My friends tried to save my soul with Christian metal
|Stryper had a God complex, of sorts|
When asked about my religion, my go-to joke has always been "I am a recovering Catholic; got my ten-year wafer even." I grew up Catholic -- which, in itself, is a phrase used as a starter in many a comedy routine. My great-grandparents on both sides were deeply Catholic and big drinkers, their children were pretty Catholic and pretty big drinkers, and my parents were kinda Catholic. (And, not surprisingly, big drinkers.) Not saying that Catholicism and alcoholism go hand in hand but there might be something in the wine... besides, it's the Blood of Christ.
When I was in ninth grade, my parents transferred me out of the living hell that was Fridley Jr. High -- yes, Fridley Patch, I feel the angry stares coming my way -- and into the Catholic Prep School wonderland that is Totino Grace. It was sort of easy to be there and be not particularly Catholic. Sure, there were masses and classes but as long as you didn't mind the fact that you occasionally smelled like frankincense and would perpetually have to sing "On Eagles Wings" it wasn't a bad gig. It's worth noting though, that there was a big difference between Catholic and Christian -- in particular, born again Christian.
In the early '80s, the born again movement was hitting its stride. It was a movement that seemed to be everywhere -- even in popular music. Born again didn't have the same connotations that it does now, although the perspective is a lot different through a sophomore's eyes. That year was when my friend Archibald Walrus* came to school.See Also:
How I burned the guys who wanted me to burn my KISS records
Archibald was wildly talented. He could sing, he could act, he could dance, and he was born again. He had been an actor at the Jesus People Church, aka the mega church that occupied the space that is now the State Theatre. He even had been in a play with the star of That Darn Cat, Dean Jones.
Archibald was a guy you couldn't help but like. He was charismatic, funny, and impassioned -- and he really believed in Jesus. He was going to heaven, and pretty much everything else was gravy. It was a belief so intense that it sort of allowed him to do anything. It was a fervent belief that I had only otherwise witnessed in Green Bay Packers fans.
It was so catchy that most of my friends at school were caught up. Even my best friend Hugh Manatee* had a spiritual awakening. Jesus was now his best friend and always got to ride shotgun. It's like they were all part of a club that had handshakes and inside jokes, but the big thing they shared was the look of beatific serenity that comes from pure unadulterated belief. It was like they were all in Up With People -- only with Christ. It reminds me of this story about the poet Langston Hughes. At a revival meeting, everyone was saved except for him. Ultimately, he lied and said he was, but it was there that he lost his faith.
We all have moments when we really want to belong to something, to sit at the cool kids' table, and be in with the in-crowd. The great thing about the born agains was they wanted you to be at the table too. The problem remained that no matter how much I wanted to believe, to have that feeling of grace, I still didn't have it. This worried Hugh and Archibald so much that they had a weekly prayer service before school for me: at 7:30 a.m. on Thursdays in the chapel. Weirdly, I wasn't invited.
In fairness, I made fun of the Christkateers -- much as I secretly envied that feeling they seemed to have. They tried to get me away from devil rock, turning me on to Christian bands like Daniel Amos, who penned the sort of genius lyric "My hair points to the sky/ The place I want to be." It was a line I used whenever anyone asked me why I had spiked hair; of course. I was thinking more because I wanted a jet pack. They also tried the "heavier" stuff like Stryper, the yellow and black all-Jesus fake metal attack. I hated metal, and this was all the worst part of metal combined with dressing like a bumblebee. Then there was Yngwie Malmsteen during one of his more Christian periods.
Since my soul remained unsaved, my friends decided to up their game and took me to a concert at the Jesus People Church featuring Stryper and Yngwie Malmsteen**. Even without the Christianity hard sell, this was still an event that was going to suck for me. That said, how could I not help but be touched by the gesture? They were so worried that they bought my ticket, made sure I had a ride, and arranged for us to meet the bands backstage.
Yngwie seemed to really want me to be saved, as much as I was not having it. The problem is with every faith-based argument, you kill it by logic. Faith requires an ability to supersede logic, and to know something even though the facts don't necessarily support it. Sadly that is also a definition of insanity, an irony that logical me totally latched onto. He said a prayer over us, and we walked him to the stage after getting lost coming from the dressing room in a perfectly Spinal Tap moment.