10 of 10 pt III: Jesus Freak
And now for something completely different...
It's considered a milestone in Contemporary Christian music for a few reasons: 1) It's suggested to be the first combination of grunge/alt-rock and hip-hop in Christian music. 2) It was so wildly popular that it's lead single "Jesus Freak" was played on some secular stations. 3) It's one of the best selling Christian albums of all time, earning it's Gold status in 30 days, eventually going Double Platinum in the US and Gold in Canada. 4) This album, and the live album recording on the supporting tour, each earned the group an Emmy award. 5) It's a generally awesome album.
Okay, that last one is all me, but the other four seem to be universal facts within the Contemporary Christian Music community. Jesus Freak by DC Talk is considered the most influential and greatest album in the history of Christian music among people who are far more familiar with this particular genre than I am. I truly enjoy this album, and it's the only collection of religious songs that I have ever enjoyed from start to finish. So I'm not going to sit here and pick apart the little elements of why this album an epic installment from my past, but instead I'll focus on why Jesus Freak is personally influential to me, as it pertains to my life, my character, and my personality. This might be a shorter entry, and it might be the first and only time I'll edit an article. And by "edit" I mean go off on a tangent about my beliefs on God, religion, what it means to be a good person and a whole mess of other crap that I make it a point to never talk about because I hate treading that water because it always results in blah blah blah Bob Loblaw's Law Blog Oblong Lobbed Ball and whatever. You get the point. To better understand my weird and self-diagnosed tortured relation with whoever might be upstairs, click here (eventually...it's coming).
Before we go farther on Jesus Freak, let me say right now (because of the trigger happy society and the ever impending need to be on the defensive) that I will never make it a mission to make fun of, belittle, debate, or try to prove wrong your beliefs and your personal truths. So in the list of forms of Christian music below, I'm not discounting the message per sé but instead pointing out how I perceive the delivery of what they're trying to say.
To this day I'm not a fan of 99.9% of Christian music. It seems like it's comes in one of three forms:
1) Some dude with an acoustic guitar saying the phrase "I open my arms" over and over again because they can't think of other phrases with which to praise.
2) People with a decent message try to be relevant with a strange style of music that doesn't really match. (Like...WHY Christian death metal? Is it not Christian salvation metal?)
3) They make overtly Christian themed music but don't acknowledge it's about God or religion, and they wind up coming across as afraid of their own message and, therefore, jackasses. (hi, Creed!)
I'm sure there's more, but I'm not too educated on this genre of music, and I'm not claiming to be an expert on it by any means. These are just the forms I've been exposed to by sheer and complete accident as I wander through my days. That's not to say there aren't some truly good acts out there. I still love Steven Curtis Chapman's Signs Of Life album, and find me any other contemporary Christian artist like Tony Vincent who, on 1997's One Deed, combined a lightly primitive/tribal drum beat under a song about love in a personal war zone so effectively. The song in question is "Fighting Over Love Songs". And to this day I love it and that record. But neither of those are as important to me as Jesus Freak.
When I was younger, I was homeschooled. Elementary school from K through 3, homeschooled 4th and 5th grade, and then went I went to private school, I repeated 5th grade. Not because I failed or anything, but I think because I already had friends in that class, and it wouldn't be as much of a culture shock. I don't know. In typing this I all of a sudden realize I don't know the exact reason why I did 5th grade twice. All I know is that it happened, and if it hadn't I would probably not be who I am today, and I've started to really tolerate myself. I count it as a blessing. I'm digressing again, so I'll get back to it. My mother had me in this little homeschool group somewhere in Fort Worth. For the life of me I can't remember any of the kids I made friends with, I can't remember the names of any of the teachers, and I can't remember any of the classes I took. So...goodness, I guess it was like a homeschool conservatory or something? I don't know the best way to describe it. Tuesdays and Thursdays I believe. But I remember there was a particular class I didn't take in the middle of the day, so my mom had to drop me off, wait for me, hang out with me in the car, send me back inside, wait some more, then take me home. If for no other reason than that I was a problem child (there are a LOT more reasons why I was a problem child). But my mom always encouraged me to listen to this sort of music. I heard Jesus Freak the same time I heard Signs Of Life and One Deed. It was sort of my upbringing. By the way, I might sound like I'm pissed about the following, but I'm truly not. Your parents have a responsibility to you when you're a kid, and that involves teaching them things you want them to know.
So the long story short is I was raised in the church. A Western Rite Orthodox church. I learned all the basic things you learn in church, like forgiveness, understanding, compassion, but even as a young lad I had these feelings of extreme sadness and anger. Part of my frustration came from thinking about the divinity of God, an entity surviving before time began and after time stopped all at the same time. It was an idea I couldn't understand, rationalize or quantify. I couldn't make peace with the concept. That feeling bubbled inside of me for years. Finally, after years of trying to grasp the concept, and when I could finally make the decision for myself, I stopped going to church. I've never had reason to regret it.
So what does this have to do with a very awesome album by DC Talk? The answer: it was the most relatable Christian album I've ever heard. I know the men in the band are very devout. I don't think I've read a bad thing about their careers or personal characters. From what I understand they practice what they preach. I can respect that. But on the album...they sounded lost. In some of the songs, the ones where they were the main characters, there's a struggle to find the higher power, to reconcile with the person they've become. The first example that comes to mind is from the pre chorus on "In The Light", the second single off the album:
That, to me, sounds like desperation. I've thought that about myself several times through out the course of my life.
My mother is a very, very wise woman. Between her and my father, I've learned so much more than life lessons, but I've learned how to take care of myself by taking care of others. From my father, I learned how to take care of a woman and my (hopefully eventual) kids. That man has committed more selfless acts in my life time than hairs on my head. Even now, as I'm 31 and still relying on them for some support, he helps me with whatever I need while encouraging me and giving me advice and wisdom on how to take care of myself. My mother always told me that when I get depressed or sad, it's best to take me out of myself and see what I can do for other people. Whenever I'm thinking clearly enough to follow her advice, I feel SO much better. Not even about me. Yes, service to others makes me happy, but it also makes me feel good in general...about the world and life in general and all that jazz.
This one's not very funny. I know. But life can't be a laugh a minute. I learned that from my parents too.
So basically what I'm saying, and with absolutely no lyrical evidence that the focal point of this song finds some sort of salvation (he does), is that I see my parents in this song. I see me at my darkest, suffering and begging for mercy, and my parents being my light. Never giving up on me, never casting me aside, never letting me go at it alone. Without being able to fully believe in a higher being, I've been able to place my parents in this song. When I hated myself the most, they loved me more and more each day. And honestly, that's something I'll never be able to repay them for.
So, it's not that I hear these songs and think about God or Jesus, I hear these songs, and I think about life, and my family, and the lessons you learn to be a decent human being.
"Colored People"...like, doesn't need any explanation. It's a pleading for racial harmony.
Look...I don't care what your skin color is. Never have. Never really noticed it as a definite characteristic. I don't care what religion you practice as long as you don't use it to hurt anyone. If you bleed when you get hurt, if you eat food and drink water to sustain yourself on this planet, if you breath oxygen, you're a human being. The content of your heart has always been more important than what you look like. You don't need a song to teach you that.
"Jesus Freak" is basically a song about standing up for what you believe in when you face judgement or ridicule. Even in the face of death, you can't back down from what really burns in your soul. I can't really pick a quote for this one, but you can listen to the song here. The allegories, the inner torment, the boldness. It's a relatable song.
Now...I've already gone on and on for too long as always. And truthfully, I could pick the album apart and present you with endless lyrics that actually resonate with me on whatever spiritual level I'm on. Like on the first blog of this 10 of 10, I told you that blink-182's Take Off Your Pants And Jacket gives me guidance when I'm struggling. The album as a whole unit speaks to me. But there are particular passages on Jesus Freak that, when I need an absolute shock to my system, and I really want to learn about myself, I will listen for. It's a very fluid album. Some days one song makes more sense, and then it changes and so on and so on. Lately (and I've been listening to this song a LOT lately) "What If I Stumble" is a song that seems like it was written just for me (......shut up drunk girl at every house party I've ever been to).
"What If I Stumble" contains a very particular verse, and every time I hear it, I hear myself asking for answers.
I have a very particular set of skills, and a long list of desires. I want to be an actor, I host a podcast, I want to be a writer, a director, an editor, I can play music, and I'm passionate about all of it. Why am I not good at math? Why can I retain useless trivia about movies and not important facts about how our government or taxes or school system works? Why do I know more about how Final Cut Pro works than who my congressman is? I walk a very narrow path. The industry I want to get into is one of the hardest to make a splash in.
I. Am. Scared. Shitless.
I don't make much money at my job, and my girlfriend takes care of most of our finances. All she asks in return is that I keep going. And occasionally pick up groceries. The other day I was an extra on a TV show that films in the DFW area. After a long day, I come home, she gave me a kiss and told me she was proud of me. Kid you not. My mom and dad remind me so often that even though I'm 31, my window for making comedies in Hollywood has yet to close. And really all I want is to be a super hero on screen. Perhaps Johnny Storm because being a part of the MCU would be a dream come true. I want my podcast to turn into a TV show where I interview my heroes and idols in all the industries I long to be a part of. I understand working for it. And I am. I'm taking every opportunity I can while still working and pitching in around the house.
In the verse above, I see my entire life. I live with constant fear that my passions won't amount to anything. It stems from years of royally messing up at a constant rate, sitting on my ass never taking myself forward, and allowing myself to drown in darkness. Please let me know if this gets too dramatic, and I'll dial it back.
I don't know the reason why I have these particular interests, and I don't know why all my hobbies lie in the hardest industry to make a legitimate living in. But there has to be a reason. Some reason that I'm completely unaware of as of right now. It can't be accident, and it can't be because it's just fun. While I struggle with a belief in a higher power, I don't struggle with the idea of purpose. There's a reason. There has to be. But I'm afraid that my past will haunt me to a point where I'm stuck in quicksand and am unable to progress. I know that I'm the only one with the power to not let that happen, but...goodness, I've lost my train of thought. I guess I find it overwhelming that in six lines these guys summed up my entire life. Go them.
This article has dragged on for far too long. I'm sorry. How do close?
Okay, to sum up: most Christian music bothers me for the reasons listed above. But I guess the main thing that bothers me is that the most mainstream of CCM is always so praising. It's always so light and happy. Softly crooned. The singers are at peace.
DC Talk made a record for people like me. These guys sang songs about struggling, desperation, questioning themselves and their actions, being scared, sadness and depression. And what I like most about it is that they made it okay to feel like that. When I listen to it 23 years after I was first introduced to it, I feel better about feeling all that crap on the inside. One of the most popular and influential albums in Contemporary Christian Music is riddled with self doubt, confusion and fear, but is continuously accented with the notion that pressing forward is the only option.
So there it is. My secular take on a non secular album. Or something. I started and stopped this article so many times today that I completely lost my train of thought four or five times. I hope my point came across.
Editor's Note: I don't have an editor. This is not proofread. It only is what it will ever be. The message remains the same. The first draft was completely erased and written over because it got too deep. If I only had an editor...that would work for free.