I’m fixing to do something here which might seem uncharacteristic, off-plumb, and maybe a bit outrageous and uncalled for. But I will do it anyway.
This will be my first-ever and (hopefully) my last critique of modern-day Christian church music.
Call me a prehistoric throwback, an ignorant Junction redneck, or even an infidel by 21st century standards, but I firmly believe that most contemporary music heard in protestant churches today sucks.
My research for this project, I must admit, has been somewhat limited, owing to the fact that I went AWOL from church when I was 15, and didn’t set foot in any church (except to attend a few funerals) until this year.
Although I understand that traditional (old-style) music is still available in some churches, my limited exploration in area God houses has found nothing but toneless, tuneless, unimaginative racket with song lyrics so poor and repetitious that one wonders what manner of tin-eared dunce could have penned such drivel.
An insult to the greats
The contemporary song hackers are beating words like “amazing” and “worthy” to death, an insult to such religious tunesmiths as John Newton, who wrote the original and time-tested blockbuster Amazing Grace in the 19th Century.
There are religious songs today which use the word “amazing” 15 or 20 times, even more than the worldwide favorite Amazing Grace. And on one of my recent forays into an area Baptist Church, the choir repeated the word “worthy” in one song until my head threatened to split wide open.
You are worthy, You are worthy, You are worthy, You are worthy, You are worthy, and on and on and on went the refrain, leading me to wonder almost out loud:
Who are you jerks to call the creator of the entire universe “worthy?” A poor choice of words from a songwriter who shouldn’t be writing poorly-done religious songs in the first place. Even church music hacks suffer from acute cases of rectal cranial inversion when it comes to invention and creativity, and they shouldn’t be allowed to use praise for the Lord Jesus Christ as an excuse for slop music.
How about Amazing Grace?
Whatever happened to (yes) Amazing Grace, Will the Circle be Unbroken, The Old Rugged Cross, I Saw the Light, and Low in the Grave on Easter Sunday?
My wife and I attended Easter morning church services to hear nothing but amateurish guitar licks and a You are worthy, You are worthy, You are worthy refrain which lasted the better part of a 42-minute choir performance (and with the congregation standing on their feet all the while).
My early-years religious exposure was in a Junction, Texas fundamentalist Baptist Church where my mother had dragged me kicking and screaming. I hated everything about it, and my aversion to church and its people carried on to what I believe was a resentment against God.
In recent years, and while finding my way back to spirituality through a popular 12-step program, I began to realize exactly why I hated church so much as a youth. The fundamentalist Baptists were against everything I wanted to do–drinking, smoking, fighting, fornicating, dancing, and snuff dipping.
I withdrew as if from a hot flame. My favorite jokes were of the Baptist persuasion. Did you know that Adam was a Baptist? Only a Baptist could stand next to a buck-naked woman and be tempted by a piece of fruit. And Baptists object to pre-marital sex because they are afraid it might lead to drinking.
God didn’t do it
That sort of stuff. The fundamentalists were anathema to my thinking process. But my resentment against God was mis-directed. God didn’t force me into those Junction church services, where I can still hear old Brother Kellum pounding his pulpit and screeching hell fire and damnation. My poor brainwashed mother was the culprit. Determined to salvage my soul, she forced me into Sunday sermons, Sunday school classes, and Wednesday night prayer meetings until I got too big and stout for her to handle.
By age 15 , I was drinking Four Roses whiskey and rolling Bull Durham cigarettes. And it was hard to make Sunday morning church gatherings when I had been in an Acuna, Mexico whore house until the sun started coming up.
So I jumped the parental traces for the final time, leaving church in my dust. I didn’t miss the fundamentalist doctrine, but I?always missed those time-worn old gospel songs which musicians like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, the Carter Family, Kris Kristofferson, and Leon Russell are wont to sing. And my recent forays into both Baptist and non-denominational churches have made me miss the classics even more.
Poking through various Bulverde-area and Comal County churches, I found the traditional hymnal songs at the tiny First Baptist Church of Bulverde to be more palatable than the noisy, new-age racket which seems to be the norm today. I don’t know about that church’s doctrine, but I liked the music.
For more than 30 years now, I have been associated with some of the greatest musicians in the country. So the notion of attending church to hear lousy guitar pickers, dragging drummers, and tone-deaf choir leaders doesn’t interest me one whit. I would still rather hear a little old lady playing piano with a choir comprised of ordinary people doing the best they can with the time-worn classics. And I don’t need “worshippers” standing in front of me with arms upraised as if they were waving at airplanes.
Defenders of the weak lyric and toneless contemporary Christian racket of today will argue that this is what the young people want. And this is bullshit.
I was in Austin’s old Armadillo World Headquarters when Willie introduced his song Trouble Maker, the comparison of a dope-smoking, anti-establishment hippie with Jesus Christ. The young people went wild, all but tearing down the old national guard armory which was, at the time, the citadel of youthful liberalism and the birth place of outlaw Texas music.
Bad music is bad music, whether it be on a beer joint stage or in church. And the church people of all ages deserve better than what they are getting.