Amy Grant, Stryper and TobyMac Dominate Pleasure Eating Documentary TheWrap

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In the beginning was Amy Grant. Kind of. She wasn’t the first to attend the contemporary Christian music festival – a slew of long, shoeless hair in the early ’70s beat her up – but when she arrived she was the modest, well-cleaned girl from to. side that inspired a fledgling arm of the music industry to collectively dream up platinum albums.

And as one of the producers of this documentary from directors Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin (“I Can Only Imagine”), a pretty enjoyable infomercial that slips through CCM’s brief history and sidesteps its thornier issues. , Grant gets the first and last words.

Before Amy, there were the Jesus people: the young adults of the late 1960s, exhausted by drugs and other religions they used as novelties, returning to the faith of their fathers. In Costa Mesa, California, a church called Calvary Chapel hosted these prodigal sons and daughters and the music they made. In a short time, groups sprang up at Calvary just as other groups and solo artists were emerging in other cities. Love Song, Second Chapter of Acts, Phil Keaggy, Keith Green and the very complicated Larry Norman (an artist considered too secular for a Christian audience and too Christian for a secular audience) laid a foundation which became the “music of Jesus.” “.

The enthusiastic reception of this music among young evangelicals (a word conspicuously never mentioned in this documentary) coupled with a broader Christian revival of baby boomers entering adulthood, was a phenomenon widespread enough to make the cover of the magazine. Time. The opposition, the little that existed, came from an older clergy who rejected the formal elements of music itself, as Protestant churches in the United States had clearly opposed rock and roll. Even with an unlikely high-level ally in evangelist Billy Graham, who publicly encouraged music, artists have often been rejected by churches for aesthetic and decibel-based offenses.

Using the standard documentary use of archival footage and new interviews with artists from each decade of the genre’s rise, the Erwins move with stylistic ease through a predominantly chronological narrative arc that emphasizes the serious intentions of the assembled artists. The deep flaw in this narrative arises when the film deals with the growing demands of corporations on the industry, as well as the harsh social realities and injustices that are ignored or compounded by evangelical culture, as generally not worth mentioning.

Fast forward to the 1980s and the revolutionary emergence of Christian music as a cultural force in the evangelical world and an untapped market with mainstream crossover potential, depicted here from Grant’s seemingly opposing success stories – the first Christian artist to sell this mythical million for his 1982 album “Age to Age” – and the metal band Stryper, a band that came to Christianity, ironically, due to the influence of anti-rock televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, and whose black and yellow striped spandex suits have earned them a fervent audience on MTV.

Daniel Cheri

Of course, no secular punchline on the weirdness of Christian rock came close to the fury of fundamentalist believers, and Grant and Stryper remember receiving more than their fair share of self-righteous anger. Stryper sparked outrage in the mad eyes of “satanic panic”, while the decidedly sane Grant was the target of collective evangelical misogyny. It was a woman on stage wearing pants and makeup; that was sufficient proof for absurd accusations of inappropriate sensuality.

The Erwins remain mostly content to skim the surface of artists’ success and scandal, though Grant’s 1999 divorce from songwriter Gary Chapman, remarriage to Vince Gill, and subsequent career damages receive a hit. empathetic treatment, much like an interview with ’80s veterinarian Russ Taff, whose alcoholism is touched on, albeit annoyingly described by other interviewees as a’ sin ‘problem.

The rise and then the brutal breakup of the hip-hop / alt-rock trio DC Talk is explained as a victim of too much glory, too soon. This is a fairly easy to understand “Behind the Music” trope, but it reads like honest reasons are being cast aside. The members split up, with frontman TobyMac enjoying a successful solo career, Michael Tait ahead of the instigators of “God’s Not Dead” Newsboys, and Kevin Max (appearing here with an expression of barely concealed discontent) leaving the evangelical world, but not the Christian faith itself.

carrie underwood

When the film finally tackles Christian music’s greater responsibility to the world rather than internal feuds, it is in the form of a discussion of the racism of the industry. Framed by the symbolic experience of gospel star Andrae Crouch in the 1970s and 1980s and the moving personal story of megastar Kirk Franklin, as well as the latter’s bold public statements regarding structural racism, it is the only The film’s attempt at relevance to 2021. Franklin’s embrace by a very separate industry is criticized by “True Tunes” commentator and podcaster John Thompson, who pointedly calls him “late,” asking, “Why is this? ‘There are [was] just one Andrae Crouch? “

Happy to dive into a social issue without risking much, what is most revealing in “The Jesus Music” is what is left out. Pioneer artist Randy Stonehill does not exist here. Sandi Patty, whose divorce was probably more shocking to evangelicals than Grant’s, is barely mentioned.

There’s no screen time for nuances of careers like those of Sam Phillips, who left CCM in the late ’80s to become a respected singer-songwriter, or Pedro the Lion’s David Bazan, whose atheism makes him a prophetic voice aimed squarely at evangelical culture. himself. (In the 2019 document “Strange Negotiations,” he says, “I care about what’s going on with Christianity. I want it to improve.

There is also no mention of artists like Jennifer Knapp and Ray Boltz, who found themselves kicked out of the industry after becoming gay. Rather than question all of this or discuss the industry’s refusal to answer the deeper questions its very real, very human artists ask it and their faith, rather than mention the evangelical complicity in Donald’s election. Trump, rather than asking why most Christian musicians have remained silent during those four years, the film instead chooses to celebrate the emergence of the “worship music” welfare movement represented by artists like Chris Tomlin and bands. like Hillsong United.

Marked with repetitive scripture-based lyrics at the expense of personal soul-searching, worship music has taken over churches and Christian radio in an attempt to uplift and comfort, and it creates a large empty space on the screen. . Framed in the film as a return to the original movement of Jesus Music, it is the last shot of shyness and deceit before the credits. The late Larry Norman could not be reached for comment.

“The Jesus Music” hits theaters in the US on October 1st.

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