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The Vacuum - Issue 16 - Satan spacer The Vacuum - Issue 16 - Satan
I was a Christian Rock Nerd
by Robbie Meredith
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'Why should the Devil have all the good music?' asked Cliff Richard on his 1978 LP Small Corners. Well, because God has you, Cliff, might be an appropriate answer, but let's leave cynicism aside for a moment and try to answer a question posed elsewhere in the song, which was, incidentally, written for Cliff by Larry Norman, the 'big daddy' of the 1970s 'Jesus Rock' movement. At the end of the third verse Cliff squeaks, 'what's a good boy doing in a rock'n'roll band?' For a substantial number of Christians, this is a fair question to ask. Rock'n'roll, after all, means Britney's arse, Pamela Des Barres' intimate plastercasts, Motley Crue in a hot tub, Shaun Ryder and Bez with as much coke as you can handle. Not only this, but many rock bands lead their fans down the highway to hell, encouraging a fascination with Beelzebub and his minions, leading to eternity amongst the flames of eternal torment. And yes, I am shouting and thumping the table as I write.
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The corruption of my own young soul began with, absurdly, Simple Minds. A leader in my intensely Pentecostal house fellowship saw me putting a tape into my walkman one Sunday after church and, motivated by fear for my precious soul more than horror at my atrocious taste, informed me that I should be careful. 'Satan has all sorts of ways to destroy us', he said. I gasped. I was a Belfast Child. One day when I sung again (listen to the song) fat Jim Kerr might come and lead me to hell. My fear of this had two consequences. Firstly, I became a Christian Rock nerd, seeking out albums by Stryper, Amy Grant, Randy Stonehill and Larry Norman at my local evangelical bookshop. Secondly, I spent a brief but intense period believing that all 'secular' music was the work of the devil.
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I had been to hear Bill Dunn preach. Bill was rotund and bespectacled, and claimed to have once been in Van Morrison's band, but he'd abandoned sinful Van for a life preaching about the depravity of rock music. To Bill's horror, most rock music wasn't about little fluffy kittens and respecting your parents. Bill showed us pictures of the cover of Dio's Holy Diver LP, and the pentagram on Jimmy Page's guitar to warn us that rock would corrupt and damn us. He played Blue Oyster Cult's 'Don't Fear the Reaper' and explained how the Eagles' 'Hotel California' was really a paean to Aleister Crowley.
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Even if music by a non-Christian group seemed harmless there was the likelihood that subliminal messages were being transmitted to our subconscious. Bill's show-stopper involved playing Queen's 'Another One Bites the Dust' backwards, because a ghostly voice could be heard to say 'It's fun to smoke marijuana' if you interpreted the crackle of noise creatively. For a while I became a teenage zealot listening only to Christian music, even avoiding bands like U2 and the godawful Alarm, who were spiritually bombastic in some ways, but, to me, too coy in promoting their beliefs. I never punched the air to '68 Guns', so Bill's effect wasn't all bad.
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Thankfully, my days as Willie McCrea junior didn't last too long, but, amongst many believers, music, T.V., films and books are media where moral lines are rigidly drawn. I have a friend who belongs to a church where many of the congregation don't own a television because they believe that it brings the devil into the house. He was also told to give up playing football because it meant that he was, in a splendidly Old Testament phrase, 'consorting with unbelievers'.
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This is the fundamentalist wing of Christianity, where the devil and his demons are real and at work in the world, malevolent spirits infecting our souls while masquerading as Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. If an actress bares her breast for two seconds in a play which you haven't seen then picket the theatre; if a clinic dispenses condoms picket the clinic; if you hold a book to be blasphemous, don't read it but burn it, because, to your way of thinking, each nipple, johnnie or page brings Satan fresh disciples.
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Thankfully, few Christians adhere fully to these tenets, but, from my past experience, all negotiate the morality or otherwise of art forms which the rest of us are free, more or less, to judge on aesthetic criteria. Everything, therefore, becomes overdefined, carrying the burden of whether or not it will harm your soul.
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This gives rise to some extremely strange, and sad, behaviour. I knew a man who would not watch TV on a Sunday, but used to stay up late on the Sabbath, anxiously counting the seconds until he could turn the telly on at midnight. Ironically, his behaviour was self-defeating, only increasing the television's hold over his life.
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Similar deals with the secular are made in other areas. Faith might allow the Black Eyed Peas, just, but not Britney, Charlotte Bronte but not Emily, Robert Frost but not Philip Larkin. Just be glad you've never had to bother.
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The strange thing is that many of the pious teenagers I knew eventually turned into extreme hedonists, consuming everything they could find as they physically morphed into local versions of Marilyn Manson. Excess of control led only to excess of abandon. You can go figure, but remember, spin your records backwards and you might just hear .... fuck all.
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