Tuesday, April 16, 2013

fresh amid mediocrity

By the mid-80's I was burnt out on what was called Contemporary Christian Music (CCM).  What started out from a Spirit led movement that flooded the streets for all to hear, turned into an industry for Christians only.  The unique sound of all the early Jesus Music bands had faded.  It seemed about the time they started calling it CCM  and not Jesus Music (or Jesus Rock), seemed to be the day the music died.  Keith Greene took off and went to be with the Lord in 1982.  There just wasn't much there that drew me.

Where did all those unique voices go, those unique sounds that were so anointed?  It just turned into a business and the Christians would go listen to their Christian 'rock stars', and young Christiandom was no longer out on the streets with a song for the world.  Instead, it seemed the Jesus Movement had moved out and away from earshot of the world and become an island unto itself.

This is just my take on it. You might feel completely different about it, I understand.  To me though, the fire just wasn't in and on the music like it had been from the late sixties thorughout the seventies.  There was nothing new or fresh.  
CCM album covers got all hip and '80's looking.  Most of the records sounded as if they were all recorded in the same studio, on the same instrument.  Down through the years I've been told by several studio musicians that my hunch was correct.  I was expecting so much more than what it all came to.  I quit buying CCM because it wasn't Jesus Music anymore.  I quit buying it because it wasn't good anymore.  If it was out there, I didn't want to wade through all the mediocrity to find it.   I quit buying CCM because I got tired of trying to find a needle in haystack for something quality, something really GOOD!

I found myself tuning out of the 
CCM all together.  True story, the mediocrity of CCM drove me away.  I started listening to good music that was off the island and going on in the mainland.  I delved into Dire Straits, R.E.M, Tom Petty, Warren Zevon, Men at Work, Bruce Springsteen, and so many more.   I still wrote and played my Jesus Music at the coffee house and around, but I just didn't listen to Christian radio or listen to the same sounding artists over and over again.  I didn't go to the 'big name' concerts, or buy the albums.
Michael Bynum somewhere in the '90's

It was my old dear friend Michael Bynum that would occasionally insist that I listen to something from CCM genre.   I wouldn't give any CCM the time of day if it weren't for Michael putting a cassette under my nose from time to time ~ insisting that I give it a listen.   Michael knew what I liked.  We were both hardwired by our Creator to be on the same frequency.

The cassette was THE TURNING (1987) by Leslie Phillips (now Sam Phillips).  The album was her fourth and last venture as a Christian artist.  I never heard any of her previous albums, I just started with The Turning.  Like I said, it was Leslie's last venture on the island before she changed her name and became a crossover artist.  This was her first project to be produced by her future husband T. Bone Burnett.  Wow, what a combo!  I loved the tone of the entire album.  Most albums of that day, whether secular or Christian might have had one or two good songs per album.  The lyrics were good, the production was solid.  This album had a heart.  It was incredible from beginning to end.

For some reason, it was the songs River of Love and God is Watching that moved me.  By the way, it was those two songs that I started penning the song You Can Count on Me.  I started the song back in the late '80's and didn't finish it until about a year ago.  It's one of those songs that I'd just pick up and work on and put down for a year or so.  I never wanted to let it go, trash the unfinished lyrics after so many years in and out of the drawer.  I knew that one day I would finish it.  The lyrics to the song are very simple, but not just any phrasing would do.  I'd pick it up, work on it, and put it down.  Listening to River of Love and God is Watching again tonight, I can hear the influence that I pulled from them.  Those two songs are the parents of this new song completed all these years later.

To me The Turning wasn't a typical Christian album of that time.  I guess things were indeed turning in Leslie's life, like I said, she left the island and kept writing and singing elsewhere.  I vaguely remember an interview with her during that time. I can't quote her, and forgive me if I'm wrong (it's been a long time), she said something to the affect that the Christian audience kept expecting her to be a preacher, had different expectations of her as a Christian artist rather than just a singer/songwriter.  She said she was just a musician who was a Christian, and she wanted to be a musician, not a preacher.

I can understand and respect that.  I had no problem with Christians crossing over.  Some were ridiculed, but I don't think they quite got it...being in the world and not of it.

There were other albums, tapes that Michael shared with me that I was really grateful he did.  The Turning was handed to me at a time when I thought Jesus Music was dead.
CCM went on it's humdrum way and still playing across the airwaves today.   It's a CCM industry and still has a solid following.  Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that, it just doesn't float my boat.  CCM from the 80's on,  I just couldn't connect with it unless Mike hit me over the head with something he came across and liked.

To me Jesus Music was reborn through Worship that would a few years down the road.  I started hearing new songs, new sounds, a whole new dynamic as man tuned his instrument and heart to worship God.  Yes, there's a lot of mediocre 
stuff coming from this wave as well, but there's a steady flow of wonderful worship music coming not from the island and not from the world.  It's coming from somewhere else.

I've been catching that wave baby.
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