Inevitably, Christian matters have not always won applause from the pop artist fraternity. Ellen Foley, a homespun Catholic girl from St Louis, USA, who was once with Hair, later a member of the irreverent though often very funny National Lampoon, and with Meatloaf before embarking on a solo career, has told the music press that she has suffered spiritually. She blames unbending priests and ministers who have made religion into a matter of rules and regulations.
Greg Lake, formerly of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, told me that he dislikes the Church because it exhibits a show devoid of honesty. The group portrayed some of this in songs such as Take A Pebble, Black Mass and From the Beginning. The three Impression Suites catch the same vein.
Others have said more-or-less the same thing within an emotional scale from tepid condemnation to considerable hatred. Among these, Crass seems to have become the band most feared and disliked by clergymen. At least, they are the group most frequently mentioned by ministers, who have been appalled at their offsprings choosing to listen to their music within manse and vicarage walls. The Dead Kennedys come a close second.
Crass' music has sold on reputation and from concerts, for many of their lyrics cannot be broadcast by any radio station with at least some form of accountability. Their music, though, is one aspect of a well-oiled machine that takes in graffiti, writing, film and magazines plus numerous spreads in some music papers and fan magazines on both sides of the Atlantic.
The music is brutal, uncompromising and violent. At the height of the bands popularity in the early 1980s, it became the sound and feel of disenchanted young people, though it also appealed to those who have but apparently reject the system that has given them material wealth.
The group say that their message is against power systems, not people, and while the popular musical format of the Top 40 has said little of any consequence in the 1980s they, the Crass, tackle major issues and problems. Anarchy, to them, is not a mere dismantling of so-called sacred cows, but the process by which people can be freed to experience their real selves, a means of ridding an authoritarian society from its oppressive hold on ordinary people who feed and run the machines for the rich capitalist exploiters. They do not think people should opt out of society but rather confront internal oppression, even through basically distrusted organisations.
Naturally they have harsh things to say about possible nuclear holocaust, and do so in quite a different fashion from another nuclear theme song of the 1980s, Enola Gay by Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, which is pretty, but not offensive, as the mood of the subject might dictate.
The expletive vocabulary of their songs is explained by a desire to protect themselves from being readily adopted by groups who would otherwise like to use them to further their ends. Crass have voiced unease about the extreme left, as they have at the middle and far-right. Their main attack on religion is found in Reality Asylum, where they say religion is a vehicle of sexual oppression. When the record was sent for pressing the workers downed tools in protest at its blasphemy.
The Dead Kennedys fool the uninitiated with their titles, one of which has been the album In God We Trust. Their spiritual height - arguably - is Religious Vomit. Another merciless attack is Moral Majority which, as the title suggests, is basically an attack on Anita Bryant and her American movement that has certainly had some success among American Christians. The Kennedys, far from inarticulate, as some of their stage-show and public appearances might indicate, have said: A once profoundly radical crowd has become the tool of Christian-Totalitarians who sanctify book burning to stamp out "heresy" while turning a blind eye to the cross burning Ku Klux Klan.
Both groups could well induce strokes and heart attacks in more conventional people, as might many others from a world that often passes unnoticed by those whose musical awareness extends no further than the Top 40. There is a further mass of material that is beyond the confines of this book, songs which are outwardly saying nothing against the Church or the Christian faith but which at the same time portray a view of life that is in direct antithesis to the Christian understanding of existence.
Mistakenly, though understandably, many Christians react in horror against direct attacks on the faith. Obviously there is the undoubted right to recoil in disgust at whatever affronts the senses, but equally Christians have for too long imagined they should be soft-cushioned against the cold winds that may blow and bite, to think that someone should step into the ring and order the irreligious to throw in the towel. Christians no longer have society and officialdom behind them whether in statute, law or what is loosely seen as common standards of expected behaviour. Their cries in the press and other media may attract attention but ultimately they can only gain the hearts of people by presenting their message creatively and imaginatively and when it comes to the pop scene there has been a woeful lack of awareness, commitment and consideration.
Though some comfort may be gained from the next chapter. In the meantime, the young will listen to bands like Crass because, good or bad, these groups say things that make sense to them, something which Christians in the main are failing to do. But there are signs that some are carrying the battle into the other camp; one small but important example being a series of talk-pop cassettes from Scripture Union entitled Rock On. These cassettes each have a different theme with subjects pertinent to young people such as unemployment, race, money, love, and so forth. The theme is developed through music and comment in a refreshingly open-ended manner. The final discussion questions pull no punches.
From "Jesus and the Christian in a Pop Culture" - Tony Jasper, Robert Royce Ltd, London, 1984 p41-43.