Of Legends, Punks, and Backstage Passes
by Terry Scott Taylor
HM Magazine November/December 2001
New Contributing Editor Terry Scott Taylor is a veteran musician and songwriter, renowned for his gigs with Daniel Amos, Swirling Eddies, and the Lost Dogs, as well as for Production and solo work. More info at www.TerryScottTaylor.com
Well, it's now official. I'm a "Legend" . . . at least a "Legend" according to the title of the tour that recently wrapped up -- i.e. "The Legends of CCM" (Contemporary Christian Music). Actually, I was but one among several "Legends" billed on this tour. The other immortals included Bryan Duncan and the Sweet Comfort Band, Randy Stonehill, Mike Roe and the 77s and my own band Daniel Amos. The booking agency believe that in 'pooling' our illustrious resources, us "Legends" could create a musical package that was basically unresistable to promoters. As a single galvanized entity, it was reasoned, we would be a force to be reckoned with, very much like a conquering army of seasoned soldiers reclaiming the land they once so gloriously occupied (as opposed to say a parade of slightly haggard veterans prepared to kick up the dust of nostalgia, beat their own drums and toot their own horns to the appreciative cheers of what they hoped would be a sizeable crowd). Personally, I didn't want to appear . . . well . . . pathetic. The somewhat pompous "Legends of CCM" banner, under which our little army was to march, didn't help assuage my fear of ultimately coming off as proud but doddering old men in fezzes pulling up the rear of the parade.
"Legends." Hmmm. Well they had to call it something.
My half serious self-deprecating suggestion of "The Dinosaurs of Christian Rock" as a tour title was of course rejected by the powers that be, and, in my case, it seems the "Legend" gag actually worked. The festivals that were previously closed to us for a variety of reasons -- Diminishing 'star quality'? (ouch!) Irrelevance to the current CCM marketplae (arrrgh!) Wrinkles? (Humph!) -- at last lowered their drawbridges, and gave us old warriors a chance to join in the festivities and hock our wares in the castle 's inner court. Far from being the 'court's jesters,' however, I believe we all performed credibly, dignity intact. Even though attendance for the "Legends" portion of these festivals (save for the good old dependable Cornerstone Festival) was relatively modest, we all took this in stride since the crowds were wildly demonstrative in their enthusiasm and support. Still, I had my disappointments, among them being some rather unfortunate 'competitive time slots.' I understand that the "Legend" show attracted fewer people than did the hot new CCM alternative band 'Billy Bible and His New Testament Teens' playing opposite us on the festival's "Jesus and Coffee" food-court stage.
I kid of course.
I don't know . . . maybe if the "Legends" had worked on creating 'six-packs' (the chiseled 'abs' variety), gotten face lifts, shaved our heads, pierced our tongues, tattooed our arms, and performed hip hop dance mixes of our "hits," the tour may have been a little more successful.
Daniel Amos (my band) was in a somewhat precarious position at the outset. When asked to join the tour, we were just putting the finishing touches on our latest CD, Mr Buechner's Dream. For over twenty-five years we had never ceased being a band, though we had done almost virtually no touring, nor had we, in the course of our longstanding partnership, flagged in our desire to create relevant alternative music as an expression of our faith. The question was: Should we ignore our most recent body of work in favor of the early material, so as to be true to the 'nostalgic' spirit of the "Legends" tour? The band and its management agreed that a compromise was in order, and, ultimately, despite short sets by all the artists involved, I think Daniel Amos was fairly successful in satisfying the "hard-core" fans, as well as those in attendance who'd primarily come to bask in the nostalgic glow of a bygone epoch. "You guys really took me back," a teary-eyed fan said to me backstage. I found it both a fantastic compliment and a remendous challenge to my own artistic vision. It's my hope that we took him forward as well.
In "secular" music (how I loath this term and the need to make the distinction), musicians like Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Neil Young (along with a handful of other artists who have not only given us a timeless body of work, but who continually struggle for musical relevancy) are true "Legends," These "Old Wild Men" of rock 'n' roll, despite their ages, continue to retain their fan base and win many new admirers . . . including teenagers. No doubt they deserve the respect and admiration they've been accorded worldwide by fans and critics alike, and while at times I may vehemently disagree with their "worldview," I never cease to stand in awe of their formidable gifts and the timeless craftmanship that fashioned the best of their work. Sadly, such respect is generally lacking in our little neck of the woods, and CCM continues to possess a rather vague or truncated sense of its own fairly illustrious history. A few guys out there, like author and CCM aficianado John Thompson, are doing their best to rectify the "we were born on theird base" mentality characteristic of the current crop of young Christian artists, but it's an uphill battle. Aks the average young CCM lover who Larry Norman is and you'll more than likely get a thousand-yard stare. This is really a shame, because, so far as the whole CCM explosion is concerned, the guy is basically at ground zero.
Since coming home, I've had a little bit of time to step back and reflect on the entire "Legends of CCM" deal as it specifically speaks to my life as a believer. I won't presume to speak for the entire "Legends" entourage, but at least for me the tour was essentially about 'humility.' "Think you're a legend eh, Terry?," I could imagine the Lord saying to me on that dismal day at Creation Fest when an obviously bored acne faced security 'kid,' possessing the flat clinical voice of a soldier under strict orders, blocked my way and demaded to see my backstage pass. ("Why, the nerve of this punk!") Well . . . anyway . . . it's quite apparent that our Lord has His ways of firmly but lovingly knocking us off our high horses. There is one, and only one True "Legend" (with a capital "L") and we Christian musicians do well to remember that it was this Legend who was rejected and ultimately killed by the same hands that had once adored Him.
The successful Christian musician, it seems to me, is one who is very much prone to a number of deceits. When it amounts to a little more than self-aggrandizement under the guise of our so-called "ministry" or commercial pandering touted as "being on fire for the Lord," our calling will have become little more than a gaudy product table run by temple thieves deserving of the whip. ("... I say verily he has his reward") May a loving, chastising Christ mercifully upturn our tables and drive us towards repentance.
The laudable quest for 'cultural relevancy' in our music can also be the road to self-deception. I am one who must especially tread this particular path with a great deal of wisdom and caution. In some instances, if we are not careful, we will become increasingly less comfortable in making small, seemingly insignificant compromises concerning our beliefs and our witness to the world. In time (again, unless repented of), this will usher us toward a more profoundly serious offense -- a suspension of these beliefs and a denial of the Lord Himself.
May our God keep us from placing form above substance, and from sacrificing our faith and personal integrity to the graven god of an ill-defined "artistic credibility." Of course, God's Word opposes such folly and makes plain its consequences: "You shall have no other gods before me" . . . "He that denies Me before men, I will deny before My Father Who is in heaven" . . . "If the salt loses its savor it is therefore good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under the feet of men" . . . and the paradoxical "He that desires to gain his life must lose it." The 'struggling' Christian musician may encounter similar kinds of temptations. They may come to him in the form of a series of relatively slight but nevertheless enticing successes that only serve to awaken in him a covetous passion for the temporal benefits and tawdry trophies of some of his more successful brethren. "The small of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd" is a potent enticement to vanity and avarice rationalized as a means by which the Lord will be "glorified" on a grander scale. How many of us assume that the "higher" calling is the headliners' slot at Cornerstone, for instance, and not the street corner or the Senior Citizens home?
I readily confess that I am not immune to this kind of thing, and as wounded as my pride may have been at the time, I am thankful that, on a particularly fateful day in the middle of "The Legends of CCM" tour, the wounding nemesis refered to earlier also became my healing angel. Although this "angel" may have come to me in the form of a cocky teenage kid wearing an oversized security jacket who, without so much as a hint of recognition, indifferently asked to see my backstage pass, I know now that he was indeed a kind of "messenger of God," though he himself was quite unaware of it.
"Think you're a 'Legend' eh, Terry?"
May the risen Christ indeed keep me from the easily bruised ego that perpetually aches for the balm of recognition and the anesthetizing salve of transitory success. It's this whole "I will decrease so that He may increase" business which is the Christian musician's particular fly in the ointment.