Mark Joseph: Faith, God & Rock ¬Ëœn¬â„ Roll. (With Audio)

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Well good afternoon everybody. This is Dick Staub, your host and fellow seeker. You know, the relationship between faith and rock ¢â‚¬Ëœn’ roll has always been a dicey one, but according to our next guest, it’s getting more interesting than ever as Christian artists are abandoning the confines of CCM and intentionally taking their art to the broader culture. We’re visiting with Mark Joseph. He is the author of Faith, God & Rock ¢â‚¬Ëœn’ Roll.

Q. Mark, great to have you with us today.
A. Thanks, Dick. It’s good to be with you.

Q. You know, one of the fascinating aspects of your book is one that you finally cleared something up for me. And that is, I keep seeing the statistics about that contemporary Christian music scene and the phenomena of just outrageous increases in sales every year. And you make reference to a Newsweek article that talked about Jesus Rocks. And basically, if I’m not mis-stating it, the thesis of this book is that the real story is what’s happening with Christian artists who are performing in the mainstream, but the CCM phenomena keeps getting attention because of those sales figures, and there’s an explanation for that. Talk about that.
A. Well you know, it’s a fascinating thing because, on the one hand, this growth¢â‚¬¦ Every year press releases are issued from Nashville saying that Christian music is growing by XX percent. It’s a fascinating thing because, on the one hand, those numbers are greatly exaggerated. On the other hand, it’s not even close. It’s much more than that. And what I mean by that is the growth is not in Christian music. Christian music, per se, as a genre I think, is probably actually in decline, if you use real numbers and not funny numbers. But what’s exploding is the idea of Christians playing rock music in mainstream America. And that is something that just, you can’t tabulate that. It’s very difficult to keep tabs on who is and who isn’t a Christian and who is and isn’t singing about faith topics, because you just can’t calculate that. But as far as the numbers that show the growth in Christian music, unfortunately that’s obtained by tabulating and counting records that really wouldn’t be considered Christian music. Things like the Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? record, a POD record, which POD is signed to a mainstream label, and Mannheim Steamroller, for instance. These records, which are used to tabulate sales of Christian music, I think really by any standard, are not.

Q. Now you say if you take those kinds of albums out, only four of the top ten CCM bestsellers are really CCM.
A. Right. Right. And so again, I think the larger point that I would make is it’s sort of silly to play these numbers games and say Christian music has grown by X percent when it really hasn’t. The big story is that Christianity, Christian ideas, Christian thoughts in rock music, is exploding beyond any possible measuring standard.

Q. Yeah. Let’s talk about a couple of examples of that as evidence. One would be the POD story which, interestingly enough, in your previous book, The Rock ¢â‚¬Ëœn’ Roll Rebellion, you knew about them but didn’t include them because they were kind of not there yet. But they’ve totally taken off. What is the POD story and how does it illustrate your point that the real story is artists who are Christian who are in the mainstream?
A. Well, it’s so ironic that, you know, the trade association that is responsible for Christian music would tabulate POD’s records as growth in sales of Christian music because this is a classic story of this younger generation ¢€œ these are a couple of kids from San Diego who are devout young Christians ¢€œ and you know, they have two paths to take. And one path led to Nashville and would have led to Christian music stardom. The other path was to Atlantic Records, where they ended up. And they very deliberately and clearly chose the path that took them to the mainstream. In fact, they were offered a record contract, early on, by one of the Christian music labels and they specifically turned it down at a time when they didn’t know if they would be offered a mainstream contract.

Q. Now talk for a minute about why groups are doing that, and then let’s finish up with the POD story. I mean, why is it that these artists are saying, I don’t want to be in the CCM niche?
A. Sure. Well, for the mainstream culture the term Christian rock has become a term of derision. And really the only people who haven’t figured that out yet are some of the people involved in the Christian music industry. I think most of them have by now. But it’s become a term that is just, you know, once you are labeled with that, it’s very hard to recover. And so it’s almost like you really are not even considered once that term is attached to you. So I think there was a generational issue where the people who were running the Christian music industry four or five years ago couldn’t figure out why all these young artists didn’t want to be called Christian rock and not realizing that that label apparently immediately made them irrelevant. Now, I have to say that today a lot of the leaders in the Christian music industry are a new generation. The heads of Word and Provident are terrific people who understand this phenomena and are trying to figure out a way to help it. But basically, these young artists have said, if we sign to a Christian music company, that will put us off the map of American pop culture and then the world’s pop culture.

Q. Well, let’s tie together two very different sources, as little anecdotes, that show the point. Phillip Johnson, you talk about what he had to say about religious labeling and what it can do, and then you tie it into an episode of Seinfeld where George makes a comment about CCM.
A. Yeah. Well you know, Johnson is an important thinker and aide to a Supreme Court Justice, I believe Warren Berger, and he just makes the case that we are in a post-religious, post-Christian society, and that it’s very easy ¢€œ especially because of Supreme Court decisions he says ¢€œ that if you can marginalize something as religious it sort of moves it off the table of the mainstream for consideration. But the Seinfeld episode was hilarious. It was George Castanza and Jerry and Elaine were sitting around, and Elaine discovered that, to her horror, that her boyfriend, Putty, listened to Christian rock and had his radio station in his car preset to Christian rock stations. And she said, well, I can’t date a guy who listens to Christian rock. And I think that’s an important ¢€œ I mean, it’s obviously very funny and all that ¢€œ but it’s an important sort of moment that captures the zeitgeist, that it’s such a weird phenomenon that she couldn’t date a guy. The funny part is, of course, George steps in and says, no, no, no, Christian rock is nice, it’s safe. It’s not like real rock.

Q. Yeah, and there’s the problem.
A. Right. So you’ve got the double whammy of being ridiculed as not real rock and then, you know, you’re not even datable if you listen to Christian rock. So I just think those are the realities captured so well. And when you face an obstacle, you can either keep banging your head against the wall or figure out a way around it. And I think a lot of these young artists have said, there is no way around this wall at this present strategy, and we’ve got to get past this labeling so people can actually hear our music.

Q. Well it has to do with a couple of other things, too. Where is the CD going to be categorized? Is it going to be under rock ¢â‚¬Ëœn’ roll? Or under contemporary Christian? Or gospel? Or praise and worship? You walk into a big record store and that isn’t immediately a problem. But another problem has to do with the award system. And you talk about Michael W. Smith in 1990. Was he best new artist? Or was he best new Christian artist? And you talk about how Dick Clark and NARAS both contribute to this problem.
A. Sure. I mean, and both of those issues are very important. But the issue of placement in stores is incredibly significant because it really showcases the differences in goals. There was a battle between a well-known Christian band and their own record company over where they should be put in a store. The record company kept calling the retailer ¢€œ I did some research at Walmart on this. And the band wanted their records in the alphabetical listing under pop rock. When I asked Walmart who was lobbying for inclusion in the Christian section they said the label was calling them saying, please put our band in the Christian section of the store. So you literally have bands and labels at cross purposes, and you can understand that from the label’s perspective, listen, they just want to move product. And they want to find people already predisposed to Christianity to sell product to. The band wants to have their ideas, in addition to selling to those people, they want to have their ideas and their records considered by the guy who’s just roaming through the pop rock section.

Yeah. We’re going to pick up there when we come back. We’re visiting with Mark Joseph. Spend more time with him by picking up a copy of Faith, God & Rock ¢â‚¬Ëœn’ Roll. It’s a great piece of work. I want you to read it. We’ll be right back.

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Well this is Dick Staub back with you. We’re visiting with Mark Joseph. His new book is Faith, God & Rock ¢â‚¬Ëœn’ Roll. We’re talking about the fact that while some people think the big story in music is contemporary Christian music, the bigger story is artists who are Christian who are in the mainstream.

Q. And we’ve been talking about some of the challenges they face. We just talked about where you put their music when it’s racked in the store. Talk about that Michael W. Smith story, too, because it’s an example of somebody trying to solve a problem and, in your view, actually creating a worse problem.
A. Yeah sure. Part of this has to do with the artists themselves. Listen, everybody likes to get an award. You know, if you want to give me an award for whatever writer of the year, chances are I’ll show up and accept it. So what’s been happening is the Grammy’s and the Dick Clark’s American Music Awards, in their probably heartfelt attempt to reach out to this community, they’ve created separate awards for Christians. So that, you know, you win the best Grammy for best rock pop for the Christian category, as if this is a musical genre. You know, we understand that there are genres based on, you know, polka or rock, but to actually have a genre based on the lyrics, this is a completely new concept. And you know what it does is it really cheapens the whole effort. Because if you’ve ever watched the Grammy’s, what happens is, you know, five hours before the real ceremony the televised ceremony begins ¢€œ or three hours before ¢€œ they’ll have given out the little Christian awards. And so you’ll be watching the Grammy’s and it’ll say, at a ceremony held earlier this evening, you know, so and so received the Christian gospel Grammy. And so it really, you know, it cheapens the whole thing, I think, and makes these people look like second-class citizens, like they can’t compete with the big leagues. So it’s a mistake. What I’ve advised and, of course, nobody’s taken me up on it, but I just advise these bands, don’t accept those awards. You are a rock performer or a pop performer, you’re not a, you know, marginalized religious nut. And so but the problem is the labels keep submitting the artists for consideration of those marginalized awards, the artists keep accepting. But I think that POD, a few years back, had the opportunity to be nominated in that category, did not submit themselves for that category, and then lost, of course, in the main category.

Q. But was in the consideration.
A. They were. They were among the nominees for best hard rock performance where they lost to, I believe, Linkin Park.

Q. Let’s finish up with that POD story because where we left them was they had an offer from a Christian label, they didn’t have an offer yet from a mainstream label. They turned down the one from CCM because of their conviction and calling. What happened after that? What had happened with POD?
A. Well amazingly enough, you know ¢€œ and the manager who told me this story said, listen, one of the guys is living out of his car, it wasn’t like they had a lot of options here ¢€œ but they felt so strongly that were they to sign with that label they would not be where they wanted to be, which was, you know, on The Howard Stern Show and on mainstream rock stations and on MTV. So shortly after that Atlantic Records offered them a deal and they’ve become, you know, the cultural phenomena we know them to be. I just want to add this, Dick. I think that, even as we speak, things are changing. And I see a greater willingness on the part of the Christian music labels to begin to function as mainstream labels. That means, you know, sending their artists out to mainstream radio and really making a serious effort to be part of the music business. So it’s changing. It is changing. The new head of the Gospel Music Association, John Styll, is working to change things. But until that happens and they’re fully integrated, these artists are going to continue to go to mainstream labels.

Q. Now you mentioned Howard Stern, and it’s an interesting story. Why did POD want to be on Howard Stern? And what happened when they got there? It illustrates why they wanted to be in mainstream.
A. Yeah. You know, early on the band told the manager that they wanted to be on The Howard Stern Show. Of course, if you’re a manager for a rookie band, you know, that’s not an easy thing to pull off. Well, through a relationship with somebody at the label, Howard said I’ll give one of your young bands a shot. Who do you want on my show? And they said POD. So the four boys, you know, lumbered into Stern’s studio. And it was about 18 minutes of just fascinating TV. You know, first Howard, in his usual crude manner, tried to crack jokes with them, had callers call in to say that they were sleeping with the members’ wives while they were out of town, and just sort of the usual stuff. And then they just were not, you know, it didn’t effect them at all. They just kept, you know, kept their cool. And then he said, you know, you boys, you boys don’t sleep with the women on the road. How can this be? You’re a rock band. And they said, well you know, that’s not what we believe we should be doing and, you know, they sort of went on like that. And by the end of this episode it was almost like they had tamed Howard the Lion, and he was practically asking for marital advice at the end of the show.

Q. Well you know, they also were on Politically Incorrect, and there was a wonderful way that that provided an opportunity to show that even cancer could lead them not to doubt God but actually lead them to a closer faith in God. Sixpence None the Richer, you tell the story of Letterman. These artists are out there and they actually are getting a chance and being heard. And a related issue that we don’t have time to get into, is the way these Christian artists are actually having an influence on other artists. You tell the story about Mick Jagger, or how religious themes started to emerge in Billy Corgan after Smashing Pumpkins, when he did his album as ZWAN. Or Lauryn Hill’s conversion. Now that was an amazing story. Here she is, already out there, and she starts singing about what’s happening in her life and talking about it, and the MTV Unplugged is a classic.
A. Yeah. I think what we’re going to see in the next five to ten years is going to make people that are uncomfortable with religious expressions in popular culture very uncomfortable. It’s going to be a miserable five to ten years for people who don’t like this because it’s only accelerating. It’s like, I look at it like 40 to 50 years of pent-up energy that is starting to explode. And you saw with The Passion, and you’re going to see with a number of other artists coming, any time you sort of¢â‚¬¦ Any time you either suppress, or the group themselves allows their ideas to be suppressed, when the doors finally open, the floods are going to come.

Q. Now, who is it that doesn’t like it? When you talk about detractors, people that are uncomfortable with this, who are they?
A. Well I mean, ironically, I think there are two groups. One is the group that has sort of made a living off of keeping this stuff in the circle. It’s uncomfortable when you sort of have a business structure built around niche marketing. All of a sudden when this is discovered by others, the niche is gone. And so I think, frankly, part of the opposition comes from inside the industry who are going to have to share this music with the rest of the world now, and share the marketing and all that. But on the corollary, on the other side, there are just people that are frankly uncomfortable with religious expressions in popular culture, in public life, would prefer that that stuff be kept inside a building on Sunday, and are horrified¢â‚¬¦

Q. Yeah. A lot of the music critics.
A. What’s that?

Q. A lot of the music critics.
A. I think so. I think a lot of the music critics’ criticism of these types of artists, you know, curiously is not about the music, but it’s about the very idea that they would dare to mix religion and rock.

Yeah, very interesting. We’re going to pick up there. Mark Joseph is our guest. The book is Faith, God & Rock ¢â‚¬Ëœn’ Roll. It is a wonderful piece of work. I hope you’re going to go out and pick up a copy. We’ve been talking about a lot of the ideas, but this book is just full of stories of artists, where they are in their journey, how it’s effecting their art, how they’re effecting culture. And we’ll pick up there when we come back. Don’t go away.

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Well this is Dick Staub back with you. We’re visiting with Mark Joseph. Faith, God & Rock ¢â‚¬Ëœn’ Roll is his book.

Q. We’ve been talking a little bit about detractors. There’s some people in the music business who have been the critics, who want rock ¢â‚¬Ëœn’ roll to stay just rebellious and not include any kind of spiritual themes. There are those within the business itself that liked owning a niche, and now suddenly seeing the niche wiggling out and getting into the mainstream. There are also a lot of people in the Christian subculture who are uncomfortable. You talk about Plugged In magazine, done by Focus on the Family, and their reaction to, for instance, Jessica Simpson’s album, Irresistible. What’s that kind of discussion about?
A. Well first of all, I have to say that I think it’s great that magazines like Plugged In exist, because for years the Christian response, or the response of traditionalists to pop culture was, gee, if we ignore it maybe it’ll go away. So the kind of constructive criticism offered by places like Plugged In, I think is very helpful. And it’s quite a change in the last maybe ten or so years. But they were definitely critical of Jessica Simpson. I think they’ve also been critical of Destiny’s Child. But again, you know, any time you’re having a dialogue I think it’s good. And in particular, Jessica Simpson and some of these others, it does create a challenge for people of faith. Especially with Destiny’s Child there’s really a disconnect. And in my book I just try to tell the story and leave it to the reader to figure out what they feel about it. But there’s definitely a disconnect, or an inconsistency, between the lyrics and, if not the lifestyle, at least the appearance of the lifestyle.

Q. Yeah. If you look at the issues of sacred and profane, you’ve got the kind of sex and faith issues that are very much part of somebody like Destiny’s Child, or that was the complaint about Jessica Simpson.
A. Right.

Q. You’ve got the shock and faith issue. Talk about Alice Cooper, because he was a guy that had a conversion experience and stayed in the shock business.
A. Yeah. You know, Alice Cooper is an incredible story of what happened in the post-Christian music era, which is, he had this conversion experience, he was raised by a Baptist minister, got away from his beliefs, spent most of his rock years as a drunk. Came back to his faith but stayed with his record company, with Epic, and kept recording, kept the Alice Cooper persona alive, but just did a 180-degree change in the lyrics. So suddenly, instead of a weirdo Satanist, or whatever his image was in the ¢â‚¬Ëœ70s, Alice Cooper became the father figure warning teenagers not to do sex and drugs and to think about God. So he kept the persona but just changed what the persona was, the content of the persona. And by the way, my first clue that something was going on with Alice Cooper was when I heard his song called “Hey Stoopid” in ’93, and I switched on MTV and here is Alice Cooper walking in on a couple about to have sex, and he’s telling them, hey stoopid, you know, knock it off. And I thought, there’s something going on here with this guy.

Q. So some of it, the kind of debate within conservative Christian circles has to do with this kind of sacred/profane thing. The same thing happened with language when Bono praises God on the one hand for an award, and then uses the “f” word and is, you know, a major FCC case, and is a very outspoken guy about faith. There is another argument, though, in that you point out that Chuck Colson raised in that article and it had to do with not the content, the lyrical content, but the form itself.
A. Right.

Q. And implied that the energy of rock, the pounding beat, the screams, the spectacle, is all designed to be sensatory, feeling-oriented, that its very form encourages a mentality that’s subjective, emotional, sensual, no matter what the lyrics may say. What do you say to that Chuck Colson argument?
A. Yeah. That’s a pretty surprising argument. And I think if you would go back to Chuck and to Nancy Pearcey, who co-wrote that book, my guess is they would want to amend that now. Because the irony is, just before that they praised Touched by an Angel. So it would be sort of like saying, the form of the soap opera is inherently evil and cannot be redeemed no matter what the content. And I don’t think that’s really a rational argument. Certainly there are elements of rock music and popular music that are, you know, subjective and emotional, but it’s still¢â‚¬¦ A song is still essentially a three-minute argument for something. It’s not just an emotion, it’s an argument for something. Now, it’s fine to complain that whatever the artist is arguing for is bad and should be changed, but to say that it’s not an argument for something, I think, is just not understanding¢â‚¬¦

Q. But I think he’s not talking about the argument, that has to do with content. I think he’s talking about form. I think if you look at classic Greek philosophy, you know, the pursuit of beauty, truth, and the good, the question is, is there something stylistically that is more beautiful about one form of music than another? You know, is Bach, by definition, more beautiful than hip hop?
A. Sure, sure.

Q. That’s where he’s coming from, isn’t it?
A. Yeah, I think so. But I think it was even more than that. I think it was¢â‚¬¦ I think there was literally, if not a direct quote, there was an inference that this form is irredeemable. And that’s a pretty shocking statement to make. You know, if you’re willing to be consistent with it, that’s fine. But I don’t think it’s a consistent argument. And I’m not sure that¢â‚¬¦ I don’t know of any form of art that’s irredeemable. I have in the book a quote from Abraham Kuyper who’s, you know, the former Dutch Prime Minister who says that, you know, Christ speaks to the world and says, this is mine. I own every square inch of this, this belongs to me. And so I think it depends on, sort of, if you have a Kuyper view or a Colson view on this one.

Q. Now, there is a bigger issue, and it’s probably the most common one, and it is how these artists talk about their own, their faith journey, whether they’re willing to say, I’m a Christian or not. And you have a whole chapter on Creed, who is probably the classic case of, you know, what is he saying and what does it mean, and how do people in the population, you know, mainstream and Christian, figure out what’s going on in his own life around his Christian faith?
A. Well you know, whenever I’m trying to figure out the faith of an artist I first look to its critics and see what they’re saying. And in the case of Creed, USA Today said that they are Bible-thumping rockers from the Heartland, or something like that. So that gives me an idea of where they come from. But the short answer is, I think that Scott has a kind of faith that is not shared by the other members of the band. However, he writes the lyrics. So yeah, I think in that case the lyrics provide the clue. But you know, a band that’s come out recently that I didn’t have a chance to cover in this last book because they were just emerging, Switchfoot, I think they pretty much sum up the entire issue when they declared that we’re Christian by faith, not by genre. I really can’t say it any better than that. These artists are not ashamed of their faith, but they are a little ashamed of what the genre has come to become in the minds of Americans.

Q. How so?
A. Because the genre limits their ability to impact people with their music. And they’ve sensed that and hence, that quote, in the attempt to put themselves in the middle of the culture.

Q. Now, there’s another argument that’s raised by some Christians that there’s no way artists can impact culture, or that their art or music can impact culture, if they don’t themselves have a very deep, robust thoughtful faith. And the argument is that, what difference does it make if somebody says you’re a Christian or somebody like Lenny Kravitz uses a lot of, you know, a lot of lyrical references to faith issues, if they don’t have a deep-rooted faith. They can’t ultimately have an influence. And you give the example of Mylon Lefevre talking about kind of shallow faith getting overwhelmed in mainstream.
A. Right.

Q. Or there’s a lot of eclectic faith going out there. So it’s Jesus, yeah, he’s great, but then there’s also Buddha and Kabbalah and everything else.
A. Yeah. I don’t think this sort of¢â‚¬¦ You know, I look at marrying rock and religion, or Christianity in general, it’s sort of like when you and I were in science class and we were mixing dangerous chemicals. The chance is there for something great. There’s also a chance of an explosion in the science room. And I think that’s the case here. It’s no coincidence that we were preceded by generations of black gospel artists who crossed over and couldn’t handle it. You know, whether it’s Marvin Gaye or Sam Cooke who, you know, is a gospel artist who crosses over to pop and then dies in a shootout with the cops with a prostitute in a hotel in Los Angeles. We have a long history of artists of faith unable to keep that faith in the mainstream world. So this is not an ungrounded fear I don’t think. But having said that, you know, failure is no reason to give up. Really we need to build stronger, better, build a better rock star who is able to withstand all the pressures that fame brings and still keep a semblance of his beliefs and hang onto them.

Okay. We’re going to finish up with Mark Joseph coming up right after this. His book is Faith, God & Rock ¢â‚¬Ëœn’ Roll, available now in bookstores online. We’ll tell you more about how you can get it right after this.

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Well this is Dick Staub back with you. We’re visiting with Mark Joseph. His book is Faith, God & Rock ¢â‚¬Ëœn’ Roll, published by Sanctuary Baker. And you can go online at Amazon.com or any online book distributor, or go to the bookstore and you’re going to find it there. And the author is Mark Joseph. He is our guest today.

Q. We’re talking about the big story as it relates to Christians and art is the involvement of people who are Christian in mainstream, and people of faith. There’s a couple of Jewish artists in this book as well. Religion and faith issues and spiritual journey is making it into the headlines everywhere, film, television, and we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s happening in music as well. There are a lot of opportunities, obviously, that are presented when artists earn the right to be heard. One of the wonderful ones that people may not be aware of has to do with Jars of Clay and Amnesty International and Chinese pastors. I mean, this is a great example of how you earn the right to be heard and suddenly you’re doing something great for the kingdom that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
A. Yeah. I think it’s interesting because Amnesty, you know, is the target for many conservative groups. And Jars of Clay had a different idea. They decided that¢â‚¬¦ They offered to do some work and benefit shows for the group in exchange for Amnesty focusing on the persecution of Chinese pastors, which I’m not sure they spent a whole lot of time on before that. So it was probably a win-win for both sides in that case. That’s the kind of thing you’re beginning to see more of.

Q. Now, before we talk more about that, there are some encouragers of this movement and there are some interesting power brokers that have a strategic faith commitment. You talk about one of the encouragers is the late Bob Briner. And just because we both, he means so much to both of us, you might want to mention Bob and his kind of basic theme. But the other one, interestingly enough, is Carson Daly at TRL. And a lot of people may not be aware of kind of where he has been in his faith journey. Talk about Bob and Carson.
A. Sure. I mean, Bob wrote his book, Roaring Lambs, back in 1993, and it really didn’t catch on, I think, for a couple of years. But I would say five or six years later his book began to sell quite well and a lot of the artists began to read it. And you know, essentially what made it remarkable was he was a grownup. You know, some of us who have been critical of this stuff were younger and could be dismissed. But to have a grownup, an experienced media professional saying this is not being done right, that carried some weight, and I think it really had an impact. Charlie Peacock also has quite an impact with his book. As far as Carson Daly, you know, he has in his own way, I’m not sure that¢â‚¬¦ I think many Christians would probably take issue with some of the things he’s done, and all that. But in terms of the doors that he’s opened ¢€œ and again it helps again to look at the person’s critics and see what they’re saying. When Howard Stern gets on the air and calls Carson Daly a “Jesus freak” for getting Christians on MTV, that’s your first clue that there’s more to that person than meets the eye. So I think that Carson, at his position when he was at MTV, did pave the way for artists like POD to be on there. And he’s been very strategic, I think, in what he’s trying to do.

Q. And people don’t know, but at one point in his life he actually considered being a priest.
A. That’s right. He was, as a youngster, he contemplated going into the priesthood, but he said, he said I thought I could do more at MTV rather than being a priest, in terms of effecting people. So that’s pretty significant to have a person like that as a cultural gatekeeper at MTV for awhile.

Q. So obviously it’s difficult to predict the future. You’ve said that this phenomena that you’re watching right now is happening way faster than you thought it was going to. But what’s the direction of these issues? I mean, where is this going? You have a chapter about Left Behind. You have a chapter about Dove Awards. You have a chapter about radio and how Christian radio has tended to be focused just on Christians and that a lot of people think that’s not right. I mean, where is this whole thing headed do you think?
A. Well, I think it’s headed for mass chaos in the sense that in the past ideas would come to us associated with a certain brand, so that, let’s say the Moody brand. People trusted the Moody brand. A book that had the Moody brand people could trust. The Disney brand. I think in the future everybody is going to have to do a little more homework and you really can’t just trust a brand anymore because these artists will be coming to you on mainstream labels, mainstream brands, and the need is going to be there like the Plugged Ins of the world to do cultural analysis of records. And frankly, parents are going to have to stop being lazy when it comes to analyzing the content that they want their kids to watch or not watch, listen or not listen to. So I think it’s just, it’s coming to be mass, jumbled chaos that people are going to have to navigate through and find stuff that either affirms what they believe and to stay away from the stuff that doesn’t affirm what they want to believe or choose to put into their minds. So it’s going to be great, it’s going to be terrifying, and it’s going to take a lot of people’s efforts to really engage the stuff that’s going to be coming down the pike.

Q. How much of all that we’re seeing is divided by generation? In other words, how does the younger generation view these issues radically different from an older generation simply by virtue of the way that generation is and thinks?
A. Well that’s a great question because I think that really hits the nail on the head as far as the generational issues. The previous generation, when we get to the issues for instance of placement in stores, the previous generation would look at the idea of a Christian section and say, isn’t that wonderful, we have our own section in the store. This next generation would say, why do I want to be in the kooky section in the corner? My ideas are mainstream ideas, my products should be in the mainstream of Walmart. In the same way, the previous generation thought, gee, we have our own religious channel, isn’t that great. You know, 24 hours of Christian TV. This generation says, why do we want to be on the kooky channel. We want to be part of the cultural mainstream and have our ideas considered there. So I think it is generational. One generation was content with having their ideas available, albeit on the sideline. This generation is saying, we want our ideas up front and center and to be part of the consideration that all ideas have.

Q. As this becomes more acceptable within the mainstream, the idea of lyrics that are expressing spiritual journey and so forth, how do you think that’s going to change the artists’ approach to kind of their openness about where they are on those journeys? Because there’s been kind of a Trojan horse mentality on the part of some artists that I want to, you know, I’m not going to back away from the fact that I have beliefs, but I’m certainly not going to lead with it.
A. Yeah. And I think, ironically, it’s just the opposite of what people fear. There’s going to be a bit of a safety-in-numbers mentality. Each expression of faith opens the door for another more explicit expression of faith. I think that Touched by an Angel was purposely vague, but I think that’s opened the door for another show, that will come soon, that will be more clear about issues of faith. So there certainly is that factor. But there’s also just the factor that each time this happens it just will continue. You’ll be seeing a number of artists who are being more clear, not less clear about their faith. And just, for instance, the song that broke last year by this group Mercy Me, called “I Can Only Imagine,” this is the kind of song that we’ve been told for years is simply impossible to be a hit in the mainstream. It mentions Jesus by name, it talks about death and the hope of resurrection, and it was a huge pop hit. So I think we’re going to see very, very explicit mentions of faith in the years ahead. And so long as the public is engaged ¢€œ but remember one thing, Dick, that song became a hit because Christian listeners were listening to a mainstream pop station and called in to request it over and over and over again. Like a bit of a dog chasing his own tail, each listener that’s pulled away to a Christian station who is not engaging a mainstream station is one less voice making these types of songs a hit.

Wow. There you have the dilemma, folks. The book is Faith, God & Rock ¢â‚¬Ëœn’ Roll, published by Sanctuary Baker. And our guest has been Mark Joseph. Again, Faith, God & Rock ¢â‚¬Ëœn’ Roll. Thanks Mark. We’ll be back right after this. Don’t go away.

Posted in DS Interview, Staublog in July 28, 2004 by | No Comments »

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