Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Gotthammer's Apologetic Part 6: Music that Kills

Friend Tim Chesterton encouraged me the last time I posted all these apologetics to do one on the music I love...rock and roll. Though I think he was specifically referring to the really controversial stuff I listen to.

I love the music that is supposedly responsible for Columbine. I like industrial music. I started listening to it back in the late 80's when my good friend Chris was dating a girl who listened to Skinny Puppy. I can remember cruising around Medicine Hat listening to "Assimilate" over and over again. I loved the blend of heavy, crushing rhythms and discordant noise alongside ofttimes soaring, orchestral melodic elements. One of the first songs I ever wrote was an industrial piece called "Modern Day Pharisee". When my first band Athan Asia was recording our first project, I took time to work on some solo work, all of which was inspired by industrial music. I'm confident that if I was left alone in a studio for a week with a full complement of instruments to work with, I'd either churn out an industrial project.

I don't like all industrial music. Some of it is too cacophonic for me. I've enjoyed Pil, Nine Inch Nails, MDFMK, and Laibach, but my favorite would be Rammstein, one of the bands that got saddled with the blame for the Columbine shootings. I think my writing on Roleplaying says everything about how I feel when pop culture becomes the scapegoat for tragedy. I've listened to industrial music since I was a teenager, and never committed an act of aggressive violence.

It's just another form of music. Most of the music I enjoy isn't the sort of thing good Christians are supposed to listen to. One of my mentors listens to predominantly folk and blues, and none of it is "Christian", that is to say, none of it gets sold at Blessings Christian Marketplace. Hardly any of the music I am deeply passionate about gets sold there either, but because the musicians who perform it are scary looking and their lyrics more nihilistic, reflections upon death and darkness, it's not kosher for me to listen to.

I know that music affects the mood. But what if my mood is lifted when I listen to music that makes other people feel "darkened" or depressed? My reaction to Rammstein's "Sonne" is one of worship and reverence. I know the band never intended their music to lift my gaze to heaven, but that is what happens when I listen to it.

An isolated incident, some might say. But I would disagree. The title of Eugene Peterson's "Christ plays in a thousand places" sums up my feeling on it. Nine Inch Nails "The Fragile" gets me (to quote Trent) "closer to God" than the new Third Day album does. I find the words more prophetic, and sometimes personally apocalyptic in a fashion that focuses me on the sublime, transcendent aspects of who God is.

Trent Reznor's latest album, "With Teeth" features a song which lyically reflects how I approach faith. In "The Hand that Feeds", Trent sings, " What if this whole crusade's A charade And behind it all there's a price to be paid For the blood On which we dine Justified in the name of the holy and the divine...Just how deep do you believe? Will you bite the hand that feeds?" To some, this would be an indictment of Christianity. For me, it's how I've walked the path of faith--asking hard questions, always wondering at the meaning behind the actions we take. I believe that Jesus did that very thing when he challenged the religious leaders of his day - he was biting the hand that feeds as it were. Challenging the status quo.

Good Christian music is status quo. Christian record companies produce music and lyrics that rarely bite the hand that feeds. There have been a handful of iconoclasts across the history of Christian popular music, but by and large the genre is bred to maintain American evangelical values. When 9/11 happened, the issue of "Worship Discovery" (a bi-monthly worship CD compilation one can subscribe to) had worship songs of a strong patriotic nature.

I like Rammstein's "Amerika" better. It asks more questions. Bites at the hand that feeds.


  1. I believe God can speak through any method He chooses. That said, I also tend to gravitate towards music created by believers. I do tend to seek out music, though, and I can't expect most people to put the same amount of effort into finding quality christian bands that I do. Most of the bands I like either break up as soon as I find them or never go anywhere, because they're not big.

    I first bought NIN The Fragile, and I couldn't handle it. It is dark. I needed to put it away for a long time. Eventually, my mindset changed, and I listened to it. I found a lot of hope on that album. To me, it sounded like a guy who had been to the depths, and was crawling his way back towards hope. World went away, together now, la mer, the great below... I related to those songs in my own journey towards becoming a stronger believer in God.

    The second story regarding God directly speaking to me through non-christian music is a bit less dramatic. After breaking up with my fiancee, I would become overcome by depression and sadness for no reason. On one such occasion, I walked into the washroom of Boston Pizza. I dried my eyes... and then heard the song in the restaurant.

    "Dry your eyes mate
    I know you want to make her see how much this pain hurts
    But you've got to walk away now
    It's over "

    The Streets big hit, Dry Your Eyes. I stood there and listened to the verses, marvelling at how beautifully they captured the despair of that kind of loss... and you know, it wasn't a turning point per se. But God speaking to me, firmly but gently telling me it's over helped me greatly.

    I think people protest too much (thanks Mike.) Some people are so bent on being 'hip' christians that they listen to all the most indier than thou music and ignore christian music because it couldn't possibly be good. I do wish Christians were making more art in the 'real world'; I don't see harm in noting that this band is made up of believers and this band isn't. The market separation I believe is wrong, acknowledging whether the members of a band are christian are not... you know, I can't help but note that. it's important to me.

    And I may never truly understand how to view it. It's an ongoing thought. I don't believe 'secular' music is evil. I do believe God will tell some people to abstain. I'm not one of them, but I am more interested in music made by christians. Also I really do think there is a world of great music out there made by christians, much of it released in that market. Unfortunately most good christian music sits on the shelves while people rush into the store to buy the new Mercy Me or Steven Curtis Chapman. Some "big" christian bands are quality (Delirious? dcTalk's jesus freak/supernatural albums, Underoath, Thousand Foot Krutch's latest is surprisingly quality music)... Eh.

    I recognize I'm basically blogging in your blog's comment box. I appreciate your thoughts on music and such. There is one thing you said recently, before the crash, that I really appreciated. You were talking about how ... how Christians want to impact culture, but that seems to come down to christians spitting in the face of the church and saying "We can watch/listen/read all this stuff and it's okay." I thought it was profound. There's much talk about being a culturally impacting christian these days, but it seems that many people who say that act that aren't really impacting culture outside of the church. Wish it was online.

    Take care, Mike.

  2. Rock on, Mike - but not in my living room. Strictly traditional folk music here - stories about love across class lines, murder, piracy, family violence, and people who leave their spouses to run away with lovers who turn out to be the devil incarnate (I mean real traditional folk music, not '60's folk music!!!!!!!).

  3. I just got done reading someone rip into my favorite ban du jour (Showbread) and then go onto rant about the nature of rock being deadly, anti-Christian, manipulative etc.

    I was about to search the web to find comments about the nature of music and the Christian faith. But before I did I was like "How about I stop in and check out Mike's site, and bam there it is!

    I agree about the sentiment of Christian music often shying away when they may need to nibble on the hand that's feeding them, and the confusion some people have of mixing faith and patriotism in some weird ways.

    Also I could listen to "Amerika" over and over...actually I HAVE listened to "Amerika" over and over..

  4. Oh I've never understood the "secular" and "Christian" music battle lines. Not that I don't understand where the lines are drawn but I don't understand why the Church feels the need to villify secular music on the sole basis that it belongs to the devil. For godsakes. Music, to me, is like any art form. It appeals to each listener differently, much like each reader will interpret a poem a different way and each viewer will have a different emotional response to a painting. No one response is more valid than the other and no one style is more befitting sanctity than the other.

    Of course I have long battled my strict religious upbringing on this subject. While my dad was quick to let me read whatever he deemed as "literature", fantasy, sci-fi, drama, whatever, music was not given the same wide brush stroke treatment. I was not allowed to listen to non-Christian music. Which probably contributes to why I loathe it so much today. I listened, on the sly, to whatever struck my fancy and I noted that the sad trend in most Christian music is to copy whatever the secular world is doing. I'm not big on re-makes so why would I listen to a sub-par copy of an original musical concept either? That argument isn't really the point, but still...

    I like Marilyn Manson. I have heard the criticism that he's "too dark" or "too heavy" or "too depressing". There are people who think I'm mad for starting off my day with Manson or Rammstein or Gob or the Queen of the Damned soundtrack... but to them I always say the same thing: Marilyn Manson pumps me up. I feel very alive, very ready to tackle the world, and very AWAKE after a walk to work with Feuer Frei, Slither, or The Nobodies in my headphones. I don't get all morose and introspective and want to kill everybody after listening to heavy rock or death metal. I watched Bowling for Columbine same as everybody and I happen to agree with Marilyn Manson when he said people were just looking for a scapegoat and music was an easy one. But as easy as it is to lay blame on music, it doesn't actually explain away those sorts of actions. Music affects people according to how they want to be affected. The kinds of moods of people who will kill themselves or others after listening to death metal would probably still be the same moods if they listened to The Carpenters or played a round of Monopoly instead of D&D or Doom. You see my point?

    I'm not laying blame. On the contrary, I am defending art without Christian or secular labels. Art is art is music is music is dance is dance and it is all valid in my world. What you take from it is your responsibility.