Stairway to Heaven's Metal | Music | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Stairway to Heaven's Metal

Looking back at my time as a Christian-rock groupie.


  • Djhe via Wikimedia Commons
  • Mike Lee of Barren Cross

My father and I weren't close. Music was our connection, so I expected excitement when, on our Sunday call, I told him that I'd been gifted an electric guitar. Instead he spoke in a strange, somnambulant voice that made me wonder if the Pod People had gotten him.

Close—it was Pat Robertson. Like many fuckups, Dad had declared spiritual bankruptcy and the Great Trustee in the Sky had handed him a clean slate. My news warranted only an affectedly peaceful "That's great, son" before he laid his Jesus rap on me. I'd finally convinced my mom to allow me to cease attending Mormon church, and I was to spend the summer with my dad. I wasn't thrilled.

The 10-hour drive to Carson City was like that road-movie trope where the only radio station for miles is 24/7 hellfire 'n' brimstone, only the preacher was driving. New converts can be zealots and Dad spent the next two months making me shit-scared of Satan. Everything I did was a sin, including listening to Bon Jovi, Poison and Prince. When I started having nightmares about Ol' Scratch whispering sinisterly into my ear, I relented. We knelt before Dad's massive TV and prayed with preacher Pat.

I said I felt the Holy Spirit take over, but only to stop the bad dreams. A week later, I went home. Thinking me safe through Jesus, my dad mellowed. We settled back into our musical conversation, only now we talked Christian rock. He told me that for every secular band I liked, there was a pious alternative.

He turned me on to Petra (Jesus music's Journey analog), White Heart (a squeaky-clean Survivor) and Idle Cure (whose fist-pumping anthems like "Breakaway" filled the arena rock-shaped void in my soul). I subscribed to Heaven's Metal magazine and discovered killer power metal bands Sacred Warrior and Barren Cross; glam bands like Shout and Holy Soldier; thrash/death from Deliverance and Vengeance Rising; and classic rockers like Rez and the Daniel Band. I also found punk bands: One Bad Pig, the incognito abstinence-preaching Lust Control (fronted by Heaven's Metal publisher Doug Van Pelt), and the Altar Boys, who clearly worshiped The Replacements. Mad at the World mixed Depeche Mode's synthpop with The Cult's grinding, mystical rock; The Swirling Eddies had power pop covered; Steve Taylor dealt in heady new wave and alternative rock; Mortal was Christianity's first industrial act.

These bands made Jesus sound like a superhero. They made rock 'n' roll a force for good, but it was still about rebellion. At the time, many Christians still believed Satan invented backbeat rhythm.

I still wasn't sure of my faith, but Christian rock became my god. Believing I'd found a spiritually nourishing alternative to soul-corroding secular music, I smashed my LPs and cassettes behind a Fred Meyer warehouse. I wrote a fan letter to Idle Cure and traveled to California to see them play at the Raging Waters waterpark from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. I drove everyone I knew nuts, pitching knockoff rock—that was every bit as good as the name brands!—like a musical Amway distribuitor. I even circulated a petition around Granite High urging KCGL to play Christian rock.

I never sent it in. That was probably the first step in leaving religion behind for good—that and the fact that I still partook in R-rated films and secular music, cursed and kept a hard-won copy of Hustler under my bed. It took another four years before I dared to declare my freedom from religion, and another six until I was ready to confess disbelief in a higher power.

Eventually, I sold my Christian albums and began replacing what I destroyed. But years later, at the advent of Napster, I indulged in nostalgic downloading. I realized that many of these bands were legitimately good. Also, I didn't need to buy into their message. I could take what I needed from the music.

So occasionally, I listen to Christian rock: "Breakaway," for all its cheese, reminds me it's OK to disengage from vexing circumstances. Minus Jesus, White Heart's "Over Me" is about basking in a summer rain. Taylor's excellent, intelligent tunes criticize overzealous pro-lifers, condemn greed or use the work of surrealist artist M.C. Escher as a metaphor for when life gets tough to navigate. Other songs are just funny: Holy Soldier's "See No Evil" rocks, but is hilariously manipulative, with verses from a fetal perspective and a pre-solo interlude where a child's voice says, "Mommy, I'm scared." Lust Control's "The Big M" is the funniest, decrying masturbation as "artificial sex."

You too, perhaps, can become illuminated at a who's who all-ages Christian rock concert happening Wednesday at the Maverik Center.

In the end, my father and I grew further apart. He was a deadbeat. But by exposing me to Christian rock, he indirectly taught me that the beauty of art—especially music—is that it can mean different things to different people. One song might inspire someone to have or rekindle faith, while providing someone else with deity-free comfort or a bummer-busting belly laugh. All that matters is that we find what we need to get through the day.

Winter Jam, feat. Lecrae, Mac Powell, Building 429,
Andy Mineo, Moriah Peters, Family Force 5, Westover and Mallary Hope
Wednesday, Nov. 15, 7 p.m., $15
Maverik Center 3200 S. Decker Lake Drive