Sunday, April 8, 2007

Jars of Clay - The Good, the bad, and the ugly

I've never been a big Jars of Clay fan. Probably for two reasons. First, they are popular. Popular Christian musicians usually rank a bit high on the sappy-meter for me. They all remind me of the old Undercover tune, "You'll have to excuuuse us, we're in love with Jeeesus." It was embarrassing to listen to. (Fortunately for us, Undercover matured and put out some of the best music ever to hit vinyl.) Second, they are too tame. The music was ok, but my ear bends to a more hard-core beat.

That all changed with their most recent release, Good Monsters. Did they finally see the light and go metal? No, its still relatively tame. But there is something different about this release, something darker, a bit more real. Granted, I haven't followed their last few releases, so I don't know if this was a trend, or just this last album. I actually bought the album after listening to a clip of the song Dead Man on Other highlights include Work, and Oh My God, which actually moved me to tears.

So I had to hand it to them for putting out an album that was more open to the struggles and the dark side of the Christian life; more honest. Or so I thought. I happened upon an article in The Argus Leader newspaper, as a preview to their concert in Sioux Falls, SD. The author of the article interviewed lead vocalist Dan Haseltine on some various subjects, some of them a bit controversial.

Haseltine expressed frustration over the Christian fan-base's fickleness, and how quick they are to dump those deemed "unChristian." Apparently it is for this reason that Jars of Clay can't release the war protest songs they have written, and keeps Haseltine from commenting on his political views. "If you rock the boat too much, your records won't appear in certain Christian record stores anymore," he says.

Now that statement struck me as a bit odd. In fact, it raised all sorts of questions in my mind. They feel passionately about something, but refuse to sing about it. Why? Because it will hurt sales. Is that something to be proud of? I don't know. I guess you could look at it from two sides. On one hand, it sounds like they've sold out. Toe the line and don't say anything too controversial - the last thing we want to do is let our fans know how we really feel. Can't afford to lose all those T-shirt sales!

On the other hand, one could give Jars of Clay kudos for taking a big step in that direction anyway, even if they didn't go all the way. Maybe the CCM crowd is so narrow-minded, that it will take groups like Jars of Clay to "baby-step" them into the more insecure and not-so-neat areas of their faith.

I do know my favorite band, Stavescare, couldn't deal with it. The oppressive forces in the Christian music industry simply became too much to bear, and they eventually walked away and never looked back:
I need to find a place where I can breathe
Somewhere high above this empty landscape
Where the air is clear
And I need to find it while I still can.
So, I guess in the end I can't come down too hard on Jars of Clay. I hope they find the courage (guts?) to someday sing what's really on their heart. Because I think what they want to say needs to be said. And I hope Christians are big enough to listen.

Interestingly, the author of the article has this comment: "
And in today's America, being 'Christian' seems to be tied to being a 'patriot.' Basically, if you're an outspoken Christian, you're assumed to be a conservative Republican who backs President Bush without question..." Hmm, sounds like something I'd say. Oh wait, I already did.

Ok, the last three blogs have been about music. Sorry, that wasn't intentional, just how it worked out. Next one will be different, I promise.

God bless.

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