might be that it is associated with other music and musicians that participate in behavior he doesn't approve of. Either way, he's definitely not alone.

Yet other, non-religious people make no moral distinction. 18-year-old Darla Walter Gary of Oakland, California, says, "Morally, I have no views on Christian rock or Christianity in general. Religion has always been a part of music and I don't see any reason why it shouldn't be; there are a lot worse things to be singing about."

Some people, however, like music critic Christopher Handyside, say they are often less likely to take an album seriously if it comes from a Christian band. "I immediately ratchet up my critical ear," he says. Knowing a band is Christian doesn't keep Handyside from reviewing an album as honestly as possibly but, he says, "Personally, I'm less likely to play that record if I've flagged it as Contemporary Christian Music."

Safe Music

It may seem odd to some that there is a popular music genre based on a faith. As Darla points out, religion has always been connected with music, but it's rare to have a whole classification based on the religion of the musicians and the lyrical content of the music, versus how the music sounds.

Christian music seems to have come about as a way for certain young people and their parents to know they are buying music that their church will approve of. But with this safety net also comes sacrifice. With its safe lyrics and unoriginal musical style, it seems to be missing an edge. Obviously that's why so many parents like it, but it also often seems like Christian bands are presenting milder versions of secular -- and more controversial -- bands' work.

Christian bands trying to cross over into the mainstream face an interesting paradox. They have so many groups to please: religious communities who may find what they are doing immoral; their secular audiences, who might be wary of their agenda or find them corny; young Christians who will be disappointed if they become too mainstream; and music critics who find it hard to take them seriously. For many Christian bands that are attempting to straddle the secular and religious music markets, that often times means sidestepping the Christian issue altogether by refusing to talk about it, keeping lyrics vague, and trying to blend into the MTV videoscape as much as possible.

As Durrance explains about the mainstream and religious markets, "You gotta really keep both of those close to you rather than giving up one for the other. That's gonna be tough, but like I said. Just keep the music for everybody."

Nick Flanagan is a staff writer at WireTap.

Dignity in Life

One may be surprised by my views on reproductive rights, especially since I live in San Francisco, a city known for being liberal. So why am I a black sheep? I've actually thought long and hard about this subject, and I have come to the conclusion that I am pro-life.

While it's true that I was taught at the religious high school I attended that abortion is wrong, I've also done my own research and reading to try and understand the pro-choice stance. After reading books such as the women's health guide, "Our Bodies, Ourselves," I realized that I was still pro-life.

You may be asking yourself, "Hey, what is so different about this guy? How do we know he won't say the usual stuff conservatives say? Why should I even give this article the time of day?" I'd like to answer by pointing out that I am not conservative and that being pro-life doesn't necessarily mean one is super religious -- or that one advocates bombing abortion clinics. That is merely a stereotype. In fact, if I were the leader of a pro-life activist group, the group would be non-violent and I would not allow defacing or destroying abortion clinics, or harming or harassing clinic workers.

It is true that the pro-choice advocates have been labeled "murderers" by pro-life advocates, but I am not here to give labels. I believe labeling people on either side of the argument only leads to finger pointing and name-calling, and that is an immature way to argue your case. What I would like to do is talk about an issue that pro-choice advocates bring up when they argue for abortion rights.

Pro-choice advocates often bring up the scenario, "What if the mother can't take care of her child, and the child goes through group homes and ends up homeless?" To me, that is a poor argument because there have been numerous people who have been born in poverty and ended up quite wealthy. After all, this is the United States, not 19th century India. We are not bound by a caste system.

As a youth living in San Francisco, I was a foster kid from the time I was about nine years old until I was 18. Before then, I lived with my mother, who was single and on welfare at the time. My father was an alcoholic who I rarely saw, not to mention talked to. The reason I got taken away from my mother was because the state declared her an unfit mother. One would conclude that she wasn't ready to be a mother, and therefore having an abortion would have saved her a lot of trouble. Since I would not be alive if that had happened, it would have saved me a lot of trouble instead of having to deal with the foster care system. Granted, that would be true. But please, if you will, read my experience as a foster kid and see what conclusion you come to.

As I said, I went into foster care at age nine. I went through a total of four foster homes in a period of about nine years. My first two homes were very temporary, probably lasting a couple of weeks to a month. I couldn't tell because even at age nine, I wasn't too good at math. I knew nothing about multiplication or even what year I lived in. So there's no way I could tell exactly how long my stay was because I couldn't even tell time. My third foster home was pretty stable. I lived with an African-American mother for about three or four years. There I learned addition, multiplication, division and subtraction, mostly from several private tutors. I of course learned how to tell time and how to count money. At age 11, I learned how to tie my shoes. I went to a public school and was in special education. Out of all these experiences, I always had a home, a bed, and food. I never went hungry or slept outside.

During my stay at the third foster home, I met a friend at school who introduced me to his family. I eventually got to know him and his family. When I was 13, my foster mother at the time got sick and couldn't take care of me. I was going to be transferred to a different foster home, when my friend suggested I live with his family. I eventually moved there in the summer of 1997. When it came time to start high school, I was enrolled in a private school.

I eventually graduated from high school and got my diploma. I became independent and to make a long story short, here I am now, living in an apartment, financially stable, and not addicted to drugs. I had an overall good experience. I realize not all people have this advantage. I am aware that there are many people who grow up in extreme poverty, but that's all a part of life. Is dignity in life only available to those in easy situations, such as a middle class woman who is a fit mother? I came from a pretty scary situation, but I ended up fine.

Poverty has always been a problem. Are billions of mothers going to die raising children? Throughout history, mothers have gotten pregnant unexpectedly and raised children and succeeded. It has always been that way and will continue to be that way. Our mothers gave birth to us. Their mothers gave birth to them. Yet people are scared of bearing children. Even when someone has an abortion, it doesn't take away the fact that they got pregnant in the first place. What are we worried about? Why are we so scared?

Nick Flanagan is a staff writer at WireTap.

Coral Fang













brody
Lead singer Brody Dalle

In the world of pop music and Pepsi commercials, punk rock music may seem dead. If Sid Vicious from the Sex Pistols knew about bands such as Good Charlotte, he would be spinning in his grave! But punk is not quite dead, it merely lies dormant in the minds and hearts of future artists who were inspired by it. One of those bands is the Distillers. Their most recent album, "Coral Fang," has drawn a fair amount of attention from hardcore fans and those foreign to the band alike. Their new music video, "Drain the Blood," has been shown on channels such as MTV and MTV2. But fame can turn its ugly head and some hardcore fans say that the band has become a sell-out.

"Coral Fang" is just about as punk as you can get. With songs such as "Dismantle Me" and "Drain the Blood," how can it be anything but punk? This album has a self-pity and self-loathing kind of feel to it. Although seemingly personal, you can relate to the lyrical content and the overall message. Sure, the previous albums are much harder and faster, but different isn't always bad. This album happens to be progressive, evolving into a unique form of punk that borders on grunge. Inspired and influenced by the band Hole, lead singer Brody Dalle sounds eerily similar to Courtney Love. This album definitely finds the middle ground of punk rock. It's no Sex Pistols, but it's definitely not sugar-coated or watered-down like most of the music videos you see on MTV.

The Distillers formed in 1998, when Brody Dalle (formerly Brody Armstrong because she was married to Tim Armstrong of Rancid), met bassist Kim Chi. They eventually met with guitarist Rose Casper and drummer Matt Young, signed with Epitaph Records, and recorded their self-titled debut album in 2000. During the recording of their second album, "Sing Sing Death House," there were disputes and everyone left the band. Brody eventually put together a new lineup composed of Ryan Sinn (bass), Andy Outbreak (drums), and Tony Bradley (guitar).

This album is a gem and worth the price (whatever price it may be). Even with the new band members, Brody's voice is still as gut-wrenching as ever.

Nick Flanagan is a staff writer at WireTap.

Inner City Struggle

ics logoBeing dissatisfied with the current quality of education in public schools, I had taken an interest in a Los Angeles-based program called Inner City Struggle (ICS). This organization has been running for 10 years and is working on social justice for youth and families in East Los Angeles. One of ICS's goals is to improve the quality of education in public schools, and they are accomplishing that goal by actually going to certain schools and changing policies. They were written up in the Los Angeles Times recently for changing the tardy policy at Roosevelt High School.

Youth are very much involved in ICS. I interviewed one youth in particular, Robyn Ybarra, who is 15 years old and lives in East Los Angeles. Robyn wanted to make a change, so she got involved with ICS and its youth component, Youth Organizing Communities (YOC). She seemed just as excited as I was to do this interview. I was impressed to learn how motivated students are to change the way schools are run.

WireTap: What's your mission statement?

Robyn:
The mission statement for YOC [Youth Organizing Communities] is for us to achieve social and educational justice for students in East Los Angeles as well as other schools. We work with students from inner city schools that would like to make a change for their schools. We work with different schools all with different needs from many high schools in the city.

WT: What has your program done in the community?

R:
Right now we're working on the school issues. We're helping students. We're raising awareness for students who wouldn't normally know what's going on around them. The schools we are in right now aren't really up to date or up to code with education or safety. So we talk to students and let them know what's going on around them. Why there are so many students in classes, why there aren't enough teachers, why we don't have enough books to read and take home.

ics text

WT: How did you get involved?

R:
Mr. Smith, my history teacher, was actually one of the beginning sponsors of the United Students that was a youth component for YOC. And he had a couple of the people that worked at YOC go to his classroom and talk about what YOC did, and I found it really interesting that they wanted to give the students a voice and not just ignore them and pass them along. So I thought that if I joined that I would make change.

We helped students along educationally and we prepped them for other stuff like college... I thought that I could help myself, as well as my friends and future students that would like to learn the stuff and would like to go to college, would like to finish high school, would like to have different opportunities in life, that they wouldn't normally get. So we're giving students opportunities to learn about things that they wouldn't learn about.

WT: Why should people support you?

R:
My answer would be first to let them know that we are a student organization so we do listen to students. We take into account what all students have to say. Second, I would let them know of all the things that YOC and United Students have done for schools in the past. When United Students taught Roosevelt [High School], we set forth a survey in which we ask the students different things about how their culture was being treated in their schools, whether they were learning enough about their culture and their history, about their tardy policies, whether they were being dragged into military classes and vocational classes that weren't really needed to graduate high school, and needed to go on to college. We got answers on stuff students wanted. They wanted more culturally relevant classes and curriculum in their history classes. We found out a lot of students came forward and said that if they did have something culturally relevant to themselves they would be a lot more enthusiastic to learn about history and about the past, something that would keep them interested and keep them coming to class.

ics doorWT: How do you get funding?

R:
Right now we get funding from different organizations. We get money from grants. The executive director of YOC, Luis Sanchez, fills out the applications for them and sends them in... We present them everything that YOC has done, what United Students has accomplished, and everything we hope to see in the future.

WT: What other schools have you made changes in?

R:
We've established United Students in three schools in the inner city. The first was Roosevelt High School. We're in the middle of our campaign for change in Garfield High School in East L.A. A couple weeks ago we started going forward into Wilson High School, which is in El Sereno. We barely started there within our three year plan, we plan to go to Lincoln High School where we plan to establish another United Students club there. And just to get around all the major industry schools here in East Los Angeles.

WT: Does your program plan to extend services beyond L.A.?

R:
As for working past East Los Angeles, we don't see it right now. Right now we're just trying to keep the work with the students at the inner city in East Los Angeles.

WT: What other programs, beside education-oriented programs, do you support?

R:
We support different groups that help to plan social and educational change. We're basically open to a lot of organizations that are both friendly to students as well as families and the community. That's what we try to focus on more or less because we'd like to see what we could learn from them and what they can learn from us as organizations and people.

WT: Do you think Arnold [Schwarzenegger] is going to help California schools?

R:
I'm kinda split on that. There's a really big doubt in my mind that Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to be a good governor. The way I see it, the Republicans are not a good [party] to have in power. Anyone who would vote on deporting immigrants, that doesn't seem right to me. As for the education, I'm not sure because he sounds more of a person who would talk about it but not actually do it.

WT: Do you have advice for high school students outside of L.A. on how they can change their school?

R:
I think the advice would be just to keep hope up. To realize that there's something already wrong with how your education is being run and [the fact] that you have no voice in it at all is wrong. This is your education... I would like to tell a lot of teens that if you don't feel that your education is being put onto you the way you would like it to, that you have a voice and you do have the right to rise against the people who would rather have you put in the military, pulled down into low wage jobs, or even worse prison. I'd tell them that it's your right as a student to let other people know how you feel on your education. Like so many other people have said, education is a right, it's not a privilege.

For more information on Inner City Struggle and Youth Organizing Communities check out their website at www.innnercitystruggle.org.

Nick Flanagan is a staff writer at WireTap.
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