Body Piercing

I met Andrew Beaujon briefly at the Festival of Faith and Music last year and have been looking forward to his book ever since, so I was very pleased when Kate emailed to say that “Body Piercing Saved My Life: Inside The Phenomenon of Christian Rock” was now available, and even more pleased when the first shop I tried had several copies in stock.

The book is the result of a year-long exploration of ‘Christian rock’ that Beaujon (senior contributing writer at Spin, contributor to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, the Guardian and Salon.com) undertook last year. He openly acknowledges that amongst his colleagues in the industry there is a rather snide or dismissive attitude towards artists who are identified as Christians, and that for himself “I consider atheism too much of a commitment.” That context makes the sympathetic and insightful tone of the book quite remarkable.

Beaujon runs the gamut of Christian rock and CCM, going back to the phenomenon’s roots in the Jesus People movement of the late 60s/early 70s, through the rise of CCM as an industry, and onto the current day where he visited both GMA Week and Calvin’s Festival, interviewed a wide range of bands, and spent quite a bit of time with David Bazan. Along the way he does much to analyze the psychologies that go along with involvement in the Christian music subculture, and does a good job of assessing its results.

There are a few errors of detail. I was particularly sensitive to some quotes taken from the Festival of Faith and Music, and it is disappointing that he didn’t feel he had the cultural language to engage with David Dark‘s keynotes at that event. It would be interesting to hear whether that cultural language has been developed after further exposure to the background many in Dave’s audience were coming from.

I was particularly taken with Beaujon’s response to a ‘worship event’ he attended at GMA week where he noted the individualistic character of the lyrics used, and their failure to evoke the sense of community present in much older church music. Similarly the comments on the racial divide within CCM were right on the mark. But beyond that, the book conveyed powerfully the struggles for those artists who don’t want to entirely reject their Christian roots but want to engage seriously outside of that ghetto, and also the tension within the CCM community about the idea of ‘crossing over’.

The immediate excitement that usually greets anything resembling ‘crossover success’ (which often equates to minimal recognition in the mainstream) has always clashed with a rapid turnaround to accusations of ‘selling out,’ but it was striking to read of publicists barring Beaujon from their press events at GMA week, and consistently failing to even respond to his requests for interviews.

Eighteen months ago, I wrote a piece entitled Why I might let myself care about CCM and I was reminded of that while reading through the reviews and interviews that have so far greeted the release of this book. (Beaujon is doing a great job of chronicling that on the book blog). With Christian bloc-voters holding so much power in modern America, it is vital that those outside of that world (and those of us on its periphery) attempt to step beyond articles in coastal magazines that treat middle America as a foreign country, towards understanding this bizarre cultural phenomenon on its own terms. This book is an important contribution to that attempt.

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