Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Christploitation: The Jesus Movement Era

I am not a Christian, but I am fascinated by The Bible, and I figure Jesus was a pretty hip guy, and anybody with any sorta interest in the arts is hardly in a position to ignore The Bible anyways. I'm interested in the life and work of Jesus Christ just like I'm interested in the life and work of Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe, I guess. It's a cult of personality thing, and I like archetypes, and the blockbuster scale of it all, and it's a great story. I've always dug The Bible, ever since I was a kid. I like the language, and the iconography, and most of all I dig all the obscure minor characters and their relationships, and all the weird inter-connecting sub-plots. The Bible is a nerd's paradise. It's better than Star Wars and Lord Of The Rings put together. You think it's hip to know the name of the band that plays at the Mos Eisley Cantina? How about knowing the names of the musicians that accompanied the Ark Of The Covenant back to Jerusalem (I Chronicles 15:16-24)? I just learnt the other day that when Judas Iscariot quit The Desciples, they replaced him with some dude called Matthias, by pulling lots (not by 'pulling' Lot, like picking him up in a cocktail bar or something.) So, like, there was this guy, this 13th Apostle, Judas betrays Jesus and dies, and this guy gets the call like "Yeah, hey, Matthias? Judas flaked on us big time. You're up, dude. " And then he gets to rep for one the twelve tribes of Israel in the Kingdom of Heaven. Crazy. I don't know whether The Bible is 5% historically accurate or 75%. I guess it's probably closer to the former. I'm not sure if I care really, though I guess I'd like at least some of it to be true, beyond the regular "well, um, yeah, there was a guy called Jesus, and he was kicking about around this time, but apart from that..." yadda yadda yadda.

Anway, part of my interest in Jesus and The Bible is the consequence of another fascination of mine, which is post-war US history. I have been aware of the (largely and predictably West Coast based) Jesus Movement of the late 60s & early 70s for some time, forming as it does part of the general background to the Nixon, Altamont, Kent State, Black Panther era that popular historians generally paint as the grim '68 -'75 post-hippie era, aka Sixties Burn-Out. Essentially, these 'Jesus People,' or 'Jesus Freaks', were dissafected long-haired acid casualties looking for The Answer, the kinda drop-outs who had tried all the drugs and all the Eastern philosophies and free-love yadda yadda that the counter-culture had pushed on 'em, and having failed to find whatever it was they were trying to find, were now willing to give ol' Jesus - a guy many young freakniks had conciously turned their back on - a shot at saving their souls. They always come crawlin' back to the J-Man. Rather than walking with the Lord, these cats we're "Truckin' With Jesus". The general tone of the Jesus Movement was very much a hybrid of hippie and early Christian ideologies, perhaps most notably the emphasis on simple / communal living, and a desire to take their message out of the churches and out into the streets. At the time, this was all pretty big news, making the cover of Time Magazine and generating a fair media frenzy. In 1972, 80,000 Christians gathered in Dallas, Texas for what is generally regarded as the movement's watershed moment, a weeklong celebration known as Explo '72.

In the process of investigating (re: "Googling") a compilation of late 60s/early 70s heavy psychedelic Christian rock called "Holy Fuzz", I have stumbled across some really fascinating websites about this subject, containing lots of great period photos, newspaper articles, info on bands and movies, wonderful poster art and so on. I guess there is an element of what I'm gonna call Christploitation to all of this. There is a kitch, camp value to record sleeves, badges and psychedelic posters containing Christian iconography. Jesus looks like a member of Creedence Clearwater Revival anyway, so his image in the late 60s was about as perfectly sell-able as it could be. I mean, I'm thinking about buying a Jesus People badge if I can find one, which - considering I ain't really a Christian of any sort - is kinda awful and disrespectful I guess, apart from I really mean no disrespect. But camp appeal aside, The Jesus Movement scene does resonate with me on some genuine level, 'cos I can see what these kids got out of it, and why they would get into it. Here's this guy, looks real hip, like one of them infact, and he's saying, y'know, hey, you can play rock music if you want, you can drop out of the rat-race if you want, keep your hair long, live off the land and I can dig it, in fact I'm gonna help you do all those things, you just gotta promise me a few things in return. So yeah, I can see it.
If you really wanna know more about this, go to the site dedicated to the LA based Hollywood Free Paper,

Monday, 23 February 2009

Obsessing About The Whole Schoolhouse Rock Thing

Multiplication_rockWhile the best British kids telly of the 60s and 70s was all acid-folky wooziness a la Bagpuss and The Clangers, the equivilent Quality Educational Programming being done in America adopted a tone of street-smart funkiness a la Sesame Street, The Electric Company..and Schoolhouse Rock. First airing on ABC in 1972, Schoolhouse Rock was a series of Saturday morning animated shorts which used a broad range of pop music idioms to teach the Youth Of Nixon's America about all sortsa useful things, from politics to science. The recently re-issued Multiplication Rock LP is one of I think two LPs put out during the show's original run, and is quite simply a wonderful selection of kooky, fun, pop-folk-funk songs, including Schoolhouse Rock's 'hit record', 'Three Is A Magic Number'. After purchasing the record at the weekend and a subsequent 48 hours of obsessive Googling, I'm very happy to report that for Fans Of This Type Of Thing, 'Three Is A Magic Number' represents only the tip of an exceptionally funky iceberg.

The thing about This Type Of Thing is that in so many ways the music produced for Schoolhouse Rock and similar enterprises is more interesting, original, useful, fun, cool and witty than most anything being put out by 'legitimate' pop performers of the time. There is care and craft here, a dedication to making Good Music, but there is not an ounce of the other bullshit which rock and roll culture wades around in. There's no navel gazing, there's no ego, there's no money-drugs-girls, there's no portentous statements or leather trousers. I like the fact it has a purpose, and that the purpose is an inarguably righteous purpose, and the fact that the people who put it together had the good taste and sensibility to tie the purpose to genuinely hip music. In 1972, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell and John Lennon were releasing entirely self-regarding records about themselves, and trying to convince us that The Pop Artist can write honestly only about themselves, or else it ain't art. Bob Dorough, the key architect of the Schoolhouse Rock sound, was releasing records which featured songs as good as anything Taylor-Mitchell-Lennon were putting out, and contained about a zillion better ideas, and were - to some extent, certainly to greater extent than Taylor-Mitchell-Lennon's out-put - for somebody else's benefit.

Anyway, here are a couple of examples, I think they're pretty great, and so what. The best thing Dylan ever did was that song about God naming all the animals from 'Slow Train Coming', and that's about as Schoolhouse Rock as Zimmy ever got. Dig, y'all.